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Yakov Grichener

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Born 1924, city of Kishenev, Moldova region, Romania [annexed by the Soviet Union in 1939, present day independent state ]. During the World War II served in the Soviet Armed forces from March 1943 through August 1945 in a rank of Sergeant. Participated in combat action on Leningrad Front and 3rd Belorussian Front. Was badly wounded in January 1945 in a city of Koeningsberg, East Prussia [present day Kaliningrad, Russian Federation] – recuperated at Rosbosky Army Hospital. Active duty serviced in 378 Red Banner Division, 1185 Rifle Regiment by Marshal Tchernyakovskiy. Before the World War II attended a gymnasium in Romania, after the war graduated from Kishinev Pedagogic University. Presently resides in Minneapolis, MN.

“Being still in Romania I understood that we were not at home. Because there they could easily call you a Zhid (Eng. kike), even could beat you up. I heard of pogroms in Tsarist Russia [prior to 1917]. I read a lot of newspapers. I read Hitler’s speeches, even before he came to power, and some considered him crazy, thinking that he’d be killed soon or arrested. I felt all the time that I was not in my homeland. When Soviets annexed us, I became a Soviet man, but I hated that country [the Soviet Union], because it was the anti-Semitic system, imposed from above. Not from grassroots, but from above. Everywhere I felt, saw with my own eyes, that Jews could not live there [in the Soviet Union]. That after Hitler’s Holocaust next time it could happen in the Soviet Union…

And only here, in America, for the first time I can express my thoughts and my feelings. I can freely be a Jew. I did not even want to be called Jacob. Yankel only – that’s how I was called when I was a kid. This is strange – it could have been Yakov. But not Jacob. I saw when people [in Minneapolis, Minnesota] were freely strolling streets in tallis [Jewish prayer shawl] and kippah [Jewish usually men’s headdress] and nobody was afraid. I’ve been living here [in the US] for 30 years and I never felt a stigma of being a Jew. I am happy in this country.”

Photo by Kamil Dadashev

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