St Kilda’s Own Soviet Hero of the ‘Great Patriotic War’…from Michael Danby

August 7, 2013 by Michael Danby
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Ios Teper stopped wandering into my office just 2 years ago. He died last week in the Montefiore Homes at the age of 98.

Standing little over 5 feet tall, few realised that Mr Teper was in fact a giant of the Second World War. In 1945, for his bravery and leadership in the battle for Berlin, Mr Teper was awarded the Order of the Red Banner, the Soviet equivalent of the Victoria Cross.


Ios Teper

Mr Teper started the war as a platoon commander and finished it in the Divisional Artillery Intelligence group as a Captain. The Order of the Red Banner recognises heroism in combat or otherwise extraordinary accomplishments of military valour during combat operations. While many senior military and political commanders were awarded the Red Banner, comparatively few lower level officers received it. Mr Teper was also awarded 12 other medals for his bravery during the Battle of Stalingrad, and while advancing through the Ukraine, Belarus and Poland in the armies of Marshals Zhukov and Rokossovsky. In the dying days of the war he was seconded into General Kuznetsov’s Third Shock Army because he had an important “key” to capturing Berlin. He captured a senior German officer who, in return for a promise of safe passage, handed over a cache of Panzerfaust (“armour fist”) anti-tank weapons, and trained Mr Teper and the soldiers under his command how to use them.  And use them they did, breaking through barricades on the streets of Berlin and blasting their way underground through a maze of concrete basement walls into the heart of the Reichstag.

Mr Teper would often come to my office, and my staff would help him to organise events for the other veterans of the Red Army living in my electorate.  He looked particularly resplendent, with a chest full of medals at the 60th anniversary celebrations of the ‘Victory Over Fascism’ which I organised.  In his broken “Rusglish”, while handing out Russian chocolates, Mr Teper would regale us with stories from the war. There was the story of the time he stood for 3 days chest-deep in freezing water to monitor the German frontline, the hand to hand fighting in Berlin, and the story of how  while calling in coordinates to the Soviet artillery his Armoured Personal Carrier was struck 3 times, concussing him each time, but each time he stood back up, and continued his task.

At one point Mr Teper and his illustrious offsider Isak Orlov convinced me to approach the Pratt Foundation to fund an illustrated booklet called ‘The Most Unforgettable Day of the War’ about local Soviet veterans. Reading each of the single page entries makes one realise the extraordinary contribution these migrants who lived out their last days in suburban Australia made to world history.

Early in my political career, Mr Teper organised for me and a visiting Senator and then Labor spokesman for Veterans’ Affairs to address around one thousand Russian and Ukrainian veterans at the Port Phillip Town Hall. The eyes of my left-wing colleague nearly burst to see hundreds of Soviet soldiers, row on row, men and women, weighed down with medals waiting for his speech from the Presidium. Peacenik or not, the Senator gave a marvellous, if somewhat violent speech about the siege of Leningrad, tank battles in Kursk and the hinge of history at Stalingrad.

Although Ios Teper’s individual story, like that of the allies, was finally a victorious one, his family’s story reflects the terrible toll suffered by the people of the former Soviet Union in the fight against Nazism. His father was murdered by the Nazis and two of Mr Teper’s brothers were killed on the front. These three are among the estimated 20 million citizens of the Soviet Union who died during the Second World War.

After the war, Ios Teper spent 3 years in the German city of Erfurt as part of the Soviet army of occupation. At the height of Stalin’s post World War II anti-Jewish campaign, he was summarily discharged from the army. This made it difficult to find employment for a long time.  He later worked as an administrator in a collective farm and then as an engineer in Odessa (Ukraine).  He continued to experience discrimination because of his Jewish faith.

With the fall of communism, thanks to a special quota arranged by the Hawke Government, Ios Teper and his wife, along with thousands of other Russian and Ukrainian Jews were able to migrate to Australia, and settled in Melbourne. In his last years he was an active member of the Victorian Association of Veterans of World War II from the Former Soviet Union, and the Russian Jewish community’s Shalom Association.  Ios Teper’s wife passed away a decade ago. He is survived by two children Joseph and Elizabeth, two grandchildren Daniel and Michael and two great grandchildren Adelaide and Hugh, and has relatives in Australia, the USA, Israel, Canada, Russia, and Ukraine.

Mr Teper’s son Joseph lives in Boston (USA), and asked for these words to be read out at his father’s funeral:

“He walked fighting from Stalingrad to Berlin, invincible and victorious, and it was like a spirit of the Maccabees guided him. Here in Melbourne he did titanic work to collect and keep forever memories of each veteran for future generations.  He was loved, respected and admired in the community.   He could not sit quietly when somebody needed his help.”

Michael Danby MP is the Federal Member for Melbourne Ports




One Response to “St Kilda’s Own Soviet Hero of the ‘Great Patriotic War’…from Michael Danby”
  1. Paul Winter says:

    An inspiring tale of a hero. Teper calls to mind the Russian soldiers who got to our so-called protected house, before the Hungarian Arrow Cross rats could carry out their threat to return to shoot us after they dispatched the Jews they took away.

    When they came in some Jew asked what would happen if the Arrow Cross returned. The Russians replied that there was no return from where they had placed their boots.

    They started distributing sugar cubes to children and that was the first decent nourishment that I had had for months. One of the soldiers distributing the sugar had half of his jaw shot away and he was asked why he didn’t go to an aid station. His reply was that he was not going to abandon the battle that was raging.

    Heroes such as those and Teper, on a microscopic scale saved my life, but more importantly on the macroscopic scale, the heroes of the Red Army saved Western civilisation from the depravity of Naziism.

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