Moisei Malkis was born in Odessa in 1924. His father Solomon, who had fought in World War I, was a native of the Baltic region (most probably, of present-day Latvia) who had settled in Odessa after his release from German captivity. His mother Rachel had been born in the USA; her father, Moisei’s grandfather Moses, came to Odessa from Detroit, MI in the early 1900s to set up an industrial plant in the city. After the Revolution, the Bolsheviks nationalized the plant; in 1920, Moses died, and the family became one of modest means. Solomon Malkis worked in the state trade. Moisei (named after his late grandfather) had two brothers. The family was assimilated and indifferent with regard to religion.
In June 1941, when the Soviet-German War broke out, Moisei had just finished the 9th grade of high school. In September 1941, the family was able to evacuate, first to the North Caucasus, and then to Kazakhstan. In Kazakhstan, Moisei completed a course for agricultural tractor drivers, and in 1942 he harvested corn at a local collective farm. In October 1942, he was drafted into the Red Army. His destination was the Leningrad Front. After a very brief training course at a sailor school, he served at the Red Navy naval base in Kronshtadt (west of Leningrad/St. Petersburg), and was then transferred to the infantry and attached to the reconnaissance department of the 284th Rifle Regiment. In this capacity, Moisei saw action at the “Nevskii Piatachok”; the battles over this small bridgehead on the Neva River, 50 kilometers southeast of Leningrad, resulted in a huge loss of life for both the Soviet and the German sides. In January 1943, Moisei took part in the storming of the town of Shlisselburg, the operation that actually breached the German Siege of Leningrad. There, Malkis was wounded in the head and face. After a stay in hospital, Moisei, as a former tractor driver, was attached to the 10th Car Regiment; with it, he was transferred to the North Caucasus in May 1943. The regiment's job was to receive American cars, mainly Studebakers, that the USA was delivering via Iran as part of the Lend-Lease program, and to transport them to the war theater. After this relatively (but not completely) safe job, Malkis was transferred to the Eastern Carpathians, where, in September-October 1944, he took part in the battles for the Uzhok Pass, which enabled the Red Army to enter Czechoslovakia. His duty was delivering ammunition to the battlefield and retrieving the wounded. After the Carpathians, Malkis fought in southern Poland, Silesia, and the Czech province of Moravia.
In late January 1945, Malkis’s regiment entered the area of Auschwitz (Oświęcim). He would later state that he was aware of the existence of the Nazi death camps, but not of Auschwitz. He was shocked at the sight of the skeletal inmates, especially the women and children. However, he would also recall the genuine joy with which the former prisoners greeted the Soviet soldiers1. The duty of Malkis and his comrades was, as usual, to bring the mobile baths and kitchens to Auschwitz and its subcamps. He met V-E Day in Moravia. According to him, when he heard of the victory in Europe, he burst into tears.
Many of Malkis’s relatives on his mother's side failed to evacuate in time, and were killed in Odessa.
During the war, Moisei Malkis was awarded the Order of the Red Star, the medal “For Battle Merit” (for the storming of Shlisselburg), and a number of other medals. His highest wartime rank was sergeant.
After the war, Malkis continued his military service. In 1946, he was arrested on suspicions of being an American spy – after all, Moisei’s mother had been born in the USA. Following an “investigation”, Malkis stood before a military tribunal, and was sentenced to five years in prison. Moisei’s parents found a good attorney who managed to commute his sentence to two years in a disciplinary (penal) battalion. The regime in this “disciplinary battalion” was no different from that in a Gulag camp. A year later, however, he was released from the “disciplinary battalion” and demobilized from the Red Army. Malkis subsequently worked as a dentist in Odessa and in the provinces.
In 1990, Malkis and his family immigrated to Israel.
- 1. [YVA VT/13349]