Efim Skobilitskii was born in 1919 in Berdichev. His father was born in Poland, near Warsaw, and worked as a metalworker. His mother raised five sons. He studied in both a Yiddish school and in a cheder. During World War II, he served in the Red Army as the commander of a battalion of tanks. After he was demobilized in 1949, he returned to Berdychiv and was trained as an agronomist. He worked at a warehouse transfer station for kolkhozi and zovkhozi for thirty-five years.

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Career in the Red Army

Berdychiv, Ukraine

Approximately 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the Second World War. Only 300,000 of those who served survived to bear witness.

Despite the role of the army as a force of integration, many Jews had their Jewish identity strengthened in service.

At least initially, the Jews of the shtetl came out of the war convinced that the Soviet Union was capable of greatness. They had fought hard for their victory, overcome enormous obstacles, and witnessed unimaginable atrocities. They imagined now that the Soviet state they so valiantly defended would reward them for their service. But Soviet veterans, Jewish and non-Jewish alike, were disappointed: the benefits they expected to be bestowed upon them for defending the country in its time of need were not forthcoming. They received orders, medals, and the gratitude of a nation, but were then sent on their way. At least in the immediate postwar period, as the state struggled to bring itself to its feet again by fostering its youth, returning veterans were largely neglected.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, many elderly Jews continue to identify with the Red Army and the Soviet Union, under whose hammer and sickle they fought during the war. The pride they feel in their achievements is palpable; and the respect and admiration they have earned should be limitless.

In this clip, Efim Skoblitsky talks about his military service as a commander of a batallion of tanks. Source: Jeffrey Veidlinger, In the Shadow of the Shtetl: Small-Town Jewish Life in Soviet Ukraine (Indiana University Press, 2013)