By the 1930s, Łachwa, Poland (now southern Belarus) had a majority Jewish population, which, in April 1942, was confined to a ghetto so under-suited that each resident had about one square meter of living space.
In the five short months of the ghetto’s existence, the youth of Łachwa formed an underground movement led by Isaac Rochczyn and aided by Dov Lopatyn, head of the ghetto’s Judenrat. Together, they established contact with partisan groups in the area in order to secure funding and weapons, although these groups were largely anti-Semitic and did not effectively support the movement.
In August 1942, residents heard from Jews forced to do labor outside the ghetto that nearby ghettos in Łuniniec and Mikaszewicze had been liquidated. On September 2, Lachwa was informed that local farmers were ordered by the Germans to excavate large pits outside the town. Rochczyn and the youth underground wanted to attack the ghetto wall at midnight to allow the population to flee. They watched as 150 German soldiers from an Einsatzgruppe mobile killing squad with 200 local auxiliaries surrounded the ghetto. Lopatyn, however, did not want to abandon the elderly and the children and he asked that the attack be postponed until the morning, allowing the Judenrat to discuss their options.
Lopatyn and Rochczyn made the decision to resist. Lopatyn set the Judenrat headquarters on fire to signal this decision. The youth resistance engaged the Germans and local collaborators with axes, sticks, Molotov cocktails, and even their bare hands, while others attempted to flee. Rochczyn killed a Gestapo officer with an ax and jumped into the river but was shot and killed. Kopel Kolpanitzky, who later wrote a book about surviving the Łachwa ghetto, recalls the chaos of his escape:
Lachwa lost the majority of its population that day. A number of survivors, however, were able to join up with partisan units in the area. Dov Lopatyn, who fought alongside the youth of the ghetto, escaped to the forest and joined a partisan unit, as well. Though he was killed on an operation by a landmine in February 1945, Lopatyn leaves a legacy of his courage and leadership, underneath which the Jews of Łachwa stood up to their oppressors.