Lolita Lebron in mural by Susan Greene

Photo: Scott Braley

Sofia Yamaika

Zofia was born into a prominent Hasidic family in Warsaw, Poland. In high school, she joined a radical student group, Spartacus, which maintained an illegal existence even in the ghetto. Zofia was chosen by the club to participate in a special training course for fighters, and became a leader of an underground unit of five. Before armed resistance became a reality, Zofia became a leader of a children's group that tried to fulfil the children's needs with a free soup kitchen and cultural, educational and recreational activities.

When contact was made by the Spartacus group with elements of the Polish resistance, Zofia volunteered to join the partisans and received additional training. But it was not until her parents were caught and deported to Treblinka in the summer of 1942 that Zofia escaped the ghetto to join the partisans. While waiting for a Polish courier to take them to the forest, Zofia and her Jewish comrades were caught in an Aktion in Biala-Podlaska, and put aboard a transport headed for Treblinka. Zofia escaped from the cattle car and eventually made her way back to Warsaw, alone and without any identification papers.

A Polish underground worker obtained forged Aryan papers for Zofia and assisted her in maintaining a false identity as a Catholic. Zofia began to work for an illegal newspaper published by the the Polish underground army, but she was arrested in a Gestapo raid and imprisoned in the Pawiak prison for three months. She stuck firmly to her cover story, and her Jewish identity was not discovered. Upon her release she was unable to return to her previous associates, for fear of a trap, and found herself alone and helpless, once again.

A fortunate meeting with another Jewish girl living as a Pole led to Zofia's leaving Warsaw and joining first a Polish partisan group, which operated in the vicinity of Radom. Zofia acted as liaison with other partisan groups, organized reconnaissance and participated in sabotage activities. She was assigned to a special squad that liquidated spies and agents, and was decorated for bravery by the General Staff.

In February 1942 the Germans retaliated against the partisans for a raid in which they had attacked the German police, enabling Poles who had been rounded up for slave labour to flee. The partisans were vastly outnumbered and were forced to retreat. Zofia and two Poles stayed behind to cover the retreat. Zofia manned the machine gun. She and the two Poles held their ground and fought until they were overwhelmed, but they ensured the safety of the rest of the group.

Zofia's heroism was recognized even by the Germans, who ordered the peasants to bury her properly. Later, she received a military burial, and, in 1963 was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari, one of the Polish government's highest military awards.

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