Tag Archives: Soviet Union

Jew of the Week: Lydia Litvyak

The White Lily of Stalingrad

Lydia Litvyak

Lydia Litvyak

Lydia Vladimirovna Litvyak (1921-1943) was born in Moscow in the early days of the Soviet Union. She was fascinated by flight from a young age, and enrolled in a flying club at 14. She flew her first plane at 15 before heading to a military flight school. After graduating, Litvyak became a flight instructor. In 1941, Nazi Germany invaded the Soviet Union. Litvyak immediately volunteered to join a fighter pilot unit. However, she was rejected based on “lack of experience”, even though she had already trained 45 other pilots! Meanwhile, Marina Raskova established an all-female fighter force, and Litvyak was accepted. In 1942, Litvyak flew her first combat missions. She was soon moved to a standard (male) air force unit. In the battle for Stalingrad, Litvyak scored her first two kills, setting her name in history as the first female fighter pilot to take down an enemy plane. She went on to run 66 combat missions, and logged 16 victories. In 1943, now promoted to junior lieutenant and awarded the Red Star, Litvyak was assigned to the okhotniki, “hunters”, experienced fighter pilots who were given permission to roam the skies on their own, and strike at will. Despite suffering multiple wounds, and recommended to go on medical leave, Litvyak refused. Shortly after, she went on her final mission, and did not return to base. Her whereabouts were unknown. She was either killed or taken captive – the latter possibility preventing her from being awarded the prestigious ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award. Litvyak was only 22 years old. In 1979, after decades of searching, the remains of her plane and body were found. She had been buried by local villagers, having died from a head wound. In 1990, she was posthumously awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union, with a rank of senior lieutenant. Nonetheless, some claim that she survived, and either perished in a German prisoner camp, or lived out the rest of her life in secret, marrying and having children. Litvyak’s story has been featured in several fiction novels, and even a stage production. In the Soviet Union, she was affectionately called the “White Lily of Stalingrad”.

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Words of the Week

Everything is by Divine Providence. If a leaf is turned over by a breeze, it is only because this has been specifically ordained by God to serve a particular function within the purpose of creation.
– Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov

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Jew of the Week: Avigdor Lieberman

The Kingmaker

Israel's New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Israel’s New Minister of Defence, Avigdor Lieberman (Photo Credit: Yossi Zamir)

Evet Lvovich Lieberman (b. 1958) was born in Moldova to a Russian-Jewish family. He grew up speaking Yiddish and dreamed of being a poet. In 1978, his family made aliyah to Israel, where he went by the name ‘Avigdor’. After serving in the IDF, Lieberman studied political science at the Hebrew University. During this time, he worked as a bouncer in a club, and went on to become the club’s manager. In the mid-80s, Lieberman co-founded the Zionist Forum for Soviet Jewry, and worked for Israel’s National Worker’s Union. His first real foray into politics was in 1988, when he began collaborating with Benjamin Netanyahu. By 1993, Lieberman was the Director-General of Likud, and in 1996 became the Director-General of Netanyahu’s Prime Ministerial office. However, the following year he had a falling out with Netanyahu over concessions made to the Palestinians. He left Likud, and two years later, founded a new political party, Yisrael Beitenu. That same year, he was elected to the Knesset for the first time. He remained in this position until 2004, when Ariel Sharon kicked him out because of his vocal opposition to the Gaza withdrawal plans. In the next elections, Lieberman returned to the Knesset, his party having won 11 seats. Once again, in 2008, he left his post to protest “land for peace” negotiations, and was re-elected the following year. All in all, Lieberman has been an MK in every Knesset since 1999, and served as Minister of National Infrastructure, Minister of Transportation, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and even as Israel’s Deputy Prime Minister. Most recently, he has been appointed Minister of Defense. His strong support among the million-plus Soviet immigrants in Israel gives him consistently large Knesset seat victories, making him a key part of forming any successful coalition government. For this reason, he has been nicknamed the “kingmaker”. Over the years, Lieberman has worked to improve ties with European and African nations, and campaigned for Israel to join the European Union and NATO. He has always insisted on keeping Jerusalem undivided, on responding harshly to terror attacks, and strengthening Israel’s borders. On being a controversial figure, he has said: “I’ve always been controversial because I offer new ideas. For me to be controversial, I think this is positive.”

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Words of the Week

“The peace process is based on three false basic assumptions; that Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the main cause of instability in the Middle East, that the conflict is territorial and not ideological, and that the establishment of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders will end the conflict.”
– Avigdor Lieberman