Yitzhak Pinhas Oremland was born in 1908 in Kamen Kashirsk (today Kamin Kashyrskyi, Ukraine). From 1921 to 1939, the town was part of independent Poland and was known as Kamień Koszyrski. Pinhas's father Pesah was a melamed, a religious teacher. As a result, as a boy Pinhas received a good religious education. When he grew up, he earned his living from menial work – as a metal-worker and a repairman at the local brick factory In September 1939 Kamień Koszyrski, together with the rest of the Polish province of Polesia, was occupied by the Soviets. On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa began, and, among many others, Oremland received a call-up notice. The enlisted young men were assembled and formed into a military unit, but did not have time to leave the town before they were caught by the German offensive. Pinhas was incarcerated in the ghetto of Kamień Koszyrski but, as an experienced worker, he was selected to survive the first mass murders of Jews in the town in 1941. During the major murder operation of August 10, 1942, that was conducted under the pretext of "a redistribution of work certificates," Pinhas's son Yona and daughter Gitele were killed. In November 1942, during the liquidation of the ghetto, Pinhas and some comrades succeeded in escaping to the forest.
In the summer of 1943, Pinhas Oremland joined the partisan unit headed by Aleksei Fedorov. He regarded fighting with the Soviet partisans as an opportunity to take revenge on the murderers of the Jewish people, both German Nazis and their local collaborators. In February 1944, two officers arrived at Fedorov's unit at the same time. The Polish officer proposed that the Jews serving with Fedorov join the Gwardia Ludowa (the Polish pro-Communist partisan army), while the Soviet officer proposed that they move east with his battalion to join the Red Army. Oremland chose the second option and joined the battalion headed by the Soviet officer – service with the Red Army appeared to him to be the preferable way to avenge his murdered fellow Jews.
Since, as a result of being in the ghetto and then living in the forest, Oremland weighed only 54 kilograms (119 pounds), he could easily have avoided the draft (and his comrades advised him to do so.). Moreover, he was the sole support of his wife Basia (Batia). Nevertheless, Pinhas volunteered to join the Red Army. From the conscription office in the town of Rafałówka he was sent, with other draftees, to a training camp in Vologda, in northern Russia. Knowing that there was a tendency to send well-educated Jews to various military courses, Pinhas downplayed his education, claiming that his education was solely religious and that he did not know to write in Russian. Pinhas did this because he was eager to get to the front as quickly as possible. Thus, his training lasted only two months.
In May 1944, new reinforcements arrived in Vologda from his vicinity – Kamień Koszyrski and nearby villages. Pinhas was summoned to the Special Department and interrogated, being asked which of the newly drafted Ukrainians he knew personally and which of them had collaborated with the German occupiers. Pinhas gave a detailed account of the people he knew and, as a result, was offered a position with the NKGB (a predecessor of the KGB). He refused, explaining that he was eager to get to the front.
Despite his refusal, Oremland was sent to the Soviet North, where he took part in the interrogation of new Ukrainian draftees from his areas in Polesia. As an eyewitness, he also took part in the investigation of war criminals – Ukrainian Nazi collaborators, many of whom had been involved in the robbing and murder of Jews. Oremland's testimony that this or that man had served the Germans meant that person would be sent to a Gulag camp instead of to the Red Army.
However, in the summer of 1944, Pinhas insisted that he had to take part in the conquest of Berlin. The command granted his request. After serving for a time in a POW camp for German officers, in September-October 1944 he was included as a machine-gunner in the 23rd Guards Rifle Division assigned to the 3rd Baltic Front and sent to fight in Estonia and Latvia. In October 1944, Oremland encountered a fellow-townsman, a Ukrainian who in August 1942 had denounced to the Germans a group of Jews hiding from the Nazi "Aktion." The denouncer was a soldier in Pinhas' regiment. Pinhas found an opportunity and killed the Ukrainian.
In January 1945 his division was transferred to the 1st Belorussian Front, where Oremland took part in the liberation of Warsaw and of Bydgoszcz, in the forcing of the Oder River, and in the offensive on Berlin and the capture of the city. In the spring of 1945, Pinhas shot to death a whole column of German POWs he was supposed to bring to headquarters and only his eloquent defense of his act saved him from being court martialed. After the battle for Berlin he was awarded the medal For Courage, the citation for which stated that Guards Private Oremland had personally killed nine German soldiers. 1
Oremland continued his service in Germany after the war. After his release from military service, he returned temporarily to Polesia, where he found his wife. Later, as former Polish citizens, they repatriated to Poland. Their daughter Sarah was born in September 1946 ("We, Batia and I, understood that God had answered our prayers" he wrote in his memoirs).
In 1950, Pinhas and Batia Oremland immigrated to Israel, where they lived on the moshav Ein-Vered. Pinhas died in 1977 and Batia — in 1983.
[Based on Oremland's memoirs "Avadim hayinu", a manuscript deposited in the Massua Archives, Tel-Yitzhak, Israel]
- 1. Oremland also mentions other military awards but we do not have any documents corroborating other awards.