B i o g r a p h y
Shalom Yoran was born in Poland and from the age of 14 lived under Nazi occupation. From the day the Germans invaded Poland, in September 1939, he lived, together with his older brother and his parents in flight from the Germans.
In 1942, after his parents were murdered in Kurenets, Belorussia, Shalom and his brother fled to the forests in order to join the partisans. Afterwards, they joined the Red Army and much later, the Polish Army. They continued their fight against the Nazis until the end of WWII.
Beginning in 1945, Shalom, provided with false papers, wandered across Europe with the intention of reaching Eretz Yisrael. His attained his goal in 1946 , 21 years old, alone and empty-handed.
His mother’s last words to him became his guiding principle: they (he and his brother) were to save themselves, to avenge their parents’ deaths and to bring the knowledge of the Holocaust to the awareness of the world.
In order to fulfill his mother’s wish, in 1946 Shalom wrote his memories of the war years in detail, intending to publish them at a later date. And indeed, his book is based on these memoirs.
With the founding of the State of Israel, he joined the Air Force and served there for 17 years. Upon his release he joined the newly formed Israel Aircraft Industries, while completing his degree in Aeronautical Engineering. For 22 years he worked to strengthen the IAI, which gained a world-wide reputation and became the largest industrial concern in Israel.
For the last 10 years of his working life he served as the President of Bedek, the aircraft maintenance division, and Senior Assistant General Manager of IAI. When he retired at the age of 50, he was appointed the President of Atasco, an American Flight company for cargo shipment and maintenance. Shalom Yoran is a recognized expert in the field of flight, and his name is mentioned in international journals as a man of exceptional accomplishments.
In 1990 he came across the manuscript from 1946 which described his memories of the war. With the help of his wife, Varda, he translated his memoirs into English and they published the book: The Defiant: a True Story. The book was first published in English in 1996, by St. Martin’s Press and in 1998 it was published in a Hebrew translation.
Shalom is known as a philanthropist and supporter of causes in which he believes. Among his many good works, is the help and support he gave for the publication of a book which describes the struggle of a group of Jewish partisans in the forests of Belorussia.
He is one of the groups of founders of the Museum of Jewish Heritage and the Holocaust in New York, a member of the Board of Trustees of Tel Aviv University and is involved in the management of the Ghetto Fighters Museum.
In the city of Kurenets in Belorussia, he erected a memorial to the memory of the 1040 local Jews, his parents among them, who were massacred by the Nazis. He also established a scholarship fund at Tel Aviv University in memory of his parents, which awards an annual scholarship for research into European Jewry. The president of the New York borough of Manhattan, Mrs. Ruth Messinger, designated September 12,1996 as Shalom Yoran Day.
In 1997 he was awarded an achievement prize by Tel Aviv University for his war against the Nazis and for documenting the Jewish fight against the Nazis.In 1998 Shalom Yoran was awarded an honorary doctorate in philosophy.
He is a frequently invited to speak before high-school and university students about the role of the Jewish partisan in the fight against the Nazis.
Interview with Shalom Yaron
1. What does it feel like to spend 6 months underground?
"It is preferable to life in the ghetto, in a death camp or in a city under Nazi occupation, but we were not aware of this when we were in Zimlaka. After our parents were murdered, my brother and I found ourselves in the forest. Together with three other Jews we built Zimlaka for ourselves: we dug a deep pit in the depths of the forest near a river and we turned it into a hiding-place, part underground and part above ground. We left an opening to use as an entrance and a source of daylight. We covered the top of the pit with leaves and logs which served as camouflage. We used the stove which we stole for heating and cooking. When our food supply ran out, we emerged during snowstorms, so that our footprints would be obliterated quickly. We cooked our food, which consisted mainly of potatoes, at night, so that the smoke would not be seen outside. We went out only to renew our supply of water and to remove waste. During the cold winter nights, we slept on wooden bunks. We made every effort to keep the place clean and hygienic.
We passed our time during the day talking and playing chess: the board was drawn on the dirt floor and the chess pieces were bits of potato. When the snow melted, in spring, we went out into the fresh air, pale and blinded by the sunshine. We began to undertake various missions: sometimes we walked for several days to our destination, while carrying heavy equipment on our backs. We walked only at night in order not to be discovered.
Food was a very expensive and rare necessity. The local inhabitants hated us, the Nazis hated us and so did the partisans. We were afraid that the non-Jewish partisans would steal our weapons while we slept, and then we would be expelled from the unit because we were without weapons. There were occasions when, after successfully completing a mission, the partisans would celebrate by drinking vodka, getting drunk and killing Jewish partisans.
There was no reaction by the officers to the manifestations of anti-Semitism among the partisans, and help from them was very rare. The Jews were branded as cowards and this caused me to volunteer for missions – even dangerous ones”.
2. What is the Shalom Yoran’s message in his book, "The Defiant”?
"I experienced the horrors of the Nazi oppressor in the ghettos and camps, first as a victim, and afterwards as a fighter and avenger. Very little has been written about the partisan fighting and I feel myself very fortunate to belong to those fighters. The Nazis made use of the best minds in Germany and a minimum of personnel to develop killing systems which diminished the Jews’ chances for survival. They plundered Jewish property and singled out the Jews, after isolating them from the rest of the population, by humiliating them and forcing them to live in inhuman conditions. They allotted a bare minimum of food for the victims, enough for them to work for them in a state of constant hunger. Some chose to oversee their brothers with false promises and the spreading of fear and terror. Children were slaughtered in front of their parents, or parents in front of their children. The local population collaborated with the Nazis, and there was the feeling that there was nowhere to run to.
We must not allow the world to forget what happened. It can happen again, therefore we must fight the first signs of racism and hatred, before it becomes too late to control their spread. We must take the responsibility to do this upon ourselves, and to impart to understanding, compassion and respect for others to the coming generations. Moreover, we must not turn from a person into a victim, but must fight back – against anyone who would try to turn us into victims. This is the message which I tried to convey in my book."
3. What would you like to add to your memoirs?
"The day Germany invaded Polish soil, on September 1,1939, was the day on which the first bombs fell on me, a boy of 14. From that day on, until the end of the war, I lived surrounded by fear and terror, which became part of my existence. My family consisted of my parents and my older brother. All four of us fled our town in Poland, Raciaz. We managed to escape from the Nazi occupied area to the area of Poland which was under Russian occupation.
On the face of it, our lives continued normally for a short while, but the surroundings were antagonistic towards the Jews and the Soviets tried to exile us to Siberia. When Germany attacked Russia, we fled to Kurenets where 3000 people lived, about half of them Jews. My brother and I were employed by the mayor of Kurenets.
When the area was occupied by the Germans, we experienced their cruelty ourselves. Together with several Jewish youth, we organized in order to flee to the forest, to join the Russian prisoners of war who had escaped captivity and intended to join the partisans. We began to collect weapons, and I even managed to steal a rifle from a German vehicle. All this activity came to a halt when the Judenrat objected, out of fear that our escape would cause the Nazis to take their revenge on the Jews of the town.
My own private Holocaust began on the eve of Yom Kippur 1942. On that day, the Nazis surrounded the town and murdered all 1040 Jews, including my parents.
My father was murdered in the middle of the Yom Kippur prayers in the synagogue. My mother was killed when we tried to escape to the nearby forest. Through the fog we could see figures chasing after us, while shooting at those fleeing.
My mother’s last words were: "Try to save yourselves”.
My brother and I hid together with a group of youths in one of the barns. During the two days we hid there, we could hear the sound of shooting, while the smell of burnt flesh filled the air. Later we learned that the Jews of the town were assembled in the town square, transported out of town and then tortured and slaughtered. The bodies were collected into barns which were then set on fire.
My brother and I fled to the forest, joined a group of three Jews, and together we built a hiding-place for ourselves in the depths of the forest, where we planned to spend the cold winter which was approaching.
We stored as many supplies as we could obtain from the neighboring villages. Before we closed ourselves into our hiding-place, I went out on my last mission, which was to find matches for the coming months. I was caught by a group of five men who beat me, stripped me and decided to hand me over to the Germans. In exchange they hoped to get salt and vodka. Although beaten and bruised I managed to escape from them and ran for hours, until I reached the hiding-place which we had constructed.
For five and a half cold winter months we were closed in in our hiding-place, after which we ventured out to look for other Jews who had managed to survive the cold winter months in the forest.
Together with those Jews whom we found, we erected a temporary camp. Our goal was to join the partisans, but they repeatedly rejected our appeals, even after we successfully carried out a mission which was given us.
In the light of this, we established a Jewish partisan brigade which we called "Nekama”. This brigade was disbanded by an order from the higher command on the pretext that since the Jews are not a nation, they are therefore not entitled to organize to fight separately.
When the brigade disbanded, my brother and I joined a partisan unit which was very well equipped. In this brigade, we experienced anti-Semitism, but we participated in operations, such as ambushes aimed at sabotaging the German fighting, blowing up of railroad tracks and sabotaging of communications lines, causing substantial damage.
When the Germans began to retreat westward, we were immediately behind them, sowing panic in their ranks.
When the Russians neared our area, we were conscripted into the Red Army and sent to the front, where we were transferred to the Polish Army and in its ranks we entered Germany.
At the time of the German surrender we were in the area between Derzin and Berlin. The Polish Army refused to release my brother and myself so we had to desert. We organized false documents for ourselves which enabled us to move freely about Europe.
In Italy I was a British soldier who did not speak English. At the end of our wanderings I fulfilled my dream and reached Eretz Yisrael, which the British had closed to us.
It took many and varied talents to survive the Holocaust and to merit the sight of the collapse of Germany."