On June 28, 1942, Hitler launched Operation Blau, a massive German offensive aimed at capturing Stalingrad and the oil-rich Caucasus region. Confident that Hitler would continue to push towards Moscow in the summer of 1942, Stalin’s miscalculation led to continued loss of territory and military devastation. Soviet Southwestern and Briansk fronts were shattered along a 280 mile frontline, from Kursk region to the Northern Donets River.
Aaron Chernyak, born on June 21 1921 in Smolensk, Russia, was drafted by the Red Army in 1939. On July 2, 1941 he arrived at the front, a soldier in the artillery forces, and continued fighting on the front lines until May 9, 1945. In 1942, Chernyak was fighting with the 500th Light Artillery Regiment. A particular profile seemed to characterize the unit. In this regiment, as if on purpose, there were mostly Jews. Many of the officers were Jews.
Major Shleifman was the regiment commander, and Chernyak found common interests with his commander. At times, Shleifman summoned Chernyak to assist him, especially when mathematical skills were needed. On one such occasion, Shleifman, who was a traditional Jewish cobbler before the war, looked down and noticed Chernyak’s boots.
In June 1942 Chernyak’s unit was stationed near Oskol River, on the border between Russian and Ukraine. On June 24 the regiment received new orders to cover 80 km in 24 hours. Once they reached their destination, a train would transport them further east. Major Shleifman addressed the regiment. The 24 hour march began; Chernyak is still certain he would not have made it without his new tarpaulin boots.
Swimming across the Oskol River under heavy bombardment, many men died in the water. Those who reached the opposite shore found a train station that had been destroyed, along with any hopes of transportation. Abandoning weapons, artillery units continued their retreat on foot.
Joining a new formation, Chernyak fought in the army reserve with the 7th Guards Red Banner artillery regiment of the 2nd Guards artillery division. A map reflecting the unit’s combat path was created after the war, in 1946, by senior lieutenant David Triers, with a special inscription to his fellow soldiers.
Aaron Chernyak, senior lieutenant David Triers, and major Shleifman were Jewish Soviet soldiers of the Red Army, fighting Nazi Germany on the Eastern Front of WWII - the Great Patriotic War. From different backgrounds and with different destinies, they felt a connection based on their Jewish ancestry, as well as a connection in response to society’s preconceptions. Reading David Trier’s inscription Chernyak is compelled to disprove the myth that Jews hid in the evacuation city of Tashkent to avoid participation in combat. He is eager to dispel these rumors, through example of the experiences of his comrades-in-arms and his own. At the same time, Chernyak is proud of his contribution to the defense of the “Motherland” – the Soviet Union. Aaron Chernyak is a veteran of WWII, a Soviet Jewish soldier.