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The Partisan and the Old Woman
Gennady Safonov and Brajna Katz
Brajna Katz, 1966, shortly before her death
Breina Katz (Jafe)
Viliejka, Minsk Province, Belarus
Daughter of Nakhman Jafe and Zipora Jafe
Wife of Yehuda Katz
Mother of Esther Perlmuter; Bessie Chevlin; Pesia Norman Chasia Bruin and Pese Sosensky
Sister of Dov Shmuel Yafe and Eshka Pressman
Brajna Katz and her family at Kibbutz Dafna, 1960
Brajna Katz with her daughter and grandchildren, 1966
Gennady Safonov, born 1913, was a Soviet army lieutenant. He was taken prisoner in the early days of the German attack on the Soviet Union in June 1941, but managed to escape from captivity and eventually became one of the leaders of the partisan unit Narodnyye Mstiteli (People's Avengers) that operated in the Rudniki forests (south of Vilna).
Alongside his activity in the partisan movement, Safonov helped Jews escape from the ghettos in the area. Simcha Fogelman and Fajwe Solomianski (who changed his name to Shraga Dagani when he came to Israel) reported to Yad Vashem that Safonov had found them in the forest in November 1942. The two had escaped from the ghetto in Ilja when the Germans began liquidating it on 7 June 1942. They had been wandering in the forest for several months. Safonov brought them to his partisan unit and thus saved them from dying in the forests during winter.
Safonov also saved the life of an old woman Brajna Katz from Dolhinov. She had been with a group of Jews from Dolhinov who had escaped the German murder operations and found refuge in a partisan camp. In August 1942 Nikolai Kisilev, a Soviet partisan, was ordered to evacuate the elderly, the women and the children who had gathered in the partisans camp and to transfer them a couple of hundred Kilometers eastwards beyond the front lines. As they were setting out on the arduous journey, the Germans conducted a search and Brajna Katz was wounded in both legs. The seventy-year-old woman was unable to continue, and asked them to leave her behind. She survived in the forest for about a week when Safonov found her. He took her to a nearby village, and notwithstanding the protests of the villagers, who didn't want to care for an old Jewish woman, ordered them to nurse her until his return. Several weeks later he returned, and brought her to his partisan camp where she spent the rest of the war cooking for the partisans.
Generally speaking, the chances of survival of old people and children during the Holocaust were very slim. Safonov’s commitment to the old woman and her survival are therefore unique. After liberation Brajna Katz rode into Dolhinov with the liberating Soviet partisans. When her family returned from the east, they were astounded to see that the old woman had survived. In 1947 Brajna emigrated to Israel, and went to live with her daughter, who had left Dolhinov before the World War and who was living in Kubbutz Dafna in the north of the country. She died at very old age in 1966.
Sam Fogelman immigrated to the United States. His daughter Eva Fogelman is a well known researcher of the Righteous Among the Nations and rescue.
There is evidence that Safonov also helped other Jews who were hiding in dugouts in the forest by supplying them with food. His efforts were not always supported by the members of his unit. Some were hostile to the Jews, others believed that it was their duty to focus on fighting the Germans, and that helping Jews would slow them down. Safonov, however, was not deterred and continued to help the persecuted Jews. His commitment went beyond the war years. After liberation he settled in Wilejka and was active in creating a memorial to the Jewish victims in Ilja.