Moisei Shukhgalter was born in 1906 in Kiev; most of his childhood was spent in Koziatyn, 150 kilometers southwest of the city, where his father Iakov was a clerk at a sugar plant. Moisei's father preferred to speak Russian, rather than Yiddish. Nevertheless, he wished to give his son a traditional education. These hopes were dashed in 1914, when Moisei's melamed was drafted to fight in World War I. In 1916, the young Moisei entered a gymnasium in Berdichev – but, after the Revolution of 1917, he left it for an ordinary school in Koziatyn. In 1923, he finished a vocational school in Kiev and returned to Berdichev, to work as a mechanic at a local sugar plant. He would remain connected with the food industry for the rest of his professional life. In 1930, Moisei graduated from the faculty of industrial technologies of the Kiev Institute of the National Economy (the present-day Kyiv National Economic University), and he went on to work at a sugar refinery in Odessa.
On June 22, 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and on that very day Moisei received a call-up notice from the Red Army. On the next day, he was already a soldier. Due to his higher technical education, he was immediately promoted to military technician, 2nd rank (equivalent to a lieutenant), and attached to the HQ of the 48th Rifle Corps. Shukhgalter began the war in Bessarabia (Moldova), and a short time later he was wounded and shell-shocked. After his recovery, he took part in the unsuccessful defense of the Crimea and the retreat to the North Caucasus, and he survived the Red Army's abortive landing in Kerch (eastern Crimea) in December 1941-January 1942. In summer 1942, in the North Caucasus, he once again took part in the retreat of the Red Army, and fell sick with dysentery. After recovering, he was attached to the 1st Guards Tank Army. Now, Shukhgalter's duty was baking bread in field conditions and supplying the soldiers with it (and with other foodstuffs).
With the 1st Guards Tank Army, Moisei Shukhgalter traveled through Ukraine and Poland. He took part in the crossing of the Oder River in 1945, and was seriously wounded there; in April-May 1945, he took part in the Battle of Berlin. He was awarded the Order of the Red Star and several medals (including "For the Defense of the Caucasus"). His last rank was that of engineer major.
While moving through Poland, Shukhgalter was impressed by an encounter with Jewish partisans. He also met other Jews rescued in Poland or Germany.
In 1948, Moisei Shukhgalter was discharged from the army as a "specialist important for the national economy." This formula did not help him find employment in his field of expertise. In the 1950s and later, he worked as a manager of various food factories.
In 1987, Moisei Shukhgalter immigrated to the USA and settled in Los Angeles. He died in 1999.
An encounter with Jewish partisans.
"We made a stop in one of the Polish towns…. Our people were very tired – and besides, it was necessary to wait for the rear to catch up, since we were running low on food, ammunition, and fuel.… I stayed in a peasant hut…. Early in the morning, the owner of the hut woke me up: "Pane, pane! [sir, sir!], they are asking for you'. I was astonished: who could possibly be asking for me – and through a Pole, at that? A man is standing there, a tall man in a Polish peasant coat [svitka], with a machine-gun belt and a long curly beard. He instantly called to mind the image of a Biblical prophet, and it was clear to me that [he was] Jewish. He addressed me in a mixture of Yiddish, Russian, and Polish. From his words, I gathered that he was a partisan, a Jew, and that there were eight Jewish partisans assembled in the ruined synagogue building in this town; they wished to hold a prayer to commemorate the victims; however, they lacked two men for a minyen [minyan, prayer quorum]… I have wondered ever since how he learned that I was Jewish. 'Is there at least one other Jew among your officers?'… It was not particularly desirable from the point of view of our regulations; contacts with the local population were frowned upon. But it was very early in the morning; all were asleep, and so I went. In the second hut from ours, I found Captain Katsnelson. I woke him up; he was not very enthusiastic, but he agreed to accompany us. We came to the synagogue…. It had been burned down, but the partisans were assembled inside it…. There were two Russian Jews among them; they spoke Russian, and had escaped from a deportation train."