Miles Lerman (Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation biography)
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 Miles Lerman.
Miles Lerman was born in the Polish town of Tomashov in 1920. Tomashov had a vibrant Jewish community and a strong Zionist movement. As a child Miles trained in Zionist seminaries, planning to emigrate to Palestine and live on a kibbutz. His dreams were shattered by the German invasion of Poland in 1939. Tomashov was located only ten miles west of the Soviet-German dividing line. When the Germans invaded the Lerman family fled east to Lubov, in modern day Ukraine. In 1941, the Germans invaded Russia. Many young people fled farther east, hoping for safety deep in Russia, but Miles decided to stay in Lubov and care for his mother.
As 1941 drew to a close, the Jewish population in Lubov became increasingly segregated from the Ukrainian population, and rumors of German massacres became frequent. In early 1942, Miles was sent to a slave labor camp. When he and some fellow inmates were sent to a remote quarry site to break rocks, they decided to take their chances. Using their shovels, they killed their guards, stole the weapons off their bodies, and escaped into the woods. In the Ukrainian forest they joined a Jewish partisan unit formed by other escapees. Miles remembers that for the next two years, the job of his brigade was “to create havoc”: they raided German outposts, destroying food and munitions supplies and continuing to build their arsenal. Unlike more militaristic Soviet brigades, Miles’ brigade also served as a family camp. Women, children, and the elderly were given food and shelter, and the fighting unit dealt out harsh justice to any local collaborator who dared to turn a refugee over to the Nazis.
In June of 1944, the Soviet Army liberated Miles’ brigade. Miles returned to Poland, visiting his decimated hometown before settling in Lublin, the new capital. In Lublin, Miles met and married Christina, an Auschwitz survivor. In 2005, they celebrated their 60th anniversary.
He passed away in January 2008.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance?
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Miles Lerman'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?