Lieutenant-Colonel Semion Besprozvannyi was born in 1898 or 1899 in Kiev. Semion's grandfather was a "cantonist" (i.e. a young Jewish boy who between 1827-1856 was drafted into the tsarist army in Russia. Before being drafted his grandfather's last name was Hendelevich; at the canton (a kind of military school for boys) he received the new family name "Besprozvannyi," literally "having no name." This was hardly a unique case when the Russian army changed the family name of recruits from the Jewish and other ethnic groups.
Semion's father was an electrician, which was a new profession in the late 19th century. When Semion was six years old, his father died. Tuition was waived for the boy to study in a realschule or secondary school. While he was studying, Besprozvannyi worked as a street vendor in Kiev. In 1920, he moved to Petrograd and attended what was popularly referred to as the Librarians' Institute (now Saint-Petersburg State University of Culture and Arts). After his graduation, Besprozvannyi worked as an administrator in the field of culture. The peak of his civilian career was as head of the department of culture of the Leningrad City Executive Committee.
With the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, Besprozvannyi volunteered for the frontlines. His first position was political commissar at the HQ of the Partisan Movement of the Leningrad Region Then he served as head of the political department of the Partisan HQ attached to the Northwestern Front. In October 1942, he was parachuted into one of the partisan zones of the Leningrad Region. A political commissar in the partisan zone hardly had a comfortable position. His task in 1942 was to transform many groups of soldiers who had been left behind in the enemy rear the previous year by the retreating Red Army into disciplined military units, real representatives of the Soviet regime behind the frontlines. Besprozvannyi returned to the HQ in January 1943 after having fulfilled this task, bringing with him intelligence information about the area where he had been active. For this mission he was awarded the Order of the Red Banner. The citation accompany the order said: "Despite his lack of knowledge of how to use a parachute, having demonstrated perseverance and courage, Comr[ade] Besprozvannyi was parachuted to the enemy rear, where he found a partisan unit […and] conducted great work with the partisans." In a letter to his wife, Besprozvannyi wrote: "although before opening your parachute you were supposed to count to three, instead of counting, for a good luck, I recited the names of our three children, Maya, Tenna, and Boris, and pulled the ring."
In 1943, Besprozvannyi graduated from an officers' course, thus completing his transition from political worker to fighter. In 1944, he became deputy commander of the 454th Infantry Regiment, which would go on to fight in Poland. He was awarded another order and, in January 1945, was promoted to commander of the Regiment.
However, Semion Besprozvannyi commanded the 454th Infantry Regiment for only 18 days. He fell in the battle for the town of Oświęcim on January 26, 1945. A witness describes his death:
"... Dawn broke on 26 January. In the distance, the chimneys of the [Auschwitz] crematorium could be seen. It was only 2-3 kilometers to Oświęcim, but the enemy resistance kept increasing. When our units approached the eastern outskirts of the town, heavy fighting began and the situation of one of our battalions became critical. This was the decisive point when the success of the battle for the town of Oświęcim was at stake... the regiment commander himself rushed to this location... After his first shot a tank bearing a swastika stopped. However, a second shot did not follow. An enemy shell exploded and cut short the life of the commander.... " [the text of the account is edited by the publisher].
[Krolevets P.A., "I rukhnuli vorota ada" [And the Gates of the Hell Collapsed], in: Sankt-Peterburgskie vedomosti, 27.01.2005. Cited/Translated from www.jewmil.com].
Did Besprozvannyi know the significance of the site he was fighting for? Did he understand that the largest Nazi death factory was situated close to the little Polish town of Oświęcim? Some accounts attest that he did. Before his regiment approached the town of Oświęcim, its soldiers met some former Polish prisoners who told them that in this vicinity there was a concentration camp where "they are burning people."
For a long time, Besprozvannyi's family did not know how he perished. Official documents stated that he fell in a battle near Kraków. In 1976, his daughter Tenna found the site of his burial – a mass grave in the Oświęcim parish cemetery. However, only in 1989, did Semion's son Boris succeed in establishing contact with local Polish historians, who had discovered that Besprozvannyi had been killed while liberating the town, close to the area of which Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp was located. A photograph of Besprozvannyi is presently exhibited in the museum of the town of Oświęcim. His regiment was the first Red Army unit to enter Auschwitz.