A chapter from
David Plotnik's story
On the 15th of April 1942, we received news from Moscow that recruiting for the Polish Army under General Sikorski had started. In May the White-Russian Communist Party published a call to join the partisans. I was uncertain whether to enlist, for in spite of the difficult conditions in the Urals at least we were fairly sure of our lives there. However Molotov's speech on the slaughter of the 10,000 Jews of Pinsk turned the tide. Together with Shamai Shuster, also of Pinsk, I arrived in Moscow on the 1st of August 1942 and we enlisted at the headquarters of the White-Russian Party on Komsomolskaya Street. After we had been questioned on our political views and our social background, we were sent to the partisan school near the Novoshino railway station (Gorki District). We were about 1000 young men, including about 100 Jews. We were given an intensive course in explosives, sabotage, camouflage, the building of underground shelters, infantry warfare and parachuting.
On the 10th of November 1942 our partisan unit was set up. It consisted of fourteen people, among them one other Jew, Gorelik from Gomel, and three White-Russian girls. On November 15th, each one of us was given a sub-machinegun, two hand grenades, 500 bullets, six kilograms of explosives and food-rations. Some received rifles and there was one machine gun. The commander received a map with specifications of our route to the peaceful for that moment Baranowicz area. We headed westwards by train and our route took us through the quiet areas where battles with the Germans had been already fought. After traveling for five days we arrived in Tarapecz, thirty kilometers from the front. Ahead of us lay 180 kilometers that had to be covered on foot. One of our first encounters in this area was with Jews, most of them women, who told us of the terrible Nazi massacres. We had already heard that the Germans had murdered entire populations but we had not heard the whole truth. In the small town of Udaczi, where all the 700 Jewish inhabitants had been murdered, we crossed the Vitebsk-Nevel railroad fighting all the way, and then crossed the Vitebsk-Polotsk railroad tracks.
At the beginning of January 1943 we arrived at the Molotshno-Minsk railroad and here we finally found the partisan camp of Unit 620, named after Chkalov, in the Volozhin Forest. The Commander of the camp was Vladimir Kuznetsov, the Chief-of-Staff Misha Gribanov, and the Commissar Ivan Kosak. We found about 20 mud huts, a kitchen and a slaughterhouse. We built mud huts for ourselves. Here for the first time I met Jewish partisans who had lived through the horrors of the ghetto and had witnessed the massacres. There were Jews here from the small towns of Mir, Volozhin, Krosno and others. Here I met Jewish partisans from Mir-Harhas, Galimovskaya, the pharmacist Charny and others. The latter told me about the miraculous rescue of the 300 Jews of Mir by the Jew Oswald who had served there as a German policeman. (Oswald is Shmuel Rufeisen from Zivic in western Galicia, who is now the Catholic Brother Daniel at the Carmelite Mount Monastery on Mt. Carmel in Haifa. Sefer HaPartizanim HaYehudim The Book of the Jewish Partisans, Part 1, page 469 N.B.)
The first action in which I took part was the attack on the garrison of the German Army and the police station in the little town of Horodok (Molodeczno district), which did not succeed. Together with another twenty-five Jews, mostly natives of the town and its surroundings, I also participated in the second attack on the town (which did not succeed either). Under the leadership of the commander of the Jewish company, Leizer Rogovin from http://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/28/world/28INTE-GOOD.htmlI participated in blowing up a German train. At the beginning of March 1943 I had my first face-to-face encounter with the enemy when we stumbled on a German and Lithuanian ambush near the Mashany caves on our way to blow up the railroad. Eventually we left the Volozhin forests for the reason that a quarrel started between our company commanders over some girls. We headed for the Rudminsk Forest, to General Platoun's division of the Komsomoletsk Brigade, named after Kalinin. The Commander was Ratshinski, and his deputy, Moskalov. After a while Shimiyatovitch took over the command.
Our main job consisted of sabotage, mining the railroads and blowing up trains. They agreed to let me participate in these actions only after my persistent insistence at headquarters. Ratshinski ended our angry conversation by saying to his deputy: 'Take him with you, let him be killed there.' At the end of March I took part in the blowing-up of a train near the Niegoreloye station, and in honor of the 1st of May I was allowed to participate in the mining of the Baranowicz-Minsk road, and the destruction of the German cars on it.
On our way to the various actions, I had a few bizarre encounters with Jewish women who tried to pass as Christians and might have had to pay for this with their lives. Once I met two Jewish women from Minsk who had been caught by partisans and accused of spying, and only after I had questioned them for a long time, because I suspected they were Jewish, did they admit their identity and thus were saved. On another occasion I met a Jewish girl, Leah Dinerstein who lived in one of the caves under the name of Lydka Baydak and behaved like a real anti-Semite to cover up. During those days I also had a surprising meeting with a girl from Pinsk, Batya Stolar who had come to the town from the Lida Ghetto where she had been overtaken by the German Occupation and who lived in the family camp of Tuvya Belsky. As befitting a fellow townsman, I did my best to help her with food and clothing. One day I heard that she had gone to fetch her belongings from the Lida ghetto from where she did not return.
In the village of Klitaszcze I met a nine-year-old Jewish boy, Maxim Katsman (his father came from Bialystok), who worked as a cowherd for one of the peasants. I took him with me to our company. He remained with us until he fell ill at the beginning of 1944 and was taken to Moscow by plane. In June 1943 we tried to rescue twenty Jews from the little town of Iwie who had remained there after the extermination of the ghetto, as they had very useful occupations. The Jews resisted our advances for they did not want to endanger Jewish partisans. In later actions I took part in the blowing-up of the Gobia railway station and in the attack on a Polish company under the command of Miloshevski. This company had cruelly murdered Jews and thanks to our intervention, it was disbanded.
In spite of severe attacks of malaria from which I suffered during the summer, I continued to take part in various actions. At the end of August 1943 I was made commander of the sabotage unit of our company. The first successful action under my command took place near the Fardicz railway station. As a result of this action railroad traffic was blocked for three weeks, and I was awarded a decoration. We also carried out a punitive mission against the German-inspired self-defense organization of the peasants in the villages of Zagorie district, Bohudki and Zalesie. The members of this organization had murdered a number of partisans, particularly Jewish partisans. With the coming of winter we carried out extensive sabotage actions of the telephone communications, and between the 23rd and the 29th of January 1944 we sabotaged the railroad three times. I was almost captured alive by the Germans who surrounded us during our sabotage activities in March, and it was a miracle I escaped with my life. At the end of March we entered the little town of Mir and we brought back food and clothes for everyone. As on the other occasions, this time too I shared some of the loot with the family camp at Belski.
A very impressive military parade was held as part of the 1st of May celebrations that took place in the forest. Among others, I was mentioned by the commissioner Zaruk as a saboteur responsible for the destruction of tens of enemy trains. With the help of an instructor who had come from Moscow, in May we started to use with great success mines known as P. M. S. on the second train. This mine blew up only when the second train went over it. This was the Russian answer to the German tactics of sending a few coaches loaded with sand and stones in front of all supply or army transport trains, so as to blow up in this way any mines that had been laid on the railroad track. Two trains were destroyed in our first action with the new mine. The spectacular explosion of the second train made a tremendous impression on the local population. On June I took part in a difficult battle against 600 of the strong Vlasov army near the village of Bereznoie. For the successful sabotage-action on the 22nd of June 1944 on the railway bridge over the Gavia River it was recommended that I be awarded the Red Flag decoration. I had already received the Red Star and War of the Fatherland decorations. At the beginning of July we received an order to destroy the bridge over the Mironka River (near Mir) on the Minsk-Baranowicz road, which was of vital importance to German traffic. I took another five partisans with me, armed with automatic weapons and explosives. About five kilometers before Mir we entered the village Priloki for food and rest. One of the peasants came running towards us and told us that a German force was approaching the village and begged us to leave for fear of a German reprisal on the population. I suggested that we leave the village and ambush the Germans from the nearby bushes. The ambush was completed successfully and the Germans retreated in panic. Six of them, among them two officers, were taken prisoner. We took them to our camp. As I was an officer and spoke German, the commander asked me to question one of the officers. My first question was: 'Why do you fight us?' 'I do not fight you, the Russians, I only fight Jews,' the officer answered. Three times I repeated my question and three times I received the same answer. At last the German understood that he had fallen into the hands of those he was fighting. All six Germans received their due punishment."
The first half of July witnessed continuous battles between our company and the retreating Germans, with behind them the 'Vlasov' traitors, who were accompanied by members of their families. We dealt with them as fast as we could."
Our last action as partisans was to put up a bridge over the Nieman River near the Siniawka village. Thousands of partisans from the entire area were recruited for the task, the aim of which was to hasten the Red Army's advance. The bridge was completed in one day, in spite of heavy bombardment by German guns. My role as a partisan ended in the little town of Mir, in the middle of July 1944."
Let us end David Plotnik's story in his own words:
"The main reason I fought with such valor and without fear was the awareness that I was fighting the battle of my murdered brothers and sisters, of the innocent women and children who had been tortured to death, and that I was avenging the blood of my mother and the Jews of my home town, Pinsk, for the honor of our people."
In M. Kahanovitch's book: Milhemeth HaPartizanim HaYehudim b'Mizrah Eropa (The War of the Jewish Partisans in Eastern Europe), Plotnik is mentioned on pages, 136, 139, 285, 314 and his picture appears in the book written by Shmerke Katsherginski, Ich Bin Gewehn a Partisan ( I was a Partisan ), page 241. In the Sefer HaPartizanim HaYehudim ( Book of the Jewish Partisans ), part I, pages 468-498 in the chapter, "At the End of the Forest" (Mir, Volozhin, Kurenitz). Many details are given on partisan activities in that area. Although Plotnik is not mentioned there (the editors of the book did not have his notes), his account is confirmed from this additional source.