By Joshua Runyan
Caricaturist Boris Efimov, whose drawings during World War II helped stoke morale among Russian troops in the fight against Nazi Germany, died last week in Moscow. Believed to be the world’s oldest Jew, he passed away just shy of his 109th birthday.
Born Boris Fridland in Kiev, Ukraine, in 1899, Efimov was just a toddler when his family moved to Bialystok in present-day Poland. He studied art and by the time he moved to Moscow in the 1920s, his drawings were attracting the attention of influential politicians. But it was his depictions of German troops and Nazi leader Adolf Hitler that earned him both praise at home and a death sentence abroad if captured by Nazi forces.
He continued etching political cartoons until the early 1980s, and in the process recied two Soviet State Prizes. He was named People’s Painter of the USSR in 1967.
Efimov underwent a spiritual awakening at the age of 100 when he met Chabad-Lubavitch Rabbi Berel Lazar, the chief rabbi of Russia.
“It took a 100 [years] … to learn about Judaism and even put on tefillin,” he related in Yiddish at the Beit Menachem Chabad-Lubavitch Marina Roshtza synagogue in Moscow on occasion of his 107th birthday.
At the party, which the Jewish community threw in his honor, he told of his experience touring the concentration camp in Majdanek, Poland, with the Russian troops who liberated it in the waning days of the war.
“I will never forget the moment that I arrived at the death camps,” he said. “As I was walking around the camp, I came to a women’s bunk. I don’t know what pulled me there, but I went to one of the beds and put my hand under the mat, and happened to come across a machzor for Yom Kippur.”
The holiday prayer book, said Efimov, was “what kept me connected to Judaism.”