Mikhail Zaslavskii was born in 1925 in Odessa. His father Aleksandr was drafted to fight in World War I, and taken prisoner by the Germans in 1915. In 1924, after spending nine years in Germany, he returned to Odessa, thinking that he would have a better life there. However, he was naturally unable to leave the Soviet Union after 1924. In Odessa, he became a clerk at the Eksportles (lit. Timber Export) enterprise, and later worked at the "Selelektro" (abbreviation for Rural electricity) in the same capacity. Following the outbreak of the Soviet-German War, the 50-year-old Aleksandr was immediately drafted into the Red Army. Mikhail's mother was religious, while his father was an atheist. As a result, Mikhail was not circumcised; this fact would save his life under the German-Romanian occupation. Nevertheless, Mikhail's immediate and extended family made certain that the boy mastered Yiddish.
In 1940, Mikhail finished seven classes of school and entered a technikum (college) for communication. In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out. Mikhail was only 15 years old at the time. The family failed to evacuate and stayed under the Romanian occupation. Mikhail survived the first mass-murder of the Jews of Odessa in October 1941, when his four siblings were burned alive in a gunpowder depot. He also survived the Odessa Ghetto, the deportation to Domaniovka in March 1942, and a stay at a camp in the vicinity of Domaniovka.
In late March 1944, the area was liberated by the Red Army. Zaslavskii followed the Red Army forces advancing on Odessa, and in April he was already in the city. Zaslavskii told the soldiers of his experiences and tribulations during the period 1941-44. He would later recall 1 that some of the men had never heard of the ghettos or the Nazi persecution of Jews, and they were surprised to learn of this. Some soldiers expressed sympathy for his plight, while others remained utterly indifferent. After coming back to his abandoned apartment, Mikhail went to a recruitment office and volunteered to enlist in the Red Army. He was attached to the 237th Reserve Regiment, where he bathed, had his hair cut, received a uniform and a rifle, and underwent a month-long military training. In May 1944, Zaslavskii reached the Dniester River. There, he was attached to the 265th Rifle Regiment as a private. His baptism by fire took place in the vicinity of Ocnița, in northern Moldova. He then took part in the Jassy-Kishinev operation in August 1944; saw action in Romania, Bulgaria, and Yugoslavia, and was then transferred to Hungary, and from there – to Austria and Czechoslovakia.
Zaslavskii would recall 2 how, in May 1944, when he was being issued his soldier's card, the NCO on duty registered Zaslavskii's nationality (ethnicity) as Russian, without bothering to consult him. In August 1944, Mikhail noted that his nationality had been written down incorrectly, and he demanded to be reregistered as a Jew; the writing in his soldier's card was amended. "Why should I renounce my nationality?" Zaslavskii would say, "I want to be a man with a capital letter!" During the first days of the Jassy-Kishinev operation, which he would remember as a period of very hard fighting, Zaslavskii drew strength from the thought that he had to take revenge, since each enemy soldier he saw might be a fascist who had killed some relative of his.
Zaslavskii was awarded the Order of Glory, 3rd class (for Yugoslavia), and a number of medals. He met V-E Day in České Budějovice, Czechoslovakia (the present-day Czech Republic).
After the end of the war, Zaslavskii continued his military service in Ukraine. Only in 1948 was he discharged from the army. He finished a technikum for measurement, and went on to work at various factories.
Mikhail Zaslavskii continues to live in Odessa. He is a member of the Association of Former Prisoners of Fascism.