Yakov Rokhlin was born in 1920 in a Jewish family living in the town of Sarapul in the Udmurt Republic. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Leningrad. Upon completing school, Yakov Rokhlin enrolled in the Department of History of Leningrad State University. After studying there for three years, he switched to a theater institute.
In late June 1941, when Germany invaded the Soviet Union, Yakov Rokhlin was drafted into the Red Army. He was dispatched to the Leningrad Front.
During four years of heavy fighting, he got to experience many aspects of a soldier's life: leading troops in a charge, building dugouts, felling trees, translating intercepted radio messages. Rokhlin was wounded twice, with the first injury proving serious, and the second less so. He met V-E Day in Tallinn. At the end of the war, he was awarded the medal "For Courage". Here are some of his recollections of the war years:
"Initially, I regarded war as a testing ground for glory. This was quickly replaced with acute fear, cold, hunger, and unbearable humiliation; not just the humiliation endured by any soldier in a broken army, but also the humiliation meted out by all those who outrank you – and you are outranked by everyone, apart from your fellow soldiers…
The war beat some common sense into me, and I soon realized that glory should be the last thing on my mind; that I just had to endure, clinging to my humanity as far as possible within the depths of a semi-animal existence, even though I occasionally lacked the simple physical strength to maintain even a modicum of dignity." 1
After the end of the war, Rokhlin returned to Leningrad, where he came face to face with the resurgent antisemitism, which he found hard to credit. He would later recall:
"In June 1945, I met with some friends. Among other things, they told me about the beginning of state-sponsored antisemitism, which was not openly advertised, yet palpable. Its impact was particularly felt in universities: Jews had become completely (or almost completely) excluded from such institutions. I found this unbelievable. Jews had been persecuted by Hitler, who had exited the stage of history only a month ago."
In 1948, after his graduation, he was not accepted for postgraduate study.
In 1950, Yakov Rokhlin found a job in a Leningrad-based artists' union operating under the auspices of a film studio. In the Soviet period, each such studio would typically employ several artistic collectives. Rokhlin's role was organizing discussions of theatrical performances. In 1961, he became chief editor of one of the artists' unions of the Lenfilm studio. He worked there until 1969, supervising the release of more than 10 films. However, the union was soon disbanded under the pretext of downsizing. The true reason was ideological disagreements between Yakov and his team on the one hand, and Soviet officialdom on the other.
Ultimately, the studio retained him, but only after demoting him to the lesser role of member of the central editorial board. Here is how he recalled it:
"Serving on the central editorial board is a form of honorable exile. This board is a purely consultative body under the chief editor of the studio. It deliberates, but makes no decisions – and, ergo, has no responsibility…" 2
Yakov Rokhlin wrote a lot of poetry, but most of it remained unpublished. He was close friends with the prominent playwright Aleksandr Volodin and the theater director Georgy Tovstonogov.
Yakov Rokhlin died in 1988 in Leningrad.