After the collapse of the Soviet Union, thousands of retired officers left for the States, Israel, and Germany. Most of them led a purely civilian life in emigration, but our story’s hero, the reserve colonel, continued to do his life's work, although in a slightly different role – as a military journalist.
Mark Steinberg – a reserve colonel, a famous Soviet and American journalist, military observer and historian. One day in the early 1990s happened to be in the same subway car as Mohammad ben Salah, an Arab, a former field commander of the Afghan mujahedeen. A bearded man in traditional Pashtun attire sat down opposite Steinberg. Both passengers recognized each other, although they did not show it. This meeting with ben Salah was the third in a row and peaceful – old acquaintances did not even speak to each other and went about their business.
Steinberg first encountered Mohammad ben Salah back in the early 1970s, when he inspected an army special school for cadets from Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other Arab states operating in the Turkmen regional center of Mary. Ben Salah was a cadet, the unofficial leader of Arab subversive training. For insolent behavior and unhealthy interest in the waitresses working in the canteen, the cadet and his curator had a conflict that immediately turned into a national one. Shouting “yahud, yahud, yahud!” – “Jew, Jew, Jew!” – ben Salah had to run out the window when Steinberg mechanically reached for the pistol. As a result, the conflict was hushed up and, to the unheard of joy of Mark, he was removed from control over the Mary special school. The second meeting was even less pleasant – at the Salang Pass in the Hindu Kush Mountains, where the former cadet ben Salah commanded the Afghan mujahedeen and, ironically, fell into the hands of Soviet soldiers.
In the capital of the Uzbek SSR, Mark spent a significant part of his life, although he was born in Ukraine, in the world famous center of Hasidism – Uman. On August 23, 1927, Mark, was born into the family of a local resident Feyga Gorokhod and the red commander Joseph Steinberg. Steinbregs have served in the army from generation to generation.
At the very beginning of the Great Patriotic War, Mark's father, a career military man, went to the front. In July 1941, he disappeared without a trace. As it turned out later, he died near Pryluki.
In the conditions of the rapid offensive of the Nazis, Feyga, together with her sons Isaac and Mark, was forced to flee from Tiraspol, where the family lived on the eve of the war. They decided to keep the path to their relatives in Uman, but the city was already surrounded by the Germans, and Feyga immediately decided to leave urgently. 14-year-old Mark ended up with his brother and mother in Tashkent. There he worked at a military factory, studied at an evening school and dreamed of getting into the ranks of the Red Army in order to take revenge on the invaders for the death of his father, uncle and thousands of Soviet citizens who died at the hands of Hitler's executioners.
When in 1945 Mark came to the recruiting station, the military commissar decided to send him to the Tashkent Military Engineering School, where the young man honed his literary talent. In between lectures, marches and chores, at a table in Lenin's room, cadet Steinberg wrote dozens of letters to the sweethearts of his colleagues.
However, along with literary talent, fighting skills had to be developed. Anti-Semitic escapades often occurred in the company. Despite the fact that many of Mark's commanders recently fought side by side with Jewish soldiers, Soviet propaganda was doing its job. Mark could not endure such injustice, constantly getting in a fight with an obviously stronger enemy. It was impossible to defeat the experienced sergeants who had been in hand-to-hand combat more than once, until one day a fellow countryman from Uman, a former front-line soldier Fima Galkin, came to the rescue. Fima took the guy under his wing, and then pulled Mark into sambo training and taught him to stand up for himself.
In December 1945, the military school was disbanded, and most of the cadets were sent to combat units to serve up the urgent service. In the fall of 1948, Mark graduated with honors from a military school and, with the rank of junior lieutenant, was assigned to Samarkand. But instead of one of the most beautiful and oldest cities in the world, he was sent to the southernmost point of the USSR, the city of Kushka, to the 5th Guards Mechanized Division.
The main entertainment of the officers of the Kushkin garrison was drunkenness. On this basis, the almost non-drinking Steinberg soon began to experience conflicts, which, as expected, acquired an anti-Semitic connotation. The honor of the Jewish people had to be defended with fists – other methods did not work in the southernmost garrison of the USSR. Soon, rumors circulated around Kushka about “Mark-Sambo”, who, in fact, was fond of not only sambo, but also shooting and fencing. A gym and books became a refuge from noisy companies for Officer Steinberg.
The main responsibility was the clearance of minefields at the ranges after the bombing, but at times it was necessary to tame the natural elements. According to his brother's recollections, Mark Steinberg took part, among other things, in the liquidation of the terrible Ashgabat earthquake of 1948 and in the dismantling of a huge blockage in the area of the Charvak reservoir.
During his stay in Kushka, Steinberg married a native Leningrad from a family of Petersburg intellectuals – Larisa Lyando, a graduate of the Herzen Institute of Foreign Languages, an English teacher.
Together with his wife, in the fall of 1954, they moved to Ashgabat, where Mark was transferred to the post of commander of a combat engineer battalion. In the capital of Turkmenistan, as in the distant Kushkin garrison, anti-Semitism flourished among the officers. To distract himself from everyday life as a soldier, Steinberg enthusiastically wrote for military newspapers and magazines.
However, journalism for him was still secondary. An officer of the engineering troops was professionally engaged in only one thing: risking his life. And not only in the Soviet Union. In 1963, Steinberg served in Algeria for seven months at the head of an engineering assault battalion. The French, leaving the country, left there two mine belts, which they themselves called “zones of death”. These zones in the west separated Algeria from Morocco, in the east – from Tunisia. During the demining work in the battalion, dozens of Soviet soldiers were wounded and killed.
After an African trip, around 1965, Mark became interested in a topic that was carefully hushed up by Soviet propaganda – the heroism of Soviet Jewish soldiers during the Great Patriotic War. Even as a cadet, he was indignant when he heard lies from fellow soldiers about the cowardice of the Jews. In addition, he, a capable and hardworking officer, was recommended three times by the commander of the district for admission to the Academy of the General Staff of the USSR and was refused three times without explanation. Although, of course, absolutely everyone knew the reason – the fifth point in the personal sheet on personnel records.
In 1971, after being transferred to the headquarters of the Turkestan military district, in the secret library of the headquarters, Mark began to collect and systematize materials on the Jewish question in the army. During vacations, he often visited the military archives in Podolsk and Gatchina, where he copied folders with the personal files of Jewish soldiers who participated in the Great Patriotic War and worked in the military industry. He had access to documents of the highest degree of secrecy thanks to his service in the headquarters. And they managed to keep their amateur activities in secret thanks to the caution and accuracy of an experienced sapper. The risk was serious: during the frenzied campaign against the “Israeli aggressor”, the Jewish officer was closely monitored by the competent authorities.
In 1974, Steinberg was unexpectedly summoned to the First Department and questioned about his “unpatriotic” relatives. Mark’s brother, Isaac, then worked as a design engineer at a military plant in Chisinau. His father-in-law was able to repatriate to Israel, and not only did they not release Isaac, but began to persecute. This reflected on his older brother.
In the spring of 1977, the struggle against Zionism at the headquarters of the TurkVO entered its decisive phase. An elderly mother who was visiting Steinberg asked to get matzah for Passover. After much persuasion, on Saturday, Mark, dressed in civilian clothes, went to the Tashkent synagogue to get the coveted product. The next day, it turned out that Steinberg was caught on the camera of the KGB post, which was located exactly opposite the institution of the religious cult. Through the mouth of the leadership, the “special officers” conveyed ardent greetings to Colonel Steinberg and advised him not to appear in that area again.
Before retiring, Mark managed to give the Soviet state his international debt, flying from Tashkent on business trips to Afghanistan. In Kabul, he participated in the reconstruction of the Taj Bek palace of Afghan Prime Minister, in which the headquarters of the 40 Army was to be located, and was also responsible for the security of the tunnel under the Salang Pass, along which the main supply and redeployment route of the Eastern Group passed Soviet troops. It was then that he ran face to face with the Yemeni ben Salah, who fought in Afghanistan against his teachers. Having identified the captured ben Salah, who was transporting explosives to commit sabotage, Mark could not even imagine that a decade later he would meet his former enemy in the New York subway.
In 1984, Colonel Steinberg, the chief of staff of the civil defense of Tashkent, retired. Mark decided to pursue his dream of becoming a professional writer and journalist.
After the bloody pogroms of the Meskhetian Turks in May-June 1989 in the Fergana Valley and a series of other events that accompanied the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mark finally decided to emigrate to the United States to his eldest daughter. He wanted to leave for a long time, but before the fall of the Soviet colossus he did not even hope to break out into the free world because of a specific history.
In 1991, the Iron Curtain finally collapsed, and Steinberg and his family ended up in the United States of America. Almost immediately he was lucky - he got a job in his second specialty. Then, in New York, the only Russian-language newspaper in America, Novoye Russkoe Slovo, was published, where the reserve colonel occupied the vacant niche of a military observer.
The American period was the most fruitful for Mark as a military historian and journalist. Steinberg managed to take out from the Soviet Union folders with copies of archival documents, including secret ones. Using these materials and a huge database of information sources, in 1996 he published the monograph “Jews in the Wars of the Millenniums” – the first attempt to present in one volume the three-thousand-year military history of the Jewish people. The book covers the military history of Jews in 24 countries, contains over 300 portraits of Jews - heroes and military leaders.
In the second book – “The Jewish Shield of the USSR” (2011, 2013) – Steinberg tried to present the military history of the Jews of the Soviet Union over the last half century of its existence (1941-1991). In his fundamental work, the military historian scrupulously calculated the number of Jewish commanders of regiments, brigades, divisions, corps and armies. According to Steinberg, about 501 thousand Jews served in the Soviet army during the Great Patriotic War, including 167 thousand officers and 334 thousand soldiers, sailors and sergeants. It turns out that every fifth Jew served in the army during the war years, taking into account children, women and the elderly. In 1941-1945, 39.6% of the total number of Jews who fought were killed. At the same time, the irrecoverable losses of the personnel of the armed forces of the USSR of the total number of conscripts amounted to slightly more than 25%.
At the age of 92, in 2019, Steinberg published the final part of his trilogy. In the third volume, titled “The Jewish Sword of Russia and the USSR”, the reserve colonel described the military activities of Jews in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union, including military conflicts and wars of Russia and the USSR during their entire existence. The author paid special attention to the workers in the rear – the Jews, who were in charge of the military industry of the USSR.
While working in the United States, he published over 1,500 articles on military-strategic, military-technical and historical issues.
In addition to journalism, writing and historical research, Steinberg has consulted for the Morrison Institute for Defense Studies at Stanford University.
Just recently, on December 12, 2020, Mark Steinberg passed away. In the United States, he left behind daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Grateful descendants will remember him as the chronicler of Jewish military affairs and the bard of Jewish heroes, the modern Joseph Flavius.
1927 – 2020