Berel Kirshner





To get weapons and especially to introduce these weapons to the Ghetto of Pruzhany, deserves to be treated in an separate chapter. In normal conditions and situations this could be considered fantastic but inoperable: it should pass by a strict control, where the smallest suspicion means extermination. Therefore each time, each circumstance, creates his heroes. One of these was YTZL FRIDBERG,  of Pruzhany youth with his young 22 years, but full with ardor and energy, who demonstrated to be capable in all senses (during  Russian domain of years 1940/41 was ascended to inspector's position in Pruzhany's Bank). In the Ghetto was designated as leader of a work command, and he left the area of the Ghetto for diverse tasks.


Many of these commands, worked in the barracks, located to a half of the road toward Linovo. From very early, when beginning the day, they left on foot toward there, and they returned to the evening.  


ITZL FRIDBERG was related with MORDECHAI BER SEGAL and IZRAELIT (both responsible for assignment of tasks in the Ghetto). Together, they created the first plan to organize reliable people's group whose task should be "fix or recycle" Nazi's barracks.


This group opened a new chapter in the history of Pruzhany's Ghetto life. It was formed by specialized workers, with a certain mission, and a simple work that specialists should execute. Only some of these workers knew essentially the truth. In the barracks everything was minutely observed, until they discovered  deposits with Russian weapons, that were captured to the prisoners of that origin in it's moment.


YTZL knew about these weapons, from the time of the "Przyfsposobienie Wojskowe" (Polish military youth organization), where he carried out military maneuvers. Now his function was to deviate  German's  watch attention bet in the barracks, and distract them with diverse elements: rings, monograms that attracted attention of German soldiers, etc. Judenrat leaders also tried to obtain German power trust, giving them objects of value. The members of the Judenrat had the decision power, and the special elements for this end.  


Soldiers innocence was useful in this sense. The specialized workers of the group, began to introduce under their clothes, component of weapons. They also took out grenades and bullets for rifles, and they got ready to go out of the barracks with stolen merchandise. Certain people were called "bullets transport ". They put on high sole shoes, and inside the sole located 15 bullets.


Grenades were knotted around the feet with red bands especially dirtied. Some dressed wide work shirts, made with double pocket, which could contain great quantity of bullets. They broke the wooden part of rifles, and introduced iron parts under the clothes . The wooden parts were elaborated in the Ghetto by a specialized worker called MIODOVNIK (an inhabitant of the Ghetto that was sent in the transports of  Byalistock Ghetto). 


To deceive the surveillance next to Ghetto's entrance door , YTZL provided food to group workers: shortening, vegetables and bread, or pieces of logs. In the worst of the cases they should pay the punishment of  leaving to the guards the groceries and the logs. In a certain hour, when the workers of ITZL came close to the Ghetto, MORDECHAI BER SEGAL and IZRAELIT, who received a permission, left the Ghetto and communicated how they should behave when arriving to the entrance. All weapons introduced were stored in very secret way in that of SHMERL ELMAN, on  Kobrin St.


When enlarging the activity of this group, future partisans thought of making a tunnel that would extend through the fields in Alendre crossing Blotne with an exit in address to the mill of BARANOVSKY, outside of the Ghetto (the road also took to the mill of KRUTZEL). This plan was annulled after a lot of effort, and was interrupted in half of its execution.


At the same time, we were informed about a new place where could find more weapons. It was toward the road to Polinove, in address to the new aerodrome. Germans built a shop to repair weapons of Russian production. Near this place was the house of Pruzhany's German Major.  To this house went daily to work SHMERL ELMAN, sent by those in charge of work in the Ghetto. The shop was very well watched over and fenced. Inside also worked Ghetto's Jewish workers, and the patio was full with logs.   


SHMERL ELMAN had a permission of Major's  office to bring logs to his house to use as combustible material. At 12 o'clock p.m., when lunch hour, a small sled with double bottom, already was waiting in the street  When arriving at shop yard, weapon parts were already prepared, also a small sled with double bottom , and were introduced weapons in the lower part of the sled, and above covered them with  logs. The whole "transport" with permission granted, was introduced in  the Ghetto.


At the end of Seltz St. on the other road's lateral side, was the LEHMAN group, known because they terrified Ghetto inhabitants. Their function was to watch over and to repair Pruzhany's phone  lines, in the road toward Rozhinoi. When YTZL FRIDBERG went to work from  his house together with his group, already knew that something could be organized there. He spied all  rooms and  observed that were bullets and grenades in a corner.  Of this place he could not take out the material to the street and hide it. It was an open space, and all movement could betray them. He took advantage in a certain opportunity, and introduced inside his clothes and pockets, bullets and grenades.  He entered the Ghetto loaded with these weapons, and discovered that the bullets were adapted to the rifles that one day before had been brought of the barracks.


Underground work of YTZL was heard by the Judenrat, and  these said that it was a serious danger for the Ghetto. For not harming him, those in charge of distributing the work sent him with a group of 20 workers toward Bielovietz, where was built a road toward Kamenietz through the forest . This work was under the supervision of a construction company, and every Sunday the Ghetto provided them food.


It seemed to be that his destiny was already closely bound to his later function of partisan. Also here, after some time, he met accidentally with Russian partisans, while these collected strawberries in the forest (they were former soldiers of red army that stayed in the forest after army retreat). He sometimes met with them and they thought a new plan: to build refuges in the most deep places of the forest, transfer workers there, and in their substitution bring other men of the Ghetto. With the permission of the construction company, YTZL traveled to the Ghetto with the objective of contacting Judenrat. 


President YTZL YANOVITSH rejected categorically this proposal, using as excuse and basis the integrity and security of the Ghetto, more than the proposal.  The Judenrat said that Pruzhany Ghetto  would avoid the destiny of other Ghettos, because Pruzhany was declared by German power as Jewish meeting point. After the liquidation of all Ghettos around Pruzhany, all Jewish survivors, those that escaped from the knife or of the bullets,  found their place - at the moment - in Pruzhany's  Ghetto.


The work of underground organization, was very known and prepared. The atmosphere was full with explosive material, and the future partisans felt that came close the day of beginning to fight.


Pruzhany's Jews as Partisans


Inside closed Ghetto limits, was not any political activity, but there was an activity inside daily frame: help to those that suffered hunger, expelled homeless of near towns. All filled the Batei Midrashim and the old and half knocked down peasants' shanties.  From there arrived pain screams, the inhuman suffering, without being able to give necessary help.


At same time that existed the tragedy, appeared in the surface people that began to have an important role in the so called "public life". Besides the members of Judenrat, were Jewish policemen and work brigades. Also arose people with "own initiative": commandants, clandestine workers, leaders of diverse partisan fractions, owners of big underground bunkers where were carried out very secret meetings, and intermediary Jews that could achieve something with Ghetto Commandant who had in his hands the destiny of life and death. With the emergence of such leaders, a silent conflict began in the Ghetto, a longing of power, in particular for the weapons that were introduced in the Ghetto. 


Were strange, unknown people that were investigated by all. Each one had his nickname. For example, "the necessary Jude" that was incorporated in mysterious way to German army and remained in Pruzhany. His personal documents had wide stamps of German army and was protected by them. In Patopuwke  marauded an individual among low shanties, with a diplomatic past, and before him "should not" be spoken or remember, neither was he sent to work.


In a calm night, was killed in the Ghetto an individual called EPHRAIM. With regard to him, circulated many legends . Women said that he  was a representative of partisans groups that fought in near forests ...His death was  left as an enigma. Some commented that another fight group, headed by LEIBL MAISTER was involved in this crash, that arose for the weapons issue..


Also were optimistic individuals that looked for a miracle, be able to hold on to a thread and be able to survive; they called themselves "activists". Each street had its bunkers, its people sympathetic to them, and its leaders. Dozens of circles were created in most secret places.      


Of all these broken groups, after a long time crystallized a secret organization that was in contact with the partisans outside the Ghetto. This secret movement was divided in diverse fractions, and its preparation consisted on being able to get and repair weapons.  Regarding this issue, we already exposed in previous point. 


Judenrat considered this as a serious danger for the Ghetto. They sustained that Pruzhany's  Ghetto could avoid the extermination and would be dangerous to cause a fight.  Those suspected for introducing weapons were not sent to works where they were in contact with German army, as happened with YTZL FRIDBERG.


All these inconveniences made even more popular future partisans, because in each young man, burned the desire of vengeance . The members of the Judenrat, those active as the passive, were not willing to leave the Ghetto, and become a single fight unit with weapons in the hand. They had  diverse reasons: the objective situation was closely linked with the family, the risk of old parents' life, and this stopped them of taking such a chancy step.


Later they were able to contact  Russian partisans in near forests, through a man called OSTAPIUK, a Christian who informed them that they were willing to support partisan movement  in the Ghetto, and the most important: they offered necessary help in opportune moment. Twice visited OSTAPIUK the Ghetto, entering thought a secret road, a tunnel, that entering from an abandoned barn  ended in Kobrin street. His appearance in the Ghetto revived courage of the "groups". 


Before evacuating Pruzhany's Ghetto, came out to the forest the first partisans group; were 18 people. This group was in constant contact with other groups in the Ghetto. Two of them returned to the Ghetto to report and to prepare other groups to exit towards the forest. The road was between Zamoshe and Truchanovitz. There  was the temporary establishment of  Russian partisans that  should receive Jewish groups. 


In the critical day of evacuating the Ghetto, when the whole fence of spikes wire was severely watched over, in diverse points of the Ghetto, organized groups tried to escape under a rain of bullets. Together with these groups, left a quantity of young men that sometime in the past made fun of partisans. To abandon the Ghetto in the last moment, when arrived suddenly the order of evacuating, was like a terrible tempest that cost many murders. We reproduce next the testimony of MORDECHAI  BER SEGAL, one of the partisans.


... Whole night we wondered disoriented among snowy fields. To the dawn we arrived to the encounter point between Zamoshe and Truchanovitz. We hoped to meet previous Jewish group, as well as Russian partisans, but we didn't find them. We were in the forest of Zamoshe the whole day. It was Saturday. We waited three days, and nobody came. Later began to arrive another people of Pruzhany's Ghetto who had hidden in the bunkers,  and after the evacuation of the Ghetto, escaped at night. Also came some who escaped of the sleds in which were transported Jews toward the station.


A problem arose: how to order the diverse groups, that were already some 100 people ? Some left the forest, and could not tolerate cold and hunger. They went to hide to that of well-known peasants, and in the way fell in Germans hands .


Being exposed to hunger and cold, we decided to begin to do something. After first assaults to  near peasants, we got groceries, coat clothes, and necessary elements: axes, handsaws, hammers, pots, etc. Each group was integrated by 20 people, we built an underground bunker, camouflaged with branches and snow. We decided to remain this way during the months of cold. When beginning the spring we would gather Russian commands. After the assaults made on February 17 1943 to near villages,  peasants observed that were not Russian partisans but Jews of Pruzhany's Ghetto.


They denounced this fact to near German commands, and in a beautiful winter dawn the forest was surrounded by Germans, who together with  peasants began a wild persecution to our Pruzhany's Jews. After such a sudden attack, all began to leave bunkers barefoot and almost naked. One of them indicated us that we should ran toward the swamps that extended in the area. In that situation were killed 14 people. Some were caught alive by Germans , who also exploited the bunkers. 


The destiny of other groups of partisans of Pruzhany's Ghetto who went in address to the forests of Novidvor, was even worse. All were caught by the peasants that watched over the roads, and they gave them to the murderous Nazis"... 


These were first steps of Pruzhany's partisans until their later integration in the great regular partisan army.