Every Day the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans | Facing History & Ourselves

Every Day the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans

Former Jewish partisans reflect on women's participation in organized resistance groups during the Holocaust.

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  • History
  • Social Studies


English — US


Every Day the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans



I was the girl who played soccer with the boys. I was a girl who rode the bicycle on the street in shorts, which another Jewish girl didn't do that. And see I was born a fighter. I am free, I was always free. When I was a child, my father used to say that I am dangerous.

In the Second World War, approximately 30,000 Jews escaped ghettos and work camps and formed organized armed resistance groups to fight the Nazis. These groups were known as partisans, and within their ranks, were thousands of women.

The German soldiers came into our town, it's the noise of the motorcycles and it was so overwhelming. So we of course, we found out then that this is the end. This is the way it was. We lived in fear all the time, all the time we lived in fear. And the young men, the young people in town, especially the young boys, somehow try to organize to get out of town, to go into the forest.

So my mother came up to me and she said, Brenda, you must go into hiding. And I resisted, I said, where I'm going to hiding? I resisted, I said, no whatever will be with everybody, will be the family, will be with me. She said no, maybe one of us will survive and she insisted.

When my mother died, was killed, I got tough. When my mother died, was killed. Before my mother was killed, I didn't even want to go to the partisan group because I wanted to follow my mother. Wherever my mother will go, I should go that I should be killed with her. And it just happened that I was with her, and I wasn't killed.

So we came there, we sat down and we waited. Waited a long time actually, and then came out a commander, and he started asking questions. He says, so where are your weapons? We didn't have any weapons. So how many trains did you dynamite? We didn't. So I thought he was not going to take us in, but being that my uncle was a trained scout, they needed a scout, and to lead them in the vicinity where the partisans were. They were strangers in that part of the country, so they took us in because of my uncle.

It was beautiful. I see people with guns, with everybody is fully equipped with the horse and buggy, with the ammunition on their horse and buggy, and everybody is just ready to fight. One officer came out strolling to us and he said in Russian, I said to him, take us in we wanted to fight. He said, you are ready? I said, yes. And he said now or never. I said I'm going.

Despite the odds, women were able to join the partisans. Comprising nearly 10% of all resistance fighters. Many were accompanied by their family members. Their work in the partisan camps ranged from domestic duties such as cleaning, cooking, and nursing to reconnaissance, weapons transport, and even armed combat.

Women, yeah, what they were doing, part of them used to go with us to fight. They used to go like the farmers couldn't digest when they see a woman coming in with a rifle. They couldn't, they weren't used.

We were not interested in getting involved in open battle fights because we were not equipped or trained for it. We were interested in getting involved in sabotage acts, to interrupt and disrupt the communication and transportation to the front.



The partisans' main objective was to fight a guerrilla war against the Nazis and their collaborators. They fought against the Germans, targeted military and strategic sites. Disrupted or destroyed rail, power, and communication lines. Dynamited factories, stole weapons.

There were two different types of armed resistance movements in which Jewish women were involved. The first was the almost all-male, primarily non-Jewish unit, of which there were thousands throughout the whole of Europe. They comprised hundreds of thousands of fighters. The second, were the all Jewish units, which were relatively few in number but more accepting of women.

I was called in actually to the commander's wife. And she talked to me, I was a youngster, sheltered, did not go out, didn't have any boyfriends or anything of the sort, and she started talking to me. And she said to me, you're a young girl. There were very few women in the partisans, and I would advise you to select an officer, life will go better for you.

When the men went for missions and they got clothes, girls sold themselves in order to get a dress, or get a pair of shoes, or get-- I was lucky because I had my parents, my father and my brother and they used to bring me clothes and food, so I didn't have to sell myself. But plenty of the girls did it because they had to do it in order to survive. Jewish women who ran away from the ghettos, they had a very tough time because they lost families and they were not up to romantic relationships, and they suffered mostly.

You were given the two hours, and the two hours you had to bring the water, chop the wood, build the fire, prepare the food cart, cook and clean up. And in two hours if you had no help, it wasn't possible to do. And they were always worried, what if they are not able to perform? They'll be thrown out of the partisans.

The same way like the boys who raped that girl, the first one was a commander, and he shouldn't make that example. And he was out, we had all stood out in a circle, and he was in the middle, and they talked about it, and he was shot.

Groups like Frank Blaichman's Jewish unit, had their own rules for the protection and respect of their female partisans.

In our groups, I felt that we treated women very well, very nicely. When I first met my wife, as a partisan, in the partisans, she was with me about two months, she survived together. I treated her like my own sister, and she behaved like a lady. It was just mutual, and I would never touch her because she was young. And I know the reason why she wanted to be with us because she had no choice.



We took off the sentries by a silencer. We went into the base and made a mess out of them. It's like an atom bomb erupted. While we are there, we are going into the base a train was passing by. And we put it in the dynamite. The dynamite exploded and all of them were waiting with machine guns and we machine guned them, and they were the end of them.

We went two girls, there was a little bridge that was wood and that little bridge connected the Germans to go from one town to another for ammunition, for food, for things like that. And we were supposed to burn that bridge. We came into that Russian village and we said, we need kerosene, and we need straw in five minutes. If we haven't got-- we said, if you don't have, we'll kill the whole town. Either you give us or you're going to be killed.

They gave us in five minute kerosene and slaw, and we put a fire underneath that bridge. The Germans saw it, a fire, they opened fire on us with all the ammunition that they could do. We didn't shoot them out, that bridge burned. When we came back the commander said that we did it very good, and we got all the [NON-ENGLISH SPEECH] a medal.



There were times when we had to cross a railroad, and from all sides they was shooting, I didn't even bend down my head, I wasn't worried, I was going to get killed, if I was going to get killed, I was going to get killed as a fighter, not because I'm a Jew.

I don't remember ever being scared because we lived for one thing, either we'll survive or we'll kill a few Germans. I didn't fear for my life, my life was nothing, yet you want to live.

Peter and I have saved about 100 people, this was my thing to do. I think, that's the most important, that's the biggest resistance that we could have done to the Germans, is to survive because I have survivors.

It made me feel very good. It made me feel proud of myself, to be able to be a partisan, to be able to help in any way I was able to, that mission to destroy the Nazi machine.




Every Day the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans

© 2004-2016 Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation. All Rights Reserved

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