Dr. Paul Strassmann
From 1943-1945, Dr. Strassmann served with Slovakian partisans fighting the Nazis.
As background material Dr. Strassmann gave a brief description of the Slovakian terrain pointing out the mountain ranges across the northern part of the country. He also stated that there were two railroads that transected the country from the Hungarian plains into Poland and these two railroads were used by the Germans to transport troops. Germany was able to use these railways from even before the war as Slovakia, along with most other European countries decided to collaborate with Germany, with Slovakia making it formal in 1939. Not only did these other European countries collaborate with Germany, but they formed their own black shirt units that shared in stolen or confiscated Jewish assets. In addition, these same countries paid German SS units $500 per person for individuals placed in concentration camps and later sent to annihilation camps to be worked to death or executed. Consequently, the German SS received most of its funding from foreign countries.
Following Stalingrad in 1944 things began to go badly for the German war effort. As part of that reversal, large segments of the Serbian military could sense the war momentum change and started an anti-German uprising. Near the same time, the Soviets began to drop partisan organizers into Slovakia to form five man groups that could sabotage German efforts, particularly the railroad systems. Dr. Strassmann, was only 15 at the time he became a member of one such group.
Dr. Strassmann’s initial position with the group was to be the point man leading it from place to place. He got this position as he was considered an expendable kid and it was this position that usually tripped land mines, or first came under German fire, but after four days the high attrition rate made the group accept him as an equal member. These partisan groups were instructed to limit their activities to sabotage and avoid contact with German troops although even this was highly risky as the railroad tracks, which were a primary target, were under heavy German patrol. Nevertheless, the partisans were able to disrupt railway reliability.
Due to the general German reversal and increase resistance to the Germans, the area became increasingly targeted by U.S. bombers, which resulted in a certain number of these bombers getting shot down. This further resulted in some of the downed flyers joining up with the partisans and assisting them in their activities including getting American military supply drops.
But the German reversal was not constant. The Germans managed to put down the large scale Slovakian uprising and held mass executions for those that had participated in it. They also renewed their efforts at putting down the remaining partisan groups. This caused the partisans to flee to the mountains where they existed under extreme weather conditions with more dying of frostbite than from the Germans. Dr. Strassmann attributes his survival to winter skills taught him by a Siberian partisan leader.
Following the war, Dr. Strassmann immigrated to the U.S because of a loophole in the immigration regulations that favored war orphans. He considered this a very fortuitous event as immigration to the U.S. was highly restricted at the time. Subsequently, he managed to attend Cooper-Union College again because of a lucky meeting with an admissions officer at Cooper-Union that took a liking to the young refugee and that started a highly successful career in the U.S.
Questions and Answers
Q. How did you get separated from your family?
A. I happened to be sleeping at a friend’s house when the SS came to my home at night and took my entire family away. They did not survive the war.
Q. What was the relationship between the Chetniks and the partisans?
A. The Chetniks were primarily working for the Nazis and the partisans for the communists. There was a tremendous amount of distrust and double-crossing between all the people in these groups as they would change sides, or be aligned with others than those of their particular group. It was extremely dangerous