Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters

Partisans: A Personal Memoir by Fruma Gulkowitz-Berger

My brother Ben-Zion organized a group of people in ghetto Novogrudok before the massacre. He wanted to go with them to the forest to establish contact with Russian partisans, but the Judenrat interfered. They were afraid of the consequences from the Gestapo, which threatened that if some Jews would be missing, hundreds of otherse would be murdered.

It was too late; the Aktion came. It was the second massacre for Novogrudok. For the Jews from Korelitz, it was the first and the last; only a few survived. We, the remaining Jews of ghetto Peresica, had only one thing on our minds: to escape from the ghetto. It was not an easy task. We were surrounded by the Nazi guard day and night, like the most dangerous prisoners.

The thought of revenge was giving strength to our existence. A messenger brought news to the ghetto that the Bielsky brothers, who lived near the forests, had started to organize a partisan group. The first group of eight men left the ghetto. They joined the Bielskys in the summer of 1941. My brother Ben-Zion left with the second group. A few weeks later, he sneaked back into the ghetto for his wife Judy and myself, and to rescue other Jews. We left the ghetto on a dark and windy night, along with thirty more Jews. We knew of the dangers that lay before us. When we were already on the other side of the ghetto wall, perhaps half a mile away, we heard shots fired in our direction. Somehow we were lucky. After walking all night we came to the forest where the Bielsky group stayed. At that time there were about sixty people in the group.

Our group was under the command of Tuvia Bielsky and grew fast, soon reaching 1200 Jews. Our unit was an exclusively Jewish partisan division. It consisted of people of all ages, even some children who had miraculously escaped the massacres. Everyone was welcome, not as in the non- Jewish groups. Our first task was to get ammunition. Some people already had secured guns in the ghetto; others who had some money in gold coins bought rifles from the peasants. Most got weapons by ambushing the enemy. Since we could not engage in an open fight with the Nazis, we were mostly involved in sabotage work: cutting telephone lines, blowing up bridges, railroad tracks, trains and other installations, with homemade mines. It was very dangerous work and unfortunately many of our young peope lost their lives. We often had to fight Russian or Polish partisans, for they would quickly kill a Jewish fighter for a good pair of boots or a for a rifle.

I was the first of the girls to get a rifle. I would stand guard together with the men fighters, and I would join them in other acts of vengeance against the murderers of our people. Most of the women's work was cooking, washing, caring for the fellow partisans and taking care of the sick and wounded. I participated in those chores also. For the women in the forest, mostly young girls, we constantly among men in a society where morality did not exist any more ... So most of us became close with a young man, and stayed together, and most of these couples are still living together. I met my husband Murray in the forest; we fought together, and we got married after the war.

Some peasants were working for the Germans as informers. With the help of peasant informers and the local police the Germans would very often raid farms where partisans stopped to rest. Many brave, young Jewish fighters met with a cruel death because of the informers. Eventually the informers received their punishment at the hands of the Jewish Partisans.

Many times the Germans encircled the forest with tanks and armoured vehicles filled with soldiers. The forests were bombed and attacks were launched on the Partisans' base. This was an Oblava (raid). We were surrounded on all sides; danger was enormous. For many days we did not have anything to eat or clean water to drink. We lived in underground bunkers called zeimlankas. On the surface they were camouflaged to appear as if nothing was underneath. Without windows, without toilets, without air to breathe, these were our sleeping quarteres.

In the summer of 1944 I was standing guard outside the base, and I heard the noise of far off guns and explosions. I could see Russian planes flying over the forest. The Red Army passed on the road close to our base. My emotions atthat moment were simply indescribable. The Germans were retreating. Our struggle in the woods would end soon but the danger was still with us. A big group of German soldiers on horseback moved toward our base, throwing grenades and shooting. Fighting began; everyone who had a rifle was on the battlefield. We lost ten of our best people. However, the Nazis did not escape either. The next day, on August 13, 1944, we left the forest on the way to town and freedom.

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2001.
All rights reserved.