Living and Surviving in the Partisans: Medicine

Former Jewish partisans recall the challenges of treating wounded and sick partisans.

Transcript (Text)

And if somebody got sick, nothing happened. They had to get well. 

If there is a medical problem, we had a problem. We didn't have the right medication. 

Many Jewish partisans died from lack of medical care, and diseases like typhoid spread by lice were a constant threat. 

The clothing had millions and millions of lice in every seam. And this is the reason why people got typhoid because the lice were the carrier of the disease. 

And as far as treating the sick people, you did the best you could. Maybe they had some herbs or some alcohol to wash a wound. This is about it. Even bandages were in shortage. We had to wash them in order to use them again for other people. 

Sympathetic doctors were often unavailable and partisans were forced to treat themselves. 

I had a bullet in my leg. I had a knife that the doctor gave me and he told me I should just look for it and take it out. And that's what I did. They helped me. Somebody was standing there and pouring this spiritus and I took it out. It hurt, but what can you do? I did it to other people too. It hurt, so what? 

Some took a chance and risked betrayal by local doctors but went anyway. 

So I took out my revolver and I said, "Look, you can give me injection, but if anything is funny or something . . ." So then later I figure the revolver is not good. I took out the hand grenade. I took out the pin and I said, "If you do something I will let the pin go and we will all be killed." Medical help during battles was limited and the wounded usually died from infection. 

And during the daytime, the fights were terrible. The first few days, we have many, many casualties. Wagons full of wounded people. I was frightened and that's where I was for ten days. And after ten days I came back, my parents didn't recognize me. 

We had actually amputated some of our partisans right on the horse and buggy. And one time I stood, I almost fainted. I couldn't stand it. But a lot had got gangrene. A lot had died right after because of the harsh weather, of them not having the right medication and not to sterilize everything. You could not sterilize in the woods. 

Partisans got medicine in a variety of ways. The medication and everything also was taken from the Germans. Otherwise where would we take it? As the war progressed, the Allies and Russians started helping the partisans. 

And I remember in our woods, they delivered to us penicillin from the United States. I know via Moscow but flown by airplanes to us. We got it, and a lot of our partisans were saved by it from gangrene, from infection, and it felt like a miracle at that time. 

If you got a shot and a bullet somewhere, try not to get it because the doctor's instruments were rusty. Doctors were very few and far between. You laid in a hospital, a make-believe hospital somewhere and most of the people died of gangrene. So it was very rough. Don't get a bullet. Try to keep it out.

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