Remembering the 20-30,000 Jews who fought back against the Germans as partisans is a profoundly meaningful way to pay tribute to the 6 million Jews who ultimately perished in the Holocaust. To this end, JPEF provides a double-sided supplement for remembering resistance on Yom HaShoah called “Putting the Gevurah Back into Yom HaShoah.” (www.jewishpartisans.org/resist)
Ilona Shechter, a teacher at Gideon Hausner Day School in Palo Alto and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Mandel Fellow, has organized many memorials during her career. She shared with JPEF staff the following tips for Jewish partisans-centered activities:
Show the JPEF Short Film Introduction to the Partisans
“If you only do one thing,” states Shechter, “show this film (available free at JPEF’s website at (www.jewishpartisans.org/films.) I have shown the film to (as young as) 5th grade and they loved it. For them, Holocaust meant death and dying and destruction. Watching Jews blowing up trains; this was the absolute best. The kids have responded very well to it. They asked very intelligent questions: Where did the Jewish partisans get all their supplies from? Who helped them and who didn’t?”
Teach new partisan material incrementally
Shechter continued, noting that incrementally adding new partisan material each year makes for highly effective lessons. She stated, “When the students get into 8th grade, I show them all the rest of the films. Today I showed them [JPEF’s] ‘Women in the Partisans.’ You could have heard a pin drop on the carpet. It’s an excellent teaching tool.” Ilona also recommends using the accompanying study guide when showing the film.
Hold candle lighting ceremonies in the classroom
“A simple, effective observance is to light 6 or 12 candles for the 6 million Jews (and the 6 million others considered “undesirable” by the Germans) who perished. Students take turns lighting candles, each remembering a different group: ‘This is a candle we light for the Jews who died in the death camps of Poland…This is a candle we light for the Jewish partisans who fought in the forests of Europe,’ etc.”
Talk with your students
A little information can stimulate a class-worth of conversation. Shechter shared, “A young teacher in Montana showed JPEF film clips to his class the first year he did it (taught about the partisans.) There was this stunned silence in the classroom. He said ‘What’s the matter?’ The class answered, ‘I bet there were more like that, but most didn’t get the opportunities, or realized that they were all going to be killed.’ That was a profound thing for kids to say. To realize that most Jews were starving and deprived and would have fought back if they could.”
“There’s nothing like having pictures of 12 and 14 year old partisans up in school, showing what young people can do…that age really was not material,” states Shechter. For printable photos, go to the homepage of JPEF’s website and click on image galleries under the Explore tab. You can also click the Image tab on any partisan profile.
Use Poetry, Music, and Memoirs
“A lot of poetry- poetry written by partisans- and memoirs, songs, and music…There’s a whole CD on partisan songs-playing music while partisan poetry is read…..You could do an entire Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurah entirely on partisans. It could be very effective.” Begin your search for this material by Googling “Jewish partisans song poetry memoir.”
Also, review a short poem about a Jewish women partisan on the last page of the Women in the Partisans study guide on the JPEF website, www.jewishpartisans.org/women
Ilona Shechter articulated why she feels it is important to teach about the partisans and other resistance by concluding, “On Yom HaShoah, most people forget about the Gevurah (strength or heroism.) Everyone talks about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. But there was more. It blows people away when they see that.”