Hanan, or Khonon, Iliin (both spellings of his first name are attested in documents) was born in 1903 in the small shtetl of Komarin, Polesia, southern Belorussia, as one of ten children. His father, Volko (Volf), owned a leather workshop. Under Soviet rule, his workshop was used as a Jewish prayer house. Nevertheless, the Soviets did not subject Volko or his family to repressions as a "bourgeois element"; moreover, in the 1930s Khonon was appointed the manager of the so-called Promkombinat – an amalgamation of all of the shtetl's artisans and two factories. Khonon's son Mikhail would later recall that the family celebrated both the official Soviet and the traditional Jewish holidays in a similar fashion: serving the same dishes (not all of them kosher) and singing the same songs, both Soviet and Jewish ones.1
Khonon Iliin was drafted to fight in the Soviet-Finnish (Winter) War of 1939-40, and returned home after it conclusion. In June 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, he volunteered to resume his service in the Red Army. He served as an "expeditor" in the Administrative and Economic Department of the HQ of the 60th Army, in the rank of private, and his job was supplying the Army with food. In 1943, Iliin was decorated with the medal "For Battle Merit". In 1944, he was seriously wounded, and, after recuperating at a hospital, he was discharged from the military. According to a family legend, Khonon Iliin commanded the Red Army platoon that liberated his native village of Komarin. After that, he ordered all the politsais (i.e. members of the Belorussian collaborationist police) to be hanged.2
After his discharge from the army, Khonon Iliin came back to Komarin, sold off all of his military possessions, including his army overcoat, bought a cow and a pig, and began to live a peasant's life. He died several years after the war, as a result of the injuries he had sustained while on active duty.