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Lev Kaufman

A Fierce Warrior


Story by Eli Golosovsky

Photo by Avichai Nitzan

98 years old Lev Kaufman and 93 years old Marietta that live in Safed will celebrate their 75th wedding anniversary soon. They got married back then in the forefront, in 1944. Lev was then commander of an artillery battalion, stationed in the Far East, and Marietta served in the battalion headquarters. Lev and Marietta are among the last married couples in Israel who married during their military service in World War II. "Excuse me, my memory is no longer perfect," Lev said, laughing as we began the interview. For more than two hours, Lev told me about those four long years, during which he fought both the German and Japanese fronts � each time he didn't find the words, Marietta completed the missing words with no effort. "These are my stories already, after 75 years I feel that I was there with him, in all those fights," Marietta laughs.

For Lev, the war began on June 22, 1941 - by that time he was already a lieutenant and commanded a battery. "The bombing started at 4 am. I had to take my soldiers and our guns to shelter," he recalls. "Don't forget - the guns were then led by horses; I got 'engines' that replaced them only in 1945."

During the interview, I asked Lev about the most difficult battle for him in the war. "It was my last fight and the hardest fight for me; and Marietta was with me." In August 1945, on the Japanese front, 3 months after the surrender of Germany, Lev led his regiment through the Amur River, on the border with China. During that daring operation, under cross and continuous enemy fire, Lev and the hundreds of fighters under his command moved dozens of guns across the river and barricaded themselves. "We opened fire as soon as we got barricaded. We didn't have time to waste," Lev recalls. "They were well fortified; these were the most complex, most difficult fights I had in the war. One of those battles doesn't get out of my mind until today � years later I didn't understand how I stayed alive," he says. "A sniper tried to take me down, 3 times in just a few seconds." When I asked him how he concluded that, Lev laughed. "The whistle � it's a whistle that can't be confused with anything else. The 3 bullets went so close to my head that they burned my skin and hair, leaving some kind of streak behind."

"We then tried to find the sniper, I was able to figure out what structure he was firing from to my direction; but when we arrived it was too late, he was no longer there. All in all, when the fight was over and we entered the enemy's fortifications there was nobody there; everyone who stayed alive escaped. It was already the end." Lev embarked on the mission from the city of Lagovshchansk, which is on the banks of the same river Amur, on the border with China. Marietta was in that city, in the basements of the battalion headquarters, due to the constant bombing of the Japanese. "Even when the bombings stopped, I couldn't sleep, I kept hearing the muffled blasts from the other side of the river, where Lev was fighting. I knew every such blast could be the last for us," Marietta recalls. One day, she went out to the river, trying to see what was happening on the other side. "Unfortunately, a few soldiers stopped me and asked me to return to the basement immediately, they argued that the bombings could continue at any moment. The next day, Lev was back." For his heroism in that battle, he was honored with a "Medal of Courage." Lev and Marietta immigrated to Israel 26 years ago. Today, they are among the last veterans living in Safed.

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