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Dragunskii, David Abramovich

(1910–1992), army general and public figure. After finishing the Frunze Military Academy in 1941, David Dragunskii commanded a tank battalion and then a brigade during World War II and was twice named Hero of the Soviet Union (in 1944 and 1945) for combat exploits in the crossing of the Vistula and the capture of Berlin. Altogether, he won 13 awards during his military career. He was one of a very few high-ranking Jewish officers who were retained in the armed forces after the late 1940s.

Dragunskii finished the GHQ (General Headquarters) Military Academy in 1949 and was made lieutenant general. He commanded an army from 1957 to 1960 and served as deputy commander of the Transcarpathian Military District from 1965 to 1969, attaining the rank of major general of tank forces in 1970. Between 1969 and 1985, he directed the Vystrel officers’ school for middle-rank officers of the ground forces. Subsequently, from 1985 to 1987 Dragunskii served as an inspector general of the USSR Ministry of Defense.

Returning to his native Briansk province in late 1945, Dragunskii discovered that his entire family—74 persons—had been annihilated in the Holocaust. He wrote to the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC), asking it to concern itself with commemorating the victims of the Nazi genocide. Dragunskii later participated in Holocaust commemoration ceremonies both inside and outside the Soviet Union. In 1948, he was among those invited by the Central Committee of Polish Jews to attend the ceremony commemorating the Warsaw ghetto uprising, an invitation the authorities did not condone. In 1956, he participated in a Soviet delegation to Paris to unveil a memorial to the Jewish victims of fascism.

In 1948, Dragunskii again wrote the JAC, welcoming the establishment of the State of Israel and expressing pride at Soviet support for establishing a Jewish state in Palestine. Over the years he identified publicly with regime policy on Jewish issues. By the early 1970s, Dragunskii had become an active and vocal participant in the Soviet anti-Zionist campaign. In 1971 he headed the delegation sent by Moscow to Brussels to “explain” the situation of Soviet Jewry in parallel with the World Conference of Jewish Communities on Soviet Jewry being held there.

Dragunskii was chair of the Anti-Zionist Committee of the Soviet Public from its foundation in 1983. His articles condemning Israel and Zionism appeared in the Soviet media and were given pride of place. He played a leading role in establishing the Nazi–Zionist equation: Zionism, according to him, was a Nazi-type aggressive power and subversive ideology. He contended that Zionists underplayed the Soviet Union’s historic role in defeating Nazi Germany and had desisted from fighting Germany during the war, even collaborating with the Nazi enemy.

Dragunskii wrote four books of memoirs in Russian: Dorogi voiny (The Paths of War; 1963); Dorogami podvigov (In the Paths of Heroes; 1968); Gody v brone (Years in Armor; 1973; 2nd ed., 1983); and Memuary soldata (A Soldier’s Memoirs; 1977). Two English translations of this last autobiography appeared in Moscow under different titles: A Soldier’s Life (1977) and A Soldier’s Memoirs: Pages from the Story of My Life (1983). Gody v brone appeared in German in Berlin, and in Yiddish in Moscow.

Suggested Reading

William Korey, “The Soviet Public Anti-Zionist Committee: An Analysis,” in Soviet Jewry in the 1980s: The Politics of Anti-Semitism and Emigration and the Dynamics of Resettlement, ed. Robert O. Freedman, pp. 26–57 (Durham, N.C., 1989); Benjamin Pinkus, The Soviet Government and the Jews, 1948–1967 (Cambridge and New York, 1984); Shimon Redlich, War, Holocaust and Stalinism: A Documented Study of the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee in the USSR (Luxembourg, 1995).