Leonid (in wartime documents he was referred to as Lev) Roizen was born in 1921 in Proskurov (now Khmelnitskii), Ukraine. Prior to the Soviet-German war, he lived in Odessa where, in 1940, he was drafted. Roizen was on active service from the first day of the war to its last, fighting with the 15th Guards Division. His military specialty was that of radio operator, and, perhaps, because of this relatively "peaceful" job, he survived all the four years of warfare, including the Battle of Stalingrad. In 1944 and 1945, his division fought in Poland, Germany, and Czechoslovakia. Roizen, who at this time served in an anti-tank battalion, was wounded three times. In Poland he witnessed the heroic deaths of his Jewish comrades in arms, Private Iakov Grinberg and deputy commander of the 47th regiment for political matters Iefim Glikman, to both of whom he devoted one of his postwar essays. Roizen ended the war in Czechoslovakia. He was awarded two Soviet military orders and a Czechoslovakian one, and also some medals.
Roizen's father and three brothers also fought in the Soviet-German war; two of the brothers returned from the war as invalids.
After the war, Roizen graduated from a military political school in Leningrad and continued his military service as a political officer. He retired in the late 1960s with the rank of captain and settled in Leningrad.
A Synagogue in Prague
"I met Victory Day while our 15th Guards Division was approaching the outskirts of Prague. Then there was my last radio transmission, the last one of all the 1,418 days of the war. Then we camped in the forest... Our camp life started.
May passed, June came. My friend Misha Sharonov once said to me: Let's go to Prague, we need to see the city, otherwise, when we will come home, we won't be able to say anything about Czechoslovakia. Once, in a conversation with a political officer, we mentioned this. A few days later, the commander gave his approval for this. We were joined by the unit's doctor First Lieutenant Misha Ponomarenko.
We arrived in Prague in the morning. The commandant of the railway station, an officer of the Czechoslovak army, gave us a loaf of bread, some sausage, and directed us to a hotel ... Neither on the tram, nor in the hotel did they take money from us. President Beneš had issued a decree to that effect.
On the first day, we saw a small gray building with an inscription in Hebrew.
The guys said to me:
- 'Look, Lenia, a synagogue!'
We were about to move on when Misha Ponomarenko says:
- 'Lenia, if you want to, go in.'
So I went in. When I entered, those who were standing close to the door turned to me in fright; one of them, with his talis thrown over his shoulders, approached me and said in broken Russian:
- 'You are Russian and you shouldn't be here, there is a Sabbath morning prayer service going on' and he pointed toward the door:
'Przeprosze!' [Author's mistake: in Czech "please" is "prosím"]
I looked at this nice old man, smiled, and said:
'- Ikh bin a Yid' (I am a Jew).
He stopped and spread his arms, he could not believe me: the Germans had said that there were no Jews in the Russian army, that they had killed them all. I told him my name and said:
'Olt nisht moira' [Ukrainian Yiddish for "Don't be afraid"].
To tell the truth, while serving in the army, I had almost forgotten Yiddish, but people understood me. They surrounded me, and I somehow communicated with them in a mixture of Yiddish and Russian. At this point, the rabbi came up to me and asked how many of my relatives had perished, who was still alive, and where they lived at this time.
I told him everything I knew: 'Two of my aunts with their children and my uncle and his wife perished in the ghetto, before the execution of my uncle, the perpetrators tied him to a horse and drove around the shtetl; in contrast, my father and three brothers fought in the war from its first day and were wounded and shell-shocked; two came home disabled. All of them had been awarded medals.' Then the rabbi said to me:
- ' If you wish, we pray for your family."
How could I reject his offer – before him and all these people? I agreed. They took me to the pulpit, turned the chair upside down and sat me on its back, then covered me with a talis and put a lighted candle next to me. Then the rabbi began to pray, as I sat and listened to the prayer, and wept, wept so bitterly that it was hard for me to stop. As if all the pain I had experienced during the war was coming out in tears. When the prayer was over and they took off the talis I was wearing, I got up, thanked them all, and gave two hundred crowns cash to the synagogue. The rabbi kissed me goodbye.
I went out, and I saw my friends sitting and waiting for me. When they saw that I was weeping, they just looked at each other, but did not ask anything.
Quite a bit later, in 1975, I went to a reunion of veterans of the division where I met my frontline friends; at some stage, they asked me why on that day in Prague I had left the synagogue in tears. That's when I told them about this..."
From: Kniga zhivykh: Vospominaniia ievreiev-frontovikov, uznikov getto i natsistskikh kontslagerei, boitsov partizanskikh otriadov, zashchitnikov blokadnogo Leningrada (The Book of the Living: Memoirs of Jewish Front-line Fighters, Prisoners of Ghettos and Nazi Concentration Camps, Partisan Fighters, (and) Defenders of Besieged Leningrad), St. Petersburg, 1995, pp. 341-342).