Mark Efremovich Albats was born on April 26, 1920 in Toropets, Russia. He graduated high school in Moscow and was accepted to the Moscow Electro-Technical Communications University. As a student, he was exempt from the draft, but on June 6th, 1941 he volunteered for the army. He completed radio-communication training at the reconnaissance school of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Red Army. On September 5th, 1941 he was parachuted into the Nazi occupied city of Nikolaev in Ukraine. There, he lived in a safe-house under the pseudonym Grigoriy Basiliya. He crossed the frontline many times to deliver information about the movement of German troops. On the night of December 31, 1941, caught in a crossfire, he was wounded in both legs. Albats managed to crawl to friendly territory and was sent to hospital, where he lost half of one foot. Awarded Medal “For Combat Merit”. After the war he worked as the chief systems designer at the top secret Altair Institute, which developed naval SA missile systems and radars. Albats married the actress and radio host Elena Izmailovskaya with whom he had three children: Tatiana, Yevgenia and Asya. Passed away on December 25, 1980.
EXCERPTS FROM INTERVIEW WITH YEVGENIA ALBATS, MARK'S DAUGHTER (2011)
According to his legend, Mark was known as Grigoriy Grigorievich Basiliya, whose father had been a small businessman in Georgia, and was killed by the Soviets. Hence, when the Germans arrived “Grigoriy” was more than thrilled and immediately crossed to their side. The fact that Mark was a Jew was only known in Military Intelligence headquarters in Moscow and in the headquarters of the Southern Front. The Albats family were Sephardic Jews, and Mark was fairly dark. The command in the reconnaissance school must’ve recognized that Mark could pass for a Georgian.
Mark always recalled the time in 1941 in Nikolaev, he was in a restaurant having dinner with Romanian officers, who knew him as Grigoriy Basiliya - the Georgian. All of a sudden, some Georgian man approached him and tried to strike up a conversation. Mark only knew one word in Georgian: “ara” – “no." Mark pretended that he was terribly drunk and kept saying, “no, no.”
On the night of December 31st, 1941, while crossing the frontline, Mark and his partner Nikolai were caught in a crossfire. They spent New Year’s Eve in some ditch and Nikolai was killed. Mark was completely convinced that he would not make it out alive. He was wounded in both legs and managed to somehow crawl to safety. Mark was sent to a hospital in Krasnovodsk, where it was discovered that he had developed gangrene in both legs. The surgeon wanted to amputate both legs, but Mark was only 21 years old and he refused. He got lucky – the gangrene subsided and they only had to amputate half of one foot. For the rest of his life he relied on a cane and had a special prosthesis in his shoe.
Mark’s family was in evacuation in Chkalovsk. At first they received a notice that both his legs had been amputated. Later, another letter arrived that only the toes of one foot were gone. His sister Lida and her friends at the factory, tried to walk holding their toes in the air to see what it was like to walk without toes. One day Lida heard her mother scream, “Mark! Mark!” Mark came in. He was thin, pale, but alive.
Mark was the chief systems designer at the top secret Altair Institute, which developed devices for nuclear missiles, which were to be launched from nuclear submarines. In 1948 when the campaign against “rootless cosmopolitans” began, father was in charge of a top secret project and so he was unaffected. They didn’t fire him or arrest him – nothing. In 1973 though he was forced to leave the institute. He was the head of a very large laboratory and some of his employees wrote a letter that they did not want to report to a Jew. Immediately after, Mark suffered his third heart attack.
Father came with me to apply to Moscow State University, faculty of Journalism. When we arrived, the secretary of the admissions committee for the faculty of Journalism pulled father aside and said “Your daughter has no chance of getting in.”
“How is that possible? She’s a straight ‘A’ student, she’s very prepared,” father asked.
“You have to understand, people with a last name like 'Albats' do not get into Moscow State University,” the secretary told him.
This was a blow to father. He lived in the gilded cage of the military industrial complex. Intellectually he understood that anti-Semitism existed, but he did not realize that some universities had a 3% quota on Jews. In tsarist Russia, for institutions outside of the Pale of Settlement the quota was 12% and inside the pale of settlement – 15%. But during the Brezhnev era – it was 3%. It was incredibly difficult for Jews to be accepted. Some universities even refused to accept half-Jews and quarter-Jews. Some physics and chemistry faculties did not accept any Jews. Father was shocked. It was like he was, for the first time, getting to know this country for which he helped develop weapons. He could not comprehend how in his great communist motherland, built on the principles of internationalism and love unto all nations, all of a sudden it turned out that his children were being discriminated based on their nationality.