Max Cukier

Video still from interview, January 2002


Max Cukier was born into a Hassidic family in Ryki, Poland, on January 23, 1918. Growing up as a pacifist, Max never imagined he would carry a machine gun, but his views began to change with the outbreak of the war. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Max fled to Soviet-occupied territory, eventually ending up in Belarus. For the next two years, he lived as a Polish refugee, persecuted by the Soviet government as a non-citizen. When the Nazis began their attack against Russia in 1941, Max went into hiding, traveling from village to village in search of food and shelter.

Approximate area of partisan activity for Max Cukier

Early in 1942, Max realized that hiding in villages was becoming too dangerous, and he took to the woods. In the forest, he made contact with other Jewish refugees, as well as escaped Russian POWs. Eventually, he joined the famous Bielski Brigade, a combined partisan unit and family camp. Max took initiative and began organizing small units and leading missions himself to bomb bridges and mastermind a daring attack on a German bunker using an abandoned Soviet tank. During this time, Max met and married his wife, and she began to accompany him on missions as his lookout.

After liberation, Max first joined the Red Army and then defected from the USSR, escaping into Italy. In Italy he became involved with several Zionist organizations, even becoming an acquaintance of Golda Meir, Israel's future prime minister. Max traveled to Israel and, in 1948, came to the U.S. under the auspices of the Zionist Cultural Congress. Over time, Max disengaged from the Zionist movement and began to focus on building a new life as a civilian. He started an importing business and raised his three children. Max lived in Los Angeles and had three children and three grandchildren.

Max passed away on January 17, 2011.