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Survivor Profiles: Leonid Spivak

Life in the ghetto could bring death every day; it was real and imminent.

Leonid Spivak

His Story:

Leonid was born in 1934 in Mogilev Podolsk, a village in southwestern Ukraine, just across the River Dniester from Bessarabia (Moldova). When Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941, people fled deeper into Ukraine and into Russia. Leonid’s family traveled 30 km to a village where they had relatives.

Because traveling with three young children was difficult, Leonid’s mother decided the family should stay rather than retreating further. The Germans soon arrived and ordered everyone not from the village to return home or be killed. Soon after, in July 1941, Mogilev Podolsk was turned into a ghetto where the Spivak family remained until being liberated by the Soviet army in March 1944.

After liberation, the family faced threats and persecution from their non-Jewish neighbors as well as harsh rationing due to the continuing war. Leonid eventually finished school and entered the army, retiring after 30 years as a Lieutenant Colonel — he was never made a full Colonel because, as a Jew, he was not allowed to command a brigade. After winning independence from the Soviet Union, Ukrainian politics became increasingly openly antisemitic. Leonid and his wife came to the Chicago in 1994.

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