Leonid Vugman was born in 1922 in Złoczów, Poland (present-day Zolochiv, Ukraine). His father Avigdor was a tailor; the family was religiously observant. Leonid studied at a Jewish cheder, which was followed by a Polish school, and finally – in 1938-39 – by a yeshiva. He was a member of the Hanoar Hatzioni and Hashomer Hatzair movements. In September 1939, World War II began, and Złoczów was occupied by the Soviets. The new regime closed down the yeshiva, disbanded the Zionist organizations, and deported many Jewish families who were friends of the Vugmans to Siberia. However, the Vugmans themselves were untouched.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and Złoczów was soon occupied by the Wehrmacht. Leonid was stunned to see many of his former Polish and Ukrainian friends become pro-Nazi overnight and denounce the Jews to the Germans. Later, some of them took part in the murder of Jews. Leonid's mother and sister were killed by the Nazis and their local accomplices. In December 1941, a ghetto was established in the town. In mid-1943, the ghetto was liquidated, and Leonid and his father Avigdor, as tailors, were transferred to a labor camp. A short while later, Avigdor died in the camp. In spring 1944, when the Red Army approached the area, the Germans liquidated the camp and killed its inmates. Leonid miraculously managed to conceal himself in the camp area and survived. He spent the following weeks in hiding, sometimes being assisted by friendly non-Jews, and sometimes staying alone in the woods, until the arrival of the Red Army. In April 1944, the nearby town of Tarnopol was liberated by the Soviets, and Leonid was found in the forest by a Red Army reconnaissance patrol. After being brought to the Soviet headquarters, Leonid declared: "Comrade commander, I won't leave you; either shoot me or take me with you".1
Nevertheless, the Soviets ordered him to accompany a wounded Soviet officer to Tarnopol and left him there.
In July 1944, the Red Army liberated Złoczów. Vugman returned to his native town, but was met with hostility by the local Ukrainians. After a five-day-long stay in Złoczów, he decided to volunteer to join up the army: Frontline service would be better than living side-by-side with these people. At the recruitment office, an officer perused Vugman's documents and asked him whether he wished to serve with the Kościuszko Division (a pro-Soviet Polish infantry division that fought together with the Red Army) or with the Red Army. Leonid chose the Russians, and after a very brief training course he was attached as a private to the 342nd Guards Rifle Division, and even took part in the final stage of the Lvov-Sandomierz Offensive of the Red Army. After the end of the operation, Vugman's superiors, recognizing his fluency in Polish and German, transferred him to the division's political department as a translator. One of his duties there was "demoralizing enemy troops"; from time to time, he would approach the German trenches with a speaking trumpet and shout out something like: "Achtung, Achtung, deutsche Soldaten und Offiziere, Hitler hat den Krieg verloren" [Attention, attention, German soldiers and officers. Hitler has lost the war]; the Germans would respond to this with furious fire. It was for this function that Vugman was awarded his "For Battle Merit" medal.
Vugman saw action in Poland and Germany, and he ended the war in Prague on May 9-10, 1945. After that, he was transferred to Zhitomir, Ukraine, before being discharged from the army in 1946. Vugman had no wish to stay in Western Ukraine, and his former commander, a fellow Jew, proposed that he accompany him to Odessa. Vugman lived in that city until 1992. He married a local Jewish girl whose father had been killed in action. In the 1980s and 1990s, he took his children to Zolochiv, to the area of the former ghetto and the killing sites. In the early 1990s, he served as deputy chairman of the Association of Former Prisoners of Fascism in Odessa. In 1992, the Vugmans left Ukraine for the USA; they lived in Jacksonville, Florida.
- 1. [YVA, O.93/51184]