Vilen Sadovskii was born in 1925 in Minsk, into the family of an administrative worker. His first name, Vilen, is neither Jewish nor Russian; rather, it is an abbreviation of the full name of the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Iliich Lenin. At that time, Soviet Jews had a sincere faith in communism. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the first name of Vilen's younger brother, Maren Sadovskii, consists of the first letters of the names "Marx" and "Engels". When the Soviet-German war began in June 1941, Vilen was about to graduate from the Minsk Studio of Arts, intending to continue his studies at the Moscow Surikov Institute of Arts. Minsk was occupied by the enemy on June 28, 1941, the seventh day of the war, but Vilen had managed to flee from the city, eventually arriving in the Urals. Together with his parents and Abram, the husband of his aunt Sara, he worked in agriculture. Paradoxically, it was in the remote and non-Russian Bashkiria (Bashkortostan), where Jews had never formed a sizeable community, that Vilen was confronted with antisemitism for the first time; he ascribed it to the activity of enemy agents.1 In August 1942, Abram was drafted into the Red Army.
In October 1942, the 17-year-old Vilen also received a call-up notice and had to register at the Red Army conscription office. His military training began. As a trainee, he experienced even more intense antisemitism than he had ever felt in the Bashkirian kolkhoz (collective farm). During the physical training, Vilen began to suffer from the consequences of an old leg injury, falling behind his comrades. The commander forced "the guilty party" to face the other trainees, who were arrayed in a row. His first question was: "What is your ethnicity?" From that day on, Vilen would hear the word "Yid" whispered behind his back. In January 1943, Vilen was mobilized into the Red Army, and his training as a rifleman began. In August, he was on the front lines, fighting in the vicinity of Voronezh, southern Russia.
On August 23, 1943, during his first battle, Vilen Sadovskii was seriously wounded. He was evacuated to a rear hospital, where he would stay for half a year. During the first four months, he sent his parents optimistic letters, expressing his confidence in the inevitable victory of the Soviets over Hitler, and so on. His last letter to them is dated December 11, 1943. On February 15, 1944, Vilen Sadovskii died at the hospital, and was buried in a common grave.
His diary and letters were published by his brother Maren Sadovskii.
From Vilen's wartime diary, on his uncle Abram's send-off to the Red Army
Vilen's relative Abram, the husband of his aunt Sara, was drafted into the Red Army from the Bashkirian kolkhoz where the Sadovskiis lived. Vilen Sadovskii wrote about their parting.
"August 5, 1942… You have been in remote Bashkiria, in a far-off, half-savage village, with no close relatives, no friends to exchange a few words with and unburden your heart to; a place where you are an ethnic alien, a man without a homeland. The poor peoples – and the Jewish people in particular – how much it has to suffer! What have you done to earn the scorn of other peoples, whom you regarded as your equals? So many Jews have perished under Hitler's rule – and, in case of his victory, I am sure that Jewish blood will flow like a river throughout Russia… How I wanted to cry when Abrasha took out a button of [his daughter] Zina's shoe out of his rag purse! [Abram's family had perished in Minsk]. The only relic of his daughter! And Sara was no longer among the living!".
Vilen Sadovskii, Pisma iz vechnosti, ed. Maren Sadovskii, Jerusalem: Tsur Ot, 2010, p. 88
- 1. Vilen Sadovskii, Pisma iz vechnosti, ed. Maren Sadovskii, Jerusalem: Tsur Ot, 2010, p. 84-85