“In October 1940 I was mobilised for forced labour in the Hungarian [army]. [...] Finally, in 1942 they sent me to Poland in civvies to the Stalingrad front for forced Jewish labour. That was a very strategic location. There were eighty of us there. On 26 December we got into a position, by 12 January in those few days nine of us eighty were dead. By direct hits, the front was narrow, the trenches were perhaps just three metres apart. The section where I was located was the northern part of the Stalingrad front. The Hungarians fled after the artillery preparation fire, we stayed in the bunkers, about twenty of us. We stayed there some two three hours, then we called to a Russian soldier, and he took us into captivity. We remained in captivity for nine month. Already in the first days I sent a letter through the NKVD to the Czech attaché in Moscow, addressed to Stalin and Beneš, stating that I was here and that I wanted to fight. After three POW camps I really did make it there. I went from Novokhopersk to Prague with Svoboda’s army. That is actually my life.”
“I am Doctor Michael Lavi. I live in Israel, in the city of Ashkelon, I have lived here since 1960. I was born in Subcarpathian Ruthenia, I studied medicine at Charles University, at a Czech faculty. They threw me out of the faculty right after the Munich Agreement. They sent me home the very next day. [Q: Which semester were you in?] The beginning of the ninth semester.”
“We arrived in Israel with the Czech brigade. [...] I was active in forming the brigade. I came here with the brigade, and I thought I would go back again, and I stated that I would go back. And I really did want to return, but my wife didn’t. She felt better here than in Prague. So we stayed here, although we had promised we would return.”
“I was at Dukla, I was at Kiev, I was at all the battles that the units participated in, one time I was there as an artillery doctor, then with an engineering battalion, then an engineering regiment. [Q: And did you also treat Russian soldiers, or were you there really just for the Czechoslovaks?] I served only for my unit, we didn’t have Russians there. [Q: How far was the infirmary from the actual fighting?] A kilometre away. About one and a half kilometres. You could always find it. [...] Before Bílá Cerekev. When I was still posted with the artillery, where the tanks shot directly at the infirmary, I was wounded there. I guess it wasn’t even the infirmary, it was the regimental HQ. Well, it was the HQ from the second detachment. I was also, but I didn’t want to stay at the back, I didn’t have anyone. I was alone on this earth. I didn’t have anyone, I didn’t have anyone to go to, no one to write to.”
“I wasn’t aware that it was actually an interrogation. I wrote everything. Which party we had been in, so I said with the Progressives. I thought that they knew about it, but they knew nothing. And what relations I had, whether my parents were capitalists or not, they asked these kinds of questions and they behaved decently. They didn’t let us sleep the whole night. And now fill in the same form, and once more this one. Towards the morning under such circumstances at the time. I knew there was a Czechoslovak legion in Russia. And we had agreed with my wife that if I go there [to the front], I would desert and sign up to the Czech legion. We knew the term legion, which was from the first war. And we requested a pencil and paper, so we could write it. There wasn’t a decent piece of paper to come by. I wrote to the Czechoslovak government on a dirty piece of paper. I think I wrote to Beneš. That I’m here, this is my name, I’m MUC. Alexander Lebovič [MUC. is from Latin, meaning ‘candidate of universal medicine’, used by advanced students of medicine without completed studies - transl.], and I want to fight. And I also wrote to Stalin, I wrote him the same in Czech, I didn’t know Russian.”
“Davidovka, where we were the first to come to, grew into a place through which some tens of thousands of captives passed through. Captives from all the armies of Europe. There were Hungarians and Germans and generals. Basically, there was a part of the front there, the Stalingrad front. Such an enormous amount of people went there. Whole villages all around, I already told you about the broken-down cottages, but there was a village there all around, which was also part of the kolkhoz. [...] I don’t want to exaggerate, but I think at least 100,000 prisoners of war passed through that camp that was called Davidovka. It’s one of the villages around there, it was part of the Leningrad front, I mean Stalingrad front. So they appointed me as head doctor there. I told them I hadn’t finished my studies. But I could speak with them somehow, and that woman put me at the head of the medical service in that place. Things developed, as was the way, all of a sudden. [...] Suddenly there were hundreds, thousands of people, and suddenly there were dead bodies everywhere. An epidemic broke out, typhus. We didn’t know what was causing the deaths. People were dying like nothing. The terrain was frozen. They couldn’t bury them, they were left on piles, piles of dead everywhere. That was something dreadful to see. There was nothing to eat. To begin with they gave out some kind of thick soup once a day. But then there was nothing. I don’t know how we survived it there. Every day they sent away trainloads of captives.”
Here I am, this is my name, I am Alexander Lebovič, and I want to go fight
MUDr. Michael Lavi was born in 1913 in Velká Dobroň in Subcarpathian Ruthenia as Alexander Lebovič. After completing a Hungarian grammar school in Berehov, he began studying at the Faculty of Medicine of Charles University in Prague in 1934. When the Munich Agreement was signed in 1938, they expelled him from school in his ninth semester. He returned to his native village and worked in an electric equipment shop. In 1940 he married, and the same year his wife bore him a son. In late October 1940 he and other Jewish men were called to military service in the Hungarian army, and he worked in road construction. In 1941 he was released, but after a while he was called back to service. In late 1942 he was transferred to the Hungarian units on the Stalingrad front, somewhere between the cities of Voronezh and Stalingrad. In January 1943 the Soviets began heavy bombing, and the Hungarian units were given orders to fall back. Alexander Lebovič together with several other Jews hid in a bunker, where they were captured by Russians. They were imprisoned in the POW camp Davidovka. In late March 1943 he was taken to another camp in the town of Usman, where he worked as a camp doctor. While there he heard there was drafting for the Czechoslovak Army Corps, but instead of into the army, in July 1943 he found himself heading via Moscow into another POW camp in Krasnogorsk. Alexander Lebovič was finally released in September 1943, and he joined the Czechoslovak army in Novokhopersk. As a doctor of the 2nd Artillery Regiment, and later an engineering battalion, he took part in the Czechoslovak Army Corps’ campaign all the way to Czechoslovakia. After the war he completed his studies of medicine in Prague. In 1948 he was part of the Czechoslovak military brigade sent to Israel, he joined the Israeli air force and worked as a military doctor. He took up the new name of Michael Lavi, and from 1960 he lives in Ashkelon. Before his retirement he held the position of director of the local hospital. He died in October 2015.