Leonid Vinokur was born in Odessa in 1906. Before the Soviet-German war he worked for a district executive committee (raiispolkom) of one of the municipal districts of Moscow. He began his military service at the front as commissar of a regiment. During the Stalingrad operation, Lieutenant-Colonel Vinokur served as the deputy commander for political affairs of the 38th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade.
In Stalingrad Vinokur took part in the January 31, 1943 capture of the Field marshal Friedrich Paulus, the commander of the German 6th Army. The Field Marshal was operating out of the basement of the Central Department Store in the city center and this fact became known from the interrogation of German POWs. Since there are varying witness accounts of the negotiations for the surrender between the Soviet and the German sides, here we present a composite account of them.
Toward 6:40 p.m. January 30, the department store was surrounded by the forces of the 38th Brigade, and at 8 a.m. the following day Vinokur and Lieutenant Fedor Ilchenko were sent by the commander of the Brigade to conduct preliminary negotiations – to safeguard the access of the plenipotentiary Soviet military delegation to the basement. The choice of Vinokur was determined not only by his mastery of German, but also by his personal qualities: Brigade Commander General Ivan Laskin said: "I will send my deputy; he is a bold and resolute man."
Despite the fact that shooting was still going on, six Soviet officers, among them Vinokur (who was the top-ranking of them) and several privates entered the basement. Some minutes later Field Marshal Paulus appeared before them.
Meanwhile, Friedrich Paulus declared that he would conduct the negotiations on the capitulation of the 6th Army only with representatives of the supreme command of the Soviet forces and left the room. Paulus stipulated the order of the negotiations to his deputy, the commander of the southern group of the German 6th Army general Rosske, then Vinokur and Ilchenko called the command of the Soviet 64th Army by phone and asked him to come. The representatives of the Soviet command arrived. General Rosske ordered a cease fire, and at 9:30 a.m. the fighting in Stalingrad came to an end. Vinokur demanded that all the German officers surrender their weapons. Remaining silent, Paulus handed his pistol to Rosske, and the latter handed it to Vinokur. Then Paulus, together with his generals, was escorted to vehicles provided by General Laskin. Paulus was the one and only field marshal in German military history to be captured in the field.
The northern group of the German 6th Army laid down their arms two days later, on February 2, 1943.
Leonid Vinokur went on fighting within the same brigade until the end of the war. He was awarded the Orders of the Red Banner, the Order of Lenin, and other military distinctions.
The Soviet supreme leader Nikita Khrushchev mentioned Vinokur in his speech at the meeting between Party and government leaders writers and artists held on March 8, 1963:
"A mechanized brigade commanded by Colonel Burmakov took part in capturing Paulus. The [political] commissar of this brigade was Comrade Vinokur, a Jew by nationality. I knew Vinokur back in 1931, when I had worked as secretary of Bauman Borough Party Committee in Moscow and he had been secretary of the Party cell at the butter and milk plant".
After the war, Leonid Vinokur retired from the army and lived in Moscow. He died in 1972.
An article in Eynikayt described the "meeting" between Soviet Lieutenant-Colonel Vinokur and the German Field Marshal:
"… [T]o meet them a tall, thin military man stood up from the chair and kept standing as if frozen. It was Paulus. For a moment, they stood in silence face to face, studying each other: the Soviet Jewish officer Leonid Vinokur, broad-shouldered, powerfully built, with the red face after a recent fight - and the defeated German field marshal. Vinokur's cheeks glowed, not only from the January cold, but also from pride: he was facing an important German official, "Herr Paulus" in person, one who for decades had been commanding masses of soldiers. And now he would have to obey him, an ordinary Soviet officer, and furthermore, a Jew!"
From: Eynikayt, February 21, 1948.