Yevgenia Fizdel was born in 1923 in Odessa, in an assimilated Jewish family. Her father Adolf Fizdel was a doctor. Yevgenia's two older sisters died in the early 1920s, and, being the only survivor, she grew up a pampered child. In 1937, her father was arrested, and spent three years in a GULAG camp; he was released in 1940 as a sick man. In 1940, Yevgenia began to attend the Odessa Medical Institute (the present-day Odessa National Medical University), but, with the outbreak of the Soviet-German War in June 1941, her institute was evacuated to Rostov-on-Don. When the Germans approached that city, Yevgenia was evacuated to Bashkiria, in the Urals, where she continued her medical studies at the Bashkir Medical Institute. Her father was drafted into the Red Army.
In 1942 and 1943, Yevgenia repeatedly asked the local recruitment office to send her to the front lines, but each time she was denied with the formula "The Army needs accomplished doctors." In 1944, Yevgenia Fizdel graduated from the medical institute. She was given the option to stay on at the Institute's clinic as a postgraduate student, but she demanded to be sent to the frontline. In July 1944, she was dispatched to Lvov, where her military service began. Fizdel was attached to GLR 5541, a hospital for the lightly wounded of the 1st Ukrainian Front. With this hospital, she passed through Poland and Silesia, took part in the crossing of the Vistula and Oder Rivers, and ended the war in Czechoslovakia.
Until May 1945, Fizdel did not see any ghettos or signs of the Nazi mass murders of Jews. However, in 1944, while passing through Polish and Silesian territory, she was already aware of the scope of the Nazi genocide of the Jews, and this knowledge strengthened her Jewish identity. She would later admit1 that, while she waited to cross the German border, she felt more afraid of Germany as a country than of the fighting itself. She would also admit that she refused to treat German POWs: 'Let these scoundrels suffer!', etc.
On May 11, 1945, the day of the victory, Fizdel's hospital was sent to the recently liberated Theresienstadt Ghetto, where a typhus epidemic had broken out. This was Fizdel's first face-to-face encounter with the Holocaust. She stayed in Theresienstadt until late July. Fizdel continued to serve in Hungary for another year. Only in 1946 was she discharged from the army.
After 1946, Yevgenia Fizdel returned to Odessa and went on to work as a doctor in various towns of the Odessa region. In 1953, she moved to Moscow.
The nurse Yevgenia Fizdel refusing to alleviate the suffering of a wounded German POW in a Soviet military hospital
"… And then, a hefty red-haired German is laid on my table. And I am saying: 'I won't set a spica cast on him. He is not dying, is he? Let him suffer, but I won't do it.' The senior surgeon says: 'You ought to do it, you are a physician.' I say: 'I am also Jewish, not just a doctor. I won't set a plaster cast on this scoundrel'. And he drove me out […] He [the German] will be crooked – what do I care? Such were my feelings at that time."[YVA, O.93/32297]
The liberation of the Theresienstadt Ghetto
"From Dresden, before we could even get out of the cars, we were ordered by the command to go to the camp in the fortress city of Terezín, where a typhus epidemic was raging in the Jewish ghetto and among the political prisoners of the Small Fortress.
The long-awaited liberation of the inmates of Terezín, coupled with the desire of those who were not yet sick, but already infected, to get out of the camp and return to their native land as quickly as possible, threatened to spread the terrible epidemic throughout Czechoslovakia and other European countries.
The Red Army was faced with a challenging and crucial task: carrying out the full range of anti-epidemic measures, treating the sick quickly, and creating a reliable barrier to the spread of the disease. Immediately upon arriving in Terezín, our chief epidemiologist, Major of the Medical Service Lev Iosifovich Gerinshtein, took this task upon himself.
Our troops had not entered Terezín, and we were thus the first Soviet combatants to arrive in this horrific place. We were greeted by exhausted people, emaciated 15-17-year-old children who could only crawl, and elderly individuals who embraced us and kissed the wheels of our cars.
The hospital was located in the Sudeten barracks, and the iron shelves of the Nazi offices were laid on the floor and used as cots.
Initially, I worked at the central sanitary inspection, whose job was evacuating the sick from the barracks of the ghetto and the cells of the Small Fortress. The Jewish community helped us actively. Dr. Štejn gave me lists of the new cases on a daily basis; nine sanitary cars transported the sick, and, after the patients and the vehicles had been disinfected, they would be distributed among the respective hospitals. After the evacuation, I continued to work in the department of open forms of tuberculosis. […]
Apart from the typhus epidemic, typhoid fever and dysentery were also rampant in Terezín. However, thanks to the properly organized work in the nidus, there was not a single case of these infectious diseases outside the camp. The Czechoslovak government expressed its gratitude to us, and the Prime Minister held a reception in our honor."
On the day of the liberation of the Theresienstadt Ghetto, the nurse Yevgenia Fizdel witnessed the lynching of a German guard by Theresienstadt inmates
"And then, a lynching took place in these barracks. […] They caught a guard who had treated them with exceptional brutality, and who failed to run away. And they knew the specific individuals whom he had killed or sent to [Auschwitz]. And […] these emaciated people, who were unable to stand up from their beds, crawled into the courtyard with razor blades, and they began to cut him with the blades. There was a zampolit [deputy commander for political matters] named Major Fomin, and he said: 'Now I will stop this lynching; it is an outrage.' And we said: 'Let us go away. We must not be seen to condone lynching. We will say that we were not present on the spot. It is a holy revenge.' And so, we left that place; there weren't many of us. And they lynched him. They pricked him with needles, cut him with razor blades, poured some substance upon him, and set him on fire – because everyone, each one of them, had a personal score to settle with this man… not a man, a beast."
- 1. [YVA, O.93/32297]