About 500,000 Jews served in the armed forces of the Soviet army; over a third perished at the front. As the Red Army’s fourth most decorated “nationality” during the war, Jews were awarded over 160,000 orders and medals. More than 300 Jewish officers rose to the rank of general or admiral. Jews from the pre-1939 Soviet areas were motivated to fight largely by Soviet patriotism and the knowledge that defeat would mean catastrophe for the state that had offered them so much. Those from what had been eastern Poland and the Baltics were much more aware of Nazi atrocities and may have been more motivated by revenge and the fight for Jewish survival. While stories of anti-Semitism at the front, especially after 1943, are not uncommon, many veterans recall friendly relations in the trenches and a united multi-ethnic effort that came naturally in the face of a brutal enemy. Some soldiers learned of the Holocaust through media and political education at the front, but Fascist atrocities against the Jews were mostly ignored by the Soviet press in order that the war would remain publicly identified as an all-Soviet or Russian experience. Soldiers who liberated areas where large pre-war Jewish populations had vanished realized the true horror. Some soldiers liberated Nazi death camps; many discovered the torture and murder of their own families.
Reasons for running to the front at 16.