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With Courage Shall We Fight
The Memoirs and Poetry of Holocaust Resistance Fighters Frances "Fruma" Gulkowich Berger and Murray "Motke" Berger

by Ralph S. Berger, Editor ©2010, Paperback, ISBN: 978-1-935232-20-9, 145 pp

“With courage shall we fight,” a line from one of Frances’ poems, is a fitting title for the memoir of Murray “Motke” and Frances “Fruma” Gulkowich Berger’s incredible story of survival. Miraculously, first individually and then together as fighters in the Bielski Brigade, they escaped from the Nazis and certain death and literally fought back, saving not only their own lives but those of others as well.


Their history was more than a story of survival during the Holocaust, of enduring the hardships of displaced persons, and of establishing themselves in a new country where they had arrived nearly broke and barely speaking the language. Theirs was a love story.


This memoir, in prose and poetry, will teach future generations about courage in the face of adversity and that the experiences of Holocaust martyrs and survivors must never be forgotten.

Forward   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . ..9

The Bielski Brigade: A Brief History   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .11

Map   . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  .14

The Testimony of Fruma Gulkowich Berger -

In Her Own Words  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .15

The Testimony of Murray Berger –

In His Own Words  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . . .32

The Poetry of Fruma Gulkowich Berger  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .48

“Tears and Poems of a Jewish Woman” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .95

“A Jew from the Forests” . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. .102

Afterword: In the Words of their Children -

Ralph S. Berger and Albert S. Berger . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .106

The Story of Two Lives - A Photo Album . . . . . . . . . . .. . . . .118

Endnotes  . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .  . .143

Sources . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .144

Glossary . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .. . .145


by Frances Berger (scroll down for English translation)


Like a misty wind on a summer’s night

The mother took the dead child to the dark forest

She shakes a little

and hardly managed to rest on something

And what she rested on, a tree, she did not care.


The night, a black one,

covered everything

But the sparks of madness in her look

Moved her feet.


The mother walks from far away, mile after mile

Since her mind was emptied

Her body, her heart, her child, a little one

Today had tasted the first spoonful of tea.


She hugs the little body, she searches,

She touches where it is sore,

And why is the diaper not wet?

Suddenly the mother’s madness imagines

everything about her is crying

And she batters her head against the tree.


She saw it, everything in front of her eyes

Her house….. It burns!

A German runs to her,

He grabs the child and throws her down

And it scorches her very being.


And further, further, the head could not take it anymore

Who is crying, the child?

It wants to eat?

Wait! She bends down quickly

the milk in the full breast is painful.


She bares her breasts. Here, suck, she begs

The breast remains bare and the wind cools and fondles it

The mother thinks it is the mouth,

The little hands of her child.


The skies light up, a ray shines

And partisans arrive and gaze at the scene:

The dead child, the young woman,

the breasts in the blue hands of the child.

With pain and tears, they recognize a friend.

Holocaust survivors Fruma Gulkowich Berger and Murray "Motke" Berger, two resistance fighters, husband and wife, write in poetry and prose of their experiences. Their sons offer a loving introduction and a prologue, but the heart of their story is a memoir of pain and anguish, defiance, determinaton and resistance, which gives ample testimony not only to courage and to bravery, but a unique type of courage born of despair and desperation. A powerful work.

Michael Berenbaum
Professor Jewish Studies, American Jewish University, Los Angeles, CA


A rare work that combines both compelling narrative and beautiful poetry and prose, this important book offers profound insight into a distant era about the intersection of two lives. The poem, “I Am the Last,” left me with shivers, the phrase “I am the last to remember where my house was, the last to remember those I loved so well,” deeply moved me. Although I’ve looked at the famous Bielski photograph of Fruma Gulkowich Berger so many times, I never realized this person with a machine gun in her lap was in fact a woman, whose words would one day move and inspire me.  The collection of written work by the editors at the end makes it even more of a treasure.

Mitch Braff
Executive DirectorJewish Partisan Educational FoundationSan Francisco, CA


With Courage Shall We Fight presents a most fascinating and compelling account of Murray and Fruma Berger’s incredible experience during the Holocaust as part of the Bielski partisans resistance group. This wonderful memoir of poetry combined with a well written narrative history serves as an excellent resource for educators to use as a primary document when teaching the Holocaust.Resistance in the Holocaust took many forms but this collection of such heartfelt and sincere poetry is a form of spiritual resistance that is one of a kind.  Truly a touching memoir and a must read for anyone who is a serious student of the Holocaust and Resistance.

Dr. Miriam Klein Kassenoff
Director, University of Miami Holocaust Teacher Institute and Education Co-Chair of The Holocaust Memorial: Miami Beach, Florida

Afterword by editors Ralph S. Berger and Albert S. Berger


Our parents did not think of themselves as heroes. Others did, however, including us as we got older and more fully appreciated all they had gone through and achieved. Neither of us will ever forget a bat mitzvah we attended a few years ago in California. A well-dressed, stately looking lady began to run towards us, limping and shouting “You’re Murray Berger’s sons. You’re Murray Berger’s sons.” A middle-aged man followed behind. He was smiling and trying to keep up with his mother. When she reached us and caught her breath, she explained, “I’m Tamara Katz. Your father carried me and my son out of the ghetto.” Until then, we had never heard this story.


At a young age, we knew about World War II and the Holocaust and the destruction of our extended family. But we knew little about our parents’ lives between then and our early childhood years. The fact that they had survived the War and were among the Jews who had fought back in order to do so was what was important; the struggles that followed were merely obstacles they had to overcome.


Life was not easy for our parents after the War. They were truly “displaced persons” in every sense of the word. They had lost, under horrific circumstances, most of their families, their friends, their possessions and their way of life. There was no way of going back. The world that they had known no longer existed.


After the liberation, our parents and our Uncle Ben and Aunt Judy went back to their old homes in Poland. There was still fighting going on and it was obvious that the Poles did not want any of their former Jewish neighbors coming back and trying to reclaim whatever possessions were left that were rightfully theirs.


Their homes had been taken over by Poles from the area and these people were shocked to see our parents and Ben and Judy. They had presumed them dead along with all the Jews from Korelitz who had been slaughtered. They acted as if they were seeing ghosts and then denied that our parents and aunt and uncle had ever lived there. Our parents and aunt and uncle had to fight their way back into Ben and Judy’s former home, if only for a little while.


Uncle Ben and Aunt Judy had been married before the war, and before they were forced into the Novogrudek ghetto, they had buried gold that had belonged to Judy’s family inside their house. Once they got back into their house, they unearthed the gold and then fled. The gold helped the four of them go from country to country across Europe, looking for a place of refuge.


At each border crossing, there were patrols that confiscated everything of value the survivors had, claiming that it would be later returned. Our parents and Ben and Judy were searched constantly. Women were forced to jump up and down in order to dislodge any valuables that might be hidden in a body cavity. At one border crossing, Aunt Judy bit her gums to make them bleed and disguised the gold as an ice pack for her “toothache.” Only then was she allowed to cross the border without being searched, with the gold literally in hand. When they finally reached Rome, Uncle Ben had signet rings made from some of the gold for himself, Judy, our parents and our Uncle Ellie, Dad’s brother. Mom’s and Dad’s rings are in our possession to this day and we always wear them on High Holidays.


As they traveled east, they told authorities they were returning home. In this manner they went from Belarus to Poland and from there to Romania, where Mom worked as a cook in a DP (Displaced Persons) camp. After leaving Romania, they went to Yugoslavia and finally wound up in Italy. Many people along the way were former partisans willing to help fellow partisans. The Serbs were especially friendly to partisans, as they had waged a similar war themselves against the Nazis.


When the group got to Rome, they stayed for two years until they decided what to do next. Mom and Dad worked at different jobs, as did Uncle Ben, Aunt Judy and Uncle Ellie. It was in Rome that Mom and Dad married.


While on a trip to Rome several years ago, Ralph was able to find the listing of our parents’ marriage in a ledger in the archive of the old Rome synagogue on the Tiber River. The entry for February 14, 1947 had our parents’ signatures, our mother’s maiden name, the places where both our parents were from, the signatures of two witnesses and the signature of the presiding rabbi.


In the DP camp in Rome, our parents met an American army reporter who spoke Yiddish. Dad told him that his oldest brother Harry had left Wseilub and immigrated to America as a teenager and had served as a soldier in the U.S. army during World War I. From letters that Uncle Harry had written, Dad recalled that Harry lived in an American town whose name translated into “jumping fields.” The reporter helped them figure out that the town was “Springfield.” However, which of the many Springfields in the United States it was remained a mystery.


Notices were placed in Jewish War Veterans newspapers in each state that had a town called Springfield. It turned out that Uncle Harry was living in Springfield, Massachusetts. He was married to Ruth, an American schoolteacher. It so happened that Aunt Ruth had read the notice in the newspaper and then excitedly told Uncle Harry that two of his brothers, Dad and Uncle Ellie, had survived the war.


Since Dad’s brother Harry was in the United States, our parents preferred to come to the U.S. rather than go to Israel or South Africa, where Mom had three aunts, all of whom had emigrated before the war, married and raised large families. In fact, Mom had been slated to immigrate to South Africa in 1939, but by the time she had all of the necessary papers, it was too late. The Nazis would not allow Jews to leave Poland.


One of our South African cousins, Sam Pogorelsky, told us about the tremendous excitement in his parents’ home in Johannesburg when they received a letter from Mom in Rome, telling them that she, Ben and Judy had survived. When Sam’s father Gerson heard about our parents’ survival, he told his landlord about it and his landlord enlisted the help of his son, a pilot in the South African Air Force, who flew to Rome quite often. In this way, Sam’s parents sent stockings and foodstuffs and other necessary items to Rome to make our parents’ lives a little easier.


While in Rome, Mom taught herself English and was able to write to her cousins (the Hills and the Orloffs) in Chicago. They subsequently agreed to “sponsor” (guarantee that one would not become a ward of the state) Ben and Judy and their son who had been born in Italy, our cousin Albert. Uncle Harry sponsored Mom, Dad and Uncle Ellie. Dad’s uncle, Sam Shmulevicz of Brooklyn, NY, paid the fees associated with their passage to America and is also listed as a sponsor on the transport papers.


Once passage was arranged they set sail on the ship Marine Flasher from Marseilles, France to the United States. Our parents and Uncle Ellie arrived in New York harbor on April 15, 1947. Uncle Ben, Aunt Judy and our cousin Al soon followed.


After they arrived in the U.S., our parents went from Springfield to Chicago and settled in New York. For several years, our parents and Uncle Ellie lived on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in a tenement apartment with a shared bathroom on Eldridge Street. Dad and Uncle Ellie went to the Turkish baths to bathe and Mom used the kitchen sink as her bathtub. Al was born in November 1947.


Dad struggled to make a living. He tried being a butcher and selling paper bags to stores. Since he had powerful arms and shoulders, he was able to find work on construction sites that had sprung up because of the surge in home building after WWII. Dad worked construction during the day and went to school at night to learn English. He did well and was able to save up enough money to buy a house in a middle class section in the Bronx, where Uncle Ellie also lived until he married Aunt Rena, who was a concentration camp survivor. Ralph was born in August 1952, on the tenth anniversary of the massacre in the Novogrudek ghetto in which many of our relatives were killed.


However, by the mid 1950s, prosperity was declining and Dad wasn’t getting as much construction work. Additionally, he was over forty years old and manual labor was getting difficult. After being out of work for a while, our parents couldn’t afford to keep the Bronx house and were forced to sell it.


Uncle Ellie was working as a typesetter at a Yiddish newspaper, the legendary Forward. He helped Dad get a job alongside him at the Forward and Dad learned a new trade—he became a typesetter. While the pay was not high—Dad usually worked six days a week and never made more than $15,000 a year—it was steady work and there were benefits and a pension. Our parents did without eating out, vacations, a car or carpeting. Our mother often sewed her own clothes.


We moved to an apartment house in Crown Heights, Brooklyn on Empire Boulevard between Rogers and Nostrand Avenues and lived there from 1953-1956. Our parents tried to give us as normal an American childhood as possible. Dad took Al to Ebbets Field where they watched soccer and baseball games and our parents took both of us to Prospect Park where we went to the zoo and the merry-go-round and to the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens.


Our parents had been in the country for ten years before they could afford to buy the modest, semi-attached two family home in Midwood at 908 East 12th Street, Brooklyn, New York where they would spend the rest of their lives. This is where they finally put down roots in 1956 and we were raised. Dad was active in the neighborhood shuls—the Jewish Communal Center and the East Midwood Jewish Center—and was fondly called the “mayor” of East 12th Street. In his later years, Dad would say that he was rich, explaning that he had a roof over his head, his family and (once the mortgages on the house were paid) he didn’t owe anyone money.


Our parents’ Holocaust experiences permeated almost everything in their lives. Most of the people Dad worked with in his shop were fellow survivors. Dad and Mom spoke with accents, as did their close friends, most of whom were former Bielski Brigade members. When they got together, inevitably, they would talk about the War. Mom had nightmares about the Nazi slaughter and since Dad was a heavy sleeper, we were the ones who often woke her up. Thunder and lightning frightened Mom, reminding her of the German bombings.


Their lives revolved largely around us—their children. As children, we communicated with Dad in Yiddish. If we would respond to a question in English, he would say, “Red Yiddish.” —“Speak Yiddish.” Growing up, we never really understood what our parents had experienced. We would ask our parents why our friends at school from American homes had grandparents and lots of aunts and uncles and cousins but we did not. They always told us the truth. Nevertheless, when we were little, if our friends’ parents had accents, we liked to think of them and their children as cousins.


Although life was a serious matter for our parents, they made sure that our lives were filled with happiness and celebrations as much as possible. Our bar mitzvahs were grand affairs, with large kiddushim at the house that our Mom spent weeks preparing and cooking for.


On the afternoon of Ralph’s bar mitzvah, Tuvia Bielski came over. He and his wife Lilka and their children lived across the street from us. Ruth, Tuvia’s daughter, had just made him a grandfather and he came in to celebrate both happy occasions with us. With the bar mitzvah food out on the table, Dad, Uncle Ben and Tuvia toasted and drank shots of whiskey. Not only were they celebrating a bar mitzvah and a birth—they were also celebrating their survival and continuation.


Mom worked hard to impart to us the old shtetl traditions. We had big Friday night dinners every week. Mom always benched licht (lit candles) and guests would often come to dinner. She was a wonderful cook and often cooked dishes that she remembered from life in the shtetl. She made wonderful gefilte fish, knaidlach, kugels, lukshen, tzimis, gribiness and compot. Among her special dishes were chicken croquettes (made from ground chicken breasts) and zemel (hamentash-like pastries). Among the cooking utensils she used in her preparations were two serving spoons and forks that she had had in her family home as a girl in Korelitz. Somehow, she had held on to them throughout her ordeal in the ghetto, the forest and the trek to America.


Making sure that we were well educated was our parents’ top priority. They were never as proud as when Albert became a teacher, Ralph graduated from law school and Albert’s children, Brian and Beth, graduated from college.


But the grandchildren were the real bonus. Nothing compared to the combination of love and joy on Mom and Dad’s faces after Al and his wife Sharon brought their grandchildren Beth and Brian into the world. They were never happier or more at ease than when they were with their grandchildren.


As our parents grew older, they became ill and took care of one another with tenderness and tremendous patience. They were fighters to the end and were determined to live and die on their own terms. If the Nazis were to kill them, it would be with a “bullet to the back” by escaping rather than submitting. They valiantly fought back after diagnoses of heart attacks, cancer and other debilitating diseases. They died just as they lived—with courage and with dignity. Mom died first, on July 12, 1995; Dad died four years later, on March 23, 1999.


To our parents, being a mentsch was the highest virtue. In Yiddish a mentsch is a good person, one that does the right thing and helps others. Mom and Dad were proud when we acted like mentschen. But what is most amazing is that our parents were mentschen and that they were able to maintain their goodness, kindness and humanity in spite of all they went through.


Our parents felt strongly regarding educating others about those Jews who fought back during the Holocaust. They had come to see that their lives as partisan fighters was unique and that teaching others about their Holocaust experiences was not only important in terms of historic education, but their way of giving koved, i.e., honor, to their loved ones who were lost. It is our legacy to continue this mission and to tell their remarkable story

With Courage Shall We Fight

  • With Courage Shall We Fight
  • With Courage Shall We Fight

Price: $19.95

Frances & Murray Berger




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