Semion Shkolnik was born in 1925 in Odessa. His father David owned a leather factory in the 1920s. A year or two before Semion's birth, his parents left the Soviet Union for the Land of Israel. However, they failed to take root in the country, and returned to the Soviet Union. Upon his return, David learned that his factory had been nationalized, and the only job he found was as a foreman at his former factory. The family moved into a communal apartment in the city center. The Shkolniks were the only Jewish family in the apartment, and they experienced antisemitism on the part of the other families. One consequence of this was that the Shkolniks were reluctant to speak Yiddish at home, and thus Semion grew up without knowing this language.
In June 1941, the Soviet-German War broke out, and David, the father, was drafted into the Red Army. Semion, who was too young for recruitment, managed to be evacuated from Odessa, and he ended up in western Kazakhstan, where he worked at a kolkhoz. In 1943, despite not yet being 18 years old, Semion was drafted and sent to an officer school. He failed to finish this school, because all its cadets were suddenly sent to the frontline in the rank of sergeant. In August 1943, Semion was attached to the 112th Guards Rifle Regiment, which was fighting at the 3rd Ukrainian Front. He saw action in the Donbass in southeastern Ukraine, and gradually moved westward from there. Shkolnik was hospitalized for the first time in the winter of 1943-44, not because of a wound, but as a result of frostbite. After his discharge from the hospital and return to active duty, in the spring of 1944, he saw action in the vicinity of Odessa, and later moved into Bessarabia (present-day Moldova). In late 1944, Shkolnik was sent to Hungary as a radio operator, first at the level of a regiment, and later as a member of a special radio battalion of the 3rd Ukrainian Front. He took part in the takeover of Vienna and finished the war in Austria. In his interview1 , Shkolnik characterized the Red Army in 1945 as an army of marauders and rapists, but maintained that the Germans, and even the Austrians, had deserved such treatment.
The end of the war in Europe did not lead to Semion's discharge from the army. As an "experienced specialist" in radio communications, he served for four more years at a Soviet military base in Constanța, Romania. Meanwhile, his father David was discharged from the army in 1945, while his mother and sister returned to Odessa from the Soviet rear. David had one overriding obsession: They had to leave the Soviet Union for the Land of Israel. According to Semion's account2 , his family managed to cross the border clandestinely; after passing through a DP camp in Germany, they reached the Land of Israel, where they spent some time in a detention camp in Atlit. After 1948, they settled in Petah Tikva. Semion was discharged in 1949, and he went on to work at various radio factories; he patented several inventions. Despite his reputation as an "experienced specialist", he found it hard to find and keep jobs – not only because of the official Soviet antisemitism, but also because he had parents living in Israel (a fact of which the KGB was all too aware). In 1972, Semion Shkolnik himself immigrated to Israel. He would later regret the fact that his inventions became the property of the Soviet Union, rather than Israel.