Semyon was born to a Jewish family in the small village of Komarovo in Polish Ukraine. His parents were farmers and tended their own fields while managing the estate of a Polish landowner who lived in Warsaw. Of the estimated 200 families living in Komarovo, only five were Jewish.
1933-39: Since there was no Jewish school in our town, my parents sent me to the nearby city of Sarny to study. I finished school in 1938 and returned to Komarovo to help my parents with our farm. But in September 1939 the Germans invaded Poland and divided it with the Soviet Union; our village was annexed by the Soviets. All private property was seized; everything was owned by the State and we worked in cooperatives.
1940-44: The German army entered Komarovo in 1941 and sent all the Jews to a ghetto in nearby Kolki. In 1942 the ghetto was encircled by local police and German troops, who liquidated the ghetto, loading Jews on trucks. I asked my father if, when the guards began to shoot, he would try to escape with me. My father patted my head and said, "I don't want to see you killed and I don't want you to see my death." When the trucks reached the edge of town, they stopped. The Germans began shooting and I jumped from the truck and ran to the woods.
Semyon survived in the woods for a year and then joined the partisans. He joined the Red Army in 1944. After the war, he settled in Kiev, and in 1976 he emigrated to America.