One day in March 1942, Gestapo members and Ukrainian policemen burst into the home of the Privler family in Mykulychyn, then in Poland. (Today the village, also spelled Mikulichin, is in Ukraine). David Privler and his eldest son, Max, 11, were brought to the local police station. Malka and the three younger children were sent to the Jewish ghetto in Stanislowow (today Ivano-Frankivsk).
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David Privler was badly beaten by the Germans. “His face was broken, his entire body was cuts and bruises,” Max recounted. “They beat him for hours. He could barely open his eyes; they were full of blood.”
Before passing out, his father told him: “Max, stay alive. You have to tell about what they did to us only because we are Jews.”
The next day, Max and his father were sent to a killing pit in the forest along with 11 other Jews. A moment before they were both shot, his father pushed Max into the pit and then fell on top of him. “In falling, he covered me with his body,” Max said. His father was dead. Max was shot in the shoulder. The bullet remained in his body for 25 years.
David’s father, Max’s grandfather, was 101 in June 1941 when Germans, who had just occupied the town, dragged him by his beard until he had a heart attack and died.
After darkness fell, Max crawled out from under his father’s body and out of the pit, bleeding from the gunshot wound.
“I wanted to live,” he recalled. “I saw a blue sky and stars above me. I crawled out from among the bodies.”
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He knocked on the door of a non-Jewish classmate. “I was naked,” he said. “His father opened the door, saw me, called me a Yid, kicked me and said ‘Get out of here.’”
With the last of his strength, Max crawled to the home of the Nimchuk family, Ukrainian friends of the Privlers. He told the daughter of the family, Yevdokia, that her parents and sister had also been murdered by the Germans. She treated his injuries and his him.
Max survived two additional mass executions. From one, he said, he escaped when he was already facing the firing squad.
Later, he snuck into the ghetto to bring food to his mother and siblings, but instead wound up witnessing their murders. First he saw his mother fighting a policeman who was trying to snatch his 18-month-old brother, Berele, from her arms. “She pushed the policeman so hard that he fell” and died when his head hit the pavement, Max recalled.
In response, the Germans murdered the toddler and then hanged the mother.
“I ran to my mother... Someone jumped on me, shut my mouth and dragged me away. He told me, ‘There’s nothing you can do now. It’s suicide. You have to live, for her. There’s only one solution – vengeance.’ That’s how I became an avenger.”
First, he joined an underground organization in the ghetto. “I helped many people survive in the ghetto,” he said. “I would smuggle in food and equipment through the sewers.”
Later, he once again found shelter with Yevdokia, who had in the meantime married a man named Ivan Boyuk. Both of them were recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.
Max eventually joined the partisans in the forest, where he did reconnaissance and liaison work. Later, thanks to his knowledge of languages, he was recruited into the Soveit Red Army’s special operations unit and participated in dozens of missions, including espionage and information gathering.
“On several missions, he was inserted behind enemy lines by the commando unit and disguised as a shepherd or a local refugee, and he would radio back critical information about the enemy’s location,” said Eli Golosovsky, who recounted Max’s story on the Facebook page “Heroes of WW2.”
Max was wounded several times during the war. He participated in the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp, as well as the cities of Krakow and Prague. According to a letter recommending him for one of the medals he received at the end of the war, “During the battles in January 1945, Sgt. Privler demonstrated exceptional heroism. ... Through his actions, he saved his platoon and killed and wounded more than 20 enemy soldiers.”
After the war, Max lived in Ukraine, where he married a woman named Muza. They had a son and a daughter. In 1990, he immigrated to Israel, where he was active in the Association of Disabled Veterans of the War against Nazism and in commemorating children who fought in the Red Army during World War II.
After his wife died, he married his childhood friend Ludmilla, a widow. He lived in Bat Yam until his death last month, and was buried in Ashkelon alongside his daughter, who predeceased him. He is survived by his son, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren.