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 Simon Trakinski.
Simon Trakinski was born in Vilna in 1925. Like many others, his family fled to the east when the war began in 1939. They sought refuge in the Russian village of Smorgon When the Germans invaded Russia in 1941. Smorgon was occupied and all Jews were forced into the ghetto.
Simon heard about the activities of the partisans from escaped Soviet prisoners of war (POWs). When his family left the Smorgon ghetto to return to Vilna, he and his friends carried guns with them. In Vilna, they joined up with the United Partisan Organization (FPO) and took part in the failed uprising in the Vilna ghetto.
When the ghetto was closed in 1943, Simon and his group escaped, but were forced to leave their families behind. They initially fought with the Jewish Markov Brigade that was engaged in a struggle against rival partisan groups over control of the territory around Vilna, among them the right-wing branch of the Polish resistance, the Armia Krajowa (AK). But when Markov’s camp was blockaded by the Germans, Simon was forced to escape and join another group. He worked as a spy and a saboteur in liaison with a partisan unit established by the regular Russian army, gathering information about troop and supply movements, mining roads, and blowing up bridges. His group was especially active along the Berlin-Moscow supply route.
As the war continued, Simon left the partisans to work for the Soviet government, as a schoolteacher in a remote Russian village. When the war ended and the “iron curtain” began to descend across Eastern Europe, Simon returned to Poland and smuggled himself into the West. He spent three years in Austria attempting to immigrate to the United States, before finally being allowed to enter in 1948.
Simon died on January 2, 2009, surrounded by his loving family at his home in New York.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Simon Trakinski'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?