Baruch Bernstein

* 1924  

  • “Our dugout was made in a slope and its size was about two or three meters. There was even a stove and beds made of wood. It was terrible and I was not used to sleeping on it, so it took me a long time to get used to it.”

  • “When the war broke out, I had just finished Jewish school and started working. When the war against Poland began in 1939, and then against the Soviet Union in 1941, anti-Jewish laws were passed in 1941. Jews were not allowed to study, they could not go out after 9 p.m., they had to wear the Star of David – and all this made me terribly angry. And I was not alone. A group of young people, were members of the illegal RMS, organized themselves quickly in our neighborhood. The RMS stood for Workers’ Youth Association, which was opposed to Nazism. And what were we doing? We were young, we were not so knowledgeable about politics, so we were writing anti-Nazi pamphlets and delivering them to mailboxes at nights. And in order to make it less conspicuous, we would always go as a group of couples – a boy and a girl. We pretended we were lovers; we even talked to policemen. Or we were writing anti-Fascist signs on walls. Again, we were doing it in groups of four or five, two were painting the sign and the others watched for the police.”

  • “The difference between the partisan movements in Yugoslavia and Bulgaria? Yugoslavia was a defeated state. When it was occupied by the Germans, Yugoslav soldiers had some weapons and kept them. They were receiving clothing and weapons from England the Soviet Union, whereas we never got anything. We were supposed to get some supplies, but I don’t know what happened—perhaps the airplanes could no see the signal fires or what not… Thus the biggest problem for the partisan movement in Bulgaria was its insufficient supply.”

  • “Pantera was a farmer who was stealing sheep. They caught and arrested him. In prison he met some communists and later became one himself. When the communists wanted to revolt in 1936, they were persecuted. But he managed to escape to Moscow via Istanbul and remained there for four to five years. In 1942 he was deployed as a paratrooper in Bulgaria. They made a mistake and dropped in at the wrong place, however. He fell right on the roof of a house which belonged to a Greek Orthodox priest! And the priest’s wife, when she heard the noise and saw a white clad figure- began shouting, “Father, father, come here! An angel fell from heaven!”

  • “For instance, we had various cover names, nicknames. I was called Račo. We did not know anything about each other except for, in my case; they knew I was from Sofia. Perhaps some knew that I was a Jew, but that was all they knew about me. To this day I do not know the real names of these people.”

  • “When the war ended in Bulgaria on September 9th 1944, some of us partisans decided to join the army and go fight the Germans. From Plovdiv we travelled to Sofia and then to Kjustendil. Then from there to Krushev, which is on the border between Serbia and Bulgaria. The heaviest fighting occurred at Kriva Palanka, but it was even worse at Kumanov. There were two hills, us on one of them and the Germans on the other. And we were all entrenched. We could not advance, because ahead was an open field. So we waited for the airplanes which would bomb their entrenchments where their machine-guns were. At first the planes arrived, then the tanks, and after that we were able to seize the spot. I experienced something horrible in this place: they were dropping bombs—and the bombs were awfully huge. They opened in the air and smaller bombs began dropping from them, one next to another. It was horrible—we were crouching there and could hear the roar. The bomb opened up, the metal sheets were ringing… you cannot imagine what it felt like. One looks at the sky, sees a bomb, and then comes a terrible roar and suddenly you have no clue what is going on. It was really terrible, but fortunately it lasted only for two or three days until we moved on.”

  • “The purpose of the organization was to form an army in Bulgaria, which happened in 1943. It was called the National Liberation Army, and it was divided in districts. In each district there was staff which issued orders and told others what to do. When there was a large operation planned, they would choose the groups which would carry it out. The most important were operations aimed against the supplying of the German army – destroying facotires, emptying silos… We would take everything and bring it to the villagers. They were very poor because they had to surrender everything. In the national administration offices, which were in towns or larger villages, we were also destroying the archives with records about amounts to be levied from individual persons. We were seizing weapons from then gendarmes because our most serious and worst problem was that we did not have enough weapons.”

  • “We had supplies of flour, some fat, and cheese. We had it in storage and we would cook a corn mush out of it. Water, corn flour, some fat, and a bit of salt. Each of us would get one portion, and we would eat this meal in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. It was terrible. At one time we were without salt. That was horrible. And more, it was in winter.”

  • “The most important thing of all is for a human to be a human. Then he can be rich or poor -- it doesn’t matter --but above all he must be human.”

  • “Panter shaved daily. We all wore shirts with large pockets and he always carried a shaving cream in one of them. I laughed at him, but he said: ´´In Moscow I was going to the Bolshoy Theater, and I will look decent here as well.´ He did not want people to think that we were some bandits. We were handsome boys.”

  • “As I was standing there, a mother of one of our partisans approached me. She was looking at me in the darkness and telling me, “Boy, I can’t recognize you, you are not from this region, are you? Where are you from?” and I said, “I’m from Sofia.” And she says, “Your poor mom! What is your poor mommy doing? We have our children here, but what about your mommy?” And she started crying. It was incredible; I was truly touched by it. By this mother thinking of another mother, who did not know what her son was doing. I was very affected by this. I only regret that I cannot write so well, so that I could describe the episode further. It was so extraordinary.”

  • “In nearly every village we had people who protected us and supported us. They were telling us what was going on and where the gendarmes were. The gendarmes were neither the police nor the army. They were volunteers who were fighting against the partisans and in return had some benefits from it.”

  • “It was in autumn, at that time we would be going through the village at nights. People were giving us supplies, they were hiding them in one place in the forest. Meanwhile, we were carrying out various operations. The winter was the worst. We could not go out, because we would leave traces. But when the winter was over, we could walk through the village in groups.” “It was autumn, at that time we would be going through the village at nights. People were giving us supplies by hiding them in a particular spot in the forest. Meanwhile, we were carrying out various operations. The winter was the worst. We could not go out because it’d leave traces. But when the winter was over, we could walk through the village again in groups.”

  • “Since the end of 1941, partisans were being formed in Bulgaria. But in Sofia, where the resistance was concentrated, the police kept an eye on them. For example, one day people were forbidding from coming out and the police went house by house searching for weapons. At that time I was already wanted by the police. We eventually had to leave Sofia. We had no place for us to sleep or hide. Thus a group of us left and at night we went to Stara Zagora. One of us was originally from there and his father was a partisan’s messenger there. So the five of us went there and it was great fun. I never wore the Star of David. I had a gun in my pocket and when this one fascist pointed it out, I pulled it on him and said, “Get away!” As Jews, we were not even allowed to travel. We purchased separate tickets for different seats because we didn’t want to be noticed as a group travelling illegally. Later on at one station, we all got off the train.”

  • “In Bulgaria, anti-Semitism was almost non-existent. There were groups of young people which were organized into some fascists organizations, like Ratnik and others, and they would come to neighborhoods where many Jews were living to break shop windows. However, they were never successful, because our neighbors who were also living there would always go against them with rocks and chase them away.”

  • “We were in a village called Pozduganovo. We were preparing for a big attack—there were about fourteen of us. We were sleeping in a forest then. I was on duty, patrolling by the road, watching for anything unusual. I heard some voices and quickly returned. They were the Gendarmes. We took our positions; it was a forest with trees that don’t shed leaves—and oak forest. The oak leaves fall only in the spring and then new ones replace them. So we were lying on the ground and we could see them, but the Gendarmes could not see us. And our commander ordered, “There will be no shooting unless I give the command!” and we heard that they split up and the two of them were walking separately. We caught one of them. Then we were waiting until they were ten or fifteen meters from us when the commander ordered, “Fire!” He began shooting as well. He had a Soviet automatic rifle. We killed about three or four people, the others started running away, but when we caught some of them, we killed them too.”

  • “There was one Soviet general with us and my task was to protect him. He would always tell me to lie down, so I lay down, but he would step up to the biggest rock there to observe the operations. I kept telling him not to do it, but he was just making fun of me. And he never got hit, the shells always just passed by him.”

  • Full recordings
  • 18

    Praha, 17.10.2005

    (audio)
    duration: 57:15
    media recorded in project Stories of 20th Century
Full recordings are available only for logged users.

Our commander never let us go to a village if we were not shaved and our hair not cut. He did not want the villagers to think that we were some bandits. We were handsome boys then.

Baruch Bernstein
Baruch Bernstein

Baruch Bernstein was born to a Jewish family in Sofia in 1924-the family was very poor. When he was 15, World War II broke out. Motivated by various anti-Semitic regulations, he decided to join the youths who were involved in the resistance activities. A year later he joined the partisans and remained with them for two years. After the war ended for Bulgaria, he went to fight in Macedonia as a volunteer and took part in the fighting at Mt. Stracin. After the end of the war, he went to study mechanical engineering in Czechoslovakia and eventually decided to settle there for family reasons.