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Yad Vashem The Jerusalem of Lithuania: The Story of the Jewish Community of Vilna

Vilna During the Holocaust

Partisans in Vilna

The Rudniki Forest

A group of armed Jewish partisans that had fought in the forests around the city, in VilnaA group of armed Jewish partisans that had fought in the forests around the city, in Vilna
Vilna after the liberation, July 1944. Jewish partisans, who were members of the FPO, left the ghetto and fought as partisans in the Rudniki ForestVilna after the liberation, July 1944. Jewish partisans, who were members of the FPO, left the ghetto and fought as partisans in the Rudniki Forest
Partisans from the "Mstitel" (Revenge) division that fought in the Rudniki ForestPartisans from the "Mstitel" (Revenge) division that fought in the Rudniki Forest
Shmuel Kaplinski, FPO member and commander of the partisan camp "Za pobedu" (To Victory)Shmuel Kaplinski, FPO member and commander of the partisan camp "Za pobedu" (To Victory)

In the Rudniki Forest, about 40 km south of Vilna extensive partisan activity began in the summer of 1943 when a group of paratroopers under the command of Captain Alko arrived in the region. In the beginning of September Lithuanian partisans arrived in the area from the Narocz forest under the command of Marianas Micheyka (Pseudonym: Gabris).

The first to arrive from Vilna were 70 members of Yechiel's Struggle Group. They tried to be accepted into Alko's  group but he was only willing to accept the twenty of them who were armed.

After a number of days the captain informed us that he could not accept into his fighting unit a group with a significant proportion of women and children who were unable to fight. He emphasised that the forest was not a place for hiding, that he was a partisan leader and that he was prepared to take twenty suitable young men… the men replied that they were not prepared to leave the older people without weapons or means of defense and they did not agree to split the group.

The Second Struggle Group: Stories of Fighters From the Vilna Ghetto, interviewed and edited by Zvika Dror, p. 113

The members of Yechiel's Struggle Group organised themselves on a base near to Alko and maintained connections with him. While they were still organizing themselves, about 90 FPO members in two groups arrived in the Rudniki forest. With the increased number of people they established three divisions: "Mstitel" (Revenge) led by Abba Kovner, "Za pobedu" (To Victory) led by Shmuel Kaplinsky and "Smert Fashizmu" (Death to Fascism) under the command of Jacob Prawer. The Jewish fighters went out on "economic forays" to obtain food, cut telephone lines and sabotage the municipal electrical and water systems of Vilna. In spring 1944 weapons from the Soviet Union were dropped over Vilna and the partisan forces strengthened and expanded their activities. They laid mines on train tracks and carried out raids, ambushes and revenge attacks against hostile locals. Dozens of them were killed in battle.

On one of the days of spring in the year 1944, a feeling of anticipation and excitement ran through the camp. The information was received that the Brigade Command had put at our disposal a quantity of explosives that would suffice to blow up four of the enemies trains…for a number of nights, one after the other the political Komissar Diadlis and the commanders of the units, Abba Kovner, and Shmuel Kaplinsky at the head of a unit of explosives experts would go out, and then return to the camp crowned with victory. We only have one explosive device left in our possession and the Command decided that I am worthy of the honour of detonating it … in the second shift we approach the tracks… we already hear the clatter of the approaching train. I raise the trigger and bring it close to the charge to fix it into place. Suddenly a terrifying sound explodes in my ears and I feel a sharp pain in my right hand. It turns out that one of the fighters hiding in the thicket inadvertently pulled the cable and caused the bomb to explode prematurely. If it had happened even a tenth of a second later, the explosives would already have been inside the mine and the three of us would have been torn to shreds.

Chaim Lazar Litai, Destruction and Uprising, p. 328-333

In July 1944 the Jewish partisans returned to Vilna with the Red Army and took part in the battles to liberate the city.

The exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Mr. Nehemia Burgin in memory of his dear and beloved parents, Holocaust survivors Zlata (Zehava) Burgin and Yehiel Burgin of blessed memory.