Hershel Zimmerman was born in the town of Gorzkow, Poland in 1918. After the German occupation he was sent to a labor camp from which he escaped. Zimmerman hid in Lubien, a village which was under Russian control. When the Germans reached the village he fled to the forest and joined the partisans. He fought in their ranks until liberation. After liberation he immigrated to the United States, where he died in 1989. The following are stories from his life as a partisan.|
When the Germans reached the village of Lubien, an order was promulgated that it was forbidden to employ Jews on the farms. Hershel, who was working on one of the farms in Lubien, joined with his friend Mania from a neighboring farm, and the two of them went eastward. On the way they stayed in a hut in which Jews from the area were hiding. They were planning to return to the nearby Wlodawa Ghetto. Hershel told them of his plan to go to the forests, and 15 of them decided to join him. Hershel and his friends Mania and Monique left to procure food for the group, but when they returned they could not find their friends. A farmer who supported them gave them a place to stay, and told them that the members of their group had been murdered by the inhabitants of the area.
The three continued to the forest and joined a group of 18 Jews who were in hiding. In a German attack the whole group was captured, but when they were being led away by their captors, they managed to escape. During their flight, the friends lost each other. After several days of wandering in the forest some of them managed to reunite. They set up a partisan group, obtained weapons and began to fight, while constantly evading the Germans. Many of them were killed during the recurrent German assaults.
During the winter of 1942-1943 some members of Zimmerman's partisan group decided to enter the Wlodawa Ghetto to avoid being in the forest in the intense cold. When spring came,only Chaim Barbanel returned to the forest. He came with another man from the ghetto called Moshe Lichtenberg, and the two of them told the group what was happening to the Jews in the ghetto, and that some of the youth were organizing to leave for the forest. The group decided to send Lichtenberg back to the ghetto, to prepare the youth for partisan life. The group waited for him in a nearby forest. It was Passover eve. After waiting for three hours Monique, who was on guard, noticed figures approaching. It was Lichtenberg with 15 youths whom he had brought out of the ghetto A week later a group of partisans returned to the ghetto and brought another group of 20 youths. Altogether they brought over 100 Jews out of the ghetto. Several days later the ghetto was liquidated, and its inhabitants were sent to Sobibor.
All through the spring of 1943 the partisans continued to attack German targets. After one of their ambushes, they met a small group of partisans. It turned out that this was the vanguard of the partisan company led by Yehiel Grinspan. Grinspan, who was the head of the Jewish partisan company which operated in the Lublin area, accepted them into his unit. Within Grinspan’s camp a special camp was set up for Jews who were unable to fight, where refugees from the ghettos and Jews who were wandering in the forests were gathered. Together with Grinspan's group they joined the Armia Ludowa (the Polish-Socialist underground which supported the Soviet Union).
The Adampol estate was about 13 kilometers from Wlodawa. The Germans set up a labor camp there and sent young and healthy Jews from the Sobibor death camp to work there. The partisans were aware of what was happening in the camp. One day a young boy called Shenka escaped from the camp and reached the partisans. The partisans decided to raid the camp. Twenty members, including Zimmerman, were chosen to carry out the operation.
When they reached the camp, Shenka stole inside through a hole in the fence and brought out five prisoners with him. The prisoners found it hard to believe in the partisans' plan, but they joined them anyway. On Zimmerman's advice it was decided that Shenka would remain in the camp and would convince other prisoners to join the partisans. The following night Shenka brought several partisans into the camp, to meet in a secluded hut with some prisoners. Zimmerman spoke with the prisoners and some of them were convinced by his words and joined the partisans. A week later the partisans returned to their camp with ten women and thirty men from the labor camp.
The third time that the partisans came to the camp, it was surrounded by a company of S.S. The Germans brought the 800 prisoners who were in the camp outside. The prisoners and partisans were surrounded by German soldiers, and after they tried to break through the siege, they were fired upon. Some prisoners and partisans managed to escape, but most of them were slaughtered. In this manner the Adampol camp was liquidated. Before its liquidation the partisans managed to bring out one hundred prisoners to the forest.
By the spring of 1944 the partisan group numbered about 400 fighters. The manhunt after them conducted by the Germans broadened. In June 1944 news began to arrive of the approach of the Red Army. The retreating German Army was afraid that the partisans would pursue them.
In July a number of German divisions surrounded the forest and besieged it. After long hours of fighting the partisans retreated into the depths of the forest, but the Germans did not pursue them. The partisans decided to split up. The Russian group continued on to the nearby forest. Zimmerman’s group waited for instructions from the headquarters of the Armia Ludowa.
No message had arrived by nightfall, so Grinspan collected a few men and left with them in the direction of headquarters. At headquarters there was only a single courier, who instructed the partisans to continue to the town of Ostrow Lubelski in the area of Lublin and to join the partisans there. After walking for several hours the partisan reached the border of the forest near Ostrow Lubelski. Heavy fire was directed at them, but they evaded it under cover of darkness and went to another section of the forest. Zimmerman and other fighters were sent as a vanguard into the open area. The Germans spotted them immediately and began to fire on them. The group retreated once more into the forest. These moves repeated themselves in several places. When the partisans realized that they stood no chance of breaking through the encirclement, they decided to split up again. This time Zimmerman headed a group of thirty fighters. After further fire from the Germans, it was decided to retreat and to hide during the day. The group found a store of food which some of the members had hidden the previous summer, and so they were saved from hunger. Their thirst, however, grew due to the saltiness of the food.
Three days after the beginning of the German encirclement, Zimmerman's group decided to break through. The plan was to cross the main road under cover of darkness, to hide in one of the farmers' houses in the area and to advance during the night to the area near the partisans.
The main road was crowded with German military vehicles which passed without let-up. The partisans lay in a ditch near the road and waited. Close to daybreak a German plane forced flares which lit up the sky. It was clear to the comrades that they would have to hide. They took advantage of a temporary lull in the traffic, crossed the road and entered the house of a nearby farm.
Zimmerman forbade the residents of the house to leave and placed a guard at every window. The cows began to low. A neighbor who knocked on the door of the farm was imprisoned in the house also. Forty people were in the house until the afternoon hours -- thirty partisans and ten locals. Through the windows they could see German soldiers running about everywhere.
Suddenly there was a strange silence. In the afternoon a neighbor came into the house and told them that the Germans had retreated, and that the Russians were in the town. Through the window they could see a line of tanks with the Red Star on them - the Russian Army. The partisans joined the Red Army and reached the town of Parchew, where they learned what had happened to their friends.
The following day, July 22, 1944, they met their friends from Grinspan's group and continued on to Lublin. Zimmerman wanted to return to Gorzkow, his hometown, but an acquaintance whom he met from Lublin dissuaded him from doing so. This acquaintance told him that the Jews of Gorzkow had been sent to the Izbica Ghetto, and from there to Sobibor.
After the pogroms at Kielce in July 1946, Zimmerman moved to a Displaced Persons camp in Germany near the city of Wassenberg. In February 1947 he embarked on a ship in Hamburg for the United States, where he changed his name to Harold Werner.
Hershel Zimmerman, that is Harold Verner, died in the United States on December 4, 1989.
And Harold Werner's excellent book "Fighting Back".
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