Iokha Fainberg was born in 1905 in Berezino, near Minsk, Belorussia. Before the Soviet-German war, she worked as the director and chief physician of an orphanage in Minsk. In June 1941, during the German invasion of the Soviet Union, she organized the evacuation of this orphanage and took a group of her junior wards to Kurgan, Western Siberia. In Kurgan, she worked as a surgeon. In 1943, Iokha Fainberg was drafted into the Red Army as a captain of the medical service. She served in frontline hospitals on the Briansk Front, and later on the 2nd Baltic Front.
Iokha's husband Grigorii Pozniak, a non-Jewish Belorussian, was drafted at the beginning of the war as a battalion political commissar, later becoming a member of the political department of the 132nd Rifle Division in the rank of colonel. Their two sons, Marat and Georgii, were taken in by some relatives of Grigorii's who lived in a village near Minsk. During the first three years of the war, Iokha knew nothing of the fate of either her husband or her children. In her diary, she would "converse" with them, promising Grigorii that, if some of them did not survive, she would commit suicide. Over time, her conviction that her children had perished grew stronger. In January 1942, she wrote down in her diary:
"How happy are the mothers who bury their children, carry them to the cemetery, and later visit the graves and adorn them! Who tore the bodies of my children? Who heard their last sigh? Who closed their eyes? None! They fought like little birds. They, defenseless, called us, Grinia. They cried 'Mommy, mommy!' And perhaps I, in a faraway country, was sleeping at this time, perhaps I was even smiling… Grinia, my darling, who needed this nasty war? Who is capable of destroying so many human beings?"1
In 1943, Iokha received the first wartime letter from her husband. But only in August 1944 did she learn that her children had survived the German occupation, and was able to find them. She also learned that her father Iakov had been killed in Berezino during the deportation of the local Jews to the Minsk ghetto. The family of her elder brother Samuil had also been murdered there. Samuil Fainberg (b. 1898) served in the Red Army and survived the war.
Iokha Fainberg died in 1986
- 1. Sokhrani moi pis'ma…, vol. 1, eds. Ilia Altman, Leonid Tiorushkin. Moscow, Tsentr "Kholokost", 2007, pp. 109-110