Samuil Gorin was born in 1906 in Kiev. He studied at a kheider, then in a yeshiva. World War I and the civil war of 1918-20 in Ukraine prevented him from gaining a systematic education. By his own admission, he knew the four mathematical operations and Yiddish. In 1932, he was drafted into the Red Army. In the late 1930, his regiment was deployed in the Soviet Far East. In 1940, it was transferred to Eastern Galicia, to the new Soviet-German border. There, in Przemyśl Semion Gorin experienced the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941.
The early stage of the war witnessed the steady retreat of the Red Army before the advancing Germans and their allies. At the end of the summer of 1941, Gorin's regiment halted in a suburb of Kiev. Gorin asked for a day leave to see his wife. In a postwar interview he gave in Canada he described the visit home:
"I received permission for a day-long leave and rushed to my wife. Our Father in heaven! She wouldn't even think of leaving. 'Can't you see how the war is going on?' I shouted. As if frozen, she didn't move. It became clear [when I learned] that she had sent our daughter for the summer to her parents in a shtetl near the Polish border. Now she was awaiting her return. If she left, where our daughter go? […] Her mother could not believe that her daughter would never return. I sent my wife [eastward] with the last train. I did not know whether she reached her destination or was bombed on the way."
Gorin was wounded in the head in the Donbass (in Eastern Ukraine). After this, his vision deteriorated and he had to wear eyeglasses. Gorin was wounded again, more seriously, in Stalingrad. After he was released from hospital, he was sent to a special course, and then assigned as a quartermaster to a depot that provided foodstuffs to the Leningrad Front, Volkhov Front, and 1st Belorussian Front.
What followed was hardly the account of a Jewish quartermaster who at the height of the war, found a secure job for himself and remained there. His comfortable job ended quickly and in a dramatic way. Gorin received a phone call from the general in command of the depot, who order that a train waiting at the depot be filled with foodstuffs and then sent to the Leningrad Front. Gorin proceeded to carry out this order. However, a few hours later, he received an order from the same general requiring that the train be redirected to the Volkhov Front. As a result, the whole Leningrad Front was left without food.
"Generals are judged by the court of history – Gorin noted, "but the rank-and-file are judged by military tribunal." A few days later Semion Gorin was arrested and sentenced, without trial, to be executed. He was put on death row, which was a disgusting cell full of rats, without any light, and a once daily food ration. Gorin spent a month in this cell and then brought before another military tribunal that commuted his death sentence to ten years in prison camp. During the next year, Gorin worked hauling timber in the Russian North. All the work there was done with the prisoners' bare hands. ("Do you think this was Canada?" – he commented during his 1990 interview). After a year had passed, Gorin was suddenly summoned to the camp office. There an officer whom he did not know called him "Comrade Captain" and stated that Gorin was pardoned and restored to his former rank. On the spot Gorin received a new uniform with epaulettes and then taken to Vologda (in northern Russia) and lodged in a hotel there. The following days were a veritable holiday for him: there was food, girls, and even dances. Unfortunately, Gorin was too weak to dance. Within a few days all the former prisoners were taken from Vologda westward. At a railway station they were lined up and informed by an officer that they were going to be formed into Separate Punishment Battalion No. 4."
The general rule was that a soldier in a punishment battalion fought until his first injury. Consequently, some soldiers who in the Batallion No. 4 deliberately shot themselves (usually in the hand) while others, who understood that self-mutilation was punishable by execution, preferred to be shot by the Germans and purposely exposed a hand or leg from the trenches in order to be dismissed from the battalion. "I could not do such a thing" – Gorin recalled, explaining, "this was a war against Hitler, against my enemy! My personal enemy!"
One day a group of soldiers from Gorin's battalion was ordered to infiltrate a German military encampment and to bring back prisoners to provide information. The Red Army men were armed with knives. When the group arrived at the encampment, Gorin cut the barbed wire and two of the soldiers killed the guards and put on their uniforms. The sappers cleared mines from the field. Then the rest of the group entered the camp and captured enemy soldiers and officers. Most of the prisoners were killed on the spot ("War makes beasts out of human beings" – Gorin commented in 1990). Ten German soldiers were taken to the battalion. All the participants in this operation of the action were rewarded by being transferred from the punishment battalion to the regular army.
At this time, the Red Army was in need of translators who knew German. The command of his new regiment knew that Gorin was Jewish. On the assumption that his knowledge of Yiddish meant that he knew German, Gorin was attached to the Soviet commanding officer of Königsberg, in Eastern Prussia. There Gorin ended the war. Afterwards, Semion Gorin lived in Kiev. His wife had survived the war but not their daughter.
In 1973 Shmuel Gorin, his wife Batia, his son Izie and his wife immigrated to Israel. Although he had left the Soviet Union penniless, he succeeded in business in the Jewish state. In 1983, Gorin moved to Canada, where he settled in Toronto.
From an interview given by Samuel Gorin in Toronto in 1990
(When he and other prisoners were released from a Soviet prison camp, Gorin learned that, instead of having their rights restored, they were going to be mobilized into Separate Punishment Battalion No. 4. Gorin objected):
"They declared: 'Your ten year prison term is commuted to three months in a punishment battalion.' I spoke up and said: 'What will happen to me? I don't need a reduction [of my term]. I have been pardoned.' […] The officer said: 'What? Go fuck yourself. You don’t want to fight, eh?' The voice of another [former prisoner] piped up, saying 'Abram is tired of war, he wants to be allowed to go to his Sarah.' The crowd burst out laughing but the commander pretended that he had not heard [the remark]. After he left, some little criminal came up to me: 'If you say the word, Abram, the Germans will give you leave to go, even without any papers!' […]
There were various people there [in the punishment battalion]. Some put a hand or a leg above the trench for a German sniper to hit. I could not do such a thing. This was a war against Hitler, against my enemy! My personal enemy!"
In 1945, Gorin served as a translator for the office of the military commander of Königsberg.
"I was given a hall, where I was to receive German civilians […] Do you think it was a fun to be a commander? I am not a diplomat, nobody taught me to smile at the Germans, who had killed by sweet little daughter. And you did have to smile at them.
Such a thing that was! Like another punishment battalion, but even worse! No, no, the Germans spoke slowly with me, as if they had just woken up. And do you know what I heard from them? That all of them had been Communists and victims of fascist terror. I could only be amazed. […] However, eventually I said to them: 'If all of you were Communists, why there was fascism in your country?'"
(Svirskii, Grigorii. Mat' i machekha: rasskazy veteranov. North York, Ontario: Erudite Books, 1990. Pp. 194-196)