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 Samuel Levi.
Samuel Levi was born in 1922 in Sofia, Bulgaria. His father was a grocer in their tight-knit community. Samuel was a student at the Komsomol (Communist Youth League) attending political and cultural classes in 1940, shortly before the Germans invaded Bulgaria.
Forced into a labor camp near the border with Greece, Samuel watched as Greek Jews were marched to concentration camps. The conditions in the labor camp were harsh, and as food began to run out, Samuel knew he must escape. He followed a group of Greek Jews being marched through his camp, and escaped outside the camp walls.
Rejoining the Komsomol, Samuel was in a partisan group called Chavdar that roamed Bulgaria, near the border with Yugoslavia. The group stayed in the high mountains or forests, to avoid capture. Conditions were difficult for the Komsomol partisans, as Samuel remembers: “We were constantly starving. We had some corn flour and water and that’s what we ate for an entire month. But we trained and we were on guard.”
It was unusual for partisans to get a full night’s rest, because of the constant dangers. The group would sleep out in the rain in the summer, but the partisans liked this, because for once they could speak to each other out loud and sing, the noise of their voices drowned out by the lighting and thunder.
Remembering a common partisan action, Samuel comments on the partisans’ cunning, “We would take their (police) uniforms in order to confuse the enemy during an operation. We would descend into the villages and they would think that we were officers and we would act.”
These partisan groups helped tremendously to prepare the groundwork for the Russians, who entered Bulgaria in 1944. Samuel recounts his feeling of impending death as a partisan:
“For the one year and four months when I was a partisan, I never thought that I would remain alive. No partisan did. We knew that we could all die but die proud that we did something against the fascists.”
Samuel lives today in Israel with his wife and has a son, a daughter, four grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance?
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Samuel Levi'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?