The German guards were positioned in front of the Gestapo building in Warsaw. A pretty girl with big blue eyes shyly walked up to them. Whispering the name of an important Gestapo officer, she said, “I have to see him about a personal matter.”
The guards smiled at her knowingly, brought her into the building, and told her the officer’s room number. She had the look of a sixteen-year-old girl, with her slight build, her long, blonde braids, and the flowered kerchief she wore on her head.
She stood in the doorway of his office. The officer rose from behind his desk, staring at the girl, and said, “Do you, here, also have a Lorelei?” Quickly drawing a revolver from her handbag, she shot the German dead. She left his office and smiled bashfully as she passed the guards. Then she was gone.
“Wanda” from the Warsaw ghetto
The demure girl was in reality the 24-year-old Niuta Teitelboim, a Jewish girl from the Warsaw ghetto. She was a fearless fighter against the Germans, once telling a comrade, “I am a Jew…my place is among the most active fighters against fascism, in the struggle for the honor of my people, for an independent Poland, and for the freedom of humanity.” Her underground name was “Wanda” and the Gestapo called her “Little Wanda with the braids.” She had carried out other death sentences upon the Germans and organized a women’s detachment in the ghetto underground that fought bravely in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. She continued her activities until the ghetto uprising, when she was arrested, tortured and killed by the Gestapo.
Dr. Atlas, partisan leader
Dr. Yehezkel Atlas was 29-years-old when the Germans attacked Poland in 1939. In 1942, he fled to the forest to become a partisan. He was described as being a handsome young man, “wearing a peasant shirt and high Russian boots, and carrying a revolver in his belt.”
The ghetto of Dereczyn was liquidated by the Germans; only a score of Jews were able to escape to the forest. The partisan command wanted Atlas to be a physician, but he insisted on leading his own partisan unit. His persistence with partisan command paid off. He received permission on August 10, 1942, to attack Dereczyn.
Atlas and his Jewish partisans drove the Germans out of Dereczyn. Over the mass grave of the dead of the ghetto, his partisan unit executed 44 German policemen. Before returning to the forest, they took fresh arms and supplies from the German garrison. The Jewish partisans now all had high Russian boots, leather knapsacks, and shirts, and quality small arms and ammunition. They were filled with hatred and wanted to take revenge upon the Germans.
Dr. Atlas told his unit, “We must not settle down and take things easy…Our struggle only began with the defeat of the Germans at Dereczyn. Your lives came to an end in the slaughter of the 24th of July. Every additional day of life is not yours, but belongs to your murdered families. You must avenge them.”
Atlas and his partisans kill 127 Germans and capture 75
Among the attacks that Atlas initiated was in Ruda-Jaworska in October 1942, where they killed 127 Germans and captured 75, seizing much needed arms and ammunition. He headed a sabotage team which blew up a train on the Lida-Grodno line, and burned down a strategic bridge on the Niemen (Neman) River. He also led his fighters into battle when the Germans carried out a reprisal against the partisans (Sept. 15, 1942) and captured a German plane that had made a forced landing in the area (Oct. 2, 1942). Atlas was wounded in the battle at Wielka-Wola, dying from his wounds in December 1942. As he lay dying, he said, “…Pay no attention to me. Go on fighting.”
‘Uncle’ Misha Gildenman, partisan leader
Misha Gildenman was born in Korets, in Volhynia, the Ukraine. He left for the forest with sixteen others in September of 1942. Their first armed action was against German police who were ordered to round up Jews for forced labor in Germany. ‘Uncle Misha,’ as he came to be called, and his comrades killed six of them as the others fled. Thus they were able to get arms and some supplies. His detachment grew into dozens and later hundreds as Jews wandering through the forests joined with him.
Among those in his detachment was a pious Jew who recited the benediction before mine-laying expeditions. He recited an extra special benediction on the night of Purim, the feast day of Queen Esther, when ordered to blow up a trainload of Luftwaffe airmen. Orthodox Jews exchange gifts on this day, called Chlakhmoness (sending of presents), which was the name he gave the mine that blew up the trainload of pilots. As he worked on the mine, he no doubt was thinking of his mother and father, his wife and two children, and how the Germans had killed them all.
Jewish partisans in Minsk
Hersh Smolar was a leader of the Jewish Belarussian partisans–and the only survivor of the Minsk ghetto underground–who wrote a book on his experiences before the war ended. After the liberation of MInsk there was an order from the Zorin staff: all the surviving Jews “must line up for the collective eulogy to the slaughtered ghetto of Minsk.” Smolar read an emotional speech to the survivors. A young boy who was the child of a comrade tugged at his leg and begged him to lead them in song. But before the singing began, he forced out the oath of the Jewish partisans: “If there are no more Jews, then we shall be the Jewish people! Vengeance for our slaughtered families! Vengeance against the brown-shirted murderers! Each day, each hour, repay them with our burning hatred and our unceasing struggle!”
- Suhl, Yuri. “Little Wanda with the Braids,” in Suhl, Yuri (Ed.). They Fought Back: The Story of the Jewish Resistance in Nazi Europe. Schocken Books, New York (1975).
- Tushnet, Leonard. “The Little Doctor–A Resistance Hero,” in Suhl, Yuri (Ed.). They Fought Back…(1975).
- Yehezkel Atlas. Jewish Virtual Library.
- Steinberg, Lucien. Jews Against Hitler: The seminal work on the Jewish Resistance. Gordon & Cremonesi, London and New York, (1978).
- Smolar, Hersh. The Minsk Ghetto: Soviet-Jewish Partisans Against the Nazis. Holocaust Library, New York, (1989).