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The Book of the Week is “From Ghetto to Guerrilla, Memoir of A Jewish Resistance Fighter” by Samuel Lato, published in 2006.
The Jewish author was born in February 1925 in the town of Baranowicze in eastern Poland, near Belarus. In September 1941, the Germans encircled his community with barbed wire and formed a ghetto. About ten Jewish families were crammed together (with about a nine feet of space per person) in each house previously owned by gentiles– who had fled or were evicted.
Living conditions were unsanitary and repugnant. The Nazi-imposed curfew meant that people risked getting summarily shot if they visited the outhouse after dark. So a pail was placed in the middle of the floor of the people-stuffed house. The author wrote, “The Nazi hatred permeated the entire town in the same way that the [latrine] pail stank up our whole house.”
The victims suffered many hardships, with only rationed bread, potatoes and flour for food. The able-bodied were forced to do hard manual labor to help the German war effort. Through the war years, the Germans committed atrocities against the Jews on their major holidays– herding a few thousand Jews into the woods, forcing the victims to: strip naked and dig their own graves; after which, the soldiers would shoot them dead.
In March 1942, the author left his parents and much younger brother to join the Resistance movement. A group of “partisans” hid in the woods of Poland, planning and carrying out life-saving operations of their fellow Jews, and secret acts of sabotage against the German war machine. The author began smuggling bullets, medicine and guns to his fellow Resistance members, risking his life with the help of his mission-teammates, traveling on foot long distances.
In spring 1943, the author was chosen to fight for a KGB-sponsored special-forces militia to help defeat the Germans. The Russians hated the Germans as much as the Jews did. In the following war-years, he and his fellow fighters destroyed by fire: a post office / telegraph and telephone station, bridges, a lumberyard, a bakery and a German-war-supply warehouse. The Polish military offered to recruit the author, but he declined because he knew that Polish people in general tended to be anti-Semitic.
Toward the end of the war, the author ended up in Gutstadt in East Prussia. The Russian militia occupied a bank building where they emptied out the vaults. They used some of the then-worthless paper currency to start fires in the pot-bellied stoves to heat the building. For, the winter of 1945 was extremely cold.
The aforesaid Baranowicze had a population of approximately 13,000 when it was turned into a Jewish ghetto. Read the book to learn how many Jews were left alive after its 1944 liberation by the Russians, plus much more about the author’s near-death, and life-affirming experiences during the war.