. In that interview Brantsovsky also stated: “I became a member of a group. I was given a rifle and then an automatic gun. I dragged it with me and took part in military missions. … We blasted trains and placed explosives in the enemy’s equipment. We shot and killed them. Yes, I did, I killed them and did so with ease. I knew that my dear ones were dead and I took my revenge for them and thousands others with each and every shot.” Since there is no evidence Brantsovky took part in any assaults on Germans, this may well be an allusion to the Koniuchy massacre. Antony Polonsky writes: “Rachel Margolis has since confirmed that her statement that Brantsovskaya participated in the attack on Kaniukai was based on hearsay and it has been accepted that Brantsovskaya did not actually take part in this incident.” See Polonsky, “Introduction” to Margolis, A Partisan from Vilna, 50. Once Margolis realized that she had mistakenly referred to Brantsovsky’s participation in the assault, she could have identified the female partisan who did take part but did not do so.
57 Margolis, Nemnogo sveta vo mrake, 411, as translated in Margolis, A Partisan from Vilna, 484, where it is explained that this is a play on two similar-sounding, but very different, Russian verbs: umet’, to be capable of, and imet’, to have or possess. It is unlikely that this event, which has the ring of truth, was simply concocted.
59 Smith, ed., Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust, 203.
60 The successful escape of about fifteen Jews held in an underground bunker in Ponary is described in Arad, Ghetto in Flames, 444–45, and Arad, The Holocaust in the Soviet Union, 503; however, the date of the escape is given as April 15 or 16, 1944, which follows the massacre in Koniuchy. (The Jews were part of Commando 1005 which was responsible for opening the mass graves and removing the corpses, then stacking them in large piles and burning them.) Eleven of the escapees reached Rudniki forest where they joined the Soviet partisans. See also Sakowicz, Ponary Diary, 1941–1943, 123–24; Margolis, A Partisan from Vilna, 485–86; Aleksander Dawidowicz, “Shoah Żydów wileńskich,” in Feliksiak, eds., Wilno–Wileńszczyzna jako krajobraz i środowisko wielu kultur, vol. 1, 273. The latter sources confirm that Poles, including those associated with the Home Army, assisted Jewish escapees from Ponary in making their way to the forest. See Margolis, A Partisan from Vilna, 486; Aleksander Dawidowicz, “Shoah Żydów wileńskich,” in Feliksiak, eds., Wilno–Wileńszczyzna jako krajobraz i środowisko wielu kultur, vol. 1, 269–70. After escaping from Ponary with other members of his work brigade, Mordechi Zeitel (Motka Zajdl) and his colleagues received help and directions from a Polish peasant. See the interview with Mordechi Zeidel, June 25, 1993, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Archives. A Jewish woman who survived a Lithuanian firing squad at Ponary, pulled herself out a pit full of corpses with a wound to her arm, bleeding, dishevelled and barefoot, and wandered in the direction of nearby villages where she received assistance from a number of Poles, despite their fear of German retaliation. See the testimony of Ita Straż in Tomkiewicz, Zbrodnia w Ponarach 1941–1944, 204.
61 Harmatz, From the Wings, 96.
62 Cohen, The Avengers, 144–45. According to this source, Koniuchy was a “pro-Nazi town on the edge of the forest. There was an enemy garrison nearby, and the Germans used Konyuchi [sic] as a staging point for sweeps and raids. They built towers around the town and organized a local militia; the militia had recently captured two partisans and tortured them to death.” Ibid., 144. This latter claim, for which there is no evidence in Soviet reports, is disputed by historian Rimantas Zizas. See Zizas, “Žudynių Kaniūkuose pėdsakais,” Genocidas ir rezistencija, no. 1 (11), 2002.
64 Ibid., 159–60. On the Home Army (“White Polish partisans”), Porat writes (at p. 159): “They also armed the peasants, fought against the Soviet partisans, and murdered scores of Jews who hid with peasants.” See also pp. 167–68, for similar charges. The Home Army had no spare weapons to arm villagers, rarely fought with the Soviet partisans in Rudniki forest, and did not as a rule murder Jews in hiding. Porat also makes the bizarre claim that, when the Polish partisans joined forces with the Soviets in July 1944 to liberate the city of Wilno, “White Poles tried to convince the [Soviet] partisan command to hand over the Jewish partisans and thus prevent them from entering Vilna [Wilno] … It was obvious that the Poles, who had already drawn their guns, were planning to kill the Jews as they had during combat in the forest.” Ibid., 178.
65 Michael Bart and Laurel Corona, Until Our Last Breath: A Holocaust Story of Love and Partisan Resistance (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2008), 228–30. Michael Bart refers to sporadic altercations with the Home Army and villagers, though he provides no details of any fatalities, only a few casualties. Bart spins the following story (at pp. 214–15), mixing fiction with fact, about the “food missions”. The notion that the Germans were available on call to protect the villagers from Soviet pillaging has little basis in fact.
Food missions were extraordinarily dangerous—much more so than sabotage. …
Food missions were another matter, for they involved farm families and villagers who were afraid of starvation and willing to protect what little they had with all the means at their disposal. A few times, shortly after their arrival in Rudnicki [Rudniki], the Jews had been able to simply promise payment after victory for supplies from a few local people wishing to help with the resistance, but even then they discovered that most villagers dislike the Jews and the Nazis about equally. However, as time passed and the peasants grew poorer and the number of partisans grew, the Avengers, like everyone else, were forced to turn to thievery and coercion to get what they needed to survive.
The Jewish detachments tried wherever possible to target villages and farms that were known for collaboration with the Germans to harm Jews. For this reason, in the beginning they often went much farther afield than they would otherwise have had to, bringing back food over great distances on foot or using wagons … Once inside the forest, they had to be careful to cover their tracks back to the camp. …
The time it took to bring food to the edge of the forest often gave those who had been robbed the chance to alert the Germans, and food parties sometimes had to scatter without their booty even before reaching the woods. They solved this problem either by resorting to villages or farms closer to the edge of the forest so they could escape quickly, or by taking a member of the targeted house hostage and forcing him to use the family wagon to take the supplies to the edge of the forest. The family of the hostage was told that if the Germans were sent after the departing partisans, the hostage would be shot. …
By early 1944, missions to procure food, tools, and the occasional weapon and ammunition from local farmhouses had resulted in many partisan casualties … The targeted house had to be surrounded so no one could escape to alert the authorities. While some partisans went inside to handle the occupants, other stood watch. The more people who came along, the more hands could carry the booty back to the camp …
66 Yossi Melman, “Nazi Hunter: Lithuania Hunts Ex-partisans, Lets War Criminals Roam Free,” Haaretz, August 7, 2008.