The Gelpernus Diary
Resistance in the Kovno Ghetto
Chaim Yelin & Dimitri-Ghelpernus
"In the open battle"
1. IN THE FOREST
As it has been mentioned above Konstantin Radionov began the formation of partisan group "Death to Invaders" in November of 1943 on party orders. The main core of it had to be Kovno underground fighters. This partisan group was one of many in the detachment headed by the secretary of Southern underground Lithuanian Party Committee - comrade Jurgis (Heinrich Zimman). Name "Jurgis" was well known not only to partisans but to many in the civilian population drawn into helping people's avengers.
At first the "Death to Invaders" lacked weapons and ammunition, their numbers were small. But later the group was re-enforced by Kovno ghetto partisans who brought with them a large amount of weapons and military ammunition - medicine, means of communication, clothes, camouflage coats, geographical maps. Partisans were overjoyed when a group of newly arrived brought with them a powerful radio - they could listen to the sounds of Moscow in the depth of the forest. Partisans listened with great attention to what comrade Antanas Snechkus, leader of the partisan movement, had to say to the population of occupied Lithuania. His appeal to fight gave them new strength.
Having got reinforcements from Kovno ghetto group "Death to Invaders" received an opportunity to participate in large operations alongside other groups from Rudnizky forest. In village Koniukhi, some 30 kilometres from the partisan base a German garrison took up position. Fascists followed partisans, set up ambushes on the roads. Several partisan groups, among them the "Death to Invaders", were ordered to liquidate this bandit cell.
At first the Germans were ordered to stop their actions and hand in weapons. When they refused to do so people's avengers decided to act according to the law:"If the enemy does not give in, the enemy should be eliminated"
Having left their base in the evening and gone through marshes and forests the partisans reached suburbs of the village by morning time. Red rocket was a signal for the start of the attack. Twenty partisans from the group "Death to Invaders", headed by unit leader Mikhail Trushin, went entered the village. Germans occupied several houses and started drum-fire from their submachine- and machine-guns. Every house had to be stormed. Incendiary bullets, hand grenades, flares were used to exterminate the Germans.
Kovno partisans Dovid Teper, Jankl Ratner, Peisach Volbe, Leiser Zodikov and others charged the enemy in the face of bullets. Strong Leib Zaiats stormed one of the buildings after using all his bullets, wrestled a rifle from a German and proceeded hitting the enemy with a butt so that the butt broke. During their military operations members of the "Death to Invaders" had to pass through the village Streltsy. German used to set up ambushes there and for that purpose they armed local population.
A group of partisans visited the village, explained the plan of the Germans and asked the farmers to hand them their weapons. The farmers were only too pleased to oblige. Weapons, prepared first to fight partisans, were then used to fight the invaders. Scouts from the group "Death to Invaders" learned that in the nearest village of Jagarine invaders' activities were livened up. Rider-scouts were sent to find out. Through local farmers they learned that Germans put a re-enforced garrison there.
All able-bodied partisans from the "Death to Invaders" headed by the head of intelligence Borisas Lisauskas attacked the fascists, making them leave the village in panic. The partisans set fire to barracks, blew up a water-tower and the narrow-gage railway station, demolished a railway depot, destroyed two locomotives and a large number of full and empty carriages, dismantled rails on a long stretch of road, blew up two wooden bridges. The "Death to Invaders" continued to grow. There was an acute lack of weapons. The group had to borrow some from their neighbours.
A group of partisans headed by Boruch Lopiansky left for Aukstadtwar region and unarmed local police and wealthy farmers. Partisan scouts reported that leaders of local nationalists in the village Gudakiemis of Onushkis region kept many weapons to fight partisans. Onushkis was on route from Kovno ghetto to the base in Rudnizky forest. The partisans received a double task: to liquidate the fascist lackey and to capture hidden weapons.
The partisans managed to get through blocked roads without losses and to reach their aim. They surrounded the nationalist's house. People's avengers were badly armed but Leib Zaiats shouted the order:"Prepare the submachine-guns! Machine-gun bearers follow me!" The nationalists were in panic, they hid in the cellar. Several hand grenades were thrown into it and fascist lackeys met their just end. The partisans loaded their trophies onto their carriage: fourteen rifles, three machine-guns, about 4,000 bullets, a submachine-gun, a radio‑transmitter, signal pistols and other military ammunition. On their return the partisans allowed themselves a de-tour.
They took six cows, five calves, four carts, two carriages with salt and other food products from a German farm. As a result they returned late. The leader of the group began to worry. Together with scouts' leader he went searching for the partisans. 15 kilometres from the base the joyous meeting took place.
2. THE EXPLOSION OF ECHELONS AND THE RAILWAY WAR
Destruction of enemy's echelons was like "daily bread" for partisans. Communist Leiser Zodikov was the first among the partisans of Kovno ghetto to perform such act. Near Vievis, 80 kilometres from the base he caused a train full of men and weapons to derail. It was heading for the front. In the same area Zodikov derailed two more trains. Under Lukianov's leadership he participated in organizing the explosion of a train carrying petrol to the front.
Group's "old member", komsomol member Moishe Meerov blew up five German echelons. This heroic partisan died during the explosion of the sixth train. Borech Lopiansky arranged four explosions on the railway line between Vilno and Vievis. Shimen Bloch was also responsible for four acts of sabotage. Two of them were carried out 100 kilometres from the base: near Pravienishkes on the Kovno-Kaishiadoris line and near Gaijunai on the Kovno-Ionava line. His constant co-participant in those operations was Moishe Pushkarnik. Communist Haia Shmuilova, komsomol members Leiser Silber, Judl Eidelson, Alter Faitlson, Ida Pilovnik, Judl Birger and many others also derailed enemy trains, successfully waging a railway war.
Partisans Girsh Smoliakov and Aron Vilenchuk received orders to blow up railway on the Vilno- Grodno line. They needed to destroy a very long part of the line. Enemy trains stopped movements at night fearing partisans. They had to put mines under the rails during daytime. Having planted a mine partisans waited for a result. They could hear the sound of an approaching train. "Will it go up or not?" - the partisans worried. There was an explosion! Carriages carrying military equipment went up in the air. Several dozen metres of the railway line also went up.
On the Red Army day Jankl Ratner together with three of his friends derailed an echelon pulled by two locomotives. But the group itself was followed. They had to run 5 kilometres through territory full of Germans. The brave men came across several gendarmes. One of them threw a hand grenade at the partisans. Jankl Ratner's leg was wounded, also his left arm. The partisan fell onto the ground. The other three escaped into the nearest woods using the darkness. Pursuing the partisans Germans saw the wounded man and began approaching him. Ratner allowed them to come close and then having gathered his strength he threw two grenades and opened fire from his machine-gun. He could hear the cries of wounded Germans.
In the confusion the fascists had to retreat. Ratner pulled himself towards a farmer's house. Having got over the threshold the partisan lost consciousness. Ratner was given first help, his wounds were bandaged. Partisans passing the house the next morning took him to the base. Young Haim Berman surprised partisans with his acts of sabotage. Left in the ghetto without an adult supervision he started committing crime: black‑marketeering and even thieving. Later Berman acquired a weapon and joined a group leaving for the forest. But he appeared to underestimate the seriousness of his action. For a start his conduct at the partisan base also left a lot to be desired. Several times he was caught thieving.
Partisan rules were strict - Berman was facing a death penalty. The young lad promised the party organization to change his conduct and prove with his actions that he deserved the honourable name of a "partisan". Berman tried hard to get on the right track. The party organization helped the lad - soon people could not recognize him. He became well-disciplined and showed desire to perform most dangerous tasks. When he was carrying out acts of sabotage on the railway lines he used to carry the heaviest load of tolite. "-I am the youngest, it is easier for me to carry."
Berman was in the group which came across an ambush on its way to perform a military operation. People dispersed. Berman was left on his own. In his search for the base he met another partisan - Moishe Shpanerflig from the group "For Motherland" who also escaped enemy ambush. Shpanerflig had some tolite too... The two partisans made a decision: to get rid of the "load". Across forests and marshes they moved towards the railway line.
It was easy to observe the railway from a long distance - Germans cut down all trees and bushes on both sides of the railway hoping it would be a good cover for their communication lines from sabotage. Fascists miscalculated! Under the cover of the night Berman and Spanerflig crawled towards the line, planted the tolite, attached a wire and went back to the forest. They waited impatiently for a train. Suddenly the silence was broken by a powerful explosion. The echo sounded several times...
They had to wait for the Germans to repair the line and renew the movement. Berman was stubborn; he wanted to prove that his promise was more than mere words. The partisans stayed for two days in the forest. Everything was repeated again. Partisans' patience was severely tested. "Having waited for so long we will wait a bit longer..."
At last the opportunity presented itself. This time nothing prevented the approaching train from getting there. The lights coming from the locomotive were nearing. When it crossed the tolite Berman pulled the wire. The ground shook with a terrible explosion. Their task was fulfilled! Though the partisans had to leave as soon as possible they remembered for good the scene of the explosion - blown up carriages, terrifying cries of wounded Germans. The fire was raging in several carriages and the flame continued to grow...
3. AT THE BASE. PRIVATE
New groups of fighters from Kovno ghetto continued to arrive at the base. The group "Death to Invaders" had grown so much it could no longer take in newcomers. Hence, under Konstantin Radionov's (Smirnov) leadership two new Kovno groups were set up: on January 11 1944 - "Vladas Baronas" - commander Karp Ivanov (Semionov), commissar Misha Belkin; and on March 13 1944 - "Vperiod" (Forward)- commander captain Zeiko, commissar - Haim-Dovid Ratner. The bases of the three groups were near-by; there was only one headquarters centre.
In between their military tasks partisans were arranging their temporary accommodation - partisan base. One after another appeared dug-outs for newly arriving fighters. Partisans' weapons should always be in fighting order. Leib Sher who started his business already in the ghetto set up workshops at the base where he checked and repaired weapons.
Jitzik Juchnikov, stonemason by occupation, "udarnik-worker" in the pre-war time, made sure that the partisans had a "bania" (sauna - A.H.). "Death to Invaders" 's bakery supplied bread to other groups too. Flour for the bread came from a flour-mill in Rudna. They needed only the information when the invaders would bring grain and then the partisans would get there in a hurry.Among partisans arriving from Kovno ghetto there were many good artisans. In spare time tailors sewed and repaired clothes, cobblers mended shoes. In spite of two degrees in higher education Hona Kagan was a capable carpenter and he also did some other building work.
Via Girsh Smoliakov the ghetto organization sent to the base a copying machine for technical drawings; it was used to copy geographical maps. Smoliakov was transferred to comrade Jurgis's headquarters where he worked on drawing maps for all groups in Rudnizky forest. Also here they published Kovno groups newspaper "Boievoi Listok" (*named in Russian).
Among Kovno ghetto arrivals was printer Israel Ghitlin. In the group "Free Lithuania" he set up a press to print leaflets which were distributed by partisans among local population. Wonderful medical sisters were also found in Rudnizky forest. Zoia Tint and Riva Epstein stayed with Kovno partisans. Ester Streliz, Riva Diskant became partisans in the groups "For Motherland" and "Free Lithuania". Using every opportunity the ghetto organization sent medicine, bandages, surgical instruments to the partisans.
In the primitive conditions of forest life they had to deal with serious illnesses and carry out serious medical operations. Partisan Gafanovich fell seriously ill after coming back from a military operation. For about a month he lay unconscious. Zoia Tint never left his bedside. With her help Moishe Belkin recovered after a brain tumour. As it has been mentioned above he went on to become a commander of the "Vladas Baronas".
At first many partisans had gum inflammation. Somebody suggested to prepare ointment of copper vitriol to combat the problem. Zoia Tint took the "weapon" on board and soon everybody experienced the benefits of its magic qualities.
Rivka Epstein - an experienced surgical sister - was completely devoted to her work. She used her own blood for transfusion to the badly-wounded head of the intelligence, Borisas Lisauskas. She frequently had to assist in many operations in different partisan groups. In exceptional cases she had to operate herself. This medical sister was always on the go. From early morning till late at night she used to help wounded partisans. Rivka Epstein had to cross enemy territory and mine-fields. During such dangerous tasks she was assisted by partisans Itzik Lifshitz and Israel Joels.
Partisan base was an island in the enemy occupied territory. But even there they could rely on other forces. Partisans received frequent signs of proof of close links to the "mainland" and were aware of fatherly care for fighters in the enemy area by the party and the government. Soviet planes flew over partisan bases and dropped "loads" in arranged places - weapons, ammunition, literature, parcels with food and medicine.
Literature was used for cultural events by the group. In the evenings, after returning from their battles, partisans sat in their dug-outs and read chapters from "Immortal Nation", works by Lithuanian writers Neris, Zwirka, Korsakas, Venzlova. One of the most popular books at the base -"Short Course in Party History"- was presented to them by ghetto komsomol members.
Every evening partisans listened to the latest news from Sovinformburo. Party organization of Kovno groups help the leadership to carry out military tasks, party and komsomol members were in the vanguard, were a model of courage and discipline. To those who were less staunch they helped to overcome difficulties of daily life.
The party organization created in the group an atmosphere of real internationalism. Lithuanians, Russians, Jews, Poles had very close friendship, ready to sacrifice their lives for the others. Ivan Dushin volunteered to do a dangerous job to help a group of Jewish partisans in danger. Haim Volbe saved Goriachev, the commander of his group, from a certain death. In a battle a German aimed his gun at the commander but Volbe threw himself at the German and brought him down. Under a shower of bullets commander Goriachev brought out from a battlefield badly wounded Haim Volin in another battle.
Everyone loved communist Borisas Lisauaskas, the head of intelligence and the special branch. In battles he was first to attack the enemy and made others to follow him. Lisauskas was a teacher and a real friend of young fighters. From the very first days new-comers from Kovno ghetto felt his friendly attention.
Lisauskas base for his intelligence work was in village Staryie Mazeli. He was, however, betrayed to Germans by a local kulak Jurgelevich. The fascists surrounded the house. Lisauskas who was there at that time started shooting. Though wounded he managed to get out. Badly bleeding Lisauskas got to the base and died there of his wounds.
The death of their commander and friend enraged the partisans - they took their weapons and set out to revenge his death. They eliminated a group of fascists, Lisauskas' killers, took the traitor to the base where partisans sentenced him to death. The leadership and the party organization of the group informed all fighters of each incident and re-enforced the feeling of internationalism, heroism, readiness for self-sacrifice.
Readiness to help a friend, sacrificing oneself, resoluteness and heroism became typical character features of all partisans. Moishe Milner and Safronii Orlov were surrounded by the enemy in Novyie Matseli while doing intelligence work. To allow his friend to get back to the base and pass on their intelligence information Milner started a shoot-out but soon his bullets in the rifle ran out. He had only four bullets in the revolver which he was given by the ghetto before departure for the forest.Three of them he used for firing at the enemy. The courageous communist left the lsat bullet for himself - this shot ended his heartbeat...
In December 1943 on the way back to the base from a successful operation one group of partisans was ambushed by a strong group of Germans near village Kolemachiai. The partisans had to cross a slightly frozen river. Commander Trushin directed the crossing. Enemy bullets were flying by. Peisach Gordon (Stein) fell to the ground hit by one of them. All others managed to cross the river and to hide in the forest. Good shot Aron Gafanovich defended the crossing with a submachine-gun. The commander was the last to cross the river. But the ice gave in under his weight and Trushin found himself in the icy river.
Partisan Boruch Lopiansky came to his rescue. The ice was breaking under his feet while bullets were flying above his head. Lopiansky managed to catch Trushin by his hair, pulled him out of the water and onto the bank in doing so he saved his life.
4. IMPORTANT TASK.
Nechemiia Endlin felt proud and happy when G.Siman, leader of the partisan movement in Rudnizky forest, called him for the first time and sent him to Kovno ghetto in order to bring a new armed group of fighters to the "Death to Invaders". At the same time he was ordered to get in contact with Kovno underground committee of the Lithuanian Communist Party and asked for their instructions.
Shmuel Martkovsky, Borech Lopiansky, Sara Rubinson and Sundl Strom armed with pistols left for Kovno with Endlin. They had to walk 160 kilometres to Kovno. On the way they found messengers among poor farmers: Kairis in village Posekai, Malinauskas in Jidaikishkiai, Kuznetsov in Kairishkiai and others who later became real partisan assistants.
When they were approaching Kovno, partisans faced two serious problems: firstly, five young people without any documents had to enter the city at the time when Germans inspected documents of all young people, secondly, they needed to get into the ghetto. Nechemiia Endlin, leader of the group,later told how they got over their problems:
"We got some yellow cloth from a farmer, cut out stars of David and put them on our clothes - on the left hand‑side in the front and on the back - in accordance with German regulations.A farmer took us on his sledge to a nearest place where Jews were working. Sara Rubinson came up to a guard and told him in German she was a nurse who brought four sick men from another Jewish ghetto outside Kovno and they had to be delivered under guard to the ghetto hospital... We fooled the German, we were put into a brigade and as we were ill we even did not have to work. In the evening we were taken to the ghetto without a thorough examination at the gates - Germans were afraid of contamination...
The organization helped Endlin to leave the ghetto. He got in touch with the city underground organization and passed on Siman's message. He also successfully carried out the second part of his task - to bring new armed fighters from the ghetto organization- for this he was thanked by the group commander. Shortly after, Nechemiia Endlin became the main messenger between Kovno partisan groups and the city underground organization. On many occasions he guided armed groups from the city and the ghetto to the forest.
On February 3 1944 Nechemiia Endlin was given a very important task - to guide several people from the base to Kovno. Among them were Grigory Krugliakov, member of Kovno underground party committee, Anele Sinkiavichute (Valia Pushaite), leader of the city komsomol group, and Haim Yelin who came to the base to meet Siman and to receive further instructions. In April 1944 experienced messenger Nechemiia Endlin successfully found Soviet Army officers who escaped from a prisoner-of-war camp but failed to find their way to partisan bases. Twenty nine professional commanders joined in the organized partisan struggle.
A heavily loaded cart moved along the road to Kovno. Nechemiia Endlin with a ready machine-gun walked in front, several hundred metres ahead of the rest. Jankl Levi walked behind the cart. Itzik Miklishansky sat on the cart. A farmer led the horse-driven cart. The load on the cart was special - among other things the partisans carried a radio-transmitter with a large number of batteries and an accumulator and also eight magnet mines. Parcels with antifascist literature were getting smaller in numbers - they distributed them among locals.
A quiet and shy Shmuel Martkovsky had all qualities of an excellent scout and guide. He "sensed" the situation from a distance. With his ear close to the ground he could tell about approaching carts. He could hear dogs barking before anybody else. That is why when they needed a guide for comrade "Genis", commander of several near-by partisan groups, Martkovsky became one of the guides. During one of his trips to Kovno Martkovsky delivered a new code for a group of Soviet paratroopers, he had to learn it by heart.
5. MILITARY OPERATIONS.
Vechorishkiai, some ten kilometres from the base, was where Germans got most of their timber for the army. Narrow-gauge railway and Vilno- Grodno road passed near by. Forestry commission was also there. A strong German garrison was billeted there in well-disguised bunkers with a round wire fence. On April 9 three Kovno groups - "Death to Invaders", "Forward" and "Vladas Baronas" went to storm the German stronghold.
Partisans were divided into separate groups, each one with its own task. People's avengers came close to the garrison, blocked the road. Unit commander Trushin's shot had a double meaning - the bullet dispatched a guard from one of the bunkers, the sound was a sign to start the operation. Shouting "Hooray!" the partisans attacked the wire fence, cut out a passage and stormed the barracks.
Germans were caught in cross-fire. Pinches Krakinovsky was shooting at the building of German headquarters from his mortar. Machine-gunners Arn Gafanovich, Itzik Nemser, Michl Pasternak and others were shooting at the enemy. At first fascists taken by surprise could not understand what was going on. Scared to death they came running outside in their underwear, some managed to pick up their cases with stolen goods. Soon the ground was covered in dead German bodies. Among them there were five officers and a captain from German intelligence service. Resistance coming from the Germans still fighting from the bunkers, was put down by hand grenades.
Suddenly partisans were shot at from the barracks. Girsh Smoliakov threw his grenade first into an enemy machine-gunner and led his group into attack. Perets Padisson and Leiser Zodikov with their groups followed. Shimen Bloch led the fourth group. Sundl Strom, Judl Eidelman, Hona Padisson, Shloima Abramovich attacked the headquarters building. Borech Lopiansky got into the building through a window. He got hold of the machine-gun barrel which was attacking the partisans and pushed it down. Lopiansky broke the head of the enemy gunner with the barrel of his rifle.
Partisans, one after another, occupied garrison structures, Another, a more numerous group headed by Shchipakov carried out some acts of sabotage: pulled down fifty telegraph poles, took apart rails, blew up a tar factory. Sensing how strong the partisans turned out to be the Germans sheltered in the bunkers and kept very quiet.
Individual partisan groups had to fight the Germans in various re-enforced bunkers. A group of partisans shot at Germans trying to escape to Rudniki and made them enter the battle. Using their advantageous position the partisans brought down one fascist after another. But several lorries with soldiers came to help from Vilno itself. The enemy had the advantage now. A group of partisans started a loosing battle thus giving the others a chance to escape taking with them tropheys and prisoners.
The partisan rearguard fought to the very end. Surrounded by the enemy, the people's avengers were killed one after another...
Taibele Vinitskaia ("Galia"), last of the survivors, with her shoulder wounded, raised her hands and went towards the enemy. At first the Germans were pleased:"This partisan will be taken alive!.." But on her approach Taibele pulled the ring of her hand grenade. The girl died but so did six fascists who stood near-by brought down by grenade fragments.
Thirteen of sixteen partisans who died heroically in the battle at Vechorishkiai were members of Kovno ghetto organization. The partisans swore to revenge their friends. The very next day after the Vechorishkiai operation the partisans ambushed the road leading to Vilno. They were successful. The partisans destroyed a car which carried seven German officers wounded in yesterday's fight.
This was not all. -Comrade commander,- partisans asked group commander Zeiko,- send us to revenge our friends.
24 hours later a group of "Germans" left the "Forward". They smoked cigarettes, machine-guns over their shoulders. One kilometre from Vechorishkiai in Raviale there was a local prison. It was surrounded by a double wire fence and a deep water ditch. Guards' office and a weapon depot were situated inside the fence. A group of "Germans" from "Forward" headed there.
At 8 am the group reached their aim. Germans were sound asleep after a well-spent evening. The guard at the gates let the "reinforcement" in. When he faced a revolver barrel it was already too late for alarm. A part of the group headed by Shimen Bloch occupied guards' office, destroyed telephone lines. They found the guards' boss lying in his bed. He was surprised when he was ordered to get out in his underwear. The rest of the partisans captured several Germans from the guards' office, two with their were mistresses found still in bed.
At the same time another group headed by Leiba Zaiats broke the prison doors and liberated thirty nine prisoners. Some of them decided to become partisans and went to the forest with their liberators. Before their departure leaving the partisans set fire to the prison and the guards' office. People's avengers took with them considerable amount of trophies - weapons, bullets, clothes.
Several more attacks took place and the Germans decided to shut down their garrison in Vechorishkiaia. During one of their operations the partisans from the "Death to Invaders" group captured Mikalajunas, a commandant of a German concentration camp, a well-known bloody executioner of Soviet and party activists, a murderer of Soviet prisoners-of-war, an active participant of mass killings of Jews. The criminal was punished.
Germans tried to keep Rudniki, the main town of a large area where several main roads met, in their hands as hard as they could: they built fortification, dug trenches, kept their garrison in constant alert. The avengers could not be stopped. Group's rank-and-file members did not know when and where the Germans would be attacked next. But it was clear to everyone an attack was being prepared.
Jankl Birger, who recently arrived from the ghetto, was sent to the household sector first, as a "new-comer". It did not suit the lad and he addressed the commander:
-I came here to fight, to take a real revenge... Please, put me into a fighting unit and into the first operation... Group commander Radionov shook his hand:
-O'K, get ready!
The preparation lasted all day - they cleaned their weapons , checked ammunition, cleaned clothes. Then the partisans went to bed - they needed to prepare for a long night march. Everything started according to the plan. During the night they had to cover a long distance. By morning time the partisans reached their aim and blockaded the railway-line Jashuny-Rudniki.
Guarded trains arrived every morning in Rudniki. Invaders were taking forest trees, agricultural products stolen from the local population. Partisans wanted to put an end to that. They wanted to let fascists know that Germans were no longer masters in their home front. Two mines were planted under the rails. One mine was for a locomotive and the other - for the middle part of the train. The train was approaching. But one of the mines did not explode and the locomotive passed unharmed. Two carriages in the middle turned over and the guards using this cover started shooting. -Attack the enemy! Forward! - the commander ordered.
Haim Volbe,a disciplined and brave machine-gunner, was as always in the front. With his machine-gun he went to the most dangerous place - the locomotive. An enemy armoured-machine-gun was firing from there. "Number Two" Volbe - Sundl Strom - followed him closely. They got far ahead, chose a good position and were ready to start the fight. Tragedy struck! The machine-gun misfired, then it was silent. A bullet shower came from behind the locomotive. One of the bullets hit Volbe. Having noticed the silence the "father"- 60-year-old Vikentii Markovich, participant of the First World War and the Civil War which followed it - came running. Alongside the experienced "father" was young Jankl Birger. The machine-gun fire brought down them both...
German attention was attracted to the centre and partisan flanks got the freedom of action and surrounded the enemy. The people's avengers attacked the fascists from all sides. The Germans panicked. Only some managed to hide in the forest, the rest were brought down by partisan bullets and seven threw their weapons and raised their hands into the air. Among partisan trophies were two dozen rifles, antitank submachine-guns and several thousand rounds. When the Germans were brought to the base they turned out to be Vechorishkiai fighters. Those who avoided partisans' revenge last time had no way of escaping now.
Kovno groups undertook another large attack to commemorate May 1 1944. Perets Kliachko, Frieda Rutstein, Rachil Lifshits went towards a newly-built bridge across river Miarkis and exploded it with the guard still there. The explosion of the bridge was a signal for the start of the operation. They opened fire on the garrison. Famous machine-gunner Michl Pasternak discharged seventeen submachine-gun drums. His "number two" Nion Itzikson helped Michl in everything.
For over three hours Sara and Moishe Rubinson together with Aron Vilenchuk held the Germans under fire in their barracks. At the same time the railway station was blown up; Berl Stern, Shmuel Broer, Vasilii Zaporojets blew up a telephone exchange. Shachno Shilin, Leiser Silber and Misha Shipkov planted mines under roads which could be used to bring reinforcement for the Germans. Anton Bondar, Hona Padisson and Kasriel Koblenz turned a local tar factory into ruins. Partisans returned to the base without losses. May celebrations were particular joyous. Whenever it was possible distinguished partisans were given state military awards or thanked by their commanders. Forty nine partisans from Kovno ghetto were among those who received awards.
6. IN DIFFERENT DIRECTIONS
Six partisans from the "Death to Invaders" had to go a long way towards Kaishiadoris railway station. They had to stay a day in the village of Jalioi near Onushkis. A local kulak found the partisans. He informed Germans. Lorries with armed Germans on board accompanied by a small tank stormed the village. The partisans defended bravely. Several grenades flew towards the small tank, avengers' bullets brought down fascists. But they were outnumbered -all six died in the uneven fight. By night time Germans began erecting gallows in Onushkis.
When the locals came out of their houses in the morning, on the gallows they saw naked bodies of the six partisans full of bullet holes... These were bodies of those who died in yesterday's fight. By the gallows there was a sign:"Jews-bandits!"... Soon the sign was changed. Somebody wrote "Germans" instead of "Jews" and the sign had a true ring to it. Heroic death of six partisans was a great loss to the group. When the sad news reached the forest base a decree was issued:
Order No.39, partisan group "Death to Invaders"
1) A group of partisans headed by comrade Lopiansky was surrounded by fascist bandits in one houses in the village of Jalioi while carrying out a military task. The group died in the bitter fight.
2) Boris Shliomovich Lopiansky, born in 1921, was a courageous partisan and received a military state award for carrying out a number of military operations.
3) Partisans Mikhail Jakovlevich Martkovsly, born in 1922, Leiser Jakovlevich Zodikov, born in 1916, Motia Romanovich Goldberg, born in 1922, Shlioma Haimovich Abramovich, born in 1914, Itzik Miklishansky (Izkutis), born in 1923, were exemplary fighters as well.
May their memory live for ever!
-Group commander Smirnov
The group "Vladas Baronas" was ordered to move to the August forest and start their military operations from there. On their way they had to overcome enemy ambushes. There was a serious battle with the enemy near a small place called Valkininkai. Experienced fighters destroyed German ambushes without any losses. Aron Gafanovich killed three Germans, one after another,took their weapons. Commander Karp Ivanov and sergeant-major Ivan Krugliakov ("uncle Vania") masterly led the group on that long and dangerous journey.
Having reached their aim the partisans carried out a number of military operations. Special attention should be paid to the explosion of bridges over the river Marich near Kapchiamiestis and on the road Kapchiamiestis-Grodno which were carried out during the peak of German retreat by experienced members of demolition squad Perets Kliachko, Israel Joelson, Mendl Daich, Itzik Lifshits, Shachno Shilin.
A group headed by Stepan Kulikov ( a favourite of partisans, known by his nick-name "pilot"), Dovid Teper, Sundl Strom, Israel Goldblat,Kalman Goldstein left the group "Death to Invaders" for central Lithuania. The group began their activity in Ukmiarge district. Near Pagelajai the partisans damaged and burnt down heavy-loaded German transport with weapons, having killed eight Germans. A group of guards from a near-by camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war ran to help the transport under attack. Using the opportunity the partisans attacked camp guards, liberated prisoners who then joined the partisans. The group was reinforced by thirty four fighters.
In Siesikai the partisans burnt grain warehouses, destroyed the narrow gauge Ionava-Ukmiarge, pulled down telephone and telegraph poles, took a large amount of cattle and returned them to their lawful owners, local population. The head of Ukmiarge fascist police Kiaturka was captured by the partisans and he got the bullet he deserved. The people's avengers distributed among the locals Soviet press in Lithuanian and also newspapers "Tiesa" ("Truth") and "Uj Taribu Lietuva" ("For Soviet Lithuanian"). New fighters continually arrived from local villages. Ionas Rubashauskas, Iodaitis and others exuded from the new arrivals during battles with invaders. During German retreat from Lithuania the partisan group blew up a bridge on the Tauenai-Ukmiarge road, destroyed a small tank and a fast tank, successfully attacked a carriage with Germans, ambushed roads, preventing the enemy from retreat.
The group "Forward" (commander - captain Zeiko) left for the forests of south-west Lithuania stretching from Kaslu Ruda to former German border. Kovno partisans' commander Leib Solomin (Petrovich) went with them. Nechemia Endlin was given the task of taking the group along the dangerous and difficult road guarded all the way by German destructive units.
On leaving Rudnizky forest the partisans met many problems. The Vilno to Grodno line was guarded especially thoroughly. Trenches and minefields stretched along the line. Endlin went to do reconnaissance work. Near Rudishki he took the partisans through a particularly well-guarded area - the Germans could not imagine that anybody would consider using the road. When the Germans realized what was going on, it was too late, the fire could not harm the partisans any more: forests served as a good cover for the avengers.
The Neman was also on their way. One could cross the river in different places. Endlin who had logic and experience of a partisan guide decided to take the route they had taken before. Indeed there were many enemy points but the decisive factor was the help from locals who worked with partisans before and knew how to help the partisans to avoid most dangerous places. Solomin accepted Endlin's suggestion. The group crossed the river on the Darsunishkis-Kruonis stretch. Local farmers were enrolled for help. They delivered all available boats to the crossing. Large logs were also used. Even the moon was smiling seeing the unusual "fleet" heading towards the other bank...
July nights are not long. To reach the place of their destination on time they had to make use of morning and night time. One part of the way on their approach to Kaslu Ruda they had to walk along a country road one evening. Suddenly the partisans were shot at from behind some thick bushes. People's avengers fell down and started fire. Sounds of dozens of firing machine-guns, submachine‑guns, antitank rifles could be heard. Partisans' bullets brought silence to the enemy fire. The avengers approached the forest on the other side of the village. Suddenly they heard Endlin's command:
-Back! Follow me!
The partisans ran along the village. Experience did not let Endlin down. He realized there may be ambush in the forest. Having run for a kilometre the partisans realized their guide was right - from the forest, they wanted to enter, five to six hundred Germans they got into their vehicles and went in opposite direction. Everyone got the message - having heard the fire fascists decided they were dealing with a large group trying to surround them...
It was easy to be ambushed on the line Kovno-Mariiampole (*now Kapsukas). Local farmers told the partisans that Germans kept this extremely important transport artery under strict night guard which was replaced at 8am by a single post every two hundred metres. They decided to cross the railway in the afternoon. The group crossed it at 10am.
With great surprise and joy farmers working in the fields met the partisans. They greeted them and waved to them for a long time... Having fought their way through for two hundred and thirty kilometres the group reached their destination and set up a new base for further struggle. With special tasks and the idea of obtaining weapons for large operations in the east special groups were sent to join Belorussian partisans. Having overcome all obstacles they arrived.
By that time the June offensive by the Soviet Army began and Kovno partisans stayed to fight shoulder to shoulder with their Belorussian friends. Alter Faitlson distinguished himself in the group headed by major Shostakovich. In the operation near Molodechno on June 21 he brought a lot of destruction with his mortar - totally destroyed watchtowers of a German garrison and enemy earth-and-timber emplacement. This allowed the partisans to capture fascist strongholds. Kovno partisan Jankl Kava was among Byelorussian partisans who destroyed 45 kilometres of the railway line that night. Judl Sherman courageously fought next to his new friends in Minsk partisan group No.106.
7. LIBERATING SOVIET LITHUANIA.
Front line was fast approaching Vilno. In this situation fascists tried hard to provide a quiet home front. Strong German units supported by artillery, rocket-launches and aviation headed towards partisans. Skilful manoeuvres allowed people's avengers to avoid open battles and to regroup for new military operations.The group "Death to Invaders" received an order to liberate Rudniki and local villages during the advance by the Soviet Army on Vilno. Germans were supported by groups of armed Byelopoles. They ambushed roads and attacked partisans. In a bitter battle the partisans destroyed Byelopole units and liberated Rudniki. Red banners appeared over the roofs. Both liberators and liberated gathered for a mass meeting.
New tasks were awaiting the partisans.The Soviet Army surrounded Vilno and began destroying a large fascist garrison which was desperately trying to stay in Vilno. Partisans fought alongside Soviet Army troops. The "Death to Invaders" and other groups crossed the river Baltoii Voke (White Vaka) and stormed south-east suburbs of Vilno. Near Aushros Vartai (Sharp Brama) the group entered a fight with Germans hiding in buildings.
On 13 July 1944 the Soviet Army completed the liberation of Vilno by getting Germans from their strongholds house after house, street after street. Partisans helped to put down fires, brought order to Vilno streets, guarded streets and roads. Kovno partisan Bella Ganelina, who was on her post, had the honour of letting into the city the first civilian car with members of the Lithuanian government on board headed by the Chairman of the Presidium of the Lithuanian Supreme Soviet Justas Paletskis.
At the same time another Kovno partisan group "Forward" continued their fight in the forests of Kaslu Ruda. For a long time partisans disrupted German work on Kovno-Mariiampole road. The partisans derailed several fascist echelons on the way to the front near station Mauruchiai. Shimen Bloch with his group kept under fire German crossing from Seriajus. They destroyed enemy cars, stopped an enemy tank, captured four gestapo men escaping from Vilno and dressed in civilian clothes.
Shiia Vershvovsky, Berl Sterb, Peisach Sadovsky ambushed and planted mines under roads. "We are planting mouse-traps," the partisans joked. People's avengers had a chance to observe a fascist tank which ran into one of their "mouse-traps". Local population tried to assist in getting the enemy out. Eidjulis, Gladinas and other new-comers were especially brave in battles.
A real pleasant surprise for the partisans was a message from their friends on the liberated territory. Among weapons which arrived by a parachute was a sniper's rifle with the words "Judl Eidelman" (partisan group "Death to Invaders") and eight crosses - one for each killed fascist. Faivel Beniaminovich was given this rifle. New crosses soon appeared on the rifle.
During one of military operations carried out by the group "Forward" Haim Dovid Ratner and Jankl Levi - true sons of the Communist party, brave fighters with fascist invaders - died while following their commander's orders. Haim Dovid Ratner was a member of the ghetto underground organization from its very foundation. He was known for his high fighting spirit, was a unit commander and Haim Yelin's assistant who carried out a number of very important tasks.
Before he left for Byelorussia on orders with an important task, he was a commissar of the group "Forward". Jankl Levi - at first a rank-and-file fighter- quickly distinguished himself in the underground work especially in obtaining weapons and became one of the best messengers between the city and ghetto organizations.
In the forests of Kaslu Ruda the fighters from group the "Forward" met Soviet paratroopers. Partisans helped the paratroopers to find where Germans kept their batteries. This information was passed on to the command of the Soviet Army, and the partisans received a chance to see for themselves Soviet planes following the information and attacking the targets...
Battles round Kovno were coming to an end. The group "Forward" was marching towards their home‑town. The commander called Endlin:
- You brought our group here. Take us to Kovno!
Nechemii Endlin marched in front of the group of one hundred and thirty seven fighters. Here is the Neman. In the distance one could see factory pipes and Kovno towers. The city was lying ahead of them... Native Kovno - liberated, Soviet.
The group joined Soviet Army units and continued its move forward accompanied by thousands of friendly glances and cries of "Hooray!" from the liberated population.
Many partisans continued their fight in the Soviet Army until the final victory.
[Part 1] [Part 2] [Part 3] [Part 4] [Part 5] [Part 6] [Part 7]
* The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team neither maintains, affirms or endorses any
political viewpoint outlined or mentioned in this text.
Chaim Bargman: translator Yiddish-Russian (L) with Robin O’Neil: translator Russian – English. Kaunas, Lithuania 2007
Robin O`Neil, MA (1996)--translator Russian-English
OGhIS State Publishing House "Der Emes", Moscow 1948
(photos: GFH, USHMM, & Private Collections)
While working on the translation of the book, the translator also used the book by M.Yelin and D.Ghelpern "Kovno ghetto and its fighters" (Kauno getas ir jo kovotojai, Mintis, Vilnius,1969) and numerous recollections of the events by the participants. This allowed the translator to enlarge the original text. The added commentary is marked with "*".
On the other hand, it was considered acceptable to omit a number of more difficult and less significant passages (song lyrics, etc.).
No typographical changes or corrections have been made to the original text. Photos added as an enhancement. -H.E.A.R.T
Copyright H.E.A.R.T 2008 [Page design by Carmelo Lisciotto]