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AP PHOTOS: Few know story of Jews in Red Army

Sunday - 5/5/2013, 6:50pm  ET

In this photo made Thursday, April 11, 2013, Soviet Jewish World War Two veteran Boris Ginsburg poses for a portrait at his house in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Ginsburg, born in Belorussia, was kept by a German garrison in the Lenin ghetto since 1941 until its destruction by partisan units in September 1942. In 1942 he joined the partisans for two years and in 1944 he joined the Red Army as a combat soldier and fought till the and of the war. Ginsubrg demobilized in 1947 and immigrated to Israel in 2001. About 500,000 Soviet Jews served in the Red Army during World War Two, and the majority of those still alive today live in Israel. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

DANIEL ESTRIN
Associated Press

JERUSALEM (AP) -- Once a year, Israel's Jewish war veterans don suit jackets and uniforms dripping in Red Army medals, the shiny bronzes and silvers pinned to their chests in tight rows like armor.

About 500,000 Jews served in the Soviet Red Army during World War II. Most of those still alive today -- about 7,000 -- are said to live in Israel.

Every year on Victory Day, which falls on Thursday this year, they parade in uniform throughout Israel to celebrate Nazi Germany's surrender to the Soviet Union.

Afterward, they return home to their modest apartments, where some tick off the days in solitude -- and poverty.

"The ceremonies are beautiful. People like to come and say nice words. But nice words don't put food on your plate," said Abraham Michael Grinzaid, 87, head of an association of Soviet war veterans. "The rest of the year, no one thinks of us."

About 1.5 million Jews fought in Allied armies, including 500,000 in the Red Army, 550,000 in the American army, 100,000 in the Polish army and 30,000 in the British army, according to Israel's Holocaust museum Yad Vashem.

Some of those who fought in the Red Army served in the highest levels of command. About 200,000 Soviet Jewish soldiers fell on the battlefield or into German captivity. Those who survived built families and careers in the Soviet Union, until the Communist regime collapsed and many of them ended up in Israel.

They formed a veterans' association, opening 50 chapters across the country. Today, most of them are nearly 90 years old, but they gather regularly for lectures and concerts. Some sing in the 42 veterans' choirs nationwide.

Israel is home to the world's largest population of Holocaust survivors. Memorials to Holocaust victims and underground partisans are aplenty. But only in recent years has the Jewish state begun to salute its Jewish war veterans.

That's mostly because many of the veterans immigrated just two decades ago and key war archives are only now being opened, allowing researchers to discover the full extent of Jewish soldiers' role in fighting the Nazis, said Red Army scholar Yitzhak Arad.

It wasn't until last year that Israel erected its first monument to Soviet Jewish soldiers who served in WW II. A museum dedicated to Jewish Allied fighters is still under construction.

Grinzaid, of the veterans association, complained that some Soviet war veterans in Israel receive government stipends amounting to just $50 a month, a pittance compared to the financial support Israeli Holocaust survivors receive.

But Roman Yagel, the head of another group of Soviet veterans, countered that veterans receive generous Israeli support. He accused Grinzaid of securing stipends for undeserving veterans who did not fight on the battlefield with weapons in hand -- one example of bitter political infighting within the Soviet veteran community.

Holocaust survivors are frequently invited to speak about the horrors they experienced. But Soviet war veterans arrived in Israel as pensioners and most never learned Hebrew so few Israelis know their stories.

Grinzaid was 17
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