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Guest Book Review: Fugitives of the Forest, Allan Levine, copyright 1998, Lyons Press edition 2009

Discussion in 'ETO, MTO and the Eastern Front' started by dgmitchell, Jul 8, 2009.

  1. dgmitchell

    dgmitchell Ace

    May 9, 2008
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    This review was written by Jeff Grab.

    Fugitives of the Forest , is a global examination of the Partisan War in Eastern Europe from 1941-1944, with the focus being on the region's Jewish populations. Allan Levine, lays out his case in a clear and concise manner suitable for beginning readers, though the East European and Yiddish terms and names can cause confusion. Levine analyzes the various conditions in the ghettos and the forces that drove people towards the forests-or kept them in place. He examines the various escapes and the early problems would be Partisans faced. He then dives into what it was like to fight for survival as a Jewish Partisan; fighting with nature and with seemingly every hand of man against one. Levine peppers his analyses with survivors' stories.

    I wanted to hear more from the Gentile participants in the Partisan Wars and I am certain that Levine will include them in his next edition should such accounts become available. The fact is that almost nothing would have been known about the Partisan Wars if not for the stories former Partisans brought West with them, and the fact is that most of these refugees were Jewish. Kenneth Slepyan's work Stalin's Guerrillas has done a lot to broaden understanding of the Partisan phenomenon ( http://www.infibeam.com/Books/info/Kenneth-Slepyan/Stalin-s-Guerrillas-Soviet-Partisans-in-World/070061480X.html ) but more needs to be done. The Russian Battlefield internet site is currently conducting interviews with former guerrillas of the USSR ( http://www.iremember.ru/content/category/2/8/87/lang,en/ ) and any bilingual scholars out there would be doing history a huge service if they were to translate these accounts from Russian into English. Recommended reading on the broader Partisan War would also be Leonid Grenkevich's The Soviet Partisan Movement 1941-1944 http://books.google.com/books?id=7-2lXAWjD6UC&dq=grenkevich&printsec=frontcover&source=bl&ots=QN6AIIu_mt&sig=cdVYQDri8f68AMNPliYNvpBHMd8&hl=en&ei=AUxPSp7_M5PoMaXszfUP&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=3 the writing of which was hampered by the fact that most of the documents from the era in question were classified.

    The Barbarossa phase of the war was a time of unmitigated horrors inflicted on the Eastern European peoples-and much worse than that for the Jewish minorities; massacres, slavery, ghettos, unrelenting savaging, and a sense of total helplessness marked this phase. The only hope of escape was into the Great Forests of Eastern Europe-but this too was a hazardous propostion. In the forests the Jews were "hunted like rabbits" by Axis troops, and starvation and disease were facts of life. Though there were many incidents of Gentiles risking their lives to help their Jewish neighbors, there were many more incidents of a decidedly negative variety. Some of the terrorized and half starved peasants of Eastern Europe were not above conducting robberies and murders; or turning fleeing Jews over to NAZI for rewards. There are even accounts of "Jew Hunts" that end with the captured quarry being killed, and in some instances their severed heads being presented to NAZI for bounty. The scattered armed resisters of the forests viewed the ragged Jews as nuisances at best, or competition for meager food resources at worst. Escaped Jews were perishing en masse in the forests, and Levine cites the example of the Volhynia District ( http://www.rollintl.com/roll/volhynia.htm ) where an estimated 40,000 Jews were hiding in Forest and Farm. By the summer of 1942 only 3,000 of these people were left alive.

    In late May of 1942-with Timoshenko's Second Kharkov offensive being smashed by a resurgent Wehrmact http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Second_Battle_of_Kharkov- Stalin held held a conference at the Kremlin with most of the leading lights of the sputtering war behind enemy lines. The Ukrainian Sydir Kovpak ( http://www.absoluteastronomy.com/topics/Sydir_Kovpak ) of the Bryansk Partisan movement wrote about how he had expected Stalin to be "all business," but what a personable man the Georgian turned out to be. The project that was seemingly so near and dear to the dictator's heart was the expansion of the Partisan War in the enemy rear, and by the end of the meeting Stalin's orders were clear. More warriors were to be recruited, the movement was to become much more offensive, and enemy lines of communication and supply were to be attacked-and Stalin was backing up his words with supplies and expertise. The most decisive guerrilla struggle of WWII had begun. Stalin must have known that an expansion of the guerrilla war would result in massive NAZI reprisals on the civilian population and seems to have calculated that this would work in the Soviet's favor.

    The new directives from Moscow clearly stated that anyone who would fight was to be accepted into the Red Bands. This was to include Jews. A lot of leeway was left to unit commanders, and most demanded that new recruits provide their own firearms-but in groups and as individuals able bodied Jews began to slip away from the ghettos towards the Red Partisans and a chance at revenge. Their receptions varied from being shot on sight as suspected NAZI infiltrators to being welcomed with open arms-it was a hugely complex situation that varied wildly from one locale to another.

    It was the late summer of 1942 that a charismatic Belarussian Partisan leader named Victor Panchenko heard of an unrecognized Jewish band calling themselves "The Zhukov Brigade" that was said to be robbing villagers. Victor determined to kill all of these "bandits". Before he could act on this impulse "Zhukov's" leader-one Tuvia Bielski-arranged a meeting. It was agreed that Panchenko and Bielski go to one of the villages and confront the accusers. On closer examination the villagers' story fell apart, and shortly afterwards the Bielskis were accepted into the Red Partisan movement. Like Mafia chieftains Panchenko and Bielski divided up food source villages, and became great friends.

    The stories and exploits of the former horse trader "Chil" Grynszpan and his Brigade (http://www.forward.com/workspace/assets/images/articles/partisans-012909.jpg) in Eastern Poland rival those of the more famous Bielskis. Chil managed to save 200 of the 4,000 non combatants that had fled to the Pancow forest as well as to inflict some real damage on the NAZI war machine-not bad for a group of ghetto escapees that started off with a few pistols and rifles. In August of 1943 during the Moscow ordered "Railroad War" Chil and a group of 75 Jewish fighters trekked 40 kilometers to set an artillery shell bomb-courtesy of an air drop from Moscow- on on a bridge on the Wlodawa-Chelm railroad. The blast set a troop train into the rivine with an unknown amount of damage to the personnel on the train. The bridge no doubt was quickly rebuilt by slave laborers but these sorts of operations were having a telling effect and sending the NAZI leadership into a blind fury. Levine quotes Wilhelm Kube the Generalkommissar to Belarussia as stating that Jews were the "main bearers of the resistance" in the East-something I have always suspected, given the ingenuity of the Jewish culture and desperation of the times. The Railroad War failed to totally stop the transport system-something which was not achieved until the summer of 1944 during Operation Bagration-but Hitler was finding it increasingly costly to hold down his rear.

    More typical of the Jewish fighters' experience was that of Joseph Glazman who escaped the Vilna ghetto in the Spring of 1942. Joseph joined Fiodor Markov's Voroshilov Brigade with other escapees, and they were allowed to form their own " Nekama" (Revenge) unit. Armed only with the handguns they had taken out of the ghetto they enthusiastically participated in the attack on the German garrisson in Miadziol, but the enthusiasm was short lived. The Jews were suffering robberies and even some murders at the hands of their Soviet brothers in arms and this rankled. Moreover, non combatant Jews hiding in the forests were being murdered by NAZIs, peasants, and by other partisan groups- including undisciplined Reds some guessed. Shortly after Joseph joined a new unit bound for Lithuania Nekama was broken up and it's fighters scatted amongst other units. Anti semitism ran deep in Eastern Europe and apparently NAZIs were not the only ones who had problems with the concept of "the fighting Jew". On Yom Kippur of 1943 Joseph's 35 man unit was surrounded and he and his warriors fought until their last bullets, which they used on themselves-a most logical move as standard operating procedure for Axis forces was to torture captured Partisans for information before putting them to death. One young girl escaped to tell the story.

    The "A Perilous Liberation" chapter recounts how many of the Jewish Partisans found themselves in desperate battles with retreating Axis forces as the frontline drew closer. A short distance from the Bielski encampment the fighters of Shalom Zorin's family group were engaged in their last gun battle with the Third Reich. Six members of the group lost their lives and their leader lost his leg, but the larger group survived to see the arrival of the Red Army. "Our joy was indescribable," wrote one Velvke Yonson...and we at this safe remove can only guess....

    My photo site; http://news.webshots.com/album/165744933gHnoFw

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