Nakhman Dushanskii was born in 1919 in Šiauliai, Lithuania. His father, Noah, had fought in World War I, where he was hurt in a German gas attack. He returned home half-blind, and worked as a porter at a local railway station. From an early age, his son Nakhman got involved in underground Communist activities in Lithuania, and he spent the years 1936-40 in Lithuanian jails. He was released in June 1940, following the occupation of Lithuania by Soviet forces. In August 1940, when Lithuania was annexed to the Soviet Union, Dushanskii was drafted into the Red Army.
As a former underground fighter and political prisoner, the young Communist Dushanskii was recommended for service in the NKVD, the Soviet political police (a precursor of the KGB). He was assigned to "operative work" in Telšiai, a town close to the border with the German-annexed "Memelland" (Memel territory). There, he was tasked with intercepting would-be infiltrators trying to cross into the territory of Soviet Lithuania through the new border. In April 1941, two months before the German attack on the Soviet Union, Dushanskii intercepted a clandestine Lithuanian courier who was carrying a pack of leaflets issued by the LAF (Front of Lithuanian Activists), a pro-Nazi émigré organization based in Germany. These notorious leaflets, titled "Dear enslaved brothers!", not only promised the Lithuanians that Hitler would soon liberate their homeland from the Jewish-Bolshevik yoke, but also warned that those Lithuanians who collaborated with the Soviets would be punished – with one conspicuous exception:
"The traitor will be pardoned only provided he proves beyond doubt that he has killed one Jew at least". Dushanskii recalls that this leaflet "struck him dead" 1. It strengthened his conviction that he had done the right thing by joining the Soviet political police, since the enemies of the NKVD were also the enemies of the Jewish people.
Lithuania was occupied by the Germans during the first days of the Soviet-German war. Nakhman managed to be evacuated from Lithuania, but his parents and siblings stayed behind, and were later killed by Lithuanian Nazi collaborators. Nakhman's path into the Soviet rear was difficult and twisted. In early 1942, he found himself assigned to a saboteurs' course taught by the NKVD under the auspices of the Central Staff of the Partisan Movement. There, Dushanskii was thoroughly trained as a "wolfhound" – an NKVD saboteur whose tasks included crossing the front lines, killing men with his bare hands, capturing enemy officers and bringing them over to the Soviet side, liquidating particularly "troublesome" collaborators, and carrying out other acts of sabotage and espionage in enemy territory. Like the other NKVD "wolfhounds", he was also fluent in German. Dushanskii completed the course at the end of 1943 in the rank of NKVD second lieutenant (by the end of the war, he would be promoted to Red Army captain). He and his teams were initially deployed in the Smolensk region (western Russia), and were later moved to Belorussia, and then (in 1944) in Lithuania. He took pride in the fact that his "wolfhounds" had managed to enter Kaunas, the second-largest city in Lithuania, in advance of the Red Army.
Following the Soviet re-occupation and re-annexation of Lithuania in 1944, an anti-Soviet partisan movement emerged in the country. The Lithuanian partisans wished desperately to restore the independence of their country. However, in Nakhman's eyes they were former Nazi collaborators and murderers of Jews (many of these partisans were indeed former collaborators). As an NKVD man, Dushanskii continued to fight them with righteous zeal throughout the late 1940s – early 1950s.
In an interview given in Israel in 2008, Dushanskii described an incident from his interrogation of a captured Lithuanian partisan:
"– 'Well, okay, you would shoot at militiamen, communists, Red Army men and 'hawks' – but what about your ordinary fellow Lithuanians? Why did you kill them? The forester – for what crime did you kill him? He did not cooperate with us ... '- and I heard the 'rebel''s reply – 'But this forester had saved ten Jews during the war, thus he paid for it'... We checked, and it turned out that this forester had indeed sheltered ten escapees from the Kaunas ghetto from the Germans and policemen …"2
A less well-known fact is that, in 1945-46, Nakhman Dushanskii cooperated with Brikha – a clandestine Jewish organization that was smuggling Jews from postwar Eastern Europe to Palestine. These activities could easily land him with a ten-year Gulag sentence (in the best-case scenario), but Dushanskii was lucky… In 1989, when the retired Colonel Dushanskii immigrated to Israel, many former Lithuanian Jews acclaimed him as their savior.
Nakhman Dushanskii died in Haifa in 2008, shortly after giving the interview quoted here.