Izrail Roitman was born in 1924 in Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg, Russia). When the boy was three years old, the family moved to Moscow. Izrail's father Abram was a low-ranking Soviet functionary, while his mother was a clerk. The family was not religious, and Izrail knew the Jewish traditions poorly; in his own words, his German was better than his Yiddish. His elder brother finished a German school in Leningrad and was fluent in German. Izrail himself attended a regular school in Moscow.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and all the students of Izrail's class volunteered to enlist in the Red Army. However, the boys and girls were turned down by the recruitment office for being too young. Only in February 1942 were they drafted – but, to their chagrin, they ended up in different military units. After a brief stint at a paramilitary anti-diversionist unit in the North Caucasus, Izrail was sent to the Tashkent Infantry School. In summer 1942, during the German offensive in southern Russia, the cadets of the Tashkent school were sent to the area of Voronezh. It was there that private Roitman had his baptism by fire. In late 1942, Roitman was attached to the recently formed 305th Belgorod Rifle Division – first as a rifleman, and then, from February 1943, as an anti-tank gunner at a separate anti-tank battalion of this division. He later served in the reconnaissance company of this division. Roitman would later recall an instance [YVA O.93/24093] when, acting alone, he managed to capture a German informant and bring him over to his division. Initially, two soldiers were selected to capture an informant, but Roitman's partner suddenly fell ill with an acute attack of appendicitis, and Roitman was forced to go alone. He served as a reconnaissance man until the end of the war.
With the 305th division, Roitman saw action in the Kursk area (southern Russia), and then in Ukraine; he ended the war in the Czechoslovak city of Olomouc (Moravia). In 1944-45, Roitman acquired a "profession": He became a member of a reconnaissance team that had to secretly cross over to the German side, to ascertain the reasons for the failures of Soviet diversionist groups that had been airdropped behind enemy lines. Roitman would claim [ibidem] that 90% of these failures were due to local residents denouncing the diversionists to the Germans. It was because of this experience that, after the war, Roitman was sent to attend the SMERSh (military intelligence) courses. However, the wounds that he had sustained at the frontline gave him an excuse for dropping out of the course.
Roitman was awarded several medals, including "For Courage". His highest rank was that of senior sergeant.
After the war, Roitman lived in Moscow. He taught draftsmanship at technical institutes (universities) and authored a textbook on this subject. In the late 1980s-90s, he became very anxious about the rise of antisemitism in Russia. However, he did not immigrate to Israel or elsewhere.
Izrail Roitman died in 2004.
Private Roitman going to capture a German informant
"'The division commander needed a 'tongue' [slang for enemy informant] urgently: who will volunteer?'… So, I stepped forward, and someone else stepped forward, too…. They put us into a jeep, took us to the HQ, gave us something to eat, explained what they wanted us to do, and let us sleep until nightfall.… [When it became dark], Captain Baranov, the commander of the divisional reconnaissance, woke me up: 'Where has your comrade run away to?' I did not know. 'And you will run away, too!' – and he began to yell. They thought that [my comrade] had defected. But he had not – I learned of this only when I came back – he had had an appendicitis attack, and they found him later. In a word…, I went alone…. Sappers accompanied me to the forefront, showed me the direction, and I crawled on…. At first, I treated it as a piece of theater, but when I realized that I had to crawl there alone, believe me, my legs felt leaden; I could not move, and my stomach was roiling. Do you know such a sickness? But then I thought that, if I were to come back empty-handed, they would say: 'Hey, a Jew, everything is clear, he is chickenhearted' – and I went on. But fortune smiled on me.… In a word, I took an informant.… A German horse cart was traveling along, carrying ammunition… I threw something from a [German] dry ration: some chocolate, nuts…. The driver stopped to pick them up, and I hit him on the head with my rifle butt; he fell down… But how could I drag him?... I put him on my shoulders and began to crawl on all fours…. In the night, I tied him up with telephone wire and let him stand up. He walked with resignation, until we approached our outer cordon.... And Captain Baranov met me: 'Oh, good fellow, I will have you decorated. What do you want?' I said: 'To drink'. They brought me a bowl of water; I drank it all up and fell asleep in a trench"