ZemlyankasVirtual ZemlankaMore About ZemlankaExcerpts from the Defiant
Two Jewish partisan outside a zemlyanka shelter in Poland after the war.
What would you do if you had to survive a freezing winter in the woods, with no special tools or materials for building a shelter? What if you didn't want anyone to find you? How would you make your shelter without attracting attention, and then, once you'd built it, how would you disguise it?

Partisans hiding in the forests of Eastern Europe faced these dilemmas. They made shelters they called zemlyankas, from the Russian word for "dugout". Their building materials were taken from the forest itself, and whenever possible, from nearby villages. Careful to hide any evidence of their location, they usually did this work at night.

Eta Wrobel tells how her unit made zemlyankas: “We removed the earth and carried it many kilometers away. Then we would steal the doors to a barn, to make the door. We even moved trees onto the top. If anyone saw us, we had to start again.”

Every one pitched in, racing against time to get the shelters ready. Simon Trakinski recalls: "One time we built a camp from nothing in three days," making bunkers that slept six to people for his group of
1 of 3PreviousNext