Notes from the underground

On board the SS Marine Flasher. Courtesy of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

When Isaac Gordon and his two younger brothers – Aron and one whose name is unknown – left their village in Poland and fled from the Nazis into the woods, it must have felt like stepping into another world. Polish resistance to the Nazis was fierce during World War II, and the dense Polish forests would be the training grounds, staging areas, and headquarters for all types of partisan groups and underground fighters. Isaac, a cattle-dealer in his early thirties from Vilna (Vilnius), could hardly have felt prepared for the type of life that he and his brothers would be embarking upon when they joined the resistance movement.

Isaac Gordon was able to find purpose in his new life, however, and he and his brothers dedicated themselves to hurting the Nazis in any way possible. They developed a reputation as saboteurs, operatives who didn’t hesitate to tackle dangerous objectives during the war. The unnamed brother was killed during one of their missions against a Nazi marshalling yard, but Isaac and Aron hastily buried him along the roadside before making an escape.

They developed a reputation as saboteurs, operatives who didn’t hesitate to tackle dangerous objectives during the war.

When the war finally ended, and after three years in the forests of Poland, Aron ended up at the Fahrenwald Displaced Persons Camp in France. Isaac was temporarily in Lodz, Poland, but soon made his way to Fahrenwald. From there, the two began petitioning relatives in Boston for help in making out affidavits. Out of an extended family of roughly fifty, including Isaac’s wife and child, the two brothers were the only survivors.

In 1947, the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society office in Boston (HIAS) was able to help bring over Aron, along with his wife and daughter, Chana and Lisa, on the SS Marine Flasher – a repurposed troop transport ship that began carrying refugees and displaced persons. Isaac, recently remarried, followed suit in 1949, with his wife, Freida, and eight-month-old daughter, Seema.

Isaac and his family went to live with his uncle and aunt, Jacob and Mary Shick, who ran a dairy farm in Watertown. Aron went on to New York and became a naturalized citizen in 1952, a course that Isaac and his family took just two years after Aron. The world that Isaac Gordon emerged into wasn’t the same as the one he left behind, but after a period of midnight raids and deadly missions he was able to find in America something akin to his old life in Vilna.


The Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center’s Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS), Boston Collection contains the case files and arrival cards of immigrants who received assistance from the HIAS Boston office between 1886 and 1977. Some records also include ship manifests, scrapbooks, passenger lists, photographs, and correspondence between immigrants, sponsors, officials, and HIAS Boston staff.

The case files are available to Special Researchers and NEHGS Research and Contributing Members. To learn more about the HIAS Boston collection, view the finding aid and the webinarUsing the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society Boston CollectionFor more information or to request access to this collection, please email

To learn more about the Wyner Family Jewish Heritage Center and its collections, visit the website.


Information was taken from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society case file, along with research done using The Jewish Advocate,, The Boston Globe, and The Jewish Times.

About Christopher Russell

Christopher Russell is a Digital Archives intern for the Jewish Heritage Center at NEHGS. He graduated from Oregon State University in 2015 with a B.A. in history and is pursuing his master’s degree in Library and Information Science at Simmons College in Boston, with a concentration in archive management. At the Oregon State Special Collections and Archives Research Center (SCARC), Christopher worked to scan and digitize portions of the Paul Emmett Collection, and contributed extensive research to the exhibit “Catching Stories: The Oral History Tradition at OSU.” Christopher also wrote for the SCARC blogs “Speaking of History” and “Oregon Multicultural Archives.” At NEHGS, Christopher helps to scan and digitize records from the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society.

2 thoughts on “Notes from the underground

  1. Vilna (Vilnius) was and is a beautiful city, not a village. However many people from surrounding villages said they were from Vilna. The Partisans of Vilna under Abba Kovner are well documented in books, documentaries and song. They were amazing people, but unfortunately most if not all are dead. I suggest you research further at YIVO, now housed in the Center for Jewish History in NYC and in Yad Vashem. I am the niece of their forger/counterfeiter.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.