Lev Syrkin was born in 1923 in Moscow. In 1925, his family moved to Leningrad (present-day St. Petersburg, Russia). In 1933, Lev's father Nahum was arrested, and he died in the course of the "investigation". In 1940, Lev finished school and entered the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute (the present-day St. Petersburg Polytechnic University). In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and Lev, together with other students, was sent to the Karelian Isthmus to build the so-called 22nd fortified area, which was intended to protect Leningrad from the Finnish Army. In July that year, Lev Syrkin received a call-up notice from the Red Army, and was sent to the Zhdanov Military Engineering School in Leningrad. After a week of study, he returned to the Karelian Isthmus, and was attached to the 58th Communication Regiment of the 23rd Army as a sapper. This army was inactive at the time (a popular joke in those days ran as follows: "There are three idle armies in World War II: the Swedish Army, the Turkish Army, and the 23rd Army"). In fact, Syrkin served within the city itself. He witnessed the Siege of Leningrad firsthand, and experienced the famine and the other horrors that gripped the besieged city. Most of his duties were those of a policeman, rather than a soldier.
Lev Syrkin felt uneasy about serving in an idle army, and he wished to take part in combat. In the spring of 1942, he volunteered to join the 152nd Tank Brigade, which was being formed at the time. He went on to serve as a radio operator in this brigade until the end of the war. Initially, he was an operator at the staff radio station of the battalion; such a radio station would usually be housed in a truck that followed a column of tanks, and its task was maintaining a line of communication between the staff and the individual tanks. He later became a gunner/radio operator in a tank. In January 1943, Syrkin took part in opening the land corridor to Leningrad. He later saw action south of the city. The 152nd Brigade was decimated in these battles. In December 1943-January 1944, the replenished 152nd Brigade lifted the Siege of Leningrad and liberated the outlying towns south of the city. After June 1944, Syrkin fought in Estonia, and then the brigade was transferred to Poland, where he took part in the Sandomierz offensive of July-August 1944, serving as a rifleman. He passed through southern Poland and was shell-shocked, but remained on active duty. Several days before the end of the war, he was seriously wounded near Dresden, and met V-E Day in a hospital.
Lev Syrkin was awarded two Orders of the Red Star; the Order of the Patriotic War, 2nd class, and several medals.
After the end of the war, Syrkin served in Austria. While crossing the Polish-Czechoslovak border, his tank battalion encountered a group of Jews who had recently been liberated from Nazi camps. The former inmates wished to cross into Czechoslovakia (and travel further from there), but the Polish border guards would not let them through, and so the Jews asked the Soviet tank crews to let them hitch a ride. Syrkin convinced the commander to take them along, and the liberated Jewish prisoners, 3-4 people to a tank, crossed their first border.1
In November 1945, while still in Austria, Syrkin was discharged from the army, whereupon he returned to Leningrad and resumed his studies at the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. He dreamed of becoming a nuclear scientist, but was disqualified from membership in the relevant student group because of the Stalinist antisemitic campaign. After Stalin's death in 1953, Syrkin worked in the field of applied physics. He defended a candidate dissertation, and then a doctoral dissertation.
- 1. [O.93/2308]