Search This Blog

Showing posts with label Guest Blogger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guest Blogger. Show all posts

Friday, June 7, 2013

Guest Blogger - Moshe Baran: Memories Revisited

Moshe Baran is a Polish-Jewish partisan who escaped from a labor camp near Krasne and joined a Russian partisan group. Now in his 90s, Moshe Baran lives in Pittsburgh, and devotes his time to speaking out about his experiences and the destructive power of hatred, which can have devastating consequences for society if left unchecked.

Moshe maintains an active blog entitled Languages Can Kill: Messages of Genocide, which focuses on hate speech and its consequences. We are proud to repost his reflections on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's 20th anniversary celebration, which he attended this spring:

Memories Revisited

It is Monday, April 28, 2013 in Washington, DC, and we are approaching May 8, the 68th anniversary of the end of the war. The Holocaust Museum is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its opening. I am attending a salute to the veterans of WWII and Holocaust survivors, a gathering of more than 4000 people, among them 900 survivors and 150 veterans. We are assembled to witness the presentation of the flags of the American divisions who entered concentration camps in Germany and Austria. The Army orchestra plays as each unit enters with its flag and a voice announces the camps they liberated. Those who are present rise and applaud, my face and those around me flooding with tears of sorrow and pain mixed with tears of joy and pride in those who finally destroyed the beast of the 20th century. President Clinton, Elie Wiesel, teachers and students who are engaged in preserving the memory of the Holocaust are sharing their experiences.

As I stand there, my memory takes me back to January of 1945 when the Second Russian Army, of which I was part, moved west to seal the fate of Hitler’s thousand year Reich. We drove over recent battlefields where the remnants of vehicles were mixed with the remains of bodies. It takes me back to the summer of 1944 when the Russian army, after several years of fighting German hordes, advanced to the west and liberated Belarus and entered Poland. I was part of the resistance that was sabotaging the communications of the occupying forces. I remember the day in 1942 when I stole weapons from a German warehouse, escaped from the forced labor camp where I had been imprisoned for six months, found a group of local Jews who had sought shelter in the surrounding forests and swamps and joined the resistance. I recall the horrible time in the fall of 1941 when the Germans ordered us out of our ancestral homes and herded 300 families into 15 homes, separated by barbed wire from the rest of the town and guarded around the clock, deprived of access to food, water and basic necessities. There we waited knowing that we are doomed, trembling at the sound of mechanized vehicles that might signal the arrival of our fate. From behind the barbed wire we watched as our former neighbors went about their lives assembling in the church across the street to pray after they had been preying on us, performing weddings accompanied by the sound of music. My mind goes back to the good old days prior to 1939 when under Polish rule, in the midst of a Belarusian minority, we enjoyed a naively tranquil life in the shtetl, a village of 300 families, a rabbi, a Hebrew day school, a bank, a free loan association, and volunteers who cared for widows, orphans, and those just passing through. That all came to an end when the Red Storm from the east and the Nazi hell that eventually engulfed all of Europe from the west converged in our place.

I move back towards the present, recalling a visit to an extermination camp in Poland in 2004 accompanied by my son-in-law Paul and grandsons Yossi and Boaz. After stepping out of the barracks where we saw compartments with childrens’ shoes, clothing, and luggage marked from various countries, Paul went outside, sat on the steps and burst into tears. He cried and cried, lacking words, and expressing in the only way he could the despair that he felt.

What is the responsibility of those of us who survived, and those who witnessed the liberation of the concentration camps? It is to share our memories with as wide an audience as possible. We are the last of those who can tell the story in the first person, who can bear personal witness to the destruction of an entire culture. It is painful for us to reach the point in life where the world is so unsettled, where killings and bombings are a daily occurrence. We hoped that WWII would be the end of all wars, but today we live in a world where the institutions of peace are paralyzed and where war is an everyday event, an unremarkable item in the news over which we shake our heads.

In the great economic turmoil of the last few years, there is one bright spot. Israel, the bright and beautiful child of the tragedy of WWII, the dream of a people who were nearly destroyed, has emerged unscathed, one of only five countries that continued to grow and prosper during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We pray and hope that the example set by Israel will serve as a beacon to humankind.

Click here to view the original post on Moshe's blog.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Blogger – Moshe Baran: A Journey Into Memory

Moshe Baran is a Jewish partisan from the town of Horodok, located in present-day southwestern Ukraine but belonging to Poland prior to the war. (View a video of pre-war life in the Horodok shtetl here.) Moshe was in his early 20s when the Nazis rounded up the Jews in Horodok and sent him to a labor camp near Krasne, where he worked grueling 12-hour shifts laying railroad ties and survived on bread crust and potato peel soup.

Having heard about the resistance movement – and the price of admission in the form of a weapon - he was eventually able to assemble a gun from scrap parts he managed to obtain with the aid of friends. He eventually escaped and joined a Russian partisan battalion, where he mined roads, planned ambushes, and set fires in the woods to mark airdrop spots. Moshe was also able to arrange the rescue of his mother, brother, and sister, which was a truly fortunate and rare occurrence for his situation. After the Russians liberated the region in ‘44, he was conscripted into the Red Army – but was spared the uncertain fate of the front lines, thanks to his bookkeeping skills.

After the war, he ended up at a DP camp in Linz, Austria; there, he met his wife Malka, a survivor of the Treblinka concentration camp. They married in the newly-formed state of Israel and emigrated to New York City in 1954. Now in his 90s, Moshe Baran lives in Pittsburgh, and devotes his time to speaking out about his experiences and the destructive power of hatred, which can have devastating consequences for society if left unchecked.

We are honored to re-post the following blog post from Moshe’s blog, Languages Can Kill: Messages of Genocide:

A Journey Into Memory

I had the privilege on January 9 to be interviewed for a documentary on the subject of Jewish resistance during the Second World War in Belarus. The documentary is being produced by Julia Mintz for national release later this year. During the interview, she led me to recount stories of the period prior to the War in the 1930s when the Nazis took power in Germany and began their hate campaign against the Jews. Even when the hate campagain eventually spilled over into Poland, in Belarus in the east where I lived at the time, I did not experience any blatant anti-semitism. The Belarus were a minority in Poland, and we Jews were a minority among them. So there was generally an amiable relationship among the population.

In the process of the interview for the documentary, I recalled that the news of what was going on in Germany and in western Poland certainly had reached us at the time. But as it is in human nature, unless one experiences something oneself, it not was easy to believe that what we were hearing could affect us directly. As with most ordinary people, we were simply naive enough to rely upon the humanity of our fellow humans. This proved to be a great disappointment, to put it mildly.

When words of hate are being disseminated we need to take it very seriously. There is never room for complacency, even when it seems that we ourselves are safe and unlikely to be affected by such speech. Words of hate lead to acts of hate, acts of hate lead to atrocities and genocide. We did not believe at the time that the words we were hearing could affect us in such a short time. But hate has no borders: those words did affect us, and they eventually affected the entire world.

“Love blinds us to faults, hatred to virtues” — Moshe Ibn Ezra

Click here to view the original post on Moshe's blog.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Educator Guest Blog: JPEF Web Quest by Debra Bella

Debra Bella, an educator from Robbinsville High School in New Jersey, created a web quest for her students using materials found on our main website. Students follow the prompts, answering the questions as they go along. Debra was kind enough to send us the directions for the web quest, which can be downloaded as a PDF here, along with the answer sheet.

Jewish Partisans Webquest

DIRECTIONS: Go to the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation

Use the website to complete the web quest about Jewish partisans. Read the directions carefully. Write all responses on the answer sheet.


Under Explore on the toolbar → select Someone Like Me.

  • Answer the questions. Select one of the photos that remain and read the short biography about the person. (If no picture remains, change your response(s) until one or more picture(s) appear.) There are 2 pages to the biography section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.
  • Use the toolbar to look at the images. Use the toolbar to watch the video.
    1. What is the name of the person you researched? Male/Female? Age?
    2. Describe their activities as a partisan.
    3. What impressed you the most?
    4. What question would you ask them if you could?


Click Explore on the small toolbar → select WHAT is a Partisan? There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.

  • Read about Jewish partisans and the varied forms of resistance.
    1. How is a partisan defined?
    2. What were some ways Jews resisted? Do you think these were effective resistance methods? Why or why not?

On the small toolbar, select WHO Were the Jewish Partisans? There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.

  1. Describe who the partisans were.
  2. What percentage were women?
  3. Which partisan group took families with young children?
  4. Click on the name Frank Blaichman. There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom. How old was he when he joined the resistance? Describe his role as a partisan. Use the toolbar to watch the video.
    Frank said, “The reality was we had nothing to lose, and our way to survive was to fight.” Do agree or disagree with his statement? Why or why not?

On the small toolbar, select WHEN did the Partisans Fight? There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.

  • Read about the fighting.
    1. When and where was the first known partisan fighting?

On the small toolbar, select WHERE did the Partisans Fight? There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.

  • Read about the where the partisans fought.
    1. The partisans fought in almost every country in Europe. Where did they hide?
    2. Click on the name Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Boyarski. Describe her role as a partisan. What impressed you the most?

On the small toolbar, select WHY did the Partisans Fight?

  • Read about the reasons why people chose to fight.
    1. Click on the name Sonia Orbuch. There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom. How old was she when she joined the resistance? Describe her role as a partisan. Use the toolbar to watch the video. What impressed you the most about Sonia?

On the small toolbar, select HOW did the Partisans Accomplish Their Goals? There are 2 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom.

  • Read about how the partisans fought against the Nazis.
    1. What advantages did the partisans have over the Nazis?
    2. What is anti-Semitism?
    3. Do you think it was ethical for the partisans to steal what they needed? Defend your response.


Click Explore on the toolbar → select Virtual Underground Bunker.

  • Read about the underground bunkers.
    1. 18. Use the virtual camera to explore the inside of the zemlyankas. Describe what you see.
    2. Using the toolbar, select More About the Zemlyankas. There are 3 pages to this section. To advance to the next page, use the arrow located on the right bottom. Read about them. Would you be able to live like this? Why or why not?


Based on all that you have learned, write a personal reaction. Your paragraph must have 5 to 7 sentences.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Intern Guest Blog: A Day In The Life at JPEF

My name is Aaron Lapidus and I am interning at The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation for the summer through the Kohn Internship program at Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco. Starting out in June, I had no idea what I was getting into. I have never held a nine-to-five, all-week kind of job, so this was my first foray into the real working world. I had heard of JPEF, but did not know exactly what they were all about. I was told that, as their name implies, they teach about the Jewish partisans: Jewish resistance fighters who fought back against the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. Going into this job, that is all I thought they did, but I have since learned that they are so much bigger than that.

Every week, I start my Mondays off by inputting new registrants into an online database. Entering this weekly data has shown me that JPEF does not just reach out to educators (thought that is a big part of it). We do outreach to everyone from museum staff and Holocaust memorial curators to students. Educators teaching everyone from preteens to college aged students are a part of the JPEF network, as well as people from all around the world. To think that in a little over ten years, a few people in an office in San Francisco could touch so many people – who are in turn teaching others to fight oppression and stand up for themselves – is quite remarkable.

A big goal of my summer internship here at JPEF has been to analyze the annual Educator Survey, which JPEF conducted a few months ago. Going over every question in detail got a little monotonous and turned into an endless stream of numbers and Excel tabs. However, one of the last questions asked if the educators had any suggestions for JPEF to be more helpful or if we could do anything to improve their teaching experience with regards to the partisans. Over half responded that everything was great, and they were totally satisfied with JPEF materials. Many were telling their friends about it, and most said they would be interested in having teacher workshops in their areas. They could see the impact the curriculum had on their students, who were only familiar with the stories of Jewish victimhood during the Holocaust until they learned about the partisans.

From my perspective, this was tangible evidence that our work here at JPEF really does make a difference. Through open-minded, engaging educators, students and young people are learning about this rarely-taught subject on the Holocaust, as well as understanding the importance of fighting back, not giving in, and resisting oppression. Across the globe, people’s lives are being touched every day when they learn about this group of people who dared to stand up to the Nazis. Knowing that, for a few months this summer, I could help touch people’s lives in some small way makes this a truly special experience.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Educator Guest Blog: Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella - Partisans, Parallel History, and Teaching with the Youth Writing Contest

"Teaching a partisan unit is not teaching an 'instead of' history of the Holocaust ... it is learning about a parallel story. An incredible story of strength, courage, and - above all - humanity."

Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella, who recently received the 2012 Hellen Diller Award for excellence in Jewish Education, is a Bay Area educator whose students have been winners in JPEF’s Youth Writing Contest for two years in a row - in 2011 and 2012. Jaclyn shares insights about teaching the Holocaust through the Jewish partisans and Jewish resistance.

“Close your eyes, everyone. I want you to close your eyes and focus on the darkness. Drop away all your thoughts and focus on the quiet in the room and the blankness in front of your closed eyes. I am going to say some words and I want you to remember what you see when you hear these words. Again, I am going to repeat some words and you need to take a mental picture of the visual that pops up into your head.” The students are silent and from the low yet warm tone in my voice they know that this is a serious exercise and they do not try to deviate from the task.

I start the words. “Holocaust (pause), Holocaust (pause), Shoah (pause), 6 million (pause), Holocaust.” Even with an extended pause at the end of the words the students do not open their eyes yet. “I want you to open your eyes. On your worksheets you have a space to write a description of what you saw or to draw a picture. Feel free to take advantage of either medium and show me what you saw.” The students maintain their silence as they diligently get to work. There are no side conversations, no giggles, and no telepathic stares across the room to friends. After a few minutes some are eager to discuss, others sit back and prepare to listen instead. For some students, this topic is extremely delicate. I teach in a Jewish high school and this is not an unfamiliar story for many students: it is the history of their family.

“Alright, let’s see what you saw," I start, “but first, let’s see how similar the image may have been. Raise your hand if what you saw was in black and white or grayish in color.” Almost all hands went up. “And how many of you saw children in your mind?” Again, a large showing of hands from the students. “And lastly, raise your hand if in your mental picture the people you saw were wearing striped clothing with a yellow star?” Every single hand went up. At this point students were able to individually share what they saw in their mind. There were similarities in several aspects and differences throughout. But one similarity rang loud and clear: it was a concentration camp story. We discussed where they had previously learned about the Holocaust: museums, classes, parents, movies, and they agreed that they mostly/only knew the perspective from the camps and ghettos.

In my senior year of college, I took a course on resistance in the Holocaust. This was a graduate level course and I was only able to get in due to low enrollment from graduate students, and by arguing my way in with the professor. It was a difficult class and it inspired in me a personal passion for learning about the resistance movement during the war. How could I not know about this? I was a Jewish Studies minor and I only discovered this history in my senior year?! I knew I was going to be a teacher and it was very important to me to integrate this important movement into any Holocaust unit in the future. The partisan story felt overlooked for a history so intense with emotion, especially for the teenage mind.

After the mental picture exercise I give a full introduction into the partisan movement. As a Jewish school, the students are most definitely aware of the horrors of the Holocaust. Many of them have visited the US Holocaust Museum in DC and even Yad Vashem in Israel. They have gone to Jewish day schools that had specific units for the Holocaust. Teaching a partisan unit is not teaching an “instead of” history of the Holocaust, I tell them, it is learning about a parallel story. An incredible story of strength, courage, and - above all - humanity. At this point, the students are rapt with attention. They themselves did not know that there was something they actually didn’t know about the Holocaust. They are curious. As a history teacher it is important to seize the moments when your students are curious, because that’s when there is serious potential for self-directed learning.

I schedule this unit to coincide with Yom HaShoah and the end of the JPEF Writing Contest (the essay is my assessment for the unit), which is generally toward the tail end of the year. By this time in our writing curriculum they have advanced in their persuasive writing and it is time to introduce formalized research writing. Fully seizing the opportunity of their curiosity, the students are required to ask questions about the partisans and research the answers. To help fuel these questions, we start out with some basics on the partisans. It is at this point that JPEF’s website is invaluable. We start with the Introduction to the Partisans film. While the students watch the film they record various questions they have and lines that stick out to them. Their homework is to answer their questions using the JPEF website, as well as several other websites including,, and

While the students research the facts and figures outside the classroom, my unit lessons involve something much deeper: emotion. Teens can be desensitized to the level of violence, pain, and sorrow that was felt during this time period. They can find it difficult to empathize with the stories that they read on the website. It can feel so far removed. To try to bridge this gap, we look at what it means to be dehumanized. How the scars of tragedy and war are not only physical, but also emotional. And we look at how, in the darkest of times, people can band together in unity and maintain hope. In order to explore these highly emotional topics I utilize a safe simulation of emotional scarring, song analysis of partisan lyrics and music, and of course, the movie Defiance. The students take all of the informal and formal education regarding the experience of the partisans and all of it evolves to a personal essay reflecting on what they learned.

Each year I use the JPEF writing contest to dictate the focus of this unit. I was so pleased this year that the focus was on women. It brought out a whole new set of challenges in the story and the girls in my classes were particularly interested in the new role models they had in front of them. Then, one of the largest surprises this year happened as I was walking down the hall. One of our Hebrew teachers, Mrs. Raz, noticed the JPEF shirt I was wearing on the day I started my unit. She commented that she liked the shirt and I told her about the unit I was beginning in my class. She smiled and said “It is very good that you are teaching them about the partisans. My mother was a partisan.” I was shocked! I have known her for 5 years and she never told me this! So I asked Mrs. Raz to come to class and tell us about her mother’s experience. Mrs. Raz shared the story that she pieced together from memories of her mother’s tales and a book that her eldest brother wrote about his experiences in the partisans when he was 5 years old. The students were enthralled with her story as the history they were learning was so deeply connected to one of their favorite teachers.

I do not see this same level of interest in students during the French Revolution unit, the Renaissance, or the Asian Empires. This unit is special. This contest is special. And they know it is special. I can see it in their eyes when I say one particular sentence when explaining them the rules of the writing contest: “Your essay will be reviewed by a panel that includes partisans.” There it is. The connection that they crave in learning. The students understand that they are the last generation to interact with and hear stories from individuals who experienced the war, who felt the emotions, who, as survivors, are the ultimate revenge. This unit is successful because the students feel it. They don’t just memorize it for a test and forget about it next week. When they close their eyes they can see the history through the eyes and heart of another. That’s what it takes to have history mean something. History is not meant to be a timeline; an endless list of names, dates, and events. History has to have a soul.

Jaclyn Guzman Zarrella has been an instructor at Kehillah Jewish High School since 2008 where she integrates Jewish history and values into her history classes. She was pivotal in the creation of Kehillah’s History of Zionism and Israel class. Jaclyn holds a BA in American History with a minor in Jewish Studies from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She also holds a Master of Arts in Education with single-subject credentials in Social Studies and English, also obtained at UC Santa Cruz. Jaclyn credits her amazing professors, especially Bruce Thompson, with fostering her interest in Jewish History. Mrs. Zarrella was the 2012 recipient of the Helen Diller Award for Excellence in Jewish Education in the Day School category. Jaclyn currently lives in Fremont, CA with her husband and adorable cat.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ralph Berger Shares His Impressions Of Speaking At Miami-Dade College

Ralph Berger, the editor of With Courage Shall We Fight and the son of Jewish partisans, recently spoke at Miami Dade College as part of Miami’s Holocaust Education Week. He shares his experiences our readers.

In February 2012, as part of Miami’s Holocaust Education Week, my brother Al and I were fortunate enough to have been asked to speak about the book we edited, With Courage Shall We Fight: The Memoirs and Poetry of Holocaust Resistance Fighters Frances “Fruma” Gulkowich Berger and Murray “Motke” Berger, which tells the story of our parents’ lives before, during and after WWII. The experience at Miami Dade College was one that neither of us will soon forget.

The College did a great job of publicizing the event. As we walked around campus, we saw posters announcing the event containing not only our pictures and the book cover, but one of the Bielski Brigade as well. The auditorium seated 350 people. We were quite surprised as students and professors kept coming into the room. More and more piled in. Extra chairs had to be brought in and some students wound up sitting on the floor. Unfortunately, some had to be turned away at the door.

As people were walking in, a slide show obtained from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was playing. One professor then spoke about Jewish resistance during WWII and the Bielski Brigade in particular. He introduced the JPEF film “Intro to the Partisans.” Another professor introduced me and Al and had clearly read the book. He talked about our parents and the roles that they played in the Brigade.

This was one of the most attentive audiences we had ever seen. After our presentations, a professor came up to us and said that the “audience was so focused you could hear the proverbial pin drop.” The highlight for me came when one of the students read a poem of my Mom’s, “The Little Orphan.” He had a thick Spanish accent. Me and Al were “fahrklempt.” I could see my parents smiling.

Many of the students were from Cuba and Puerto Rico. They asked very heartfelt questions after the lectures. Though not Jewish, it was clear that they were engrossed in the story because so many of them could identify with parts of it - the universal story of resistance to oppression, fleeing from persecution and for a better life. I feel so lucky and so privileged to have been given the opportunity to help educate people – not only about the Partisans, but also about this very important chapter in Jewish history.

— Ralph Berger