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Showing posts with label Dov Lopaytn. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Dov Lopaytn. Show all posts

Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Month in Jewish Partisan History: Łachwa Ghetto Uprising

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.

Lachwa (now Lakhva, Belarus). Ulica Lubaczyńska (Lubaczynska Street)

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.

Yitzhak/Isaac Rochzyn (or Icchak Rokchin), Łachwa Ghetto underground leader and head of local Betar Group.
When morning arrived, the ghetto inhabitants were ordered to gather for "deportation". The Germans promised Lopatyn that the Judenrat, the ghetto doctor, and 30 laborers of choice would be safe from deportation. Lopatyn refused the offer, reportedly responding: "Either we all live, or we all die."

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:

“The machine guns on the other side of the river opened fire along the length of Rinkowa street, wounding fleeing Jews and killing them…I also ran quickly, as the people who ran in front of me were shot and killed, their bodies falling next to me.”

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.