Vladimir Putin's 93-Year-Old Jewish German Teacher Remembers When

Mina Yuditskaya Says Strongman Was Good Student

Nice Boy: Vladimir Putin shares a smile with Russian chief rabbi Berel Lazar.
getty images
Nice Boy: Vladimir Putin shares a smile with Russian chief rabbi Berel Lazar.

By Ben Sales

Published March 27, 2014.
  • Print
  • Share Share

(JTA) — When Mina Yuditskaya describes Vladimir Putin, circa 1969, and Vladmir Putin, circa 2005, it’s as if she’s talking about two different people.

One is a quiet, studious boy, clearly smart and diligent, but not loud or remarkable in any way.

The other is the charismatic leader of Russia, a man able to invite her for tea and cakes during a ceremony at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, then to buy her an apartment in central Tel Aviv.

Yuditskaya, 93, has been thrust into the spotlight in Israel as her former pupil has annexed Crimea in one of Europe’s tensest conflicts since the Cold War. Sitting in the living room of the apartment Putin gave her, a 10-minute walk from the beach, she stops our conversation as a segment featuring her — filmed that morning — airs on Israel’s Russian TV channel.

Yuditskaya taught Putin German when he was a 17-year-old student in a St. Petersburg high school. She moved to Israel several years later, and now he’s one of the world’s most powerful men.

The teenage Putin skipped homework assignments to attend judo practice, she remembers, though she knows he liked her class: She once caught him writing German sentences in his chemistry notebook.

“He was like everyone else,” she said. “He was serious. He wouldn’t mess around. He would do what I said. He was quiet a lot and thought a lot. He did everything well.”

Yuditskaya was much more eager to discuss their meeting nine years ago, when Putin visited Jerusalem to mark the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II. Russian government officials knew Yuditskaya lived in Tel Aviv, and Putin invited her to meet him at the King David. What followed, she recalls, was a warm and lighthearted conversation.

“He said, ‘Israel is very good but very hot,’” she recounted. “I said, ‘How do you remember me?’ I thought he’d say I was beautiful, but he said I was serious.”

She noticed that despite the ascent to power, there was one thing that hadn’t changed about Putin: he remained a good listener. During most of the conversation, she talked about ideas, philosophy and history, while he sat, nodded and asked questions. As they parted, Putin gave her a watch commemorating the war’s 60th anniversary.

The meeting was pleasant, Yuditskaya said, but it also left her feeling sad, realizing how much time had passed, even though the intervening years had been good to Putin.

“Time does bad things,” she said. “He was a kid. Now he’s big. I was a young teacher. Now I am old. I didn’t think I was seeing a president. I thought, it’s tough to see a kid who now is an old man, and bald.”

Yuditskaya wouldn’t comment on Putin’s politics — in Crimea or elsewhere. She seemed more interested in the man than the politician, and looking back on the day they met in Jerusalem, Yuditskaya thinks of Putin as the student of whom she’s most proud.

“Why is he important to me?” she asked. “He remembers me.”


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “'I made a new friend,' my son told his grandfather later that day. 'I don’t know her name, but she was very nice. We met on the bus.' Welcome to Israel."
  • A Jewish female sword swallower. It's as cool as it sounds (and looks)!
  • Why did David Menachem Gordon join the IDF? In his own words: "The Israel Defense Forces is an army that fights for her nation’s survival and the absence of its warriors equals destruction from numerous regional foes. America is not quite under the threat of total annihilation… Simply put, I felt I was needed more in Israel than in the United States."
  • Leonard Fein's most enduring legacy may be his rejection of dualism: the idea that Jews must choose between assertiveness and compassion, between tribalism and universalism. Steven M. Cohen remembers a great Jewish progressive:
  • BREAKING: Missing lone soldier David Menachem Gordon has been found dead in central Israel. The Ohio native was 21 years old.
  • “They think they can slap on an Amish hat and a long black robe, and they’ve created a Hasid." What do you think of Hollywood's portrayal of Hasidic Jews?
  • “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager. I didn’t think I would have to do it when I was 90.” Hedy Epstein fled Nazi Germany in 1933 on a Kinderstransport.
  • "A few decades ago, it would have been easy to add Jews to that list of disempowered victims. I could throw in Leo Frank, the victim of mob justice; or otherwise privileged Jewish men denied entrance to elite universities. These days, however, we have to search a lot harder." Are you worried about what's going in on #Ferguson?
  • Will you accept the challenge?
  • In the six years since Dothan launched its relocation program, 8 families have made the jump — but will they stay? We went there to find out:
  • "Jewish Israelis and West Bank Palestinians are witnessing — and living — two very different wars." Naomi Zeveloff's first on-the-ground dispatch from Israel:
  • This deserves a whistle: Lauren Bacall's stylish wardrobe is getting its own museum exhibit at Fashion Institute of Technology.
  • How do you make people laugh when they're fighting on the front lines or ducking bombs?
  • "Hamas and others have dredged up passages form the Quran that demonize Jews horribly. Some imams rail about international Jewish conspiracies. But they’d have a much smaller audience for their ravings if Israel could find a way to lower the flames in the conflict." Do you agree with J.J. Goldberg?
  • How did Tariq Abu Khdeir go from fun-loving Palestinian-American teen to international icon in just a few short weeks? http://jd.fo/d4kkV
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.