Vera Shukhman was born as Revekka (Rebecca) Shukhman on Purim in 1900 in Krivoi Rog, in central Ukraine. In 1905 she and her mother survived a pogrom. In 1924, she graduated as a dermatologist from the Medical Institute in nearby Dnepropetrovsk (now the Dnipropetrovsk State Medical Academy). Then she worked in the department of dermatology and venereology of the 2nd Kharkov Medical Institute (now part of the Kharkiv National Medical University). Her first husband perished in Stalin's purges of the late 1930s.
With the beginning of the Soviet-German war in June 1941, Shukhman was drafted into the Red Army. She worked as a physician at Hospital for the Lightly Wounded (abbreviated in Russian as GLR) No. 1777, which was established in Kharkov. In the fall of 1941, when the Germans were close to Kharkov, GLR No. 1777 was transferred to West Siberia but in March 1943 it was moved westward, located first on the Volkhov and Leningrad Fronts (in northern Russia), then on the 2nd Belorussian Front and the 3rd Baltic Front. Despite her prewar lack of training in surgery, Shukhman mastered this skill and worked as a field surgeon. In January 1943, the head of GLR No.1777, the surgeon Abram I. Levenberg, was killed during an enemy air raid on the hospital. Following his death, Shukhman was appointed head of the medical service of this hospital, and in August 1944, with the rank of captain, she became the head of this hospital, which treated tens of thousands soldiers with burns (mainly of them from tank crews), as well as many people with contagious diseases. In many cases, during military operations, despite its designation as a hospital for lightly wounded, GLR No. 1777 also treated the seriously wounded. Shukhman was awarded the Order of Red Star (in June of 1944) and the Order of Patriotic War, 2nd Class (in April of 1945).
After the war Shukhman resumed working as a dermatologist and venereologist in Kharkov (with an interruption in 1953, following the antisemitic Doctors' Plot affair). Her last position was head of the dermatology department of City Hospital No. 9. She died in 1987 after having been hit by a streetcar. Since she was almost deaf, she did not hear the warning bell. After her death, her family moved to Israel.
Revekka Shukhman accepts the surrender of some German soldiers
In January 1945 Major of the Medical Service Vera Shukhman received an unexpected order. As the senior officer in the area, she had to take the rifle platoon attached to the hospital and call for the surrender of a small German unit. The Germans were occupying railway buildings in the Polish town of Łochów (east of Warsaw) after the rest of the town had been captured by the Red Army.
The translator Captain Sokolovskii (an ethnic Russian), was holding up the truce flag, while Major Revekka Shukhman, representing the Soviet command, approached the station building where the Germans were. Unexpectedly, Shukhman lifted a megaphone and addressed the Germans in Yiddish, saying 'Ikh bin a yidishe tokhter un a royter ofitsir. Fun numen fun mayn heymland heys ikh aykh ufheybn di hent! [I am a Jewess and a Red [Army] officer. In the name of my mother country, I am calling on you to raise your hands [in surrender]!'
After a painful moment of waiting, a group of middle-aged German soldiers emerged from the open door of the station with raised hands. The first was an elderly colonel of the regular German army, the military commandant of the town, who still remembered Verdun. Approaching Vera Shukhman, he saluted and, following the old officer's code, handed his sword to her as a victor.
After the war, most of the former medical personnel of Hospital No 1777 returned to Kharkov. Twice a year they would all gathered at her apartment -- on Purim, when she celebrated her birthday, and on Victory Day (May 9). On her birthday, the guests would bring homentashen. (Revekka's husband recalled that the homentashen [the Purim pastry] baked by the Russians often tasted more like the Russian Easter pastry kulich rather than like homentashen). On VE-Day her guests acted out her acceptance of the surrender of those Germans in January 1945. First the non-Jewish nurse Nadia Svistelnikova would declaim artistically [the Yiddish words] "Ikh bin a yidishe tokhter un a royter ofitsir. Fun numen fun mayn heymland heys ikh aykh ufheybn di hent!" Then another guest, who was imitating the German colonel, took the [original] sword (which had been preserved in the Shukhman family) and handed it to her [Nadia, playing the role of Revekka].