Ion Lazarevich Degen was born on June 4, 1926 in Mogilev-Podolsk, Ukraine. Having survived the 1931-1932 Ukrainian famine, 12-year old Degen found work as an apprentice to a blacksmith. Growing up near the border between Ukraine and Romania, Degen was well trained in military arts early in life, skilled at firing all types of rifles and throwing grenades. When war was declared on 22 June 1941, 15-year-old Degen rushed to sign up for the army. Though initially turned away, he was enlisted as a soldier with the 130th Rifle Division by July. Earning his first medal and suffering his first injury during the defense of Kiev, Degen went on to fight in a Special Armored Reconnaissance Division, where he was wounded the second time. In 1943 he was directed to the 1st Kharkov Tank Academy and on graduation was transferred to the 2nd Separate Guards (Elite) Brigade, responsible for breaking through enemy lines to enable the infiltration of motorized tank formation corps. Surviving a single assignment was considered lucky, yet as Tank Company Commander, Degen rode his T-34 tank through five missions. On 21 January 1945 he suffered his third and most crippling injury. During his hospitalization, Degen grew intent on becoming a doctor. He completed medical school in 1951 and performed thousands of surgeries throughout his career. Degen emigrated from Kiev to Israel in 1977. Most recognized for his war-time poem “My Friend, in Mortal Pain” Degen is the author of nine books of literary prose and poetry and of a major textbook on orthopedic surgery.
Nearly 16 years old, Degen was determined to join the army.
“Chance?” A poem.
Overcoming physical, political, and social obstacles, Degen becomes an orthopedic surgeon.
Motivation to fight.
Anti-Semitism at the front.