Mir During the Holocaust
In the Ranks of the Partisans
On the night of 9 August 1942, some 200 Jews fled the Mir ghetto and scattered themselves in groups in the forests close to the town.
"We were like a terrified flock. Nobody knew where he was going… We arrived in Miranka. Here we met three partisans for the first time. This was actually another fledgling partisan movement. There were groups, but as of yet no contact between them. Our first priority was to stay alive. We felt that in the very first moment of our first meeting." Dov Reznik, "Rescue and Rebellion of the Mir Jews," Mir, p. 339
The main problem for the fugitives was procuring enough to eat. The Belarusian farmers were struggling to supply the Germans, and the Soviet partisans also confiscated foodstuff for themselves. With no other choice in the matter, the farmers had made do with the situation, but they often refused to give over their food to Jews, and sometimes informed the German authorities of Jewish partisans in the forests. They also sometimes complained to the Soviet partisans that the Jews were stealing the little food they had in their possession.
"18 days after we left the ghetto and lived in the forest a group of lads, a few with weapons, a few without, like me, left in search of food. At the village, we took two wagons and two horses, and loaded them up with what we managed to acquire: potatoes, flour, grits and meat. We brought all of it to the forest. I and a lad named Pesach Kotler were ordered to return the horses and wagons to a non-Jew in the first village next to the forest. Pesach went in the first wagon, and suddenly I heard shots, and saw him fall into the wagon."
Zeev Schreiber, Siporo Shel Mi Shesarad Vegam Nakam , p. 8
Besides the battle for food, the Jewish partisans also had to fight for their position in the forest among the non-Jewish partisans. Jews without weapons were banned from partisan units, and even those with weapons were not always taken in willingly. From the spring of 1942, unruly bands and groups of partisans without any unified leadership became active in the Belarusian forests. During 1942 the partisans in the region began to organize themselves in Otriads (partisan units) and even divisions. From March 1943 a change occurred when General Vasily Chernyshev (known as Platon), Secretary of the Regional Committee of the Communist Party, arrived in the forests. With the expansion of partisan activity, contact was made with Moscow, and weapons, medical supplies and food began to arrive. The partisans, including the Jewish partisans, took part in sabotage activity against the Germans: they blew up trains and bridges, cut off telegraph lines, and carried out actions against the German military and police.
"On the anniversary of the liquidation of the Mir ghetto, we blew up a train of Germans. I myself received medals of excellence: Soviet battle order Of Red Banner, Soviet Order of the Red Star and the partisan medal. A Jewish girl named Miri Nilimowska from Mir blew up 17 trains. She was a hero in battle and evacuated many of the injured from the battlefields…. Her first aim – to avenge her Jewish brothers and sisters. There were many Jews like that among the partisans." Testimony of Chaim Rabinowicz, Yad Vashem Archives, M.49E/365
Many of the Jews that fled to the forests died from various causes. Those that remained alive were taken in to the family camps of the Bielski brothers and Shalom Zorin, as well as in various Soviet partisan units.