Menahem Sasover was born in 1922 in Oździutycze, Polish Volhynia (now Oziutychi, Ukraine) to a religious family. In his youth, he was a member of the Zionist Halutzim movement. In September 1939, all of Polish Volhynia, including Oździutycze, was annexed to the Soviet Union.
With the beginning of Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the area was occupied by the German army. The Jews of Oździutycze were transferred to the ghetto in nearby Włodzimierz Wołyński (that was called Ludmir by Jews; now Volodymyr-Volynskyi, Ukraine). In 1942, during a murderous "action" in the ghetto, Menahem and his younger brother David (b. 1926) succeeded in fleeing to the forest. He and his comrades remained there until the Soviets captured the area in July 1944. The brothers were aided by friendly Polish peasants and, from time to time, visited nearby villages and even, clandestinely, the ghetto. While Menahem and David survived, their parents and siblings perished.
After the Soviet capture of western Volhynia, Menahem and David came to the Soviet enlistment office and were drafted into the Red Army. All the new conscripts were sent to Kazakhstan for military training. Menahem was happy to find in the training camp many other young Jews, particularly ones from his native Volhynia, who had fled from this province. His fellow Volhynian Jews were eager to know what had been happening in the area they had left, but when Menahem told them that most of the Volhynian Jews had been brutally murdered, they did not believe him and called him a liar. 1
In October 1944, the brothers were sent to the frontline. Menahem (registered in the Red Army as Mikhail Sosover) was assigned as a rifleman to the 83rd Infantry Division, while David was assigned as an artillery man to another regiment of the same division. Menahem fought in Lithuania and was wounded in a battle for Vilkaviškis, southwestern Lithuania. Later, he took part in the capture of Königsberg, Eastern Prussia and then was wounded for the second time in the fighting for Frische Nehrung (Vistula Spit) on the Baltic Sea. Within several days, an order was issued to send Sasover to a course for military translators. This non-combat assignment might have spared his life. It was in Eastern Prussia that he learned of the capitulation of the German army in May 1945.
Menahem was awarded the medal For Courage, and David — the Order of the Red Star.
In 1946, when Menahem Sasover was released from the Red Army, he repatriated to Poland. As many Jewish "repatriates" did, he settled in Bytom, Eastern Silesia, where there was a strong group of the Brikha, the clandestine Jewish organization engaged in the smuggling of Jews into the Land of Israel. In October 1948 Menahem arrived in Israel. His brother David remained in the Soviet Union.
The Interest of Senior Lieutenant Kulchinskii in the Jewish prayer book and some other matters
"The commander of the rifle unit with which I served, Senior Lieutenant Kulchinskii was Jewish.… I told him that I had found a prayer book.
–'Can you read it?' he asked.
–'Of course,' I answered.
'Do you also understand what is written in it?' he added.
'Yes,' I said.
'Come to me in the evening,' - he asked, ' and read it to me…'
… I read several prayers to him and even translated them into Russian. To put it briefly, he was a warm Jew and the prayers found an echo in his heart: his eyes sparkled with joy and longing for what had been unknown to him. From reading, we proceeded to a conversation about the Land of Israel and Zionism, about the great Zionist venture, about aliya, and about the building of the Land despite all the difficulties. He became more and more excited and then suddenly exclaimed in a mixture of Yiddish and Russian: 'Gevalt, vu nemt men a yidishe gosudarstve [Hell, where can people get a Jewish state]?'
On the one hand, I was glad to hear such things, but on the other hand, I looked at him with surprise; he understood that I was suspicious– don't forget that this was during Stalin's time. He looked at me, took his Party member card from his pocket and said:
'You see, I am a Party member. Don't be afraid.'
Menahem Sasover, Bebriha, bemistor uvehazit, Jerusalem, 1999, pp. 231-232.
- 1. Menahem Sasover, Be-brikha, be-mistor u-ve-hazit, Jerusalem, 1999, p. 216-7.