Underground resistance movements that fought the Nazis
1941 - 1945
“Partisans” is a broad term for underground resistance movements during WWII. Anyone who took up arms against the German occupation could be called a partisan. Partisan units were informal underground organizations, fighting the Nazi presence in a given area. They generally relied on guerilla tactics. The resistance movements grew more organized throughout the war. They initially conducted small raids and destroyed supply lines, eventually coordinating with allied forces as integral parts of larger operations. The Belarusian Partisans became famous for a sabotage campaign called “the Rails War” that attacked Nazi supply trains. By 1944 they were working closely with Soviet command in Operation Bagration, which liberated the country. The Czech Resistance played a key role in The Liberation of Prague after starting the war as a predominately guerilla force.
There were several underground movements in Poland. The Home Army and People’s Guard both fought to free Poland from German occupation, and provided some assistance to the Jews of Warsaw during The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Polish underground movements coordinated the Warsaw Uprising of 1944, a full scale revolt in the city of Warsaw a year after the uprising in the ghetto. Witold Pilecki, a member of the Polish Home Army infiltrated Auschwitz in 1940. He organized resistance within the camp and sent reports to his commanders on the outside, providing some of the first evidence to an international audience about the specific course of the Holocaust. Pilecki stayed in the camp for 3 years, before escaping in 1943 and participating in The Warsaw Uprising. He was killed in 1948 for working against the Soviet occupation of Poland. Jan Karski, another Polish Home Army member, also gathered evidence about the Holocaust by infiltrating the Warsaw ghetto and a camp in the Lublin area, then transported this information to the Polish government-in-exile in London.
Yugoslav Partisans are considered the most effective anti Nazi resistance movement. They coordinated with Soviet leadership and other allied countries early in the war, launching a successful campaign from 1941-45. The Yugoslav Partisans were a relatively large resistance movement and therefore engaged in more formal battles. They shared intelligence with The Red Army and were given supplies from several allied countries. They liberated Belgrade in 1944 as part of a joint operation with The Soviet Military. Their leader, Joseph Broz Tito became the President of Yugoslavia after the war until his death in 1980.
Yugoslav Partisan leader Joseph Broz Tito
Most resistance movements would accept anyone who could provide their own weapon, though there are examples of Jews or other ethnic groups forming their own brigades within a larger partisan movement. In the occupied Soviet Union, Komosol activists sometimes mobilized their existing network into a resistance organization. The partisan movements in Belarus, Ukraine, and the Baltic States, fought the Germans from the moment their countries were occupied. There were also underground movements fighting against communism or Soviet rule, like The Latvian Forest Brothers and Ukrainian Insurgent Army.
Soviet poster praising the work of partisan movements