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Showing posts with label Abe Asner. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Abe Asner. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Abe Asner's Military Training Helped Him Save Lives

"Grodno still was a ghetto, and lots of people went back to the ghetto like Saul, his father, his mother. And I said, “Me and my brothers, we’re not going back to the ghetto. We’re not going. We’re going to win, doesn’t matter what. If I die, I’ll die standing up — not to shoot me in the back.”
-Abe Asner
Jewish partisan Abe Asner (z''l), was born in the district of Lida, Poland on October 19, 1916. In 1938, Abe followed in the footsteps of his brothers and joined the Polish army. On June 22nd, 1941, Abe was visiting a cousin in Lithuania when he awoke to the sight of German planes littering the sky with bombs. When German tanks surrounded the ghetto where Abe and his brothers were staying, they had to make a choice: stay among the 3,000 Jews who were facing imminent death or flee to the forests. Abe disappeared into the trees with nothing but the clothes on his back.
The forest proved to be a breeding ground for resistance fighters. Soon Abe was among 60 Jewish and Russian POWs running missions. His military training gave him the skills to kill German soldiers who attempted to search the dense forest. In the beginning, Abe thought the resistance would only last a few weeks. It continued for over four years, and their partisan unit grew to several thousand people, including the woman who became Abe’s wife.
Abe and his brothers were successful on many missions. They sabotaged enemy supplies, halted German food convoys, and rescued Jews from ghettos. They frustrated the Germans with their efficiency under the cover of darkness. “The night was our mother,” Abe remembers. Eventually the Germans placed a bounty on their heads. “So much money to catch us, dead or alive,” Abe recalls.
The ongoing violence of the Partisan missions wore away at Abe’s psyche. When the war finally ended, he worked hard to adjust to normal life. Despite the physical and emotional scars he carried, Abe knew his deeds helped to shape the lives of countless people.
Abe’s passion burned brightly when he recalled his partisan days. “We don’t go like sheep. We did as much as we could. We did a lot,” he said. “People should know somebody did (fight back). People should know.”
After the war Abe moved to Canada with his wife where they had two daughters and four grandchildren. Abe passed away on May 26, 2015 at the age of 98.
Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Abe Asner, including six videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Armia Krajowa (AK) and the Jewish partisans

Over the years, there has been heated debate among Polish and Jewish academics over the treatment of Polish Jews by the Armia Krajowa (AK) during the war and the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation recently found itself in the midst of this controversy.

The Armia Krajowa, “Home Army”, was the largest underground resistance group in Poland, with an estimated 250,000-400,000 members. The group conducted sabotage and intelligence operations against the Germans. Armia Krajowa FlagOne of its main purposes was to fill the power vacuum in Poland that would inevitably follow Germany’s defeat with a nationalist Polish group. Originally, the AK planned to attack the Germans only upon their impending retreat.

It should be understood that Jewish resistance and Polish non-Jewish resistance were working under two different and conflicting time pressures. Ghettoized Jews had only until deportation to rise in arms, whether or not they had a chance for victory; otherwise it would be too late and they would be killed. The AK could wait until there was a chance for victory, until the Soviet army was within range. While individual Poles were being persecuted and the Polish nation decimated, there was no plan to murder all the Poles and they could choose when and where to battle the Germans.

Leading up to World War II, Poland experienced an increase in antisemitic sentiment following the 1935 death of its politically moderate Chief of State Jozef Pilsudski, and the subsequent rise of the nationalistic Endejca party which enacted a wide array of antisemitic laws aimed at disenfranchising the Jews and confiscating their property. Cultural differences also played a role in inciting antisemitism. In rural areas, Jews primarily spoke Yiddish and many Poles regarded this as their refusal to assimilate, a sign of disloyalty to Poland. The influx of Jewish refugees fleeing the Ukraine further accelerated antisemitism among Poles who feared that they brought Bolshevist and Communist elements with them.

Antisemitism predictably arose among nationalist groups including the AK. Virulent antisemitism was especially prevalent among the partisan contingent of the group (2,500 – 3,000 armed fighters), many of whom came from the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ), a Polish, anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi paramilitary organization, where there was already a strong undercurrent of antisemitism. There were also many members of the AK who, unaffected by this prejudice, took action to help the Jews. The famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal credits the AK with sheltering his wife during the war and there are other documented instances of friendly AK commanders helping Jewish partisan units in their area – even warning them of pending danger1.

AK soldiers
Soldiers of the Armia Krajowa, 27th Division

JPEF acknowledges the honorable actions of individuals in the AK, but must also describe the antisemitic violence perpetrated by others within the organization. Over the years, it has conducted numerous interviews with Jewish partisans from Poland who routinely spoke of antisemitic actions directed at them and other Jews by the AK. Abe Asner reported that the AK often posed a greater threat to the Jewish partisans than the Nazis, as their familiarity with the forests and with local residents put them in a better position to locate Jews. Rose Holm stated that she escaped post-war Poland with her husband because of the AK’s continued reprisals against the surviving Jewish population. The survivor testimonies of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw also contain a number of references to the danger the AK posed to Jews in hiding, and of a prevailing air of antisemitism in the group. These testimonies were collected in the years 1945-1946, and are not affected by revisionists. View JPEF’s short film Antisemitism in the Partisans, narrated by Larry King, for more details.

The AK holds a near-sacred position in the hearts and minds of many Poles, representing their national counterpart to the Allied struggle – much like La Résistance does for the French. Questioning its treatment of Jews undoubtedly assails its credibility as a national icon, resulting in the failure to acknowledge this chapter of the AK’s history and the outright refusal to admit that many of its factions were not only antisemitic but engaged in the persecution and killing of Jews. When even the popular internet encyclopedia Wikipedia ignores this fact, and labels it “disputed”, it is incumbent upon the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation to ensure historical accuracy on its website.

JPEF’s glossary definition of the AK was developed through both extensive historical research and interviews with surviving Jewish partisans who interacted with the AK. While we understand that JPEF’s description of the AK may upset both surviving members and their families, we present the truth as best as we are able to discern from both written documentation and partisan testimony. JPEF acknowledges that there were many members of the AK who helped rescue Jews and collaborated with Jewish partisans to fight against the Germans and holds these honorable men and women in high esteem. We also hold the cause of the AK, the battle against German occupation, in equally high esteem.

Click here to see the definition of the Armia Krajowa on our glossary page.


1. War Of The Doomed, Ch.6, p.132

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Partisan Tools for Survival: the Instrument of Illusion

Many who know Jewish partisan stories also know that victory was not only about physical resistance—mining railroad tracks or killing German soldiers—it was also about spiritual and intellectual resistance. One such model of mind over matter is the power of resourcefulness; partisan stories often feature the instrument of illusion saving the day.

Ben Kamm
Many partisans recall the tactical trickery they used to defeat enemies. Ben Kamm’s unit would strategically place Soviet parachutes (used to drop supplies) in an area away from camp, wait for Germans to bomb the parachutes, and cut the German airplanes down with machine guns. Likewise, Jack Kakis’ partisan unit developed oft-used deceptive strategies, and for him it was all in the details. He recalls their method for mining the roads, “You put the mines underneath [a piece of rubber] and you make some truck marks on top of the soil.” When the Germans surveyed the roads, they assumed it was as safe for them as for the last truck that supposedly drove by.

Abe Asner on a horse
Sometimes ingenuity was purely off the cuff: prior to approaching a group of Lithuanians and their machine gun in the forest, Abe Asner realized he and his outnumbered companions had to devise a plan so they would not be massacred. That's when Abe saw a natural hill within the Lithuanians' view and had a brilliantly simple idea. The seven partisans walked all around the hill several times, which gave the Lithuanians the impression that a great number of partisan soldiers were surveying the area. The Lithuanians quickly abandoned their plan and ran away.

Bernard Musmand's survival was dependent on pretending to be something he was not. Hiding in an all boys' Catholic school in France, Bernard had to play a part he knew very little about. The first day, got a hold of a Bible and spent half the night studying in the bathroom. He explained: “I became such a good Catholic that the priest at one time asked me if I want to go to the seminary, Catholic seminary.”

In Bernard Druskin’s case, however, reasons for deception could also err on the side of recreation:

“You know we used to give the dynamite to the peasants? For booze, in exchange for booze. We used to tell them that's soap. They didn't know what is. Mylo, mylo, mylo — that was soap, used to tell them it was soap.”

Wherever illusion came from—pre-existing resources, extemporaneous action, or pre-planned strategies—many partisans speak of these ephemeral instances of trickery as possessing the power to turn the tables in the fight for survival.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Jewish Partisans: Tools for Survival and Resistance - The Night

The day-to-day lives of the Jewish partisans were extraordinarily difficult. Jewish partisan units had little arms and ammunition to fight with, and when they were not fighting, they were struggling to find food for survival. They slept in the elements and had little to no medical supplies. They also had to worry about local collaborators plotting against them. Yet, the Jewish partisans evaded capture, used their resources to impede German operations, retook ghettos, killed German troops, and saved thousands of Jewish lives during World War II. They were successful for many reasons and developed many instruments for survival. One way in which the partisans had an advantage over their enemies was their use of the cover of night.

Simon Trakinski

Most partisan group activities, especially those outside of the forest, were carried out at night. Jack Kakis used the cover of night as a setting for his factory-bombing operations, Simon Trakinski's partisan group blew up train lines at nighttime, and the Bielskis used the darkness to veil their food gathering missions. Ben Kamm also led operations at nighttime, successfully freeing 600 Jews from the Janow Lubelski labor camp in Poland.

Norman Salsitz

The night was more or less a necessity for the successful conduct of operations — during the day, it was very difficult for partisans to go anywhere outside the forest without being detected. Even clear nights and the moon caused a great deal of anxiety, so the partisans would actually welcome the kinds of difficult, stormy weather they would otherwise wish to avoid. As Norman Salsitz said:

“Who was our biggest enemy? The moon. The moon was our biggest enemy… if there was a moonlit night, we couldn’t move. So the night, the blizzard, heavy snow, heavy rain, this was our friends.”

The partisans also knew that the Germans had no tactical advantage over the partisans in the dark or in poor conditions. Silvio Ortona explains their strategy:

“We defended ourselves and at night, disappeared, because we were in charge at night. Because we had people who knew everything about the region. And they didn’t move at night… because their weapon superiority was no longer applicable.”

For these reasons, nighttime was an important element for the partisans and a powerful one. Abe Asner, who repeatedly frustrated the Germans with his efficiency under the cover of darkness, describes night’s importance to partisans:

“I think, if I would write a book, the title would be, The Night is Our Mother because lots of things we used to do, at night. The night was protecting us… the night was our mother.”

For more information about the Jewish partisans, please visit the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation's website.