Roman Aizenband was born in 1923 in Kiev. His father came from a poor family. On the eve of World War I, he went to serve in the Tsarist army as a hired substitute [okhotnik] for another person. After the Revolution, he worked as a porter, then as a horse cabman, and in the late 1930s as a truck driver. He also served a short prison sentence. Roman was the oldest of three children. The family was not very devout, and, when Roman was enrolled in a Yiddish school, his mother made great efforts to have him transferred to a Ukrainian one. After seven years at the Ukrainian school, Roman began to attend a high school with a military orientation. He would later admit [O.93/10431] that his motivation to study at this school stemmed from two factors: Soviet patriotism, and the fact that the school provided its students with uniforms and other clothes, while Roman had nothing to wear. On June 15, 1941, the students were automatically transferred as cadets to the 1st Kiev Artillery School [uchilishche]. A week later, the Soviet-German War broke out.
In July 1941, Aizenband's artillery school was evacuated to Krasnoyarsk (East Siberia). Roman interrupted his studies for a short time, from November 1941 until April 1942, to participate in the defense of Moscow, but in April he was sent to finish his military studies, and in September 1942 Second Lieutenant Aizenband arrived in the lower Volga steppes, to take part in the Battle of Stalingrad. He was attached to the 234th Artillery Regiment of the 96th Guards Rifle Division, first as a gun-layer, then as the commander of a cannon, and finally as the commander of a battery. He would later state [O.93/10431] that he was filled with anger and hatred for the Nazis, and that this anger shielded him from enemy bullets, like an armor of sorts. Nevertheless, Aizenband was wounded in action on four occasions, and spent some time in hospitals.
After Stalingrad, Aizenband fought in Ukraine and Belorussia. On July 28, 1944, his regiment entered Brest (formerly known as Brest-Litovsk), which was then a border city of the Soviet Union, and the road to Poland lay open before them. Aizenband saw action in eastern Poland, then in Lithuania, and in October 1944 he entered East Prussia. Meanwhile, in 1944, Roman's mother returned to the recently liberated Kiev from her place of evacuation, only to learn that eleven members of their extended family, who had stayed in the city during the German occupation, had been murdered by the Nazis at Babi Yar. She described all this in detail in a letter to Roman, who was then a frontline combatant. On an October day, his regiment entered Eydtkuhnen, the first city in East Prussia. After fierce fighting, seven German soldiers surrendered to the Soviets. Aizenband narrates:
"I was angry… Mother had sent me the letter on the eve of our offensive on East Prussia… Our troops advanced on the city of Kybartai, and from Kybartai to Eydtkuhnen… We stormed the first German city and occupied it… When the fighting was over, seven Germans were brought in, their eyes grey with fear… And when they surrendered, and we were with the infantry… When I saw this robust, red-haired German, believe me, I don't know where I took the bucket, nor who had fetched it, but I put the bucket on his head and beat the bucket with a [rifle] butt until I killed him. I knew that no one should do such things, that it was inhumane, that you must not treat a prisoner in this way, especially if he had surrendered to you. But, having just learned of that tragedy, having been told how many human beings were buried there, I was unable to control myself." 1
In 1945, Aizenband took part in the Battle of Berlin, and then his regiment was transferred to Czechoslovakia, to suppress the resistance of Schörner's group, which refused to recognize Germany's unconditional surrender on May 8, 1945 and continued fighting. Aizenband would recall the satisfaction with which he received the order "Take no prisoners!"
In the course of the war, Aizenband was awarded four military orders and a number of medals. His last rank was that of captain. He was discharged from the army in 1947, graduated from the Institute of Light Industry in Moscow, and went on to work at various textile factories. In 1992, Roman immigrated to the USA (where his siblings had moved in 1980) and settled in Los Angeles, CA.
Roman Aizenband died in 2000.
- 1. [O.93/10431]