Alexander Bukstein (1900-1952) was my maternal grandfather. I never met him (he died before I was born and I was named after him), but I was raised with many-many stories about him. He was larger-than-life, a true hero of World War II, a man of great principles and integrity, a gentle father and a loving husband. I was told that he was very humble and had a great sense of humility; his letter to the family upon the end of World War II is very revealing of his character and human qualities. To me it is a great honour to carry his name.
He finished WWII as a general in the Red Army and commander of several artillery divisions in the 3rd Belorussian Army. He was one of the Stavka officers (Stavka being the select group of officers answerable directly to Zhukov who were assigned individual tasks based on the necessities of that war). When Germany attacked the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, the regiment he commanded was stationed near the border and took one of the first hits. Zhukov put him incharge of the artillery defense in the battle of Moscow in November-December 1941; here is one of the documents about this I uncovered in the Soviet military archives accessible after the collapse of the Soviet Union. After Germans were pushed away from Moscow, his division continued fighting the Nazis in the Rzhev battle, which lasted for 15 months from January 1942 through Spring 1943. Then, in summer 1943, came the battle of Kursk. In winter 1944 his division participated in breaking the Leningrad blockade; the photo shows a rare moment of rest he got in Leningrad when it was over. He played critical roles in all of these crucial turning points of that terrible war. He finished the war in East Prussia (now Kaliningrad region), his divisions taking Koenigsberg in April 1945. After the war he was a military governor there until my grandmother insisted that he retire to be with his family. The photo shows the family there; my mother is standing in the middle, my grandfather is on the far left and my grandmother is on the far right. They moved to Riga (where I was born and raised) in 1947.
One morning in February 1952, being only 52 year of age, he stood up – very pale – and remarked that his soldiers used to say that he will die without “tremble in his legs”. Then he lay down and that was it. His legs did not tremble though. A massive stroke did what WWII battles could not.