"Three Colonels" at the "Iama" murder site in Minsk. From left to right: Naum Alshanskii, Lev Ovsichsher and Efim Davidovich, 1970s
Lev Ovsishcher was born in 1919 in the town of Bogushevsk, Belorussia. His father drove a horse-drawn carriadge. After he finished school in 1937, Lev began studying at the evening school of the Institute of Civil Aviation in Moscow. At the same time he worked as a mechanic for civilian planes. He was active in Soviet civic affairs as the Komsomol organizer of a Moscow aviation group. In October 1940 Lev Ovsishcher was drafted into the Red Army. He studied at an aviation school and then completed a course for the training of military commissars for air squadrons.
During the Soviet-German war, in November 1941 the group of PO-2 night bombers in which Lieutenant Ovsishcher was the commissar of a squadron was sent to the front. While also serving as a navigator, Ovsishcher took part in many nighttime bombing missions. While carrying out an assignment in October 1942, Ovsishcher was wounded. However, he soon got himself released from hospital and returned to his group.
Ovsishcher participated in the battle of Stalingrad. In January 1943 he carried out a special mission for the command of the Don Front. His plane was equipped with special radio equipment. During low-altitude night flights over the position of the surrounded German army commanded by General Paulus, Ovsishcher read out in German the terms for the capitulation of Paulus' troops. Ovsishcher's plane logged 24 such propaganda flights under heavy enemy fire. Ovsishcher later noted that the political administration of the front had nominated him for the honor of Hero of the Soviet Union but that the lower level army bureaucracy rejected this recommendation and he did not receive any medal at that time.
After the elimination of commissars in the Red Army in the spring of 1943, Ovsishcher was appointed head of the operational-intelligence unit of the headquarters of his group and, therefore, began participating less in bombing missions. In 1943 and 1944 he fought in Belorussia and Poland. During the war he was awarded the Orders of the Red Banner and of the Patriotic War, 1st and 2nd class.
During the same period Ovsishcher's brother Solomon served as an artillery officer and was awarded the Orders of the Red Banner and the Red Star.
After the war ended, in 1945 Lev Ovsishcher was sent to the Air Force Academy and, after graduating in 1950, he served in Georgia. His last post was chief of staff of a flight division. In 1961 Ovsishcher retired with the rank of colonel and moved to Belorussia. In Minsk he graduated from the evening school of the Institute of National Economics and then worked for various research institutions.
In 1971 Ovsishcher applied for an exit visa for Israel but his request was rejected. He was allowed to leave only in 1987, during Gorbachev's perestroika. For 16 years he led the life of a "refusenik," writing appeals to the Soviet authorities, taking part in refusenik demonstrations in Minsk and Moscow, and participating actively in memorial activity related to the Jews killed during the Holocaust. In the latter context he participated in meetings at the Iama (or Pit), one of the sites of the Nazi mass murders of the Jews of Minsk. For such unsanctioned activity Ovsishcher was reduced to the rank of private, deprived of his officer's pension, and expelled from the Communist Party, which he had joined in 1941.
Two other Jewish military figures, Colonel Efim Davidovich and Lieutenant-Colonel Naum Alshanskii, were active as Minsk refuseniks. They were also highly decorated veterans of the Great Patriotic War. Like Ovsishcher they were also stripped of their military ranks and deprived of their officers' pensions, Davidovich was even arrested. Among their fellow "refuseniks" this trio was referred to as "the three colonels."
In Israel Ovsishcher headed the council of Veterans of World War II. He was also named an honorary colonel of aviation of the Israel Defense Forces. Lev Ovsishcher died in Jerusalem in 2007.