Women of Valor: Partisans and Resistance Fighters
Evelyn Kahn - Part III
Because there was no man in our family my mother became the man. She was the sole breadwinner for our little family. The way to find bread was to go to beg from the farmers. Each person took his life into his own hands. She would go out with the men. Each person would take on a particular farmer's house. If you were lucky, you got something. If you were unlucky, you could be chased away or killed. My mother kept on doing it until the end of the war, in the bitter cold, with her legs wrapped in rags. She was cracking the ice on the rivers to get through to the farmers to get something. As a result of it, today, of course, my mother's legs are gone. A very price to pay. My mother saw to it that I should have food and did.
She couldn't save me from illness. For the second time in my young life I was very sick. At the age of ten I had a severe case of typhus. That same year, 1942, my cousin Joseph was born. It was January 31st, during a bitter frost. God knows what the temperature was, but I am sure that it must have been 40 below zero there. My aunt was giving birth to her son. She was in excruciating pain. My mother risked her life going to another forest, approximately 100 kilometerse away, to get a midwife, to help my aunt deliver. She brought back this girl who did help my aunt. My aunt gave birth to this child in the most unbelievable circumstances. It was during an oblava. The Germans were in the forest chasing us, killing many people. Not only wsa the weather against us, the geography was against us. The ziemlanka was in extremely low ground. During the time of the baby's delivery men were standing and bailing out almost sixty pails of water. How my aunt delivered the child is beyond me; I really can't comprehend it. I had fever because of the typhus during that time. There were no drugs available. My mother used to go out and melt some snow and that was the nourishment that I was given. I believe that if you're destined to live, nothing can stop you, because I did survive.
We had so much lice that it became a sport to count the different types and count how many feet on each louse. They were sorted out into categories: yellow, red, black, and by shapes. It was unreal. As bad as it was, people tried to maintain their sense of humour. The lice ate us to death. They were nice and fat with our blood and we were getting thinner. I was covered with lice from malnutrition, plus the illness. I had very nice long hair and my mother always took pride in braiding it for me, even in the most difficult circumstances like in the forest. One of the tragedies was that we had to cut off my hair. I looked like a boy.
I remember seeing the baby, my little cousin, Joseph, who was a detriment at that time. What kind of chance did he have for survival in such circumstances? I remember my grandmother, may she rest in peace, took him as her personal responsibility. Every time the Germans would suddenly come out of their trucks chasing us, looking for us, we would run, everyone in different directions.
My grandmother always managed to grab the baby and run with him. In those days, running with a baby meant certain death. Babies cry; he was a sure give-away for the others. I remember sitting in a ziemlanka. It was very well covered, protected with trees. We heard the White Russians and the Poles, all of them marching practically on top of us. We were thinking that we would be discovered at any moment. When one of the children was about to cough, a mother put her hand against his mouth. Unfortunately, there were several children that suffocated that way. I used to be as quiet as a mouse during these raids. I think that to this day I breathe through my nose and not through my mouth, because of those circumstances. It was very difficult during these bitter times but I also remember some good times, even in the forest. On good days the Russian Partisans would come to our ziemlanka and they would keep us company. Some would even play cards. Many, many times there would be somebody with an accordion. I had a fairly good voice and I learned all the partisan songs. I would always sit on somebody's lap, singing away, and a Russian partisan would be playing and it was like being home in a way for that moment. And then of course, it would start all over again.
It got to the point where the raids were so frequent that in one night we ran from forest to forest, about 140 kilometers. How each person found the strength to do it is beyond me. I guess the will to survive is very strong. In a way it was like in the ghetto. The raids were so sudden, they jumped at us, and we were fleeing like animals. We were fleeing in all directions. During these raids, my mother always tried very hard for us to stay together so we wouldn't lose each other. During one particular raid I ran ahead and I lost my mother for a while until we found each other. A middle-aged lady was killed right next to me, as she was running. She was only one of about seventy people who were killed in this raid alone. They were buried in a mass grave.