“Pek cana yakın olmayan köylüler Alman işgalciler için yiyecek hazırladıklarında, yiyecekleri çalıp bir de not bırakırdık. Notta; “Partizanlar buradaydı.” yazardı.
Of all the challenges faced by commanders of partisan units, perhaps the greatest was feeding their fighters. Finding food depended on many factors: the proximity of friendly locals, the geography and nature of the country, the size of the partisan unit. Despite wartime shortages, in areas free from direct German rule, sympathetic townspeople and farmers could be relied upon to supply partisans with food and other necessities. In areas under German control and unsympathetic farmers, the search for food could end in death. To procure food, partisans sometimes had to resort to force. “The friendly Polish peasant provided food for us – and the unfriendly Polish peasant provided food for us as well,” recalled Mira Shelub. Mira was seventeen when she and her sister escaped to the forests to join the partisans. “When unfriendly villagers prepared food for the German occupiers, we took the food and left a receipt. The receipt said: ‘The partisans were here.’”
Another source of food were storehouses hurriedly abandoned by Germans in the wake of defeat. But this, too, brought its share of danger. “The Germans left mines and hidden bombs behind when they retreated,” remembered Leon Idas, a Greek-born Jewish partisan. “We saw a nice meal in front of us, and we were hungry, but couldn’t touch it.”
In order to survive, many Jewish partisans put aside traditional dietary restrictions. Gertrude Boyarski found herself doing exactly that after six days of eating only snow with 14 other partisans. “We found some potato peels with worms in them, and the head of a pig. We shared this between us. And I was crying as I was eating it, but we had gone days without food. It was a treasure.”
As the war ground on, some partisan groups began receiving much-needed supplies. In Eastern Europe, the Soviet government supplied Russian and Polish partisans from the sky, airdropping ammunition, counterfeit money – and occasionally vodka and chocolate! The British did the same for the Greek and Italian partisans in the Mediterranean theater of war.
Most partisan groups, however, were quite cut off from the world, and the difficulty of feeding their troops was a constant problem for the commanders. A case in point was the all-Jewish partisan unit led by Frank Blaichman. When entering a village store or farmhouse in search of food, Blaichman and his men could not have been more courteous. But sometimes courtesy wasn’t enough, and where courtesy failed, the threat of force would succeed. Blaichman recalled, “We went into a Polish grocery, we were polite, we said ‘Good evening.’ Please, we would like to buy bread, butter, some chicken.’ They chased us away with axes and pitchforks…. Later, when we acquired firearms we returned. We did not point them at anyone, but they could see we were armed. They said ‘Gentlemen, how can we help you? – Suddenly we were ‘gentlemen’”.
The shopkeeper subsequently turned down Blaichman’s offer of payment.