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Helen and Sol Krawitz Holocaust Memorial Education Center

Shimon and Sara Birnbaum Jewish Community Center

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Survivor Profile




(1930 - PRESENT)






JULY 27, 1930








    Ilya Gurariy was born in the provincial town of Alexandria, Ukraine on July 28, 1930. Shortly thereafter, his parents moved to Kharkov, Ukraine, a large industrial city, to work in the machine factories. He describes his early childhood as “normal” until the war broke out. In 1939 his parents moved to Kiev. There he experienced anti-Semitism from both local children and when he went to school. He and his mother spent the war years moving from place to place to avoid the Nazi invasions of the Ukraine. Ilya describes the hardships of a young boy surviving those years and the feeling of “always being hungry.” Ilya and his mother fled to Omsk, Siberia in 1942 when his father was taken into the Soviet army. He describes returning with his mother to his home city of Kharkov “as soon as it was free from the Nazis,” (in 1943) only to learn from neighbors of the massacres of Jews “similar to Babi Yar,” and the entire loss of his extended family.

    (Refer to Historical Notes Below for Kharkov and Drobitsky Yar (Massacre).

    Near the end of the war, Ilya returned to Kiev with his mother to find the city “in ruin” with no place to live and the local populace blaming the Jews for their hardships. Ilya and his mother and father remained in Kiev during the difficult post-war years, enduring the hardships and anti-Semitism. In his Interview, Ilya describes his schooling during the war and after, his marriage in 1957 to Tamara Rabimovich, the birth of his only child, Alexander, and his immigration to Bridgewater, New Jersey in 1992.


    Editor’s Note
    After Ilya’s Interview, he told Nancy Gorrell that he was going to learn English so he could write his own account of his survival story as a young child.  So motivated, he wrote his own biography. We were heartened to receive Ilya’s testimony in English that he entitled, “My Short Biography.”

    My Short Biography by Ilya Gurariy (July 30, 2017)

    I was born on July 27, 1930 in the town of Aleksandra in Kirovograd region, Ukraine. My father, Michail Ilich Gurariy or (Shmer Gilkovich Gurariy as per his official document) 1905-1979; and my mother, Klavdia Losiphovna Tartakovskaya,1903-1978.  My father was one of nine children and my mother was one of five children. My father was the oldest of nine children. He was only 12 when his father (my grandfather) Gilel Shmerkovitch Guariry passed away and the weight to provide for  his big and poor family was dropped on his shoulders. It was a very difficult and lawless time of World War I. All his life my father was taking care of his brothers and sisters. He managed to get an education in the area of economics and was working for industry. Since 1939 he was part of Ukrainian government. My mother got high education in civil engineering and was working for municipal services.


    Most significant changes in my understanding the world around me took place after beginning of the war with Germany. Mostly it was due to obervations made during evacuation (time when we moved across the country to flee from advancing German army) and wartime life. It was just the beginning of the process of understanding the tragedy of the Soviet Jews fate–a process that did continue until emigration to USA and even later.


    Evacuation was very difficult as we moved from place to place seven times during 1941 to 1944 : Kiev (1941)  Poltava-Kharkov-village Hrenovoe in Voronezh region-Kurgan at Cheliabinsk region-Omsk-Kharkov-Kiev (1944). Sometime we had been traveling in the industrial type trains with no seats. Everytime it was a real battle for a place on the train and for food. Very often we faced hate from local people. Very painful anti-Semitism I was facing all the time at school and on the streets. It was not limited only to humiliating names, but often led to physical abuse. Especially humiliating were widely speeded statements that Jews are not fighting at combat but only saved themselves in evacuation.


    I spent evacuation time with my mother. I did not see my father from July 1941 until August 1944. He was working all this time to provide supplies of all what was needed for the army. We met again in Kharkov immediately after this town’s liberation. In Kharkov my father returned to work interrupted by war.


    In 1944 my father’s organization moved to Kiev and we relocated one more time. I graduated from high school in 1947 and Kiev Politechnic Institute in 1952. Then I was working at the industrial machinery building plants in Kramatorsk (Donbass region) and Kiev, and later in the agricultural research institute. In February 1957, I married Tamara and at the same year we had our son Alex. In 1992 my wife and I immigrated to USA to join our son and his family.


    We had two major reasons for immigration: the first was the desire to live close to my son’s family and the second, anti-Semitism that penetrated and poisoned all aspects of our life. Looking back at my life of almost 87 years, I see that my saddest emotions were always related to anti-Semitism. The happiest moments of my life are all associated with my family life: wife, Tamara Rabinovitch Gurariy; son, Alexander Gurary; son’s wife, Inna Gurary; four grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

                                                               * * *

    Ilya Gurariy Yom HaShoah talk Temple Sholom April 27, 2022

    I was born in 1930 – almost 92 years ago in the small town of Aleksandra in Ukraine. My father was one of the nine children, and my mother was one of t he five. My father was only 12 when his father passed away and the weight to provide for the big and poor family was dropped on his shoulders. My mother also began to work at very young age and then participated in the Civil war where she was wounded. Despite all difficulties both of my parents managed to receive an education and were working in industryand government organizations.

    My childhood was generally a happy one, despite occasionally seeing my parents who spend entire days at work.

    Everything changes in 1941 after the beginning of the war with Germany. I was 11 years old. Initially the Nazi armies were advancing very fast and my dad was called up to the Soviet army. Since then I did not see him for almost 2 years. My mom and me had to be evacuated – which means to flee across the country from the advancing German army. It is when I began to understand the tragedy of the Soviet Jewish fate – a process that continued until emigration to US and even later.

    Evacuation was very difficult as we moved from place to place seven times from 1941 to 1944. We moved through multiple cities and villages: Kyiv (1941) – Poltava – Kharkiv – village Hrenovoe -Kurgan – Omsk and back to Kharkiv – Kyiv (1944). Alltogether it was   more than 6000km.Today it will take about 7 hours of flying ont he modern jet, but during the war it was an endless journey month after month.Sometimes  we were traveling in industrial type trains with no seats (just pack of straw), no rest room, and no heat. Every day was a real battle for space on the train and for food.

    From time-to-time the train stopped to let people go outside to buy food or because of German planes  bombardment. One of the most terrible moments of my life was when train unexpectedly began to move while I still was outside. I understood that I could not run fast enough to jump on it. Imagine an 11 year old boy without food, money, or any means to communicate with my parents standing in the middle of an endless field and watching the train moving away. Luckily for some reason the train stopped and I was able to jump in.


    Everything was very sad, even when we reached our evacuation final place – the Siberian city of Omsk. Bad news from the war, lack of food, and a cold room . But one of the most terrible things was the hate from the people around us. I was facing very painful anti-Semitism all the time at school and on the streets. It was not limited only to humiliating names,but often led to physical abuse. Especially humiliating was widely spread statements that Jews are not fighting at combat but only saved themselves in evacuation.

    I was living with my mom who spend most  of the  time working. Most of the time means 12 hours per day 6-7 days per week. It was very hard to survive during t he war years. I was eating mostly bread – about pound per day. That was not enough for a growing boy and Iwas always hungry.Mom and I planted potatoes and grew them on a small piece of land far from t he room where we lived. I still remember how my mom and me had to carry by hand the large and heavy bags with our potato harvest.

    The cold, heavy physical work and the constant state of starvation was not the most difficult things to handle for me. Omsk located in Siberia had a low Jewish population and initially we did not dea lwith antisemitism there. Then othernon- Jewish evacuees started to arrive from Moscow. They brought with them an environment of absolute hate for Jews. These people were much more educated than locals, but their level of antisemitism was much higher. It is when I understood that antisemitism can not be eliminated by just better general education.

    I went to school in Sept ember 1941. In side school I felt relatively safe, but outside school local kids been telling me that as soon as Nazis arrive, they will cut my headoff. There was nothing Icould do.There was a crowd of them against me.I was 11 years old, and it was 1941. It is how I spend 3 years of my life: surrounded by children and adults including some teachers in school who hate Jews, always hungry, mostly alone at home, always afraid that German army would reach Omsk and Nazis would kill my mom and me. It is surprising that eventually I was able to overcome all t hese tragedies and return to the normal, sometimes happy life. All her life after the war, my mom was trying to feed as much as possible food to everyone in our family during the breakfast, lunch, or dinner – she was afraid that we may not have food for the next meal. Not to eat all the food that was served and to leave something on the plate was considered a crime in our family even many years after the war when we already had enough to eat.


    In August 1944 after Kharkiv was liberated from Nazis by the Red army, we returned from evacuation and soon after we moved to Kyiv where my dad was working. Unfortunately, the situation with antisemitism did not change much. The strongest foundation for it was widely spread and supported, as we know now, by government officials and KGB rumors that Jews did not fight in the war, but just were hiding in safe places.

    The reality of Jewish participation in the war was completely different. At the beginning of war there was 0.5 million Jews in the Red Army including 24 generals and 2 rear-admirals,167 thousand officers and 334 thousand soldiers. All together 20% of Jews were fighting. It is about the same percentage provided to the army by any other Soviet Union nationality.

    The same is confirmed by the number of losses. According to the Central Archives of the Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation, 198 thousand Jewish servicemen died in combat.That is 40% from the total number of Jews fighting in Red Army. The total loss of the Red Army’s armed forces during the war was 25%.

    Thus, the losses of Jewish soldiers during the war were substantially higher than average.

    There is an official information on the number of solders awarded orders and medals for heroism in the war. Per 100 thousand soldiers orders and medals were given to 5,414 Russian, 4,624 Ukrainians, 3,935 Belarusians and 3,500 Jews. Similar are data on the number of Jews of decorated by the Soviet Union highest award – order of Soviet Union Hero. 147 Jews received this order. This is third place among all nations based on ratio to the totalnumber of people of each nationality. And all these was despite well-established information that Director of the Central Political Office of the Red Army General Scherbakov gave an order to limit the number of Jewish people to be awarded honors for the achievement in fighting with Nazi Germany. In 1944, at a meeting in the Kremlin, Stalin presented the list of positions to which Jew scould not be appointed. A limit on the title of “Hero of the Soviet Union” was also established for Jewish people. After the military   operation for taking Berlin was successfully completed, two commanders of tank brigades who were the first to break into Berlin were nominated for “Hero of the Soviet Union”. Top military commander Zhukov said that we will give the title to only one, because there is a limit for Jews for this military operation. There are many documented names of the soldiers who been nominated for this title two or three times, but never receive it becauseof their Judaism.


    Official numbers demonstrate that all rumors secretly spread with the silent support from the government that Jews did not fight against Germany is a lie. Unfortunately,the absolutely evident contradiction between available information and conspiracy theory never stopped judeophobes. Never did before and never will in future.

    In 1952 I graduated from Kiyv college and had to accept extremely unattractive job offer. But I was lucky, as it was another special year for Jews in Soviet Union. Stalin and his government decided to divert people’s attention from the difficult life by opening so called “Doctors case” where number of doctors, mostly Jews, have been accused in the attempt to poison Soviet leaders. Published in all major newspapers articles were a clear call for new pogroms. ManyJewshavebeenfired from their jobs and did not know what to do. The government was working on a plan to collect Jews and send them during the winter to unprepared camps in Siberia. In another way – to send them for the definite death. Only the death of Stalin prevented this terrible crime.

    While Stalin’s death prevented the complete destruction of the Soviet Union Jewish population,it did nothing to reduce the level of anti-Semitism. For many years I heard from different people how much they are sorry that Stalin died before killing all Jews. These people did not care that Stalin’s regime killed millions of innocent, most intelligent and talented non-JewishSoviet people. They have been ready to accept and support everything for the sake of Jews distraction. Where is a limit to this hate? I continued to live in the environment of discrimination – limits on colleges where Jews can study with not more than 3% of Jews can be accepted, limits on number of professions, limits on promotion. This list has almost no end.

    Practically all my life I lived in the heavily antisemitic environment. Hate for Jews turned to almost routine phenomena that manifested itself daily. Relatively quiet times switched to an explosion of the antisemitism, as happens now during each Israel military or other success. It looked like nothing will ever change and I just must adjust for it. Fortunately, “never say never”. The failure of the socialist system allowed my wife, son, and me to emigrate to US. Here I could for the first time in my life openly live as a Jew without any concern. And what a wonderful new feeling it was for me.

    I would love to finish my talk happily, but unfortunately on February 24 Russia started an unprovoked war withUkraine. Unable to achieve military victory they are destroying now by bombardment beautiful peaceful Ukrainian cities and killing civilians using the same methods as the Nazi army during war with Russia 75 years ago. Again, I see Kiyv and Kharkiv’s streets destroyed and looking exactly as after German’s occupation. This time it is genocide against Ukrainian and other nations living peacefully in Ukraine. Old people who survived Nazi occupation are killed now by Russians. Babi year – place in the Kiev where 33,771 Jews have been killed during Nazi occupation – now damaged by Russian missiles.

    I just hope that the new generation of people will be able to put the final stop to the hate I had to deal all my life

    because as poet JohnDonne wrote in 17th century:

    No man is an

    island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if

    a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom

    the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

    Thank you.

  • SURVIVOR interview


    (English Translation from the Russian)

    December 14, 2016

    Location: Jewish Family Service Office, Somerville, New Jersey

    Interviewer: Nancy Gorrell

    Russian Translator: Elena Volkova


    Q: Where and when were you born?

    I was born in Ukraine city of Alexandria, a provincial town, on July 28, 1930 the same year my parents moved to Kharkov, a large industrial city.


    Q: What did your parents do there? Why did they move?

    They participated in building the city. They both worked in a large machine factory. My mother was an engineer and my father was “communista.”


    Q. Did he work for the party? What did he do for a living?

    He worked in the factory. He studied economics. Both were “communistas.” My mother participated in the civil war during the revolution. It was awful. They joined the party in 1920. They joined because they wanted to change the country.


    Q: Tell us more about your father and your family background.

    My father was the eldest son in a big family. He had to provide for everyone. His father’s family was very religious. My mother was a very excited woman who believe in a new world where Jews would get rights; where Jews would get rights to live in big cities. There was a rule if you had a child, and if you had a child smart enough to learn in high school, you could live in big cities. I am an only child. For families at that time, it was normal.


    Q: What was your childhood like?

    Before the war, it was normal.


    Q: Did you celebrate Jewish holidays?

    No, no religious observance, communistic. By 1920s, religion was not officially forbidden, but for a communist, it was out of the question. We were raised that to attend any religious place was so old fashioned. It’s ok, for old women, but not for the young. A lot of religious books considered of the past.


    Q: Was there any anti-Semitism in your childhood?

    No memory about it before the war.


    Q: What happened when war broke out?

    Just before the war, in 1939, we moved to Kiev. It started in June. When I went to school in September, I started to feel an anti-Jewish attitude. Inside school, I didn’t feel it, but outside school local kids said that as soon as Nazis come, well get rid of all “zhit” (very bad word) …like kikes in English. Kids would say to me, as soon as Nazis come “we’ll cut your head off.” I was 11 years old, and it was 1941. There was nothing I could do. There was a crowd of them and one of me.


    Q: Then what happened?

    We kept moving to different places and cities, but everywhere we went the remarks and anti-Semitism was the same. The atmosphere was very humiliating…always bad, mean rhymes and fights with kids. Everywhere all the problems were blamed on the Jews.


    Q: What happened to your family? 

    My mother and I moved to Siberia between 1942-43 when my father was taken for the army. We stayed there until 1943. As soon as Kharkov was free from Nazis, we want back there.


    Q: How did you survive the war years?

    It was very hard to survive during the war years. I got mostly just bread (1/4 pound for kids per day). We planted potatoes, cabbage, and carrots. That was it for a growing boy. I was always hungry.


    Q: Where were you in Siberia and what was it like there?

    We fled to Omsk, a very big industrial city, the informal capital of Siberia. There were many factories there. Many from Moscow went to Omsk, and they were the worst anti-Semites. My parents worked in the factories before my father went into the army.


    Q: What did you do and where did you go after 1943?

    Most of the industrial factories in Omsk were exploded by Soviets so Nazis wouldn’t get them. When we returned to Kharkov, we found out our whole extended family was killed by the Nazis (my mother’s brother, for example). Mass killing of Jews, like Babi Yar, happened in Kharkov. The neighbors told us.


    Q: What did it feel like to return to your home city?

    When we came back, there were different kids there—none of my friends. The kids asked other kids to show them the “kikes.” I realized they were very cruel and unfriendly. Closer to the end of the war, we returned to Kiev, but I always felt the attitude of anti-Semitism–always the attitude that we are different.


    Q: What was Kiev like near the end of the war?

    Kiev was practically ruined so there was no living space; people were fighting for any space to live. The people attacked a military person who was a Jew. The Jew killed his attackers. This caused the people to be ready for new progroms. They always blamed us Jews.


    Q: Where did you live after the war? What was life like?

    After the war, we were living in Kiev. We lived there until we emigrated. The anti-Semitism continued. My father, who had a top position in his factory as an engineer was fired because “there are too many Jews in the factory especially in the top position.” Many Jews were in top positions. After the war the problem was not only the Nazis, the Ukrainian people, so filled with hatred, they helped the Nazis. Some of them were happy to help the Nazis.


    Q: What happened to school for you during the war?

    During the war, I continued to go to school. We didn’t have notebooks or white paper. We used newspaper and wrote between the lines. We didn’t have ink, so we used cinders with water to write. Even in Siberia I went to school. Anti-Semitism didn’t stop me for going to school.


    Q: What about after the war?

    After the war, at age of 15, I went to high school, and then I graduated and entered Kiev Poly-technical Institute. I studied engineering mechanics, all mechanisms you can imagine. I graduated in 1952. In Russia it was common for you to study for free, but you are obligated to work for 3 years, so I was sent to Kramatorsk in the Ukraine for 3 years to work in a factory. Then I returned to Kiev. I worked at a plant at first and then at a research institute.


    Q: What about your personal life?

    I got married in 1957 to Tamara Rabimovich. (her last name was the synonym for Jew in Russian…a very popular name). It’s a love story. We have one son, born in 1958, Alexander Gurariy.


    Q: What prompted you to leave?

    We immigrated to Bridgewater, New Jersey in 1992. My son came to Bridgewater two years before with his wife and by now they have 4 children: Benjamin, Ellen, Michael, and another boy.


    Editor’s Note:

    At the end of the interview, Ilya proudly shows the interviewer sources in his possession published in Russia about Jewish heroes in the Soviet Union. He points to the photos of Jewish heroes on the cover of the book. Then he points to a picture of a medal of Jewish heroes that fought the Nazis. It translates as: “It is written here – ‘Jewish shield of the USSR.’” Elena Volkova, translator, points out there was an opinion (very anti-Semitic) that Jews did not fight; they avoided going to the army. These sources dispel that opinion.


    Kharkov and Drobitsky Yar (Massacre)

    The significant Jewish population of Kharkov suffered greatly during the war. Kharkov’s Jewish community prided itself in housing the second largest synagogue in Europe. Between December 1941 and January 1942, an estimated 30,000 people, (16,000 Jewish) were killed and buried in a mass grave by the Nazis and local collaborators in a ravine outside of town named Drobitsky Yar. Kharkov, the 2nd largest city in the Ukraine at the time, saw four major battles during the Nazi invasion of the Eastern front during the war. It was liberated in 1943 by the Soviet Army.

    A memorial recognizing the genocide at Drobitsky Yar stands in Kharkov today.

  • Sources and Credits:


    SSBJCC Survivor Registry Interview by Nancy Gorrell, translator: Elena Volkova, December 14, 2016; Biography by Nancy Gorrell; Digital historic and family photographs and documents donated by Ilya Gurariy.

    The Holocaust Memorial and Education Center gratefully acknowledges the donation of Ilya’s Yom HaShoah Talk at Temple Sholom April 27, 2022.