In the Russian Army
Wolf’s journalistic activity came to a halt when, in 1910, he was drafted into Tsar Nikolai’s Russian Army and taken to Vilna. While being there, he managed to visit the office of Nasha Niva and became acquainted with many figures of Belarusian culture.
He served in the Russian army for four years. One of his younger brothers was mobilized at the same time but he disappeared without a trace, most probably killed in action. Wolf never heard anything more about him.
Oath taken by young Jewish soldiers in the Russian Army. Source of the picture
The army years made Wolf stronger in every way. He was extremely athletic to begin with, and his physical endurance always surpassed all the others. He could stand for two to three hours at a time holding a 3-meter long rifle without moving and could jump over large open pits without falling in. His fellow soldiers were jealous of him, but his beautiful voice saved him from their wrath. They appreciated his wonderful songs and melodious voice which had developed over the years. His musical ability garnered him a promotion and before he left the army in 1914 his officer told his unit, «Here is Wolf Sosensky, going off to fight with a song on his lips».
Due to the outbreak of World War I later in 1914, Wolf found himself back in the army as a result of wartime mobilization. His unit was almost immediately captured by the Germans. Together with six other prisoners of war (POWs), he spent four years as a POW under very harsh, freezing conditions with barely anything to eat. One thing that helped Wolf survive was that he had endeared himself to his captors by sewing clothing for high ranking German officers’ wives. The prisoners tried several times to escape, and one day they refused to go to work, for which they were punished.
Before the capture, Wolf told of an incident whereby, while sitting in the trenches, the soldier positioned next to him asked to switch places citing discomfort. Wolf readily agreed and several minutes later, the soldier was shot in the head. This was Hashgacha Pratis, a miracle, as the changed location saved his life.
Wolf’s easy going manner endeared him to his fellow soldiers and they looked up to him. After witnessing the death of several of his friends as a result of smoking, Wolf, who had been a cigarette smoker, convinced his fellow soldiers to stop the deadly habit. He himself gave it up, «cold turkey», and many of the other soldiers followed suit.
Jews (soldiers and officers) in the Russian Army during Pessakh ceremony. Source
His experience in the army and in the POW camp afforded him the opportunity to hone some of the languages he already knew and to learn others. He ended up speaking Belarusian, Polish, German, Russian, Latvian, Yiddish and Hebrew. Also, while in the camp he cleverly sewed three rubles into the lining of his coat.
In 1918 as the War was drawing to a close, a revolt erupted in Germany and Wolf, along with several other detainees, somehow managed to escape from the camp. He used the money from his coat to help him survive and he managed to get to Poland where he spent the better part of the next two years.
During his military stint, he never hid the fact that he was Jewish.
Raya Sosensky, Israel
(to be continued)
Published 06/03/2021 22:02