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The Role of Gender Among the Partisans

Vitka Kempner was 19 years old when she made the choice to resist the Nazis. She fled to the city of Vilna and then was sent to the Vilna Ghetto, where she joined other youth to become a founding member of the United Partisan Organization (FPO). 

In the following interview excerpt, Vitka describes the role of women in Soviet partisan units.

The Russian partisans did not consider the women as being able to fight like the men, and indirectly perhaps, they were right. Because under the partisan conditions, it was really more difficult for a woman to fight. But there were also possibilities to fight. For instance, when we went out to blow up trains, one had to carry many kilos of TNT. And for a woman it was really difficult to walk 50 kilometers with the TNT....But the truth is, there was an objective difficulty, and there was a subjective one. The objective is that for a woman, under the existing conditions, it was much more difficult to be a partisan than for a [male] partisan. With the exception of missions like reconnaissance or individual operations, individual bombings, things women did when they went into town, or scouting; there they were equal. But during the operations it was really difficult. Not everybody agrees, not all the girls agree, but I think objectively that it was difficult. The Soviets didn’t even consider girls to be able to fight, although they had some, but few. Most of them didn’t. And they developed the theory that whoever helps the partisans is a fighter. Someone who peels potatoes for fighting partisans is a fighter; whoever washes clothes is a fighter. This was their ideology. That’s what they would say. But amongst us were girls who had the feeling that they could do the same job that the boys did, and it was very difficult to convince them.1

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