My Great Uncle Boris Vyortkin

Some Fought Back

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My great uncle Boris Vyortkin is in one of those photos. Hall №7 Partisan wing of the Belorussian Great Patriotic War Museum in Minsk

During World War II, in Europe, Jews were forced to wear a yellow star, were rounded up, and placed in ghettos. Eventually, millions were killed en masse — shot, dragged in the street, marched to death, and cattle-car railroaded to concentration and extermination camps.

Before the start of the war, those who could, either emigrated or evacuated. And still others, when the time came, fought back.

I have written about my grandfather, Anatoly Vyortkin, before. He came from a family of eight siblings. One of his younger brothers, Boris, was the handsomest and the smartest of the lot.

As the Germans were “knocking” on the door of Minsk, Belarus, and the invasion was imminent, my grandfather, along with his wife, their three-year-old baby and my grandmother’s brother, began their evacuation to the south of Russia. His brother, Boris, along with his wife and three daughters came with them. Boris’ youngest daughter was born right before the war, she was just a few months old.

They left the city and got into the forest, when Boris and his family had decided to turn back. My grandfather tried to talk him out of it, but the truth was, all the little girls were tired, and couldn’t walk any more. Boris said they would only slow my grandfather down and the brothers embraced. They didn’t know if they would ever meet again.

When Boris and his little family got back to Minsk, the city had fallen to the Germans. It must have seemed to them that the streets were teeming with German soldiers, the black helmets, guns, dogs, and those shiny black boots. By the time Boris’ family came to their building, their apartment was being ransacked, since one of their neighbors outed them as Jews. They ran, Boris one way to get the soldier to follow him, his wife and girls the other way.

Unfortunately for the wife and the daughters, the Nazis followed them. They wrestled the screaming baby from her mother’s arms and threw her out the window, dragged everyone else into the street and shot them.

Boris saw his family slaughtered before his eyes. Somehow, and he swore to his dying day he had no memory of how, he made it back to the woods. There he joined the already-formed band of partisans. Boris tried to recruit one of my grandmother’s brothers to join him. The brother was a shoemaker, and a good one, and the partisans could have used his skills. But he also had a wife and children, and he refused to leave them behind, since the partisans could not afford to feed so many mouths. This brother died with his family, shot in a ditch.

Partisans were loosely formed groups of guerrilla fighters, consisting mostly of farmers. Boris Vyortkin became one of the best partisan fighters. Beware the fury of a man who has nothing to lose. He volunteered for the most dangerous missions. He and the other partisans did quick and dirty jobs, cutting telephone and telegraph wires, hitting supply routes, poisoning wells, stringing wires across rural roads which decapitated or mangled Germans on motorcycles, blowing up roads and bridges, damaging railroads, and even setting their own fields on fire to make sure that the invading army could not use the crops growing there. Most counties had partisan units operating there, some larger than others, some printing leaflets with information and propaganda.

Boris had lost his entire family, but did find love again with another within the group of partisans. Already tall and handsome, he had became ruggedly good looking. A beautiful blond Russian woman fell in love with him, and left her husband. She then married Boris and spent the rest of her life with him. Her name was Nadia, Nadezhda, which means Hope. Also, after the war, Boris was reunited with his brother Anatoly and Anatoly’s family.

There is a museum in Minsk now that commemorates World War II, or as the Russians call it, The Great Patriotic War. Anyone can find it on the internet, at And, you can read the translations in English, too, although it can be unintentionally funny, since the person who translated it isn’t a native English speaker. Hall No. 7 belongs to the partisans. I have been told that one of the pictures hanging there is that of my great uncle, Boris Vyortkin.

World War II and the Holocaust were unspeakable tragedies, and too many people perished. Too many soldiers, too many civilians, and too many Jews died horrific deaths. Whenever I think of the Nazis and their plans to destroy the Jewish people forever, I remember one of my personal heroes, my great uncle Boris, who fought like hell.

Written by

Writer and storyteller, immigrant, wife, mom, knitter, collector of jokes, lover of cheap, sweet wine.

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