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[Page 147]

Anti-Semitism in the Partisan Movement of Belorussia,

Translated by Judith Springer

German forces occupied Belorussia two months after the beginning of the war -- toward the end of August 1941. Hundreds of thousands of people did not have enough time to evacuate[1]. Jews, who did not stand out among other Soviet citizens, were left to fend for themselves. Nazis declared Jews to be outside the realm of law and set them apart from the rest of the population. The realization that the Red Army had retreated, leaving them to the mercy of fate, plunged many into a state of shock. Soon most of them were isolated into ghettos and annihilated[2]. Few managed to save themselves -- primarily those that were able to enlist the aid of Belorussians and Russians, showed a tremendous will to live, or were lucky.

The Soviet leadership was sufficiently informed of the policy of German genocide. The State Extraordinary Commission for the Investigation of Crimes and Atrocities Committed by German Fascist Invaders in the Temporarily Occupied Territory of the Soviet Union (ChGK) assumed its duties at the end of 1942. The materials of this commission were supplemented by secret service information, which was regularly delivered to Moscow through the BSSR [Belorussian Soviet Socialist Republic] and USSR State Security. Nevertheless, right up to the expulsion of German forces from Soviet territory in 1944, historians cannot note a single appeal from Moscow to underground organizations or the local population of the occupied territory (on the radio, in leaflets, or in the press) to help Jews as the main victims of Nazi racist policy[3]. Stalin's order No. 189 of September 5, 1942 -- “On the Tasks of the Partisan Movement” -- said nothing about the attitude toward Jews, although it contained specific recommendations on the fight against the administration and the military garrisons of the occupiers and their accomplices. Throughout the years of the war, the Main Political Administration of the Red Army every month advised the political departments on all fronts of the topics of political studies, but did not comment on the topic of anti-Semitism even once.

The genocide of the Jews was not reflected in the directives of the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement. Usually, Nazi crimes were viewed only as atrocities against the peaceful population in general. The Jewish issue was left out from the “Appeal by the Meeting of Representatives of the Belorussian People in Moscow” of February 28, 1942, from the statement “Belarus is Fighting” promulgated in May 1942, as well as from the appeal by representatives of the Belorussian intelligentsia “To the Belorussian People” in October 1943. Nor was the topic of the Holocaust mentioned in the leaflets published by the underground committees of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia and the Leninist Young Communist League of Belorussia. The Central Committee Department of Agitation and Propaganda approved the topics of these leaflets once or twice a month.

The Fifth Plenum of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarussia was held in Moscow on February 26-28, 1943. It discussed the question “On the Situation and the Tasks of Work of Party Bodies and Party Organizations in the Occupied Regions of Belorussia.” The results of the struggle were summed up, plans for its expansion were outlined, and a program for political work among the population was developed. Participants in the plenum sidestepped the Jewish issue, and only Ponomarenko reported on the liquidation of the Minsk ghetto. The order on the need to preserve the life of peaceful citizens on the temporarily occupied territory, which Stalin, as the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, issued on May 1, 1943, was no exception. Its content was expressed in general terms, and the word “Jews” was absent from it[4]. The same was duplicated during the anniversary of the October Revolution in November 1943[5].

The Jewish population in the occupied territory was doomed. Everyone -- the Jews themselves, local non-Jewish residents (Belorussians, Russians, and Poles), German authorities, and their collaborators -- realized this. The only hope rested with partisans, who fought the Nazis with weapons in their hands. The partisan movement played a major role in saving the part of the Jewish population that managed to survive[6]. However, until the spring of 1942, the situation of the partisans themselves was desperate. Their small, uncoordinated detachments took cover in hard-to-access areas. They did not yet have the support of the population and lacked the necessary force, means of communication, and firepower. Under the name of “people's avengers,” groups of marauders operated in forests, robbing local residents and killing Jews who were hiding there. The Nazi liquidation of most ghettos in Belorussia occurred during the period from the fall of 1941 until the spring of 1942. Acts of mass genocide did not leave any chance for rescue. Those that did not die of hunger or diseases, did not undermine their health in forced labor, and did not lose their faith in survival, tried to run away at the slightest opportunity. The youngest and strongest fled alone, or led families out of ghettos and rural areas, and looked for weapons. Those that survived wanted to take revenge, which they could do only together with partisans[7].

Yakov Mogilnitskiy from the Shumilino ghetto hid with Olga and Sergey Kutenko. In the spring of 1942, he was accepted into the Partisan Brigade named after Kalinin. In 1944 he joined the Soviet Army, became a mine specialist, went as far as Koenigsberg, and served in the Far East[8]. Galina Mikhlina from the ghetto in Chashniki wandered through the forests for two months. Many Belorussians were kind to her, hiding and feeding her, but there were also those who did not open their doors. In May 1942, she met partisans from the Lobanok Detachment, helped in the supply company, was a medical corpsman, and participated in the work of demolition men[9]. In February 1942, brothers Daniel and Vulf Kaplan hid with a peasant acquaintance in Rakov, but were arrested as a result of a denunciation. On the eve of the execution, as they were fleeing to the town of Gorodok, their legs became frostbitten. Even so, they were turned away there. The Kaplans hid in the concentration camp in the town of Krasnoye, and from there later went to the partisans. They fought in the Stalin Detachment, being noted for their fearlessness. After the pogrom in Rakov, Rokhim Gringol, who came from the same place as the Kaplans, went all the way to Gorodok, Vileyka, and Lyuban', met partisans, and fought in the Dovator Detachment, whereas Tevel Gorbuz fought in the Chkalov Brigade[10].

The war found Roza Fridzon and her daughter Ella in Koydanovo. The landlady in the village guessed that they were Jews and demanded that they leave. The women came to Minsk, staying at the home of Varvara Filippovich, who registered Ella in her passport. At the end of 1943, the 16-year old Ella became a combat pilot in the “Rodnye” special airborne group (NKVD -- People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs -- troops) and Roza, a scout in the Partisan Brigade named after Ponomarenko. In December 1943, the Gestapo arrested and sent her to the Herouville (France) concentration camp, from where, after some time, she and 37 other prisoners escaped. They participated in the establishment of the Rodina Women's Partisan Detachment under Roza Fridzon's (Yekaterina Semenova's) command. For personal bravery she was awarded the Order of the Legion of Honor and the title of lieutenant in the French Army[11]. In the fall of 1942, Khaim Kleyner from the village of Luchay, Dunilovichi Rayon, hit a German guard at the ghetto gate, grabbed his submachine gun, and hid in the forest. In 1942-1943 the following fled to the partisans: Avner Feygelman and Isaak Blat from Glubokoye (the Voroshilov Brigade); Zalman Mikhelman, Yakov Ruderman, Rakhmiel Milkin, and David Glezer (the “Mstitel” -- Avenger -- Detachment); Boris Shapiro and Khasya Levina from Disna; Bomka Genikhovich from Plissa, and so forth[12]. On April 2, 1942, on the eve of the Aktion in Lyady, Leyba, Khaim and Tsalya Tamarkin and Shmuel Fradkin fled to the partisans. During one operation, Leyba and Shmuel were caught and in the Krasnoye settlement were hung, their throats on iron hooks, like cattle for slaughter. During a combat operation, Khaim Tamarkin was wounded and fell into the hands of the Nazis. When he was in the torture chamber, he bit through his veins with his teeth and died[13].

Meeting partisans did not always mean salvation for Jews. Often they were seen as an unnecessary burden. Old people, women, children, the sick, and the emaciated were not fit for life in the forests. They impeded the actions of the partisans, obstructed a quick getaway during round-ups, and gave away the locations of the detachments. In other cases, Jews were taken for German spies (because their escape was viewed as unbelievable), who were sent to reconnoiter the partisans' location, poison wells, and kill their leaders. This is how Yakov Rubenchik, a third-year student at a Minsk medical higher institution, died. He fled from the Minsk ghetto. In the forest, partisans found poison on him, which Yakov kept for himself in case the Germans captured him. This became a death sentence for him[14].

In October 1941, three Jews, fleeing from the Orsha ghetto, made inquiries among local residents at the Trotilovo station about the whereabouts of partisans, fearing that the latter might shoot them[15]. In the spring of 1942, the family of Khaya Rabinovich from the Lenin ghetto, Pinsk region, encountered partisans. The commander agreed to accept only the oldest -- Moysha and Lyuba -- into the detachment, leaving the elderly woman and small children to the mercy of fate[16]. In March 1943, Faina Elman and Shimon Gordon from Radoshkovichi, met in the forest partisans, who took them to the village of Lovtsevichi. A group of 10 Jews was already there, but the joy of the meeting was clouded: The partisans suspected them of being German spies. At the last moment, when the Jews were being led to the gallows, they were informed that the execution was revoked. All of them were taken to the village of Selishche in Logoysk district, where they were joined by several other Jews, whom the partisans found on the Valentinovo khutor [farmstead](a total of 18 of the 2,000 people who perished in the Radoshkovichi ghetto)[17].

In the summer of 1943, 25 Jews from Minsk with weapons arrived at the location of the Kutuzov Detachment. The men and women were stripped of their clothes, searched, and their weapons and medication were taken away. The partisans looked for gold and jewelry. They took away Roza Lipskaya's gold watch and Aron Fitterson's leather jacket and riding breeches[18]. Samuil and Aleksandr Margolin, in a group of 14 Jews from the Minsk ghetto, encountered partisans in the area of the village of Novy Dvor. This was their third attempt to go into the forest. However, the partisans picked only four young people. The remaining 10 were unwanted. Unarmed, worn out by hunger and thirst, they arrived at the village of Skirmuntovo, where at that time a punitive Aktion was being conducted. They died (were burned alive) together with local Belorussian residents[19].

In March 1943, Anatoly Rubin from the Minsk ghetto was hiding under the name of Stepanov in the village of Drabovshchina, Kletsk district. In the fall of 1943, he came across a partisan marching column in the area of the village of Chasha. Anatoly told the partisans that his parents had died in the ghetto and he wanted to take revenge. Ironic smiles appeared on the partisans' faces and chuckles and retorts with a deliberately affected Jewish accent were heard: “What will you do as a partisan -- shoot? But we don't have curved rifles”[20]. Then they asked him whether his parents worked in a store and whether Anatoly was not a spy sent by the Germans. They urged him to confess on his own, or else they promised to perform a second circumcision on him. Suddenly it seemed to the young man that he was among disguised polizei. In the end, he was ordered to lie with his face on the ground and count to 100 until the column moved away[21].

In a number of cases, the leadership of detachments that “tolerated” Jews, when circumstances became more complicated, got rid of their presence. That is how it acted in the Antonov Detachment of the Shirokov Brigade, which operated in the area of Kozyany-Glubokoye. In October 1943, the Nazis began a large-scale punitive operation against partisans. Commander Antonov summoned nine Jews from the detachment and suggested that they leave the camp, the pretext being that the partisan unit was too large. The Germans had already entered the forest and it was impossible for all the partisans together to break through the Germans' screening force. At the same time, the shoemaker and the tailor were ordered to stay. The detachment was not being disbanded at all. Only Jews were being expelled from it, which the command did not hide. The Jews resolutely protested, saying that the partisans first took away their weapons and then did not let them stay with them. They asked to be shot on the spot, shouting that they had nowhere to go. But to no avail. The rejected Jews tried to follow the detachment at a certain distance, but those at the rear of the column came up to them, saying that they had an order to shoot at the Jews if they did not leave them alone[22].

Nevertheless, by 1942 Jews became an integral part of Belorussia's partisans. Just like all the others, they participated in combat operations and the “rail war”, went on ambushes, carried out intelligence assignments, gathered reconnaissance information, and engaged in propaganda work. They were doctors, gunsmiths, radio operators, and so forth. Those who were not able to carry arms, procured food products, worked in partisan laundries and in shoemakers' and tailors' workshops, and took care of the wounded. In seven detachments of the Leninist Partisan Brigade, of 1,728 people, 366 Jews fought[23]. In four detachments of the “Za Sovetskuyu Belarus” (For Soviet Belarus) Brigade, 176 of 821 partisans were Jews[24]. In five detachments of the “Vpered” [Forward] Brigade and five detachments of the Stalin Brigade, 103 of 678 people and 93 of 1,075 people respectively were Jews[25].

In detachments where Jews constituted a minority, they preferred not to display their nationality, changing first and last names. Many, even when they joined the partisans, preferred to preserve the legend about their non-Jewish origin[26]. The Central Headquarters of Belorussia's Partisan Movement used to send sabotage groups to the enemy rear. They included many Jews, from rank-and-file fighters to demolition men, radio operators, translators, medics, propagandists, and political leaders, whose assignment was to establish new and replenish existing detachments. In 1942 and at the beginning of 1943 alone, Belorussia's partisan detachments and units included the following: Moisey Davidovich Shapiro, Mikhail Isaakovich Zubritskiy, and David Osherovich Livshits -- secretaries of Zhlobin, Chashniki, and Drissa district party committees; Samuil Monusovich Sverdlov, Khaim Izrailevich Vargavtik, and Ruvim Khaimovich Goland -- secretaries of Rogachev, Petrikov, and Osipovichi district committees of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia; Iosif Leybovich Khavkin, secretary of the Mogilev City Party Committee, and many others[27].

The biased attitude toward Jews was the consequence of the anarchy and lack of control characteristic to some degree of the partisan struggle. From time to time, the leadership in the German rear tried to confront this phenomenon. On June 2, 1943, Dubov, representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia and of the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement in the Ivenets Interregional Center, issued order No. 0019. It noted the numerous cases of “improper relationships” among partisans. We will cite a part of this document[28]: “Instead of comradely solidarity and mutual assistance in combat, there is antagonism and quarreling. Partisans from the Frunze Brigade marauded among the local population, but blamed the partisans from the Stalin Brigade for everything. Partisan Khmelevskiy from the Dzerzhinskiy Detachment took a watch from a watch repairman, but gave a receipt in the name of the Lazo Detachment. There are cases of an arbitrary move from one detachment to another. Some commanders encourage this and even engage in recruitment, trying to win partisans, to whom they take a liking, over to their side.”

Dubov's order especially singled out such a phenomenon as clarifying relations by means of weapons. It cited the following examples: Anokhin, chief of the Frunze Brigade Headquarters, shot Kovalev, commissar of the Budenny Brigade. Lyakhov, commissar of one of the detachments of the Stalin Brigade, shot three partisans from the Frunze Brigade -- Ryzhkov, Kurganov, and Khlebnikov. Jewish partisans were no exception. Lieutenant Klyuchnik, commander of the Shchors Detachment, without filing an accusation, shot Zaskin, commissar of the Lazo Detachment, and partisan Petrashkevich. Nekrasov, commander of a platoon of the headquarters company, the Stalin Brigade, in the village of Kondratovichi, led a whole group (!) of Jews from the Frunze Brigade to execution[29]. Representative Dubov demanded that executions without the sanctions of investigative bodies be stopped. The “re-recruitment” of partisans in other detachments was banned. Those that came voluntarily must be disarmed and their place of service must be notified of this. Control over the actions of partisans in their deployment areas must be toughened.

What were the grounds for execution under conditions of the partisans' free rein? Insubordination to an order, absence without leave, sleeping at a post, or leaving alert duty, and cases of marauding. The authority of a detachment commander, in fact, was unlimited. At times commanders turned into atamans, who ruled arbitrarily at their sole discretion, often under the influence of emotions and alcohol. Many attributed such actions to the extreme situation of the partisans on the occupied territory and to Stalin's well-known order, giving a commander the right to execute on the spot a subordinate for failure to carry out an order. Soviet leading bodies in the German rear were disoriented to a certain extent. They were aware of the need to fight against the willfulness of “field commanders,” but did not have real levers of influence. They fought against it reluctantly, often simply closing their eyes to it.

A unique case occurred in the Dzerzhinskiy Detachment of the Stalin Brigade, which operated in Baranovichi region. K.F. Shashkin, commander of the detachment, and Ye.P. Lyakhov, commissar of the detachment, without authorization executed partisan Grigoriy Rivin as a “Jewish nationalist.” After the event, they presented this case as a collective decision by the detachment's command[30]. The unexpectedly strong repercussions from this tragedy forced the brigade's command to conduct an investigation.

The Dzerzhinskiy Detachment emerged from a group of prisoners of war in the fall of 1941 and, by the spring of 1942, grew to more than 100 people. It operated in Ivenets and Stolpenich rayons in Baranovichi region and in Dzerzhinsk district in Minsk region. K.F. Shashkin himself, being a Red Army captain, was encircled in Western Belorussia. In September 1941, he arrived in Minsk, where he established communication with the patriotic underground. In May 1942, after the destruction by the Gestapo of the Minsk Underground City Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia, Shashkin and Lyakhov organized about 20 encircled men and former prisoners of war, fled on a truck from Minsk, and joined the Stalin Partisan Detachment[31]. They had the reputation of being brave fighters, who actively fought against the enemy. The command of the Lida partisan zone, which organizationally included the Dzerzhinskiy Detachment, was well disposed toward Shashkin and Lyakhov.

An official investigation and interrogations of witnesses clarified what had happened on May 12, 1943. Grigori Rivin, a participant in the Civil War, was an elderly man with a wealth of life experience. He believed in the ideals of Soviet power. He openly criticized the methods of operation by partisans under Shashkin's leadership. Being a man with a sharp tongue, he accused some partisan chiefs of “self-supply” and “grabbing.” Rivin was not willing to attribute the blunders in battles to wartime difficulties, but rather to the “lack of talent” on the part of the detachment and the brigade command.

In the report on what had happened, Shashkin and Lyakhov pointed out that Rivin threatened that, when “ours” -- that is, regular Red Army units -- come, half of the Stalin Brigade will have to be disbanded and punished. Grigori's harsh assessment attested to the complex relationships among partisans, tactics of military operations, unjustified losses of personnel, and casualties among peaceful citizens. However, the most terrible thing was that Rivin “resorted to global generalizations,” calling partisan commanders “fools” who did not like Jews. They reported that Rivin “incited Jewish fighters, claiming that 'we are not liked in the detachment, there is anti-Semitism here.' He refused to hand 'surplus' weapons (a Mauser, two Nagant revolvers, and a carbine) over to the detachment warehouse, hiding them. He did not give his binoculars to comrades leaving on a mission. When the cook did not give him more meat, he called him an anti-Semite.”

When the command of the Dzerzhinsky Detachment refused to accept partisan Lifshits' wife and sister-in-law, Rivin's intercession was the last straw. For the women, who were not only members of a Soviet partisan's family, but also Jews, to remain in the occupied territory meant inevitable death. No attempts at persuasion, requests, or promises helped. Then Rivin, addressing Lifshits, said: “To whom are you appealing? Don't you know that we, Jews, are not liked here?!” And he added that if Marshal G.K. Zhukov, under whose command Rivin had served in his youth, had been there, things would have been different.

The “troublemaker's” fate was sealed and he was executed on the same day. The groundlessness of the arguments for accusation was obvious. According to the testimony of the chief of the Stalin Brigade, Rivin served well, did not try to avoid missions, and was not a coward. Indeed, Shashkin and Lyakhov did not like Jews and got rid of them at the first opportunity. Shashkin was not ashamed to state publicly: “Take away Jews from me and, for each one, I will even throw in a cow...” He took away a gold watch from the Jew Fayb and gave it to his wife, Praskoviya (Pasha), to wear. After Rivin's execution, at the detachment's formation, Shashkin declared that he “lost his temper.” Another time he added that, when Grigori asked that his life be spared, he, Shashkin, wanted to pardon him, but he thought that Rivin would not rest anyway and “would go on with his nationalism”[32].

The news about the extraordinary event spread throughout the Naliboki Forest. The documents of the official investigation noted that Jewish partisans received the news with great sorrow. Some “simply cried, expressing their protest in this way.” Jews from the Dzerzhinskiy Detachment (13 of 478) and the Bolshevik Detachment (6 of 109) looked upon Rivin as the “spokesman of their thoughts”[33]. The general conclusion was that Jewish partisans were in low spirits and that everyone was inclined to leave the detachment[34].

What was the reaction of higher partisan authorities? Were measures taken, were the guilty named, was an investigation initiated by the military tribunal? Were condolences offered to the relatives of the killed Rivin? The case was dropped. Dubov and Major General Platon[35], Gulevich and Murashov, commander and commissar of the Stalin Brigade respectively, and Karpov, chief of the brigade headquarters, signed a joint order, in which they characterized the partisan's illegal execution as correct (emphasis mine --L.S.). They only regretted that the “execution was done in haste” and that Rivin was not exposed as a chauvinist in time. They ordered party and Komsomol organizations of detachments to pay special attention to the “spread of Jewish nationalism, as well as anti-Semitism -- fascist methods of demoralizing our ranks.” Shashkin was reprimanded for violating the order on execution without the sanction of the brigade command[36].

An order was issued to investigate and take measures against partisans Galina Rogova and Brona Gofman, who stated that “Jews are being persecuted, beaten, and executed. Ghetto conditions are being created for them.” They promised to complain, write to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia and to Moscow, and get their own way no matter what. Rogova and Gofman spread the version that Dubov and Gulevich acknowledged Rivin's execution to be an error and intended to bury him with military honors. In response Gulevich, in his brigade order of June 1, 1943, called Rogova and Gofman “apostles of Jewish nationalism”[37].

This connivance gave rise to new violations. In the fall of 1943, partisans from the Dzerzhinskiy Brigade (recently renamed from the detachment of the same name) attacked Jewish partisans from the Parkhomenko Detachment. On October 30, the latter were on a mission to procure food products on Lyuban farmsteads in Ivenets Rayon, Baranovichi Oblast. Partisans from the Dzerzhinskiy Brigade appeared unexpectedly. Eight against three, shouting “beat the Jews!”, they attacked the Jewish partisans from the Parkhomenko Detachment, declaring that Jews should “devour old sickly cows, not wild boars.” They took away all the food products the Jews collected[38].

On November 2, 1943, the Jewish partisans returned to the location of the Parkhomenko Detachment with empty carts. They stated that they saw no way out of the existing situation and that they were afraid of partisans in other detachments as they were of the Germans. Guminski and Sergeyev, the commissar and the commander of the Parkhomenko Detachment respectively, were Red Army officers. They sent a report to the Belorussian Headquarters of the Partisan Movement and to the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belorussia. It noted that Sukhomlinov and Strunkevich led the criminal group of Dzerzhinskiy partisans on Lyuban farmsteads. Their conduct brought discredit upon Soviet power and demoralized the partisan movement from within. Guminski and Sergeyev stressed that the facts they cited “were not isolated, but no one took any measures to stop them.” They concluded that it was impossible to lead people and provide a detachment with food products when the “Jewish nation is despised everywhere”[39].

Sokolov, deputy representative of the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement and of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia for the Lida Interrayon Center, forwarded the report of the Parkhomenko Detachment to a higher authority, demanding that the command of the Dzerzhinskiy Brigade “get at the bottom of things”. The matter did not end there. After several months, the persecutions resumed. This time Major Klevko, commissar of the Suvorov Detachment, complained. He reported that his detachment had a Jewish family group, which maintained friendly relations with local residents. This made it possible to provide the Suvorov Detachment with clothing, food, and ammunition. In early January 1944, Mordekhay Goldshmidt, a fighter from the family group, while on an economic mission, was disarmed by Gavrilov, commissar of the Aleksandr Nevski Detachment. Gavrilov minced no words about Jews in front of his subordinates, saying that the accompanying documents of the Suvorov Detachment were not an “edict” for him. Klevko, in strong language, drew the command's attention to the fact that Gavrilov “was terrorizing Jews and literally driving them out of the forest.” Defending the family group, he warned that, if the “presumptuous” Gavrilov did not get his due and his conduct was not deemed anti-party, egoistical, and harmful (italics mine -- L.S.), he, Klevko, would be ready to use extreme measures and, with his fighters, disarm the guilty. Then, “instead of fighting against the Germans, we will fight each other, which, evidently, Gavrilov was seeking”[40]. The measures of effect again proved to be ambivalent. Goldshmidt's weapons were returned to him, but no measures against his offenders were taken. The matter was hushed up. Field commanders were forgiven for many things, including such “trifles” on the national soil.

Most non-Jewish partisans felt a sense of solidarity with Jewish fighters, saw them as reliable colleagues, and shared their desire to protect relatives and close ones. When cases of persecution of Jews on the national soil became known, strict measures, including the death penalty, were taken against the guilty. Khaim Podberezkin fought in Mikhail Ledyayev's detachment of the “Za Sovetskuyu Belarus” [For Soviet Belarus] Brigade. Owing to his tallness and Herculean strength, he was called Peter the First. He was born in Gorodok, Vitebsk Oblast. Khaim was valued for his terrain orientation skills, professional qualities of a demolition man, and good disposition. In the fall of 1943, Podberezkin, in a group of 10 partisans, carried out a successful act of sabotage on a railroad. On the way back, the partisans stopped in a village and, to celebrate, began drinking. Then they continued on their way to the base. Podberezkin sat in front and drove the horse. There were three more people in the cart. One of them, Kozlov, proposed to “bump off the Yid.” As there were no objections, he placed the muzzle against the back of the driver's head and, firing, blew half of his head off. Everyone jumped off the carts and, in a flash, sobered up. Most of these partisans were outraged by Kozlov's savage act, but decided that, upon their return to the camp, they would say that they had run into a German ambush. They buried Podberezkin on the side of the road. However, Solomon Rubel, Mikhl Litskiy, seamstress Bashe-Golde, and Brayne, partisans from Gorodok, suspected something foul. They conducted their own investigation. Local residents did not confirm that fighting, or an exchange of fire, was going on when the group of demolition men was passing there. The platoon commander reported this to the brigade's special section. The following order came from there: To find the guilty and try and punish them in front of the formation. The trial was speedy. For concealing the crime, the commander of the demolition squad was executed in front of the formation and Kozlov was hung[41].

Occupation authorities and Belorussian nationalists tried to deny the participation of Jews in the Resistance and depict them as extortionists and robbers of the local population. A number of partisan commanders, preparing military operations, gave cause for such propaganda. In Novogrudok district on January 28, 1944, partisans from the Kirov Brigade laid an ambush at the police post in the small town of Guta. From Vasilevichi, 10 Jews -- drunken marauders -- were sent to simulate the plundering of peaceful inhabitants (to demand home-brew and lard and that the bathhouse be heated) and terrorize peasants. The expectation was that one of the peasants would call the police. Indeed, in response to the appearance of the “Jewish bandits,” a detachment of 26 policemen and 8 German officers arrived. The ambush succeeded. During the exchange of fire, 30 people were killed and 4 were taken prisoner. There were no losses among the partisans[42]. Owing to the “military stratagem,” the objective was attained, but the reputation of Jews in the eyes of local inhabitants as “oppressors” and “marauders” disturbed no one. At the same time, this corroborated the German propaganda, which made Jews the enemies of hard-working and law-abiding Belorussians.

Jews remained the targets of attacks by anti-Semitic partisans right up to the liberation of Belorussia. In the village of Mostishche, Novogrudok district, on the night of March 18, 1944, partisans from the Voroshilov Detachment (partisan Karitachi was the head of the group) disarmed seven Jews from the Kalinin Detachment. Two days later, partisans from the Furmanov Detachment of the Chapayev Brigade detained a string of carts belonging to Kalinin partisans and took away 21 bags of grain, 4 wild boars, 2 cows, 4 horses, and all the personal belongings of 40 Jewish fighters. The next day, Vasilyev, commander of the Kirov Brigade, seized 35 kg of salt from them[43].

Tuvia Bielski, commander of the Kalinin Detachment, complained to Major General Platon that Shashkin, commander of the Dzerzhinskiy Brigade, did not let his partisans cross the bridge over the Neman and took away their horses and carts. Bielski's report contained a desperate call for help: “The closure of the road across the Neman threatens us with total disaster and, in the very near future, will result in starvation...”[44]. The tense situation was about to explode. On April 2, 1944, Sokolov, Platon's assistant, issued an order stating that, after a careful examination, cases of “mass terrorism” against Jewish partisans were established. They were expressed in beating and disarming them and in confiscating the foodstuffs, clothing, and ammunition they procured. Furthermore, the order enumerated the most flagrant violations of the law. At the same time, Sokolov did not name specific culprits and only suggested explaining to the personnel that a wrong attitude toward Jewish partisans intensifies interethnic strife and helps the enemy[45].

What was the logic of the partisan command, which protected the guilty and did not resolutely fight against the manifestation of interethnic strife? During the war years, the Soviet leadership put its stake on Russian patriotism, which intensified nationalist elements in ideology[46]. Appealing to the sentiments of the Slavs, it exploited their national antipathies, including anti-Semitic traditions stirred up by Nazism. In its own way, this was expressed in the partisans' activity on Belorussian territory in 1941-1944.


  1. M. Altshuler, “Escape and Evacuation of the Jews of Eastern Belorussia During the Holocaust,” Yahadut Zmaneinu (Studies in Contemporary Jewry), No. 3, 1986, Jerusalem, pp. 119-158, (Hebrew). Return

  2. Y. Arad, Sh. Krakowski, Sh. Spektor (eds.). The Einsatzgruppen Reports: Selections from the Dispatches of Nazi Death Squads' Campaign against the Jews, July 1941-January 1943, Yad Vashem (Jerusalem), Holocaust Library (New York, 1989); Y. Buchler, “Local Police Force Participation in the Extermination of Jews in Occupied Soviet Territory,” Shvut, No. 4(20), 1996, pp. 79-99; Hannes Heer, “Killing Fields: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belorussia, 1941-1942,” Holocaust and Genocide Studies (Washington), Vol. 11, No. 1 (Spring 1997), pp. 79-101. Return

  3. Y. Arad, “Otnosheniye sovetskogo rukovodstva k Kholokostu” [The Attitude of Soviet Leadership toward the Holocaust,” Yalkut Moreshet, (Tel Aviv), No. 62, 1996, pp.96-110 (Hebrew); Dokumenty obvinyayut. Kholokost: svidetelstva Krasnoy Armii [Documents Accuse. Holocaust: Testimonies of the Red Army]. Compiler: F.D.Sverdlov, (Moscow 1996), pp. 3-30. Return

  4. Zbornik listovak wsenarodnay partyzanskaya baratsby na Belarusi u gady Vyalikay Aychynnaya vayny [Collection of Leaflets on the Nationwide Partisan Struggle in Belarus during the Years of the Great Patriotic War], Publishing House of the Institute of Party History at the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Belarus (Minsk 1952), Pravda, April 29, 1943. Return

  5. The silence about the genocide also continued after the republic's liberation. In the fall of 1944, T.S. Gorbunov, secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia for propaganda, claimed that the “legal status of the Belorussian population, as well as other non-Jewish populations in Minsk, differed little from the status of Jews.” As the years went by, this point of view did not change. In Karlovy Vary (Czechoslovakia) in 1965, at the Third International Conference on the History of the Resistance Movement devoted to the 20th anniversary of the victory of the anti-Hitlerite coalition, this thesis was repeated verbatim. See: Timofey Gorbunov, “Chudovishchnyye zlodeyaniya nemtsev v Belorussii” [Monstrous Atrocities of the Germans in Belorussia], Slavyane (the press organ of the Slavyane All-Slavonic Committee), No. 9, September 1944; Soviet War Documents, Washington D.C., December 1943, p. 73. Return

  6. M. Kaganovich, The Fighting of the Jewish Partisans in Eastern Europe (Tel Aviv, 1954). Hebrew. Sefer ha-Partizanim ha-Yehudim [The Book of Jewish Partisans],Moravia, Yad Vashem, (Jerusalem 1958). Return

  7. A. Wertheim, “Zydowska partyzanka na Bialorusi” [A Jewish Woman Partisan in Belorussia], Zeszyty Historyczne, No. 86, 1988, pp. 96-162. Return

  8. Mishpokha, No. 1, 1995, pp. 100-102. Return

  9. Tragediya yevreyev Belorussii v gody nemetskoy okkupatsii, 1941-1944 [Tragedy of Jews in Belorussia During the Years of German Occupation, 1941-1944]. Materials and Documents, edited by R. Chernoglazova (Minsk, 1995), p. 163. Return

  10. Yad Vashem Archives (YVA), collection M-35, file 182. Return

  11. E. Ioffe, “Leytenant Roza Fridzon” [Lieutenant Roza Fridzon]. See: Ocherki yevreyskogo geroizma [Essays on Jewish Heroism], (Kiev, 1997), pp. 244-246. Return

  12. V. Levin and D. Meltser, Uk. soch. [Uk. Works], p. 418. Return

  13. Dneprovskaya Pravda, June 21, 1991 and November 10, 1993; V.L. Tamarkin, Eto bylo ne vo sne [This Was Not in a Dream], (Moscow, 1998). Return

  14. A. Rubenchik, Pravda o Minskom getto [The Truth About the Minsk Ghetto], (Tel Aviv, 1998), p. 23. Return

  15. Author's personal archive. Record of a talk with Anna Ivanovna Malygina of October 14, 1995. Return

  16. They managed to reach the Rakhnovichi farmstead, where the family of Mariya Korbu-Velichko lived. She was hiding Khaya, Alter, and Yesul at her home for more than two years. Return

  17. Author's archive. Return

  18. F. Lipskiy, “Trudnaya zhizn'” [A Difficult Life], Mishpokha, No. 2, 1996, p. 70; V. Levin and D. Meltser, Uk. soch., pp. 339 and 417. Return

  19. S. Margolina, Ostatsya zhit [To Stay Alive], (Minsk, 1997), p. 61. Return

  20. Anti-Semites claimed that all Jews were cowards, shot only from behind a corner, and, therefore, needed curved rifles -- L.S. Return

  21. A. Rubin, Uk. soch., p. 108. Return

  22. Sidney, Iwens, How Dark the Heavens: 1400 Days in the Grip of Nazi Terror (New York, 1990). Return

  23. National Archive of the Republic of Belarus (NARB), f. [fond -- collection] 3500; op. [opis -- inventory] 4; d. [delo -- file] 251; l. [list -- folio] 60. Return

  24. Ibid, d. 269, l. 9. Return

  25. Ibid, d. 259, l. 22; d. 245; Vol. 1, l. 54. Return

  26. Sh. Cholawski, The Jews of Belorussia During World War, Hardwood Academic Publishers (Amsterdam, 1998). Return

  27. NARB, f.4, op. 33a, d. 95, l. 64-77. Return

  28. Ibid, f. 3500, op. 4, d. 248, l. 161. Return

  29. Ibid, l. 162. Return

  30. Ibid, l. 222. Return

  31. Ibid, d. 255a, l. 6. Return

  32. Ibid, d. 248, l. 222-224. Return

  33. Ibid, d. 255, l. 16; d. 259, l. 22. Return

  34. Ibid, d. 248, l. 224. Return

  35. Platon is the pseudonym of Major General V. Ye. Chernyshev (1908-1969), Hero of the Soviet Union. Before the war, he was first secretary of the Zhlobin and Vasilishki rayon party committees and of the Baranovichi region Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia. As of July 1941, he was one of the organizers of the partisan movement. As of 1942, he was the representative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia and of the Central Headquarters of the Partisan Movement in Baranovichi region. As of March 1943, he was secretary of the Baranovichi Underground Oblast Committee of the Communist Party (Bolsheviks) of Belorussia and commander of the Baranovichi Partisan Unit. Return

  36. NARB, f. 3500, op. 4, d. 248, l. 221. Return

  37. Ibid. Return

  38. Ibid, d. 242, l. 102. Return

  39. Ibid, l. 103. Return

  40. Ibid, l. 199-200. Return

  41. A. Rubenchik, pp. 138-139. Return

  42. NARB, f. 3500, op. 4, d. 253, l. 20. Return

  43. Ibid, d. 242, l. 457. Return

  44. Ibid, l. 458 and 548. Return

  45. Ibid. Return

  46. Sh. Redlich, Propaganda and Nationalism in Wartime Russia. The Jewish Antifascist Committee, 1941-1948 (Boulder, 1982). Return

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