These medallions belong to my great-grandfather, Yakov Israelovich Fishman, who fought in World War II as a sergeant for the Soviet Army. Yakov was awarded Order of Patriotic War 2nd class, the Medal for Leningrad defense, and the Medal for Victory over Germany, which has the bust of Lenin depicted on it and the words, “Our cause is righteous; we are victorious.” Yakov was a Belarussian Jew from Babruysk who fought bravely in many battles, including the Battle of Leningrad. He received a mild injury to his leg in January 1942, and soon returned to continue his military service. Shortly after though, in August, he suffered a much more severe injury that resulted in the loss of his eye. For the rest of his life, he wore a glass eye that he kept in a glass of water by his bedside, as my father and grandmother vividly remember.
It is commonly known that there was rampant antisemitism in the Soviet Union during the time of the war; in my great-grandfather’s war documents, under nationality, the word “Jew” is clearly written. It did not matter if you lived In Russia, Ukraine, or Belarus; if you were a Jew, that is all that you were. Even after the defeat of the Germans, the Soviet government did all it could to prevent Jews from being awarded the honors that were due to them; my great-grandfather did not receive his medals until 25 years after the war had ended.
– Alice Rabkin