Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror. Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. Among them was Bernard Druskin.
Bernard Druskin was born August 18, 1921, in Vilna, Poland. The oldest brother of three, he had two sisters, named Rachel and Marilyn. His family was in the felt supply business. Following the Nazi occupation of Vilna, the Druskin family was sent to live in the Jewish ghetto.
Bernard became a Jewish partisan after escaping from the Jewish ghetto in 1940, which he did with the help of a compassionate Nazi soldier who showed him how and when to escape. After escaping from the ghetto, Bernard lived with friendly farmers, chopping wood for them all day in exchange for his meals. Bernard found out later that his family had been executed in retribution for his escaping. Bernard remembered, “I had no reason to live on”.
Bernard then joined the FPO, the United Partisan Organization, and procured a radio to listen to the BBC. Hiding in the forests of Belorussia's Naroch Forest, he lived in a camouflaged zemlyanka, or underground bunker. Bernard worked under the Markov brigade and with Commander Jurgis, head of the Lithuanian Brigade. He spent his time sabotaging railroad lines, phone lines, and stealing food and supplies from the German army. Bernard and his compatriots once blew up 5 km of train tracks used by the Nazis, in different sections, calling it 'Hanukkah lights'.
At times, different groups of partisans competed to see which group could blow up the most trains. The partisans were directly aided by the Russian government, who sent bi-weekly parachute drops of armaments and supplies, and on holidays, vodka.
In July 1944, the Red army liberated the city of Vilna. Instead of taking the German troops as POWs, the Red Army disarmed them and turned them over to the partisans.
Bernard described his life as a partisan as being very difficult, as the most difficult thing he had ever done. Living in the woods was tough. “Let me tell you something,” Bernard recalls, “To be a partisan, it's not human.”
Bernard Druskin passed away on March 24, 2008.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Druskins decisions and actions?
- Are these factors unique to this history or universal?
- How can societies, communities, and individuals reinforce and strengthen the willingness to stand up for others?