Living and Surviving in the Partisans: Food

Former Jewish partisans describe their constant struggle for food.

Transcript (Text)

During the day we were talking about how to ambush the Germans: strategy, how to do it, where to do it. The rest . . . food, how to get food.

Finding food was a constant struggle for Jewish partisans wherever they were. In some regions, partisans with friendly locals found food more easily. Some were given food and some took it at gunpoint, but most partisans knew hunger. 

To eat, we ha[d] to go out and get it. We didn't go into a supermarket to buy [it]. We had to steal it or rob it at night or do something to get it. 

Only what we had. We had a bag of beans so everybody got so many: five beans, six beans, and on this we survived for a week. 

We were 14 people, and we found a patch of potato shells with worms in it, and a head of a pig. And we shared it among the 14 people. For six days we weren't eating. We lived on snow for six days. Then when we found this, it  was like a treasure. 

Every night we went to a different vineyard and cut some of the grapes. And the funny thing is that after the war for many years, I couldn't look at grapes or eat them. 

The area in which I was, the partisans never suffered any hunger. We always had enough to eat. Whereas in the forests of Poland, they had much more difficulty getting food, so we were really lucky in that respect. 

When we went to the villages, the only way, you couldn't go to the store to buy farm products. What we needed was bread, butter and milk, eggs, a chicken, and so on. [That’s what] we wanted to buy. So we were chased like animals with axes, with pitchforks, and so on. 

You know, you go in with guns, and the person will not give you your food, so you take it yourself. It was a war. It was not a matter of being polite or this way or the other way. It's being—survival was at stake. 

Food left behind by the enemy had hidden dangers. 

Sometimes they put mines, the Germans, when they're burning up everything. You go to the table, you see a nice meal, and you try to grab it to eat . . . and it’s a hidden bomb there, and it can blow you up. So we're hungry and we see this stuff—we cannot touch it, [we were] afraid. 

Besides sustenance, partisans used food as a weapon when they kept it from the Nazis. 

You see, the farmers had to give to the Germans every month a certain amount of cows, a certain amount of pigs, a certain amount of chickens, a certain amount of eggs, a certain amount of all kinds of things. So we used to go to the village, take everything away, and the Germans got nothing.

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