Stalin had given orders for the Red Army to fight to the death and captured Russian soldiers and deserters to be shot. It therefore became a great motivation for these soldiers to join a partisan group in hopes that in the end, the Russian army would overlook their earlier failures. The men and women who decided to fight against the Germans behind enemy lines were called partisans, and were made up of Russian soldiers and citizens who formed a resistance movement in the German occupied areas. The Russian partisans became a significant movement who continued to harass the German forces with guerrilla tactics at every opportunity.
As the Germans moved eastward, the Nazi troops relied upon trains to bring supplies, particularly since Russian roads were very poor. The gorilla warfare of the partisans made it necessary for the Germans to build special trains in an effort to discourage partisan attacks upon their supply lines. Train cars and engines were produced which were covered with armor and carried additional weapons.
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Historian Volume 70, Issue 2. John R. Braun Portland State University Search for more papers by this author. Read the full text. Tools Request permission Export citation Add to favorites Track citation. Share Give access Share full text access. Traditional dress or accents often made it difficult for Jews to blend in.
Jewish men, unlike many of their non-Jewish male counterparts, were almost always circumcised and therefore could be easily identified. Many villages harbored Nazi sympathizers.
Turning in a Jew could earn a villager a bag of sugar or a bottle of vodka. Some collaborators hated Jews so much that they did not bother to collect their bonuses, shooting them on sight. Even in their own units, Jewish partisans were often forced to conceal their identity lest they be subject to the antisemitism of their partisan comrades. Because of these dangers, Jewish partisans sometimes formed all-Jewish resistance units. Of all the challenges faced by commanders of partisan units, perhaps the greatest was feeding their fighters.
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Finding food depended on many factors: the proximity of friendly locals, the geography and nature of the country, the size of the partisan unit. Despite wartime shortages in areas free from direct German rule, sympathetic townspeople and farmers could be relied upon to supply partisans with food and other necessities. In areas under German control or unsympathetic farmers, the search for food could end in death. To procure food, partisans sometimes had to resort to force. Shelub was seventeen when she and her sister escaped to the forests to join the partisans. With both sides taking food at gunpoint and threatening to punish those who supported their enemies, local farmers were often between a rock and a hard place, no matter who they truly sided with.
But this, too, brought its share of danger. In order to survive, many Jewish partisans put aside traditional dietary restrictions.
Gertrude Boyarski found herself doing exactly that after six days of eating only snow with fourteen other partisans. We shared this between us. And I was crying as I was eating it, but we had gone days without food. It was a treasure. As the war ground on, some partisan groups began receiving much-needed supplies.
Stalin's Guerrillas: Soviet Partisans in World War II – By Kenneth Slepyan
In Eastern Europe, the Soviet government supplied Russian and Polish partisans from the sky, airdropping ammunition, counterfeit money—and occasionally even vodka and chocolate. The British did the same for the Greek and Italian partisans in the Mediterranean theater of war. Most partisan groups, however, were quite cut off from the world, and the difficulty of feeding their troops was a constant problem for the commanders.
A case in point was the all-Jewish partisan unit led by Frank Blaichman, who recalls:. In constant fear of discovery, partisans were always on the move. Many Jewish partisans who were local to the area knew these forests intimately. The Germans did not, and avoided them whenever possible—unfamiliar soldiers could get lost, be surrounded, and killed. Establishing a camp was no easy task. Location was all-important, as was the size of the unit.
Partisan camps had to be remote, yet close enough to a village or town to secure the necessities of life. Some partisan units were small, numbering dozens; others ran into the thousands. In the larger units, everyone had a specific task. Some foraged for food, some did the cooking, others stood guard or went on fighting missions.
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There were bakers, weapon cleaners, tailors, and shoemakers. The bakers and cooks needed firewood year-round. Large stores of firewood had to be laid in for warmth in winter.
Both were jobs for the wood gatherers. In the quest for survival, no skill or talent was left untapped. In summer, warm weather allowed partisan groups in Eastern Europe to survive with minimal shelter. In France , Italy and Greece , three factors greatly helped the partisans in their search for food and shelter: the climate was temperate, the local population tended to be more sympathetic to their cause, and antisemitism was less pronounced.
Winter, however, showed an altogether different face. Added to the threat of death by German bullet, was the threat of death from exposure. Yet partisans found a way to cope. Zemlyankas took many forms—some even held small stoves—but all were thoroughly camouflaged on the outside.
The zemlyankas were key to partisan survival in the winter months. Abandoned homes and barns could also serve as refuges. Sympathetic farmers gave what help they could, often at the risk of their own lives. Sometimes partisan units would plant their fighters in different parts of a village. If one party were caught, the others would live to fight another day.
We slept three in one house, three in another, and so on. Most Jewish partisans who fled the ghettos and camps did so with nothing more than the clothes on their backs. As with food, clothing was a scarce and valuable commodity. My blisters were as big as a fist. But I had to keep wearing them. They were all I had.
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What clothes partisans possessed often were reduced to rags through constant wear. Any opportunity to acquire better clothing—a coat, heavy boots, anything with fur to keep out the cold—was fair game. Sometimes clothing was taken from the corpses of fallen comrades-in-arms. Enemy dead likewise might yield winter coats and boots. German uniforms were particularly prized trophies: they were warm and served as disguises for future missions.
A single item of clothing could make a world of difference, like the wool blanket Greek partisan Leon Idas gained after a successful skirmish with German soldiers. One has to go back one hundred years to find a winter as cold as the one that descended on Northern Europe in Large areas of Poland and the Soviet Union shivered in temperatures that dropped to degrees Fahrenheit and lower. For partisans, the record-cold temperatures proved to be both a blessing and a curse. But the snow did more than that.
It also helped them track down the enemy, and its brightness showed approaching figures from great distances. The worse conditions were, the better it was for us.