THE FIRE GENERAL
The Fire General – an account of the military career of Boris Shteifon, a Jewish general of the White Army and a commander of the German-allied Russian Corps in Serbia during the Second World War.
“We have to remember the mistakes of our past in order to avoid repeating them in the future.”
– Boris Shteifon
Boris Alexandrovich Shteifon, a Russian general and monarchist, is another example of how the Jewish people stepped up to defend The Tsar, The Faith, The Homeland against the Communist destroyers of a country that was on its way to become the greatest new world power.
Shteifon was born on December 6 (18), 1881, in Kharkiv, a Ukrainian city which at the time was part of the Russian Empire, in the family of Alexander Shteifon, a convert Jew who was a factory foreman eventually arisen to 3rd guild merchant. Boris Alexandrovich’s mother was the daughter of an Orthodox deacon.
Boris Alexandrovich graduated from the Chuguevsky Cadet School and joined the army. He took part in three wars – the Russo-Japanese War, the First World War and the Russian Civil War, he was decorated with the St. George Order, he went up the ranks as high as Major General, he was a theoretician of war and a statesman… These are hard facts, and the list goes on and on.
When it comes to personal characteristics, contemporaries say that he was intelligent, honest, brave, resourceful, a man who stood up by his principles, a convinced monarchist, a deeply devout Christian… As a cadet, he was remembered as a troublemaker but a brilliant top-of-the class student.
Boris Shteifon in Imperial Army uniform.
In 1902, Shteifon graduated from Cadet school and became a part of the Voronezh regiment in the war with Japan. He was shell-shocked in battle, and was decorated with the medals of St. Anne, St. Stanislav, and St. Vladimir for bravery and resourcefulness in combat. In 1911, he graduated from the Nikolaevskaya Imperial Military Academy with honors, and fought on the Caucasus front in the First World War. He was captain, then colonel of a reconnaissance unit. For his prowess in battle, Shteifon was decorated with high distinction and with the St. George Sword.
(Note. The St. George Sword was a Russian Empire award for bravery. It is considered as one of the grades of the Order of St. George).
After the October coup, Shteifon returned to Kharkiv and joined the Volunteers’ Army in December 1917. He participated in the First March of Kuban, then returned to Kharkiv yet again and organized a center for recruitment of officers to the Volunteers’ Army. Since April 1919, he was staff commander of the Third Infantry Division, since July 1919 – commander of the Thirteenth Infantry Regiment of Belozersk. This regiment was a small unit of 63 people, but in a month Shteifon managed to increase the number of soldiers to 4,000.
Since November 1919 he was chief of staff of the Poltava Detachment of General Nikolay Bredov. He participated in Bredov’s March and broke through to Poland as a member of the Russian Volunteers’ Army of General Bredov. After returning from Poland to Crimea to join the Russian Army of General Vrangel in September 1920, he was promoted by Vrangel to Major General.
Almost everyone knows or heard about the Red Terror unleashed in Russia immediately after the October coup of 1917. The Bolsheviks declared that the official beginning of the Terror was as late as in September 1918, but they started spilling red rivers of officer blood as early as in the winter of 1918. The murders of officers, their families, Yunkers, Cadets and university students were especially cruel and numerous in large cities. A modern-day person will hardly be able to read documented descriptions of those days’ events in Kiev, Odessa, Sevastopol and other cities without risking their mental health – bloody abuse that outshone the most elaborate tortures of the Medieval Inquisition, about mass executions, about hundreds and thousands of people who were shot, stabbed, drowned and burned to death…
The only city in the South of Russia that was not shaken by the mass terror of winter and spring of 1918 was Kharkiv. There were very many officers in the city, and the Kharkiv Cheka men and criminals were just as inhumane as those of other cities. However, in the first period of the Soviet power, up to the Kaiser’s army invasion, there were only a few cases of murdered officers. It is astonishing, but just one man, Boris Alexandrovich Shteifon, managed to save thousands of human lives and not to allow mass murders or any bloody events that were happening in other southern cities.
In Shteifon’s record, almost the entire year of 1918 is dedicated to activity as Commander of Volunteers’ Army Center in Kharkiv, which was in charge of recruiting volunteers and sending them to Don, collecting and sending weapons, ammo, supplies and machinery to the Whites. It was Shteifon who was at the source of creating this Center. But in early 1918, when he just got to Kharkiv, a young colonel who managed to come from the front lines to his home city of Kharkiv in a soldier’s coat with ripped-off epaulets, Shteifon’s task was more urgent. To survive and to save others.
Boris Alexandrovich started with organizing a self-defense squad with dwellers of his house in order to protect Kharkiv streets from bandits. Very soon, he managed to gather a group of officers around him and to transform it into a full-fledged fighting squad. Of course, it was clandestine, with safehouses, passwords, and operative missions. Counter-terrorist attacks became the first of such missions. Shteifon’s officers responded to Red terror with their own. An eye for an eye…
The 13th Infantry Regiment of Belozersk at a parade. Colonel B.A. Shteifon is marching in front.
The first executions of White officers caused retributions against Kharkiv Chekists in the form of killings of important commissaries. The leaflets found on their bodies were signed “Officers Organization” and promised inevitable revenge. These leaflets sew panic among the Bolsheviks. The word of mouth transformed the small White squad into some powerful and almighty secret order, and the Cheka was so scared that the Red terror against the officers stopped.
Only God knows how many Kharkiv officers Boris Alexandrovich saved in 1918. He didn’t only save them from Cheka bullets – he saved them from starvation, poverty, and humiliation. Colonel Shteifon’s Center helped them with money, found them jobs, helped evacuate their families…
Incidentally, it was in Kharkiv that the future commander of the Russian Corps first saw that the Germans were situational allies. To be more precise, not allies, because the Volunteers’ Army fought the Germans, but a useful factor that could help them fight the Reds. Steiffon used it by pretending he was loyal to the occupying forces. He told the Germans that the officers in his squad were St. George’s Order companions and obtained permission for the officers to wear weapons. With the Germans’ help, he obtained weapons, machinery, and other war supplies to give it to the depleted army of the volunteers…
Here is what Shteifon wrote about the Germans in 1918:
“When rumours started spreading about the German army occupying the South of Russia, Kharkiv started hoping that the Germans would come as soon as possible. The Germans were enemies, but in essence they were exterminating the bigger enemy – the Bolsheviks. It is understandable that the common citizens scared of terror and tortured by grievances saw the Germans as saviours.
I was looking at the arriving German troops with mixed feelings. Of course, they came to rid us from the Red yoke. They gave us back safety and order. It was impossible not to feel gratitude towards them. Yet they were our enemies at the same time.
As an officer, I found it unbearable to watch these excellent troops and realize that my army is gone and I myself am just a piece of debris remained after a shipwreck, that my Russia, my beautiful Homeland, is gone, for if Russia still existed, Kharkiv wouldn’t have had to let the Germans in…”
After the defeat of the Whites and the evacuation of their troops from Crimea, Shteifon goes to Gallipoli. Knowing that Boris Alexandrovich was a capable organizer, Vrangel appoints him director of the refugees’ camp. The Major General’s new home becomes Serbia. While living in Belgrad, Shteifon teaches, studies history of military art, and obtains the title of professor.
In 1934, the Serbian King Alexander I was assassinated. The King was a supporter of Russian White emigrants, and after his death the local Communists started persecuting the former White soldiers, supported by common Serbs. In 1940, Serbia acknowledged the USSR, and Russians started losing their jobs, while Tito’s guerillas started killing White emigrants at nighttime all over the place.
After Yugoslavia was occupied by the Wehrmacht, The Bureau For Protection of Russian Emigrants came to the Germans with an offer to organize Russians into a squad in order to protect emigrants. The new squad was led by General Skorodumov, while Shteifon became chief of staff. After the Germans’ success on the Eastern front, the White emigrants came to the leaders of the Wehrmacht with an offer to create a full-fledged Russian military regiment.
On September 12, 1941, General Skorodumov issued the first order for the newly formed Russian Group, which contained, in particular, the following words: “With God’s help, under complete unanimity, and upon fulfilment of our duty before the country that had given us shelter, I shall bring you to Russia.” As early as September 14, 1941, General Skorodumov was arrested for highhandedness by the Gestapo, because the Germans never authorized this order and never allowed the Group to go to Russia. The command of the Group was given to General Shteifon.
Kharviv under German occupation
B.A. Shteifon in Wehrmacht uniform
In 1942, the Russian Group was renamed as the Russian Corps, and was under the command of the Wehrmacht, and in 1943 Shteifon is promoted to Lieutenant-General of the German army. In total, there were 17,000 persons who served in the Corps, including 11,000 emigrants and their children.
Despite the constant requests to send the Corps to Russia, the Germans kept it in the Balkans. It was mostly used as a punitive unit against the Serbian guerillas. Since 1944, the Corps starts combat actions against the USSR army. In the spring of 1945, Shteifon leads the retreat to Slovenia.
According to a noted White emigrant writer, Alexey von Lampe, on April 29, 1945, after a parade, Boris Alexandrovich had an access of liver disease, and on April 30, on Palm Sunday, he died of cardiac insufficiency. He was given a state funeral by the German army and was buried in the Ljubljana German cemetery.
Boris Alexandrovich Shteifon’s name was for a long time silently vetoed by the global community, but he was a great Russian statesman and a fiery and sincere patriot. He fought bravely in the Russian Civil War and took the Russian Corps along its path, a journey full of sacrifice and hardship, and died in rank of commander of the Corps.
Major-General B.A. Shteifon, Commander of the Russian Corps, in Serbia
Written/Compiled by: Anastasia Stratu