Vladimir Anenberg was born in 1921 in Yampol, Ukraine, as Monos Velvl Anenberg. His father Peisakh was a carpenter, although he also worked as a mechanic at flour mills at certain periods in his life. At the time, Yampol was a frontier town, with Romania lying just across the Dniester River, and Romanian customs and fashions influenced the way of life in the Jewish-Ukrainian Yampol. A German agricultural colony lay near the town, further contributing to the multicultural ambience of the area. Velvl's father Peisakh was religiously observant, visiting the synagogue every Sabbath. However, he spoke Russian, rejected the claim that the Jews were God's chosen people, and admired the Soviet communist regime.1 Velvl-Vladimir began to study at a Yiddish school, and was later transferred to a Ukrainian school. Nevertheless, he continued to perform as a singer at an amateur Jewish musical theater that operated under the auspices of the Yiddish school in Yampol.
In 1938, Anenberg moved to Odessa and began to attend the city's Institute of Civil Engineering (now the Odessa Academy of Civil Engineering and Architecture). By June 1941, when the Soviet-German War broke out, he had completed three years of study. Velvl's brother Aaron was drafted into the Red Army, and went on to command a battalion during the defense of Odessa; he was seriously wounded, and died in a hospital. Velvl's Institute was to be evacuated, but the Secretary of the Institute's Party Committee called upon the students to enlist in the Red Army instead. Thus, Velvl-Vladimir was attached to the 274th Road and Bridge Regiment, which was being formed in Odessa. After being assigned to frontline duty, Anenberg was transferred from the engineering corps to the rifle troops, and took part in the Red Army retreat of 1941 as a common foot soldier. In October 1941, the remnants of his unit were taken prisoner by the Germans. In the POW camp, Anenberg passed himself off as a Ukrainian named Vladimir Petrovich Ananchenko. Shortly thereafter, Vladimir managed to escape from the POW camp, but was recaptured by the Germans and transported to a POW camp in the Donbass region (eastern Ukraine), from where he was moved to the west. During the westward trip in late November 1941, Vladimir was able to escape from the train in central Ukraine, and he decided to settle in a Ukrainian village. The first settlement he came across was suffering from an acute manpower shortage, and he stayed in it.
Vladimir was first sent to work as a farmhand at the residence of a poor widow, who greeted him with the question: "Aren't you a Jew? You look very much like a Jew." Vladimir denied this, and disingenuously proposed to take his pants down to prove that he was not circumcised (he was, of course). Later, given his "Mediterranean" appearance, he had to claim that his mother was a Black Sea Greek by origins. Anenberg realized that he owed his continuing survival to his fluency in Ukrainian and his knowledge of Christian prayers. Besides, he had mastered all the peasant crafts, and served as a "Jack of all trades" in the village – an atypical role for a Jew, from the point of view of the locals.
In late 1943, the Germans demanded that the village supply twelve healthy men to work at a labor camp that was operated by the German military Organisation Todt; Anenberg was included in the group handed over by the village elder. In February 1944, Vladimir escaped from the camp and joined a semi-partisan organization that was waiting for the German retreat. In early March, Soviet troops approached the area. Vladimir's unit supported the Red Army by shooting at the retreating Germans from behind. They also assisted the regular troops in liberating Novyi Bug, the main town in the area. Vladimir and his comrades greeted the Soviet soldiers with weapons in their hands, and this fact did much to smooth his initial acceptance into the regular army: without a long screening process, Vladimir was given a uniform and a rifle, and allowed to join an advancing Soviet unit.
However, after two weeks on the front lines, Vladimir's regimental commanders realized that he had been in enemy captivity. Vladimir and other former POWs were then expelled from the unit and transported to a Soviet camp. It looked exactly like a German camp, as Anenberg would later recall [ibidem]. A short while later, Vladimir was attached to a so-called "storm battalion" – a kind of penal unit that was assigned various dangerous tasks. In June 1944, during a reconnaissance mission in Bessarabia, Vladimir's unit was ordered to capture a German informer in the enemy rear. While escorting this informer to the Soviet headquarters, Vladimir was seriously wounded. After a six-month-long stay in hospital, Engineer-Lieutenant "Ananchenko", the commander of an engineering platoon, was declared unfit for duty and transferred to a reserve regiment in the Russian interior.
Vladimir's parents survived the Yampol Ghetto in the Transnistria Governorate. His sisters had been evacuated to the Ural, and survived the war.
In December 1945, Vladimir was discharged from the army, and resumed his studies at the Institute of Civil Engineering in Odessa. He went on to work in construction, and later – at the Oktiabrskaya Revoliutsia factory in Odessa; in the 1980s, Vladimir Peisakhovich Anenberg was deputy manager of this factory.
In 1991, Vladimir Anenberg immigrated to the USA and settled in San Diego, CA. There, he joined a Chabad community, and became determined to bring up his grandchildren as Jews steeped in Jewish tradition – the very things that his father had failed to do for him. Vladimir Anenberg died in 2004.
The survivor's Ukrainian sweetheart rescues him from imminent death.
The residents of the village in which Vladimir Anenberg found refuge after his escape from the POW camp took his claim that he was a Ukrainian at face value, yet some lingering doubts remained. When Vladimir quarreled with a peasant, the latter accused him of being a hidden Jew and sent him to the village elder, whose name was Smolko, to check whether Vladimir was circumcised or not. The elder's daughter, Klavdia, was Vladimir's sweetheart, and he realized that she was his only hope of rescue. (Remarkably, Vladimir had no sexual relations with her, out of fear of being exposed as a Jew).
"Imagine my condition as I walking toward her: I was crying like a little boy. I came; she saw me, and was horrified: 'Volodia, what happened to you?' And I told her everything, face to face. She said: 'I have known it all along', meaning that she knew I was Jewish. She knew. 'But don't worry, we'll settle everything now'. She took my hand and went to Smolko. We entered; he was sitting with a bottle of samogon [home-made vodka], being quite drunk. He looked at her and said: 'What is this Yid doing here? Klava, why are you busy with this Yid?' She took up position in front of him and said: 'Daddy, he is not a Yid; he is Volodia Ananchenko, and he is a Ukrainian. Moreover, he is my husband; I'm expecting a child from him; I will give birth to his child'. You should have seen his face when he heard this… She said: 'If you lift a finger against him, I will hang myself'. He reddened, sobered… He was transformed on the spot: 'Klava, do you think I don't know that this is all a lie? I know that Volodia is a Ukrainian man. I couldn't hope for a better son-in-law. It was Mormysh who led me astray'. She said: 'Go to uncle Mikhailo [Vladimir's landlord] and forbid him to evict Vladimir from his house; if he is evicted, I will take him to my home; he will live here, because he is the father of my child.' He took the unfinished bottle and went to uncle Mikhailo… In this way, I was rescued from a disaster; God saved me"2.
Of course, Klavdia Smolko was not pregnant. Shortly after this incident, Vladimir was removed from the village to a German labor camp.
The first encounter with the advancing Red Army in March 1944.
"Our entire [partisan] unit went along with the [Soviet] army… There, I had a very interesting meeting. I saw my childhood friend Siunia Malamud, sitting on the coachbox of a cart; he was a sergeant major [starshina] in his company, and was bringing a meal to his comrades. Naturally, we embraced and kissed each other; I told him my story and said: 'Siunia, what shall I do? I was in captivity; I stayed in occupied territory, and I changed my name to 'Vladimir Petrovich Ananchenko'. Now I have rejoined the army; I am liberated, a free man. Shall I change my last name back to 'Anenberg', or shall I remain 'Ananchenko'?' He told me: 'Vova' – they called me Vova – 'if you don't want a bullet in your back, you should keep the name 'Ananchenko', because there is terrible antisemitism here, and it is being actively encouraged… If you want to stay alive'… and so on. And thus, I remained Ananchenko."3
Anenberg reverted to his original last name only after the end of the war, at the insistence of his father.