Today is July 21, 2024 ()

Mike Begum

Michael Begum, a Russian Partisan against the Nazi’s
Interview from 1997:

“I’m Mike Begum, sometimes called Max. I have a business downtown on Elizabeth Street called The New Yorker selling fine ladies clothing. I even have furs; can you imagine for south Texas.


I was born in Russia on June 22, 1922. We were living in Parafianow, Eastern White Russia. My father was a pharmacist who managed a State pharmacy and my mother was a descendant of 5 generations of Rabbis.


I graduated from school in 1940 and was accepted to the White Russian State Medical University at the capital – Minsk. A dream of every Jewish mother.


On June 22, 1941, my birthday, my whole life changed, and a nightmare started. The Germans attacked the Soviet Union. They were bombing the railway station. I said
to my mother, “Mom, they are celebrating my birthday with fireworks!”


The German army occupied the city on the third day. German administrators
started to run the city and immediately passed the standard German treatment for Jews. All radios were confiscated to isolate us from any kind of news. We had to wear yellow stars. A mini ghetto was established in the small shtetel. We were crowded in one small street. We were forced to work at rebuilding the railway station. I was assigned to clean
up the German quarters.


On May 31, 1942, the local police woke us up at 4:00AM. We were instructed to
pack our personal belongings because we were to be sent to agricultural camps. This was an infamous lie. I told my parents that we need to run. They said we are just going to another place. I ran off to the nearby forest. The Nazi Zonder Commandos – Killing
Squads – surrounded the ghetto with machine guns. They marched the Jewish people to a mass grave to be killed. Approximately 200 people including infants and children were
massacred. My mother, father and sister were murdered.


I lived off the land for three months, hiding in the forest. At the beginning of September 1942, I ran into a group of Russian Partisans and begged them to accept me into their ranks because I had a good reason to fight the Germans. They had killed my
whole family. The Partisan leader said, “You might be a German spy”. I answered, “You want to check me out, I’m circumcised”. He said, “You must kill some Germans before we accept you”.


They gave me three hand grenades. I was to go at night to the German’s sleeping quarters and throw two grenades through the window. The third grenade was in case I
got caught. I was to use it to commit suicide to be spared the agony of torture.


I fulfilled the order as instructed. The Commander of the city was killed, and five Germans were badly injured. This was the beginning of my fight against this barbaric oppressor wo had targeted my people for extinction.


I was accepted as a Partisan and issued a Kalashnikov machine gun. In the next 2-1/2 years, I participated in operations of sabotage and ambush of Nazi troops. I managed to kill some high-ranking Nazi officers. I was issued 2 Russian medals for bravery and a Partisan medal from the Russian Fatherland.


In August 1944, Marshall Rokossovsky broke through the central front and proceeded to force the Germans to retreat from Soviet territory. At that time, I was with the Partisans stationed in the forest of Radinsky. We heard explosions and airplanes as the Red Army was approaching.


The Partisan Commander looked at me and said, “You speak German. Get on a horse, ride to the edge of the forest. Investigate and report to me.” I rode the horse along a path. As I rounded a bend, I suddenly was within six feet of four German soldiers. A red-headed Corporal with glasses lifted his rifle, released the security switch and was ready to kill me. My brain worked at incredible speed as I realized that I would be dead no matter what I did.


I shouted in German, “Bitte Nicht Sheesen” (Don’t shoot). The German said, “Waren nicht” (Why not?). I said, “100 Kameraden are close behind me. You kill me and you are dead.” I jumped off my horse and with all the Chutzpah I could muster I cried out in German, “I take you prisoners!”.


The four German soldiers clicked their heels and surrendered their weapons. On the way to the camp, the German Corporal asked me, “Who are you? Russian?”. I said, “No”. “Polish?”. “No”. “Lithuanian”? “No”. He said, “Who are you?”. “I AM A JEW!”. The German said, “We are kaput.”


In October 1944, my group was united with the Russian regular army and the troops were sent to Minsk. I volunteered to be parachuted behind enemy lines in East Prussia. In 1945 the war was ending, so my project was canceled. I was hired as a Latin
instructor at the Medical University.


In August 1945, I left all the graves behind me and crossed into Poland, Czechoslovakia and finally to Salzburg, Austria. I spent the next four years in several European countries and in 1949 I immigrated to the United States of America, landing in
New York.


In New York I had various jobs including window washer. I joined the Franklin Stores who were hiring immigrant Jews and became a manager-trainee in an El Paso store.


I managed stores in Nogales, Laredo, Harlingen, and Brownsville. In 1954, I quit my job and opened the New Yorker Store with $500.00 and lots of guts.”

Michael Begum was a big success with his downtown woman’s clothing store, The New Yorker. He died September 3, 2008, at age 86 and is buried in the Hebrew Cemetery of Brownsville.

Mike Begum at home in Brownsville.

Michael Begum, 2nd from left. Russian Partisan, in enemy territory. White Russia Forest.