Samuil Zabezhinsky, along with hundreds of other Soviet Army soldiers, many of them dead, lay on the trampled and bloody snow after yet another fierce clash between Soviet and German forces on the Russian front halfway through World War II.
By the time medics found him on that winter's day in 1942, he had been lying there for untold hours with a concussion and other wounds suffered when a shell exploded nearby. But it was the hypothermia, frostbite and subsequent gangrene in his arms and legs that would nearly kill him over the next six months. He'd lose toes, but almost miraculously, his fingers healed.
Thus Zabezhinsky, who'd been a child prodigy on the violin, would not lose the major source of his life's work and joy -- playing and teaching music.
After surviving the war and subsequent struggles in the eventually crumbling Soviet Union, he emigrated to Minnesota late in life, where he enjoyed two of the happiest decades of his life, his family said.
Zabezhinsky, of St. Louis Park, died Tuesday at Abbott-Northwestern Hospital in Minneapolis. He was 88.
He was born in the small town of Velizh, in Byelorussia (now called Belarus), and as a child moved with his family to Leningrad (now St. Petersburg), where he studied violin at the Leningrad Music Conservatory, said his son Leonid Zabezhinsky of Plymouth.
Three months before the war started, the young violinist was drafted into the Soviet Army, Leonid said. "That war on the northwestern front was a meat-grinder, and it's amazing that my father survived," he said. "He was in communications, delivering messages at a time when there were no phones or line connections, running back and forth under constant sniper fire."
In later years, Zabezhinsky spoke little of the war, his son said. "He learned how to walk again without limping, and he never complained about his disabilities," he said.
After the war, he returned to music, graduating from the conservatory in 1949 and beginning a long career as a violinist for the Leningrad Radio and TV Orchestra. He also was a widely respected teacher of young violinists, many of whom went on to play in orchestras around the world.
But life was not easy during the Cold War and in the crumbling Soviet Union. Food and other necessities were rationed, his son said. In 1989, his young adult children came to the United States via a Russian Jewish refugee program, and in 1992, he joined them.
Despite that fact that he spoke little English, "he loved Minnesota," his son said. "He had such a good musical ear, that somehow he was able to communicate everything perfectly," especially in matters of music. He took on some violin students "just for fun," played in hospitals, nursing homes and Jewish venues, gardened, and spent as much time as possible with his grandchildren, Leonid said.
"He was such a social person, could click instantly with anyone in the Russian and American communities here," his son said. "He was so talented in so many different areas -- music, drawing, even as a handyman."
In addition to his son Leonid, he is survived by his wife of 61 years, Mira; another son, Vladimir of Golden Valley; a daughter, Jane Mashkovich of Los Angeles, and six grandchildren. Graveside services for Zabezhinsky, a member of Sharei Chesed Congregation in Minnetonka, were held Thursday at Minneapolis Jewish Cemetery in Richfield. A former student who now plays violin with a San Francisco symphony traveled to Minnesota to play at the service.
Pamela Miller 612-673-4290