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 Dora Oltulski.
Partisan nurse Dora Oltulski was born in the village of Zgorany, near Luboml, Poland. The baby of the family, Dora was attending school in Luboml when the Germans invaded.
For a year, she lived in the Luboml ghetto, working in a canning factory outside the ghetto. It was her job there that saved her life. Hearing rumors that the Germans were planning to liquidate the ghetto, she stayed overnight at the factory instead of returning, and thus was spared the fate of her neighbors.
She and her family hid with a Gentile farmer for a year before they eventually joined her sister and brother-in-law in the forests. In the partisans, Dora worked as a nurse in the makeshift hospital, cleaning and dressing wounds and numbing the pain of the afflicted with home made vodka.
In the forest, some young women paired themselves off with partisan captains for protection and privileges. Dora remembers how a girlfriend of hers in another camp got to ride a horse instead of walking and was spared from doing any manual labor after becoming the mistress of the camp commandant. But Dora was fiercely independent, and she resisted the advances of any man who approached her in the camp.
As the war continued, the front lines drew closer and closer to the forests around Luboml. Driven forward by the threat of desperate Germans in retreat, the unit decided their only hope was to cross the front and meet the advancing Russian army. Dora’s mother and one of her sisters were killed in this dangerous crossing.
After reaching the Russians and being liberated, Dora and the rest of her family returned to Luboml, where they stayed until the end of the war. Dora ended up in a displaced persons camp in Germany where she met a family friend, who had known her since she was a child. In less than a year the couple were married; a year later, still in the DP camp, Dora gave birth to her first son. The family immigrated to America in 1949, settling in New Jersey, where they still live today. The Oltulskis have two grown children.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Dora's 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?