Yitzchak Pomerantz was a son of Rabbi Menachem Biniamin Pomerantz from the town of Długosiodło, near Wyszków, Poland; the family belonged to the Gerrer Hasidim (Hasidei Gur). He was probably born in 1920 or in1921. 1 In the fall of 1939, having seen the abuses and wanton killings of Jews by the Nazi invaders, he decided to flee to the Soviet zone of occupation in Poland. He crossed the German-Soviet demarcation line and arrived in Białystok. From there, he attempted to cross the border to Lithuanian Vilnius, but was arrested and put into prison. Only in January 1941 was he put on trial and sentenced to five years in a Soviet prison camp. Then he was deported to the camp of Sukhobezvodnoe, ca. 500 kilometers east of Moscow.
Following the agreement between the Soviet Union and the Polish Government-in Exile, former Polish citizens were released from the Gulag camps. Thus, in the fall of 1941, Yitzchak was released, and eventually found himself on a kolkhoz (collective farm) near Osh, near the border between Uzbekistan and Kirggizstan. After Passover of 1943, he received a draft notice and was ordered to Moscow. However, instead of being sent to the front, Yitzhak began working at the Moscow ZIS military plant. In December 1943, he was transferred to the Seletskii training camp, east of Moscow, where a pro-Soviet Polish force, the 1st Tadeusz Kościuszko Infantry Division under the command of Zygmunt Berling was being formed. After some training, Pomerantz specialized in military topography and, with the rank of sergeant, was assigned to a 120-millimeter gun battalion.
As a deeply religious Jew, who even during forced labor and army service unswervingly followed Jewish law, keeping the Sabbath and kashrut, Pomerantz had many problems and more than once put his life at risk. On the other hand, seeing his steadfastness in following the commandments of Judaism and respecting this, some of his superiors made concessions for him. For example, the Russian commandant of the Seletskii training camp officially permitted him to pray shaharit (the morning prayer) instead of doing morning gymnastics. Besides, Yitzchak's situation was alleviated by the fact that he served with the Polish Kościuszko division rather than in the "Russian" Red Army: the Kościuszko division was the only military formation in the Soviet Union that had a military (Catholic) chaplain and where Catholic masses were served.
As an non-commissioned officer of the Red Army, the topographer Yitzchak Pomerantz fought in Volhynia, in Poland, where he participated in the capture of Warsaw and Danzig, and, then, in the battle for Pomerania. During the Soviet advance westward he passed through the Majdanek death camp and Góra Kalwaria, the home of the Gerrer Hasidim – but found the town empty of Jews. He finished the war near Berlin.
His superiors appreciated Pomerantz's achievements as a soldier and as an instructor in topography and, more than once, they recommended that he be sent to an officers' course. However, each time Yitzchak refused, recalling the prescription of "Pirkei Avot", 10: "Avoid getting too close to the government [the authorities]." Because of this he finished the war with the relatively low rank of sergeant-major (starshina).
All of his family perished in the Holocaust.
At the end of 1945 Pomerantz had a leave from the army and, with aid of the clandestine Brikha network, succeeded in leaving Poland for Czechoslovakia and then Austria. In 1948 he succeeded in reaching his goal, Israel.
[based on his memoirs Yitzchak Pomerantz, Itzik, Be Strong!, New York: CIS Publishers, 1993]
- 1. He received his first call-up for the Polish Army in the summer of 1939.