Kolpanitskii Kopl was born in 1926 in the shtetl of Łachwa in Polish Polesia (now Lakhva, in southern Belarus). His father Yitzhak was the owner of a sawmill and of a flourmill (as a secondary business). When the Soviets annexed this territory to the Soviet Union in September 1939, he was declared a capitalist, his mills were nationalized, and Yitzhak was deported to the Urals. The Soviet deportation, in fact, saved his life: he survived World War II, whereas his wife Pesia, two sons Moyshe and Elhonon, and daughter Ida perished in German-occupied Łachwa. Kopl studied at the Yavneh religious Hebrew school and was a member of Beitar, a right-wing Zionist organization. In 1939, with the coming of the Soviets, his school was transformed into a Russian school.
During the German occupation of Polesia from 1941 to 1944, a ghetto was established in Łachwa. The Kolpanitskii family was interned in it. Łachwa's was the first ghetto of World War II where the inmates put up resistance to the Nazi operation to annihilate the ghetto with all its inhabitants. In September 1942, the Jews of Łachwa staged an uprising. Kopl's elder brother Moyshe was one of its leader. According to one account, Moyshe managed to kill an SS-man with an ax. Kopl's brothers were killed by the Germans during the uprising and the escape from the ghetto to the forests, but Kopl survived, initially by wandering through the forest in search of Soviet partisans. Kolpanitskii recalled one of his first days after the escape from the ghetto as follows:
"…I knew what I had to do… Walking silently and tensely that night, I set three goals for myself, and I knew that I would not rest for a moment until I achieved them: First, I would avenge the lives of my family, community and people. Second, if I survived, I would tell anyone willing to listen about the bloody history of the Jews of Lahwah [sic!], about the fate of the Jewish people. Third, I would make my life in Eretz Yisrael and reestablish the Kolpanitzky family, which had been annihilated… I would wage my own war, and would not let the satanic plans of the Germans succeed."
After a long period in the forest, in June 1943, like other fugitives from Łachwa, Kopl attempted to fight in the ranks of the Soviet partisans, specifically in the unit commanded by Vasilii Korzh. However, Korzh refused to take Kopl into the brigade. The commander had been a friend of Yitzhak Kolpanitskii in the 1920s and considered it his duty to preserve the life of Yitzhak's son. To his chagrin, Kopl was given a safe job in the partisan unit. In the fall of 1943, Kolpanitskii left Korzh's unit and joined the brigade led by the famous Ukrainian partisan leader General Sidor Kovpak. Kopl found many fugitives from Łachwa in this brigade, which, according to his account, was a composite of all Soviet ethnic groups, including numerous Jews. Nevertheless, Kopl was registered in the brigade as having the Russian first name of Nikolai. In Kovpak's brigade "Nikolai" learned how to operate an anti-tank gun and hit enemy tanks more than once. "I felt as if the entire Lahwah community was watching me avenge them".
In June 1944, Kovpak's brigade met Red Army units for the first time. However, it continued to fight as a partisan unit, i.e. in the enemy rear. Only in October 1944, when the Kovpak brigade was disbanded by the Ukrainian Headquarters of the Partisan Movement, did Kolpanitskii go to Kiev, receive a certification that he had been a partisan, and enlisted in the Red Army. He was assigned to an infantry division deployed on the 1st Belorussian Front. He was also recruited as a covert agent of SMERSH, the counter-espionage organ of the Red Army.
However, once again to his chagrin, he was not sent into combat, when his division remained in the rear. Thus, he was "left out" when Warsaw was captured by the Red Army. In January 1945, his division was loaded onto military trains and sent to the area of Poznań. There, he finally took part in hard battles against the Waffen SS and other German troops. While the losses to his division were heavy, Kolpanitskii felt the satisfaction of an avenger. After that, his division moved south and took part in forcing the Oder River. The fighting became increasingly difficult. However, as Kolpanitskii recalled, in April 1945, the German army seemed to have disintegrated. Kolpanitskii ended the war in Sagan, Lower (western) Silesia (now Żagań, Poland).
In May 1946, a year after VE-Day, in Warsaw, Kopl Kolpanitskii destroyed his Soviet documents, took off his Red Army uniform, and clandestinely left the city for Bytom, Upper Silesia, where he joined a "kibbutz" – a group of Jewish survivors who were preparing to go to the Palestine. From there he crossed the border to Czechoslovakia and, by summer, he was in Vienna. In November 1946, Kolpanitskii departed from southern France on a ship named "La-Negev," that was bound for the Palestine. However, the ship was intercepted by the British, who put the passengers in an internment camp in Cyprus. In 1948, he was released from the camp and came to Israel, where he took part in the War of Independence.
Kopl Kolpanitskii married. He had three sons, as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren. He died in 2009.
About a letter from his father that Kolpanitskii received in 1944
Kopl's father Yitzhak was the owner of a sawmill and a flourmill in the town of Łachwa. When the Soviets annexed this territory to the Soviet Union in September 1939, he was declared a capitalist, his mills were nationalized, and Yitzhak was deported to the Urals. Paradoxically, the Soviet deportation saved his life; Yitzhak survived World War II, whereas his wife Pesia, two sons Moyshe and Elhonon, and daughter Ida perished in Łachwa.
In October 1944, Kopl Kolpanitskii, then a partisan in the Kovpak brigade (which was at that point in the Soviet rear), received a letter from his father. The letter was sent to the recently liberated town of Łachwa, where Yitzhak assumed his family was living. Jewish survivors who had returned to the town forwarded the letter to the Kovpak brigade. In his memoir Kopl wrote:
"Impatiently, I opened the letter… My father began with, 'My dear wife, my dear children!' I broke down. The innocent letter to a family that no longer existed opened the floodgates. I had not cried for two years… Now everything poured out. I could no longer hold back the sea of tears that had collected over two years. I wailed and groaned, and my friends cried with me. I don't remember ever, not even as a child, crying so much. All the attempts of my comrades and of the officers to calm me failed.
Someone suggested that they give me some vodka… Before I could reply, a glass of vodka appeared. My friends literally forced me to drink. They made me finish it to the last drop. My head began to spin…
After calming down from the shock of receiving the letter, I sat down to read it. Reading it, I realized that Father sent it to people who no longer existed. He was certain that none of his family had survived, so addressing Mother and the children was done hesitantly. The letter was only a few lines long… He did not have the emotional strength to ask questions because he feared the answers….
Slowly, I became conscious of the fact that I was not alone – there was the father and a son…. Thousands of kilometers separated us, and the war was not ended. The Germans are still fighting, and as long as they do, my revenge is not complete, I thought to myself."
Kopel Kolpanitzky, Sentenced to Life: The Story of a Survivor of the Lahwah Ghetto. London: Valentine Mitchell, 2007, pp. 145-6.
Kopl Kolpanitskii refused to take a safe job in the Red Army when Łachwa ghetto survivors enlisted in the Red army, Kiev, October 1944
"When we got [to the enlistment office], a captain was sitting at the table […] When I went to the table, the captain filled out all the details in the documents in front of him and placed my soldier notebook aside, on another corner of the table, separate from the others. He did the same with Nisl Izrailevich, whose soldier booklet was placed on mine, and with Yosl Meyer Feldman.
Yosl Meyer did not like that, and he asked the captain to place our notebooks in the general pile. The captain lifted his head, looked at Yosl Meyer, and said "'as you wish', and placed our notebooks together with the others. He told us that the next morning a train would be leaving for Ovruch, and that it would take us to where we could join the Red Army. That made us very happy. We wanted to volunteer and continue our fight against the Germans.
At dinner that evening, the captain came over and sat down with us.
'Sholem,' – he said. 'From your names, I knew that you were Jews, so I put your notebooks on the side. I did not want to send you to the front. I am also Jewish. I wanted to send you to work at the partisan HQ in Kiev. Why did you insist on joining the others?
'Thank you very much for your good intentions,' we answered, 'but we are going to volunteer for the Red Army. We must continue to fight.'
'As you want, I wish you to succeed' he said and got up."
Kopel Kolpanizki, Nigzar le-hayim: Mered geto Lahva. Misrad ha-Bitahon, 1999, pp. 147-148.
The feeling of revenge: Private Kolpanitskii in the Poznań area
"It was 3 February 1945, a Saturday, one of the most important days of my life. Our mortar company was positioned behind the infantry. We did not see the results of our firing, but we heard about them. The results were good: our shots had caused enormous damage and havoc among the German units. A group of Germans, unarmed and hands waving from side to side, came out. I discerned on the faded collar of one soldier an SS emblem, which upset me. I went over to him and said 'Ich bin ein Jude.'
His face paled. He knew that his end had come…. This time we did hot hesitate. I explained to my comrades that these were SS soldiers. I stood up straight and said to myself 'My great day has come. SS soldiers had perpetrated most of the murders during the occupation and had imposed a reign of terror on us, had abused, degraded, beat us bloody from head to toe. Now they are going to be killed in cold blood, just like they had done to their victims. And by whom? By Kopel Kolpanitskii, the Jewish youth who had survived the Lahwah ghetto. This was my victory over the Germans. This is called revenge'"
Kopel Kolpanitzky, Sentenced to Life: The Story of a Survivor of the Lahwah Ghetto. London: Valentine Mitchell, 2007, pp. 174-5.
 There are several different spellings of his name. In Polish documents (he was born in the Polish Republic), his family name was spelled Kolpanicki. In his memoir, published in Israel in 1999, (Nigzar le-hayim: Mered geto Lahva), his name is spelled Kalpanizki, and in the English version of his book Kopel Kolpanitzky, Sentenced to Life: The Story of a Survivor of the Lahwah Ghetto (London: Valentine Mitchell, 2007), his name appears as Kopel Kolpanitzky. Since we focus on the Soviet period of his biography, we prefer to use the spelling Kolpanitskii, the transliteration of his name from Russian.
The name Kolpanitskii probably comes from the name of the village Kolpenitsa (now Vialikaia Kawpenitsa), in the vicinity of Baranovichi [now in Belarus]. For this reason, in some sources his name appears as Kolpenitskii.
 Ben-Zvi Dagan (Boris Dolgopiatyi), Anu mi-Laḥṿa ha-moredet, Tel-Aviv, 2002.
 Kopel Kolpanitzky, Sentenced to Life: The Story of a Survivor of the Lahwah Ghetto. London: Valentine Mitchell, 2007, p. 62.
 Ibid., p. 119-120.