Voice/Vision Holocaust Survivor Oral History Archive

Miriam Brysk - February 7, 2004

Life with the Partisans

And so they came and, and we--suddenly one evening we come in, and there's a fire, and we were fed food and we're in the forest. And uh, uh, there was, I don't know if you're familiar with these--how, how partisans lived, they lived in something called ziemlankas. Zemlya is earth in, in, in Russian.

Big, like, bunkers.

They were like dug up holes that they put down wood, wood, wood um, pieces of trees, you know, like wood on the bottom and sides to fortify it. And then they would have another row of, like, cut trees in which people slept. And it was just like one continuous place. Everybody slept one next to the other. So we were actually given a place to sleep that night.

What does the word...


...what does the word mean in Russian?


The word for those...


Does it just mean holes?

Zem...zem...zemlya--they're, yeah. It's a kind of variation of, of hole in the ground.

Somebody called them graves.

No, they weren't graves, no.

That they reminded them of graves.

And I remember how I was--my stomach was full with food and it was warm, there was a fire and we lay next to each other in this protected place. And I felt so safe, this seemed like so wonderful.

Any Jewish partisans?

They were, they were Jewish par...these were Jewish partisans, yeah. But the decision to, the decision to get my father was made by the Russian in command obviously. So...

And how did they treat you as a child? Did anybody...

They didn't at that point question because my father had already told them I was disciplined and all that kind of stuff. And so as soon as we got there, you know, my father was immediately sent all over the forest. "There's a wounded partisan here and a wounded partisan here. You know, go save 'em." No, you know, you have no anesthetics, you have no anti...of course antibiotics weren't even discovered 'til the '30s and they were almost unavailable and he had, you know, he took his medical instruments that he had. Uh, but he didn't really have a lot of stuff to work with. And uh, so he was always gone somewhere. We never knew where he was. And my mother and I helped the group, you know. Helped cook, helped uh, chop wood, helped uh, make fires, helped--however help was, was needed, you know, you became kind of part of--and I remember going over to, going over to several young Jews--partisans, including women--and I asked them, "Aren't you afraid?" And they said, "What do you mean afraid? We have arms to protect us, we're not in ghettoes anymore." So they, you know, they were feeling, "Wow, this was a place of great safety." Well, within a month or something like that. After we got there, suddenly all this myth disappeared that we were safe. Suddenly the Germans, the Germans came periodically to try to, to, to try to shoot uh, to capture all the partisans. So they would send soldiers, or would send whatever into the forest to try to capture them, the parti...uh, you know, they didn't this thorn in their side, because the partisans would blow up munitions, trains, garrisons, you know, they were doing what partisans do. And so, my father was off somewhere else and suddenly these soldiers that were so protective of my mother and me didn't want to have anything to do with us. In fact, they just ran off and left us with a few of the less armed, older, less capable people and we were basically to fend for ourselves. We're running in the forest, you know, we have no idea where we're going, there's snow on the ground, don't have enough clothing. Uh, there's always shooting going on. And my mother and I are just together with these few other people uh, totally, mercilessly alone uh, helpless. And there was nothing to eat, nothing to drink. All we could--all we ate was snow. And uh, we wandered in the forest and wandered and wandered. Day one, day two. Finally I remember one, one particular evening we--there was a, like a, a fir tree with the branches down and there was like a place where the, where the roots were, they were down. So we all got around each other and tried to warm each other and I--my head was in my mother's arms. And suddenly out of nowhere we hear footsteps and they're speaking German. And it was just, it was horrendous. I mean, this was--we were convinced this would be the end. I mean, you could hear every heartbeat. Nobody said a word. And--but they came--it was dark already and they didn't have dogs, so they didn't know we were there and they passed us.

You were under a tree.

We were under a tree.

© Board of Regents University of Michigan-Dearborn