Natan Khaikin was born in 1926 in the town of Ienakievo, Donbass, eastern Ukraine. In 1940, he left his town for Gomel, Belorussia, where he entered a vocational school. In August 1941, during the second month of the Soviet-German war, the local authorities decided to evacuate the vocational school eastward. En route, their train was bombed during a German air raid. As a result, Natan lost the train and was forced to walk. After stopping in a village for the night, he was denounced as a Jew by the house owner and arrested by the local police.
Some days later, Natan, together with other prisoners, was put in a truck, which was to take them to the execution site. The truck stopped near a pontoon bridge, waiting for some German military hardware to cross a river. Suddenly, Soviet aircraft began to bomb the bridge. Taking advantage of the turmoil, Natan managed to flee from the truck. He was unable to cross the front lines to the Soviet side (the frontline had moved far eastward by that point), so he went to Donbass, an area that he knew well. During the next year, Natan, passing himself off as a Ukrainian, worked as a laborer at several farms. In February 1943, he stumbled upon a group of Red Army artillery reconnaissance of the 128th Guards Regiment. The men took Natan to the commander of the regiment's 1st Battalion Guards, Captain Moisei (Moshe) Gurevich, and the latter attached the youth to his battalion. When Natan Khaikin joined the artillery reconnaissance of the 128th Guards Regiment, he was still shy of 17. His birthday would come only four days later.
Natan's period of military training was short, because of the battle for Donbass that was going on from February until September 1943. That same month, February 1943, Natan had his "baptism of fire". This was followed by an unpleasant incident: the young reconnaissance man was ordered to report to the regiment's anti-spy service, known under the acronym SMERSH ("Death to Spies"). Natan Khaikin later recalled:
"[T]he head of the battalion staff… called and said that the head of the SMERSH department, Captain Shubin, had summoned me to the regimental HQ. There, four kilometers away from the frontline, I found his bunker and reported upon my arrival. A soldier immediately confiscated my automatic rifle and stepped aside. Never letting me sit down, Shubin asked me dryly: 'How could you, a Jew, survive in enemy-occupied territory? Why did the Germans not kill you?' I had to once again repeat the story of how it had happened… [T]he captain asked me more and more questions, some of them tricky, others distrustfully ironic, still others angry and malicious. The interrogation went on for about three hours, and I remained standing the whole time. In the end, Shubin asked: 'How old are you?' – and, upon learning that I had turned seventeen only a few days before, he dismissed me: 'Well, go and fight!' – and ordered the soldier to return my rifle". 1
Khaikin recalled that, from that day on, the question "How could you, a Jew, survive?" would continue to ring in his ears.
Private – later Corporal – Natan Khaikin, a communications man (telephone operator) of the 128th Guards Artillery Regiment, saw action in Ukraine, Bessarabia, Belorussia, Poland, and Germany. He finished the war in Berlin. He was awarded the Order of Glory, 3rd class; the Order of the Red Star, and other military awards.
In the 1990s, Natan Khaikin immigrated to Israel. Here, he was reunited with his former battalion commander, Moshe Gurevich, who had also settled in this country. The former superior and the former subordinate have maintained friendly relations.
- 1. Darkei hayyim, issue 10, Beer Sheva, 2006, np