Shalom Yoran: Soldier who evaded the Nazis and fought with a Jewish resistance unit

 

Shalom Yoran was a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi invasion and occupation of his country. He evaded the Einsatzgruppen, or mobile extermination units, survived extreme winter conditions and went on to fight as a partisan in a Jewish resistance unit.

Born Selim Sznycer in Warsaw in 1925, Yoran, as he was later known, was the second son of Shmuel, a lumber yard owner, and his wife Hannah. The family moved to Raciaz, 100 kilometres north of Warsaw, when he was young. In August 1939 the Ribbentrop-Molotov Nazi-Soviet non-aggression pact was signed, dividing Poland, Romania, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia and Finland into Nazi and Soviet spheres of influence. Germany then invaded Poland from the west, the Soviet Union from the east.

As the Nazi occupation became more brutal, Yoran and his family fled east to Polish areas annexed and occupied by the Soviets, settling in the village of Kurzeniec. But when Germany invaded the Soviet Union in June 1941 it was only a matter of time before their village was overrun by the Germans. Shortly afterwards the Germans established a PoW camp for Soviet troops, who were treated no better than the Jews.

In 1942, the Einsatzgruppen, comprised primarily of German SS and assisted by Ukrainian, Lithuanian and Latvian auxiliary units and some local civilians, arrived to liquidate the Kurzeniec ghetto. Yoran recalled his mother saying, "Try to save yourselves and take vengeance for us." Yoran and his brother Musio escaped to a nearby barn, where they hid. More than 1,000 people were dragged from their homes and hiding places, shot en masse and their bodies burnt.

With the help of a friendly farmer the two brothers headed north-east and arrived in the forests around Lake Narach, in what is now Belarus. Here they found others in hiding. They built and dug a zemlyanka – an underground shelter – and endured a harsh winter, foraging and stealing whatever they could lay their hands on.

In spring 1943 Yoran and his colleagues came out of hiding. Without weapons they were denied entry to many partisan units. One, however, had a Jewish deputy commander, who told them to sabotage a factory in Kurzeniec that manufactured rifle butts for German weapons. Against the odds they succeeded, also managing to secure some basic weapons; Yoran felt he was beginning to fulfil his mother's wish.

Initially, fighting alongside non-Jewish Polish and Russian partisans, he was shocked to encounter antisemitism. "We were fighting against a common enemy, the Germans, whose aim it was to totally annihilate the Jewish people and to take over the Soviet Union," he said, "side by side with fellow fighters whose own hatred of Jews was notorious."

To maintain his morale, he recalled, "I told myself again and again that I was fighting as a Jew, with them, but not as one of them. I dreamed of having my own country, of fighting for it, and even dying for it."

Yoran soon heard rumours of an all-Jewish division of partisans, the FPO, or Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye [United Partisan Organisation], which had been established in what is now Lithuania, in Vilna, or Vilnius. Their motto – "We will not allow them to take us like sheep to the slaughter" – inspired Yoran and his comrades, and they joined up. The FPO co-ordinated their missions with Soviet forces; with the German defeat at Stalingrad, Yoran's unit ambushed the retreating Wehrmacht, cut communication lines, blew up bridges, planted mines and sabotaged railway lines.

When the Soviets liberated the partisans' operational area in 1944, Yoran and his comrades were drafted into the Russian regular forces. Fighting in the Red Army, he was appalled by the brutality and political persecution he experienced. Eventually he deserted and made his way to Italy, where he worked for the British Army until the end of the war.

Afterwards he worked for a group which disagreed with Britain's policy of limited immigration into British-controlled Palestine, and helped smuggle Jewish refugees from Europe. Yoran assumed a number of identities on his own journey there, eventually using a forged British Military passport to gain entry. Finally, in 1946, he became a legal citizen, having convinced the authorities that he was not a refugee but a lifelong resident of Palestine by assuming the identity of a dead cousin who shared his name.

Initially Yoran joined the Israeli army fighting the war of independence. With the foundation of Israel in May 1948 he joined the newly formed Israeli Air Force, learning aircraft maintenance and eventually becoming an officer. Here he met Varda and the couple married in 1954.

He later became an executive with Israel Aerospace Industries, which had been created to maintain Israel Defence Forces' aircraft. It went on to manufacture its own aircraft, both military and domestic, although it still remains reliant on US and European fighter planes.

In 1979, the family moved to the US and Yoran became chairman of a commercial aircraft company, manufacturing a variety of planes. In 1996 his memoir, The Defiant: A True Story of Jewish Vengeance and Survival, was published; he had started writing it when he arrived in Palestine but had put it to one side. Thereafter he lectured on his wartime experiences and helped found the Museum of Jewish Heritage. His brother Musio moved to Paris, changing his name to Maurice Sznycer; he became a professor of antiquities and West Semitic languages at the Sorbonne. He died in 2010.

Shalom Yoran, soldier, business executive and author: born Warsaw 29 June 1925; married 1954 Varda Granevsky (two daughters); died New York 9 September 2013.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before