Born: February 14, 1923
Died: May 17, 2012
Jewish War Veterans of the USA
Mikhail (Misha) Gusak was born in the village of Pokotilova, Ukraine; he spent his days frolicking in the fields, no shoes, feeling the rough, long strands of grass in his toes and lulled by cicadas as dusk neared. His father prayed, quietly, faced with growing fears, he changed into a work shirt, a clerk in a store. His mother tended laboriously at the local farm, plucking a beet out of the rich soil, one by one. He described her weathered hands as though they were jewels, priceless and grand. He adored his younger siblings, a sister and a brother. Their memory captured in his thoughts, his heart. At 14, he left for Moscow. They perished with his parents in a mass grave in the town they called home. He survived.
As war spread to Soviet lands, he volunteered to go straight to the battlefield. His life
took on a different meaning, a man without a family and in disguise, rarely if ever
revealing his Jewish heritage. There he was like all the other soldiers, willing to kill,
willing to die. But he was no ordinary soldier. He trained to become an elite paratrooper
in the Red Army and fought in the victorious Battle of Stalingrad under Lieutenant General Chuikov. His courage, aptitude and drive earned him several honorary medals including The Order of the Red Star. He stayed in the service until 1950. Years later, his dreams became the battle ground as he shouted orders to comrades or wrestled with foes into the early hours of night.
On a trip to Odessa to visit relatives, he was introduced to a petite, dark haired beauty with radiant blue-gray eyes. Six months after meeting, they wed. He completed the university, jumped ranks in the judiciary branch and became a lawyer, devoting 38 years to civil service. Weekends were spent at local beaches, permeated with smells of garlic and corn, watermelon relieving thirsty sunbathers, and loud remarks to step off temporarily claimed property. He was delighted to entertain two daughters, and later, three grandchildren, healing with comfort food and many stories about his childhood. Life went on.
As a naturalized American, he started new as an immigrant at 66. English was a challenge. He practiced vehemently, writing sentences, translating, often asking me for explanations for spelling or pronunciation secrets. He would not quit, a part of his nature that with his courage to live and to appreciate family inspired many who knew or met him. Our challenge: to take on those gifts and continue repeating. -- Ada Varshavsky, granddaughter, written in memory of my dedushka Misha, his father Genady, mother Zlota, sister Sonya and brother David.