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Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Resource Suggestions for 2012 Days of Remembrance

The theme for this year’s International Holocaust Days of Remembrance (April 15-22) is “Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue”. The Jewish resistance movement is rife with stories of partisans liberating fellow Jews from work camps and smuggling them out of ghettos. The Jewish partisans fought not only for survival and vengeance, but also to rescue Jews and other victims of Nazi oppression from the horrors of the Holocaust. JPEF offers a variety of resources and study guides that are ideally suited for exploring this theme with your students.

JPEF Resource Directory on Jews Rescuing Jews

Online Courses – jewishpartisans.org/elearning
Note: for classroom use, we recommend selecting chapters ahead of time and skipping “How to Use This in the Classroom”.

  • Antisemitism in the Partisans: Survival strategies and interviews with Jewish rescuers
  • Teaching with Defiance (includes Educator’s Guide): 1,200 Jews were rescued by the Bielski partisans – includes testimonial from the last surviving Bielski brother

Lessons and Activities – www.jewishpartisans.org/resist

  • Jewish Partisans Rescuing Jews: Highly recommended resource on Jewish resistance fighters who save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust
  • Putting the Gevurah (Heroism) Back Yom HaShoah: Remembrance and liturgy on Jewish resistance for Holocaust Memorial Day (April 19, 2012).
  • Eight Degees of Gevurah: Partisan rescuers and tzedakah as acts of justice through Maimonides’ ladder
  • Antisemitism in the Partisans and Tuvia Bielski Study Guide: Stories of successful Jewish rescuers plus historical background

Partisan Webcast: April 17, 2012, 10am PST – www.jewishpartisans.org/webcast

  • At the age of 18, Sonia Orbuch joined the fight to bring an end to the Holocaust. Bring her inspiring stories to your students by live videocast and Q&A. Save your spot here!

Additional Resources

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reflections from Prague, Part 2 - Terezin: Healing Through Art and Storytelling

JPEF Education Manager Jonathan Furst recently returned from a trip to Prague, Czech Republic, where he attended the 26th European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) Conference for European International School middle-school educators. The trip included a pre-conference tour of the Terezin ghetto, and was followed by a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He shared the following reflections.

Read Part I here.
Read Part III here.

When I saw that there would be a pre-session educators’ tour of Terezin (also known as the National Memorial of Suffering), I was both eager and frightened. Even though I have worked in Holocaust education for more than 5 years, I had yet to visit a concentration camp.

Jonathan leading an impromptu partisan workshop.

A “model” camp used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, Terezin was a place of lies. But it was also the setting for startlingly brave acts of truth-telling. Jewish artists, poets, journalists — even a secret photographer — risked their lives to document the physical and emotional reality of this horrible place. There were many other acts of spiritual, artistic and other resistance, perhaps the best-known documented in I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a book of children’s art from the camp, and the film Brundibar about an opera created in the camp, which helped to both keep spirits up and serve as a coded cry for help.

Room where the opera Brundibar was performed. The Terezin
Judenrat also used it for meetings.

For the first part of the tour, I felt both sadness and shock, but when we stepped into the crematorium, the reality of the horror hit me: the scale of the room, the meticulous engineering of the ovens. I purchased a candle, and was touched when one of the teachers on the tour asked if she could light one with me. However, that was nothing compared to the emotions I experienced when nearly the entire tour said Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) with me. Words do not describe the feeling of support and compassion from this group of strangers — almost all non-Jewish — who stood with me. It was a transformative experience.

I can not thank our tour leader, Trudi van der Tak of the American School of the Hague in Amsterdam, enough for the sensitivity, depth of knowledge and sense of humanity that she brought to the experience. I am also grateful that she invited me to speak about the Jewish partisans at the end of the tour.

Though we were all somber, it made the experience more bearable for both my fellow educators and for me. And that is one of the most valuable lessons I received: telling the stories is just as healing as hearing them, perhaps even more.

So I highly recommend encouraging your students to share what they learn about Jewish resistance to their family, friends, and anyone else who will listen. We all know that the best way to truly learn something is to teach it. The lessons of the Jewish partisans and the millions of others who engaged in non-violent resistance teach us that resistance is always possible, always worthwhile. Evil can be fought even in the harshest circumstances, and even the smallest acts of defiance make a difference. The world will always need these lessons and people to teach and realize them.

Part 1 — Insights from the Prague International Schools Conference
Part 3 — Auschwitz/Birkenau: The Heart of the Beast

Friday, March 23, 2012

Reflections from Prague, Part 1 - Lessons from Prague

JPEF Education Manager Jonathan Furst recently returned from a trip to Prague, Czech Republic, where he attended the 26th European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) Conference for European International School middle-school educators. The trip included a pre-conference tour of the Terezin ghetto, and was followed by a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He shared the following reflections.

Read Part II here.
Read Part III here.

Part I - Prague

“Question what matters”. When I saw these words on the conference website, I knew it would be worth attending. Doubly so when the 2012 European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) conference brochure introduction asked if our thinking is “radical enough” for today’s students.

The International Schools (IS) network represents a true global community – over 6,000 schools and 3 million students in 236 countries*. The students and teachers come from around the world, and there are international schools on every continent. The IS network is an excellent opportunity for new teachers who would like to live abroad, and there are great opportunities for retired teachers or those who would like to travel for a semester through their international substitute program. Most classes are taught in English and one other language (in Europe, generally Spanish or French).

Mindfulness is a key new trend in the International Schools community. Mindfulness in the classroom goes far beyond relaxation techniques to teaching students to be mindful in all their choices.

It is being integrated into nearly every subject – Social Studies, Physical Education (P.E.), Sciences, Language Arts, etc. – to promote ethics, tolerance, critical thinking, standing up to bullying, and more. Interestingly, several teachers said that JPEF’s ethics and leadership materials would fit right in: mindfulness does not mean passivity, and ethical resistance provides examples of proactive, engaged forms of mindfulness.

Mindfulness in the classroom could also help save lives. Kevin Hawkins, Middle-Level Principal at the International School of Prague writes, “according to some research, the onset of recurrent depression is most common in 7th grade” and that, “depression is one illness that has been clinically proven to benefit from treatment by developing a mindfulness practice.”

Other interesting trends include:

  • Differentiation – collaborative and learner-directed education, which fits the curriculum to students’ needs and learning styles, is becoming widespread in the International Schools community. Though this may be easier to do when you have a low student/teacher ratio, new technologies such as tablets and even smartphones can make this more feasible for larger classes.
  • Electronic Storytelling and Collaboration – it was heartening to see that though there are great new tools for student self-publishing and collaboration, the emphasis is shifting from the tools themselves to the skills needed to use them well. What is the grammar of online communication? How can students select, edit, and sequence different media to create a meaningful narrative? In a collaborative online environment, how can we encourage each student to participate and have his or her personal voice come through? At least eight sessions touched on these issues.

Hidden History

Even in Europe, the history of the Jewish partisans is nearly absent. Outside of the the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, most teachers I talked to had never heard about the Jewish armed Resistance. Even the greater partisan movement, which was instrumental in turning the tide of the war on the Eastern Front, is little-known outside of Eastern Europe.

It was gratifying to find out that not only History and English educators were excited to use our materials, but Math, Science, Spanish, and French teachers as well. Even a couple of P.E. teachers said they would try to find a way to bring the partisans into their classes.

Call for Ideas: Has anyone used – or have ideas for using – the Jewish partisans to help teach any of these subjects? (I suggested that building a zemlyanka would be a good team-building exercise for P.E.)

Send your suggestions to education@jewishpartisans.org and we will share them in our next newsletter. Thanks!

* IS statistics from www.iscresearch.com.

Part 2 — Terezin: Healing Through Art and Storytelling
Part 3 — Auschwitz/Birkenau: The Heart of the Beast

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Announcing the Jewish Partisan Webcast - April 17, 2011

We’re happy to announce a rare opportunity to bring Jewish partisan Sonia Orbuch to your classroom or desktop via a live Webcast with Q&A.

More resources on Jewish Women in the Partisans - including online videocourse, film and study guides:

Students can ask questions ahead of time. Twitter #JPEFWebcast or e-mail webcast@jewishpartisans.org. If you are unable to make the live event, we will send you a link so you can access the videorecording online.

"There is such a thing as fighting back… If I was going to die, it would be as a fighter. Not as a Jew."
– Sonia Orbuch

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Ask a Partisan Q&A: Part 2

Last week, we posted the first half of JPEF's Ask a Partisan Q&A with students from Blantyre Public School in Toronto. This is the second half of the session.


Michael, age 9: What were your responsibilities as a platoon commander?

Frank Blaichman: On a day-to-day basis, I was responsible for 45 men and 4 women who were under my command. Every day we moved around to another area in order to deprive the enemy of our whereabouts. This required logistical planning, the gathering of food, the finding of suitable shelter and to make sure that all weapons were in working condition, clean with enough ammunition on each person. I was the one who delegated these jobs among our platoon.

In battle and in sabotage attacks I oversaw any intelligence information between the Polish Partisans (the AL), our other Jewish Partisan groups and ourselves. Armed with this information I made decisions on where and when we should hit and when and where we should run after the attack. I sometimes had to make quick decisions in the field regarding our movements. Whether to pull out or continue the attack.

Azaria, age 13: What was it like being a female partisan?

Sonia Orbuch: You feel isolated from the world. You feel all the eyes of the male partisans on you. You feel afraid even though you are in the partisans — you feel afraid they might not like you and tell you to go somewhere else.

Braydan, age 12: What happened to your family?

Frank Blaichman: My immediate family, my parents, my siblings, my grandparents etc., were deported on Friday, October the 9th, 1942 to a death camp. It was most likely either Majdanek, Sobibor or Treblinka. I do not know which one and I do not know the date of their deaths.

Of my entire extended family, only 3 cousins survived the war. One survived with me as a partisan fighter. One was captured in Russia and ended up in a camp near Hamburg where he managed to survive. And the third survived as a laborer in Germany on false non-Jewish papers.

Daniel, age 12: How did you know which peasants were the good guys?

Frank Blaichman: This is a very good question. At first we didn't know who we could trust — we were in the dark and we did think that all Poles would want to kill us. When we went to town, for example, to buy food, we were chased by bullies with pitchforks.

Once we organized into a Partisan group, and after we acquired firearms, we were seen as having some power — the dynamic changed. There were still German collaborators who hunted us and wanted to kill us, but there were also good, decent Polish people who provided support to us and risked their lives to do so. They became our informers, telling us who they thought were the German collaborators in their area, and warning us of Nazi troop movements. They also helped us immeasurably by providing us with food and shelter. Had they been discovered as helping a Jew they would have faced severe punishment from the Germans: immediate death or deportation, and the burning down of their homes. We could not have survived without the help of good, local Polish people.

Once we captured collaborators and were able to interrogate them, they provided us with the names and addresses of other collaborators. We were then able to bust up their spy ring and prevent them from functioning in our area. A number of Polish peasants felt that we had in fact liberated them as well from the terror of these Nazi collaborators.

Click here to read Part 1 of the Q&A.

Part 3 coming soon!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Ask a Partisan: Teacher Tips from Toronto

This letter comes from Monica Nelson, who co-created a lesson for her Special Education class based on JPEF’s “Ask A Jewish Partisan” resource. You’ll find answers to her students’ questions at the end of this article.

Our school is Blantyre Public School in Toronto, Ontario. Wendy Klayman is the teacher and I (Monica Nelson) am the education assistant in a class of 12, grade 4-8 children with various special education needs such as learning disabilities, attention deficit disorders and autism. In October we started a language unit incorporating character education, empathy, digital technology, art and research.

We decided to focus on the Jewish partisans because of the empathy that can be instilled from this topic, because it helps young people understand the difficult concepts involved in discussing this topic, helps them with research, can incorporate technology and e-learning. Also, our teacher (Wendy) has a personal connection to the Holocaust. We spent a great deal of time on JPEF’s site, researching the various topics. The stories and videos were fascinating and the students particularly enjoyed finding out which partisan was most like them and writing to that person.

We were both thrilled to hear answers to our questions and fascinated with such honest, informative answers. Not only did we focus on the reading, writing, critical thinking and empathy part of this unit, but we incorporated extensive artwork in the form of empathy posters that tied together the story of the Jewish partisans and another book that we studied at the same time, written by a native Canadian on the theme of teamwork and perseverance. Thank you for sharing this topic with us.

—Monica Nelson

Partisan Q&A: Part 1

Sarah, age 10: Where did you hide the bombs?

Sonia Orbuch: The mines were used by our demolition teams to derail trains which were being used by the Germans to re-supply their army. The teams had horses and wagons which were used to transport their supplies and to keep them hidden when we were under attack.

Vanessa, age 10: What would have happened if you were caught spying?

Frank Blaichman: As a partisan - one of our tactics for survival was to gather information - to watch the movements of our enemies so we could know where it would be safe for us to move to. We also needed to gather information in order to successfully attack or sabotage our enemy.

If I had been caught spying on either the Nazis or the Polish authorities, I would have faced the same fate. I most likely would have been killed on the spot. At the very least, I would have been taken to a death camp.

Kurtis, age 12: How did it feel running through the woods being attacked by Nazis?

Sonia Orbuch: I felt frightened and scared....especially when my family was alone in the forest. Later, when we joined the forest we felt stronger because we were fighting back.

John, age 13: Did you ever NOT want to be a partisan?

Frank Blaichman: NO. I liked what I was doing. I was into it. I couldn't stop.

As an example, one group of Jews among many that we helped to shelter, were hidden in a Polish farmhouse. The farmer created a bunker for them in the barn. This group included Itka Hirschman, a young woman and her child David, a small boy who now lives in Israel. I would bring food around four times a month to the ten people in the bunker. One day Itka asked me: "You are risking your life bringing us food, why don't you come and stay with us?" and my answer was: "I cannot do it, it is in my blood. I along with my men cannot stop doing what we are doing - fighting the Nazis and their collaborators and helping others, including Jews to survive."

Click here to read Part 2 of the Q&A.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Partisan Sonya Oshman (A''H) passes away at the age of 90

Former Jewish partisan Sonya Oshman (A''H) passed away this Friday, March 2nd. A survivor of the Novogrodek ghetto and a Bielski partisan, she leaves behind a remarkable story of loss, courage, and perseverance.

The eldest of four children, Sonya was born in 1922 to a family of wealthy Novogrodek merchants. Novogrodek was a Polish town with a population in the thousands, approximately half of whom were Jewish. The Gorodinskys were well-respected, and Sonya’s father would occasionally be called upon to mediate the tensions between the town’s Polish and Jewish communities.

Sonya was planning to enroll in medical school in Bialistok the year the Soviets invaded. Though the Soviet occupation saw many Jews deported to the harsh Siberian hinterlands, theirs was a comparatively fortunate lot. After the Nazis occupied Poland in the summer of 1941, they ended up systematically murdering most of the town’s Jewish population, including Sonya’s youngest brother and grandparents.

Novogrodek’s Jewish population could be counted in the thousands before the war. In May of 1943, only 500 remained – mostly skilled laborers and their families, living in squalid conditions inside Novogrodek’s courthouse, which had been turned into a makeshift ghetto by the Nazis. On May 7th, another massacre was conducted, reducing the ghetto population by half. Sonya’s mother and sister were among those killed.

Immediately after the May 7th massacre, the remaining 250 Jews started plotting their escape. The initial plan to storm the courthouse gates on a Sunday night fell through the Nazis were informed of the plot. Instead, the escapees decided to dig a tunnel underneath the ghetto through to the woods; a slow, stealthy escape through a hidden tunnel would give the sick and the old enough time to get out.

The work was difficult and dangerous. The excess earth had to be disposed of, and the summer rains threatened to collapse the tunnel. To avoid suspicious dirt stains, the diggers would wear burlap sacks – or dig naked. In spite of it all, Sonya befriended and fell in love with Aaron Oshman – her future husband – during the time they spent digging together.

Just a month before the escape, Sonya’s father was transferred to another ghetto, along with a handful of other skilled workers. She would never see him again.

The escape finally occurred on a rainy September night. About seventy of the escapees – including two of Sonya’s cousins and the tunnel’s mastermind – lost their lives when they accidentally ran back towards the ghetto and were shot by the guards, who mistook them for ambushing partisans. Most of the other escapees, including Sonya, eventually made it to the Bielski partisan camp. There, she was reunited with her one surviving brother and Aaron, whom she would later ask to marry her. She also learned of her father’s brutal death in the Koldichevo ghetto.

After the war ended, Aaron and Sonya made their way to an Italian displaced person’s camp with other refugees, and eventually ended up in Brooklyn. Their first child was born shortly before they arrived in the States.

Sonya is survived by her two children and four grandchildren. Before her passing, she traveled extensively to tell her family’s story in schools, synagogues, and community centers across the country, including a program with JPEF on Jewish Women partisans at the 92nd Street Y in New York City.  For more on Sonya Oshman, the Novogrodek tunnel escape, and the Bieslki brigade, please watch the JPEF documentary, A Partisan Returns: The Legacy of Two Sisters. Gila Lyons also wrote an excellent piece about her in Tablet magazine, which can be read here.