My grandfather, Gersh Yakovlevich Meytus, enlisted in the Soviet Army when the Nazis invaded Soviet territory. He had a free pass, as he had the Soviet equivalent to PhD, to evacuate with his research institute and avoid the war. But he felt called to defend his home, his people, his family.
He made sure my grandmother and their daughter (my aunt) got safely onto one of the trains evacuating out of Odessa. Then he went to the front. He narrowly avoided being captured when the Defense of Odessa (which lasted 73 days) collapsed and he was separated from his unit. He very timely ran into a farmer with a horse-drawn wagon near the outskirts. He commandeered the horse after the farmer, who chose to stay in the besieged area, refused to help him. He hopped on and galloped out just before the city was completely surrounded by the Nazis and their Romanian allies.
He attained the rank of political officer, whose duty it was to boost the moral of the soldiers in the face of oftentimes impossible odds. He made it through the war alive. His two brothers, Garrik (biological brother) and Yefim (brother-in-law), died in battle during the war. My grandmother rejoined with my grandfather in Soviet-occupied Berlin after V-Day. There my mother was conceived and born.
We don’t know much else of my grandfather’s war story. He didn’t like to talk about it. When my mother inquired, he would usually simply say that war is hell. He did like to tell one story about how during one of his speeches to rouse the troops for their next fight, he realized, after taking a big gulp, that his troops had replaced his full glass of water with a glass of full-strength vodka. They roused their own moral with their laughter while he tried to catch his breath.
On this 72nd anniversary of V-Day, I give thanks to my grandfather for putting himself on the line to defend his home and family. I give thanks to my great-uncles who gave their lives to defend their loved ones. Without them and the countless others who put themselves at risk and gave their lives, so many of us would not be here. On this day of their victory, I send them my deepest gratitude for my life. Thank you grandfathers, for all you did and all you gave to make this world a place I had the possibility to be born into. May we, the progeny of your sacrifice, work with such fortitude for the future generations.