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elvira kohn

Each one of us had his duties and knew what he/she was supposed to do. I knew exactly what took place when and where, in terms of meetings, conferences, events, campaigns, and I followed the schedule. I was the only female photo-reporter within ZAVNOH. There were two other male photo-reporters, but sometimes there were called in for other duties, so there were times when I was the only photo-reporter for ZAVNOH.

After the supreme headquarters formed their own public-relations department, I started to work for them, and I stayed there until the war was over.

For a while we stayed in Topusko and were about to start the preparations for celebrating 8th March [International Women's Day]. However, we received the order to move to Zadar. Zadar was terribly bombed, but liberated, and so we were given orders to reach Zadar.

After we packed our belongings, we set out on our journey from Topusko to Zadar. In front of us was a Russian military mission, the English and the Americans, and each had flags on their trucks. And, again, the day was sunny and clear, the Germans saw the truck convoy and started bombing. When we were forming our convoy, each truck had a number; each department received a number and had to load the truck with the corresponding number.
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While I was with the partisans, I always emphasized that I was Jewish. I've never hidden the fact that I am Jewish. There was also no need; as soon as I said that I had been on the Island of Rab, it was known that I was Jewish. I said I was Jewish so that I wouldn't put anyone or myself in an uncomfortable position.

I wanted to let everyone know so that nobody would say anything against the Jews. There were other Jews with me in ZAVNOH in other departments. Some were typists, some clerks, and so on. Nobody treated us any different than the rest. There were Croats, Serbs, Slovenes, Jews. Everyone was treated equally, and the relations among us were fine. We all had a common goal: to liberate our country and bring about peace.
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When the partisans arrived from Crikvenica on the Island of Rab, whoever wanted to join the partisans could join them. A group of young Jewish boys registered and was sent to Korski Kotar. Most of them didn't know how to use weapons so many of them lost their lives soon after they were liberated from Rab.

I immediately decided to join the partisans. They asked every one of us individually what we wanted, where we wanted to go, which brigade we want to join, what our profession was. I told them I was a professional photographer, and that I had a camera, that I had a Leica.

They were very surprised to hear this, and very glad, so they invited me to join the advertising and public-relations department of ZAVNOH [8], which was situated in Otocac at the time. They asked about my mother and what her profession was. So I said she was a housewife, and they replied that she should also come because we would need her around the kitchen. And so we left the Island of Rab; most of the inmates from the camp decided to join the partisans.

We got aboard a large boat that had both motors and sails, and arrived in Senj. Senj was completely bombed and destroyed, the whole town except for a church. We stayed in the church for several nights and slept on the wooden church benches. From Senj, we left on ox-drawn carts across Velebit and reached Otocac. For a while we stayed there. My mother worked in the kitchen, and I was part of the public-relations department of ZAVNOH. Apart from this department, there were other departments, like the educational, cultural, technological one and others.

My job was to take photos of various events that took place within ZAVNOH. They had board meetings, conferences, workshops, exhibitions, concerts; all kinds of events were taking place. It was like a government so many activities were going on, and I had to take photos of all the events. All the high-ranking officials of the government were there.
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Janina Duda

Meanwhile, after several weeks, this was the end of October 1942, a Ukrainian peasant came in the morning, driving a cart, and shouted, ‘The Red Army is coming!’ it turned out that large partisan forces had come from the interior of Ukraine, moving to western Ukraine. Of course, we went to the command straight away and asked to join. And they accepted us.

[Editor’s note: Mrs. Duda refused to talk about her wartime fate after joining the Red Army. Her friend, Grzegorz Lewi, died on 9th February 1943 in Khrapun.]

I described the period of the war when I was a civilian and the partisan forces that’s... I was in a partisan unit, I was sent to a unit in the village of Kupel [50 km north of Rivne, about 400 km south east of Warsaw, today Ukraine]. The war ended in this area in 1944. I joined the army and I was transferred to Poland, dropped with a parachute.
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The first night we were there several partisans came round. They said they were going on a mission, so they couldn’t take us with them but they said they would come to get us on their way back. They didn’t come.
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And we were looking for partisans; there were already rumors in the area that we really wanted to join them. I have never told anyone about this period, this is really new. The chief of police was there, from the White Guard. Once, when we were going to the second warehouse in the woods near Svaritsevichi, we were hoping to find the partisans along the way. And this chief of police invited us for vodka and some food and he says, ‘So, are we going to meet with partisans?’ That’s what it looked like.

So we finally decided to give it all up, our situation was unstable and we wanted to join the partisan troops. So we decided to go into the woods, to go east. And this peasant, his last name was Shchur, who was once the manager of the warehouse, took me to a woman from the village of Ozery, who had a Jewish husband or friend. I stayed with her for one night and she went to get Grzegorz herself and walked him to that place. I had some baked chickens which my friend, Pogorzewiczowa, made for me. We were helped the most by the researchers of the Holy Scriptures – some sect [probably Jehovah’s Witnesses]. They were deeply religious people, whose faith obligates them to help others. They led us from one village to another.

The Gestapo looked for us in the first house, because we burned all the documents from the warehouse and all the grain, with Shchur’s help, was taken by the peasants. This Shchur was later tortured by the Germans, beaten, but he didn’t tell them anything. The peasants, when they got their grain, didn’t say anything of course. The Germans never got the grain and all the documents were burned. Such an act of sabotage was death for us. So they were looking for us. They sent out arrest warrants and the Gestapo.

We were in the barn and the peasant was in the house. The peasant slipped out and he led us through mud to another village. These villages were so-called ‘chutory’ [old Polish word], settlements where each house is surrounded by an entire estate. This was all in Palyeskaya Nizina. But nobody knew we were Jewish. They only knew that the Gestapo was looking for us for sabotage, for the grain warehouse. Perhaps they suspected it, I don’t know. We had these backpacks with all our things: the Jews with whom we had stayed in Vysotsk gave us some rags, sheets, such things. We had a deal that if they survived, we would give everything back to them. This Jewess told me that if her child ran away to me, I would manage to somehow save him. I wanted to tell her – the blind leading the blind. But there were such situations.
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Rahela Perisic

In 1944 I caught pneumonia. The war efforts, hunger, walking, exhausted me
terribly. My unit decided to transfer me to liberated territory from the
medical facility. As soon as I got a little better I began to work in the
youth organization in the liberated territory. This was in Bosanski
Petrovac in Grahovo, in Jajce and in Travnik. At that time I was selected
to be part of the top leadership for Bosnia and Hercegovina in the Central
Committee of Anti-Fascist Youth. My work was a great help to our army. I
organized youth to help carry the wounded, to plow, dig, sow since all the
food was sent to the front lines. We started a literacy course, we taught
the youth many useful things and skills. For this work I was also awarded.
I received a lot of recognition. I received awards for serving Bosnia and
Hercegovina, for contributing to the fight, and after the war for my work
with children. I was in Bugojno until 1945 when I heard that Belgrade was
liberated. Naturally we were overjoyed, however all of Yugoslavia was still
not liberated. Fortunately that too happened.
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Arnold Fabrikant

During any military campaign initiated in the USSR, my father was immediately taken to the army. He took part in the operations for the annexation of Western Belarus and Western Ukraine [see Annexation of Eastern Poland] [10], and Moldova [11] to the USSR and took part in the Finnish War [12]. He was in the rank of colonel and had the position of chief physician of the army.
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Albert Eskenazi

We came to
Topusko, where there were many deserted hotels and buildings, and we found
accommodation there. Everyone had work. My mother worked as a cook and my
sister and I took care of some baths. This was the spa at Topusko; there
was a building with pools of warm water from nearby springs. We bathed
every day and they called us the cleanest partisans, because partisans
tended to have lice and only bathed once in a while. I became a courier,
first in the command center in Topusko and then in the Zavnoh, the anti-
fascist organization. This was the partisan authority for Croatia.

Zavnoh had its own management, technical and health sections, the
partisans' future ministry. I was assigned to the management department,
which was responsible for legislation. My boss was Leon Gerskovic, a Jew.
He later became the third most-important person dealing with legislation in
Yugoslavia: first was Mosa Pijade, then Kardelj and then Leon Gerskovic.
When they transferred me to the propaganda section, where the mimeograph
machines spun out materials, this started my love of printed things, of
printing things. I was in this section of Zavnoh almost until the end of
the war. When the Germans capitulated, Zavnoh was moved to Sibenik,
liberated territory, as was the rest of Dalmatia.
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danuta mniewska

A month before liberation Zygmunt China came to us. He told us the AK had passed a death sentence on us, that they wanted to liquidate us - so that after the war no one would know that they blackmailed us and took all our money. 'They'll throw in a couple of grenades to get rid of you. Because the Germans have issued an arrest warrant for me, I told them I'd hide with you: "If you waste them, you'll waste me. But I want you to know that I'm going to join them."' That's what he told us, but whether it was the truth, I don't know. And indeed he came to hide with us.

In mid-January [16th January 1945] the Russians marched in and he immediately went out of hiding. We were afraid the Germans could still come back. And on the same day the NKVD [24] arrested him. I think it was his wife who contacted us and told us about that. I was a young girl, unaware of things; I only knew he had been arrested. He spent two years in a camp in Siberia. He returned seriously ill, lived in Zabrze [60 km south-west of Czestochowa], founded some small business, I think. And soon afterwards he died. And with Domzal, the young AK member, we remained on the best possible terms. No one said anything about Zygmunt's blackmail offer even though we knew it was Domzal's doing, that it was him who had told Zygmunt about us.
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Klimczak's father came and said his son had been taken, but that they had already contacted Zygmunt China. And Zygmunt arranged for the young Klimczak to be released. He bought him out, the AK had access to corrupt German officials. I don't know precisely what, where, and how. Perhaps my uncle knew, but the others didn't, we weren't let in on those things.
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The man that came to blackmail us was called Zygmunt China [22]. He was a high-ranking Home Army officer - the head of the Czestochowa area executive. We eventually became such friends with him that when we had no money, he'd bring us gold 20-dollar coins, if someone was sick, he'd help. Even his wife came to visit us on holidays, the Catholic ones. My husband and cousins started preparing materials for underground newsletters. They sat all day in front of the radio, listening to all the stations - they had studied abroad so they knew several languages. China did the rest.

I remember one day came a wagon with slaughtered pigs and rams. Zygmunt's people had carried out a raid on some Volksdeutscher farmer [23]. And we had to dress all that meat. Officially, it went to the boys in the forest. But those that brought the stuff were robbers and the best stuff went to the AK leadership, leaving only bones for the partisans. So it was such a house - not only Jews, a radio, but also the meat...
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Another one, Domzal, a young Home Army [21] soldier, took money from the 'banker' guy and brought to us.
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Rifka Vostrel

In 1943 after the Italian capitulation [8], my whole family and I joined the partisans. The Jews who stayed in Split and didn't want to leave were killed by the Ustashas and the Germans. Because I was in the youth organization and doing illegal work, I knew that something would happen. In the youth organization we were very well organized.

We were divided into groups of several girls each. From time to time we used to meet, but every time in a different apartment. There we read literature that was printed on unoccupied territory ['Omladinski borac' - 'Youth Fighter'], exchanged experiences about books and which books should be read - we mostly read Soviet literature - and finally addressed concrete problems.

Once, I was obligated to distribute flyers - I don't recall what they were about, but I remember, in one house that I went to, the door was open. It was rude of me to just enter, walk in and leave the flyer on a small wardrobe. Who knows if it was or wasn't a pleasant surprise for the family.
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