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Showing posts with label Harry Burger. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Harry Burger. Show all posts

Monday, May 9, 2016

Jewish Partisan - Harry Burger, born on May 10th

Harry Burger was born on May 10th, 1924 in Vienna, Austria. The son of a textile merchant, Harry enjoyed an affluent and comfortable upbringing. As a child growing up in a large house, he was left to his own devices a great deal; this helped form his defiant and independent character.

The family lived in Vienna until 1938, when Germany annexed Austria and the German Nuremberg laws were put into effect there. Harry remembers the day he was barred from entering the building of his Jewish school:

“I went to school the next possible day and at the door they were waiting for me and the other Jews and says, ‘You don’t belong to this school anymore. You get out and you go to the next block or two and there’s a public school, and that’s where you’re gonna go.’ So not thinking of nothing, we went up there and I went in. They took me to a classroom and about 30 kids jumped on me and beat the heck out of me.”

As the Nazis continued with their campaigns of persecution in Austria and other occupied territories, the Burger family made plans to escape to France. They escaped through Italy (travelers did not require permits to enter an ally of Germany), where the borders were more porous.

Their hopes for a safe, quiet life were dashed when France was conquered by Germany in 1940. While trying to get a visa to Cuba, Harry’s father was arrested and detained for many months, only to be sent to Auschwitz in the end. Meanwhile, Harry and his mother remained in Nice.

In the summer of 1940, rumors of an impending German invasion were in the air. But instead of the German army, Nice and the surrounding areas in the southeast of France were occupied by the Italians – a gift from Hitler to Mussolini. The Italians were not nearly as abusive to Jews, and life under the Italians was good.

As the war progressed, Italy experienced humiliation on the battlefield and growing discontent at home. The occupation of southeastern France did not last, and the Italians eventually returned across the Alps. Harry, his mother, and 700 other Jews took the opportunity to follow them into Italy, but the Nazis were never far behind. When they arrived at an Italian fort, Harry learned the Nazis were en route to collect the Jews. Harry and his mother escaped capture, while more than 350 of the others were taken by the Nazis.

Right around this time, Italy withdrew from the war, Mussolini was deposed as a leader and the Germans were “coming to the rescue of their allies” by occupying the northern half of the country. Harry and his mother were living in a barn on the Italian-French border when he spotted a group of Italian soldiers. They told them they were leaving for the mountains because the Germans have occupied the town, and Harry asked if he could join them.

“I said to him, ‘Is there a chance that I can join you?’ And he says, ‘Sure.’ And he motioned to one of his guys and he came with a rifle and he gave me the rifle and says, ‘You know what that is?’ I says, ‘Yeah, it’s a rifle.’ ‘You know how to shoot it?’ ‘No. No idea.’ He showed me. He handed it to me and says, ‘You are now a Partisan.’”

In this fashion, Harry Burger became a partisan in the First Alpine Division, where he used his fluency in German to interrogate captured soldiers. As was the case with many Italian partisans, Harry had a nickname – his was Biancastella, after the last name of the officer with whom Harry had to exchange his civilian clothes. The officer needed civilian clothes to go into town and find out the latest war news; unfortunately, the officer never returned, and Harry was left with his uniform – and his ID card.


Harry Burger - aka "Biancastella" - in the mountains

Initially, the First Alpine Division was under-equipped; they eventually received Allied support in the form of airdropped munitions and clothing. One of the First Alpine’s most important tasks was the sabotage of German electric capabilities. In Northern Italy the train system was electrically powered, so the destruction of local electric plants seriously hindered German mobility.

After the war, Harry was reunited with his mother and returned to France. He stayed in France for five years, working as a photographer. In 1950, Harry immigrated to the United States, eventually finding photography work with two prominent television networks. Harry has one child and four grandchildren.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Harry Burger, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan. Harry's book about his time in the partisans - Biancastella - is available on Amazon.


Harry Burger with fellow Jewish partisan Enzo

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Partisan Tools for Survival: Friendly Locals

The world of a partisan, and especially a Jewish partisan, was a treacherous, restless, stressful world. They braved the most unendurable conditions—extreme cold, hunger, fatigue—and survived through the will to fight and persevere. Sometimes they received food, shelter, supplies, information, and medical attention from nearby communities. However, Jewish partisans could not fully trust the often anti-Semitic locals, though their services were necessary. Preventative measures were therefore taken: food and supplies were acquired at gunpoint or with some cunning and often improvised deception. Frank Blaichman recalls, “We had information that a farmer had hidden weapons. We made up a story to tell him that we were Russian paratroopers and we needed the weapons. We had our men far away with broken pitchforks that looked like a gun with a bayonet in the background, so to the farmer he looked like he was dealing with the real thing.” Even medical care was forcefully taken when sympathetic doctors were not available.

Norman Salsitz
Wounded in battle, Norman Salsitz needed surgical attention but did not trust the local doctors, so he took a hand grenade with him and informed the surgeon that if anything went wrong, everybody in the room would be killed. Brenda Senders explains the necessity of using this type of force, “You know, you go in with guns and the person will not give you food so you take it yourself. It was a war, it was not a matter of being polite or this way or the other way. Survival was at stake.”

However, locals who empathized with Jewish partisans or simply shared the same feeling of opposition toward German occupation were a great asset to partisan survival. Leon Idas found that there were local villagers who were friendly and freely informed partisan troops of German movements, and would even escort disguised partisans to the city hospitals to get them aid. Harry Burger found that locals offered up their barns to shelter and care for traveling partisans. Burger and Idas, however, lived and fought in southern Europe, where there was less anti-Semitism. In Poland, Sonia Orbuch did not encounter many sympathetic locals; although, she owes much of her survival to one citizen by the name of Tichon Martinetz who was instrumental in connecting her with the Russian partisans and also supplied the brigade with food in the bitter winter of ’42. Frank Blaichman spent much time with farmers who hid him and his comrades, cooked meals for them, even washed their clothes. “The locals were anti-Semitic, but they were not killers,” Frank Blaichman explained. “When they saw that we took care of German collaborators they were more willing to help us. Without their help we would have never survived.”

Frank Blaichman

According to partisans such as Blaichman, local allies could make all the difference in regards to survival. Even though unsympathetic locals could be tricked or forced at gunpoint to concede services and supplies, not all of survival relies on physical needs. After being chased by locals “like an animal”, when Blaichman found friendly households which sheltered and fed him there was a sense of hope. He said, “They treated us like human beings.”

Monday, June 27, 2011

2011 Youth Writing Contest Participants Comment About Their Experience

Over 500 students from 20 states, Canada and South Africa, representing public, private, Jewish and parochial schools, competed for the notoriety, an iPod Touch, JPEF DVDs, posters and t-shirts for both themselves and their teachers. Click here to read the blog announcing the winning essays.

Elliott Felson, JPEF board co-chair noted, "The students' essays were thoughtful, bright, and creative. Each one of them, from middle school to high school, spoke from the heart and the students were moved to make a difference in the world in their own way."

Many of the of the winning essayists were excited to share their comments:

EJ Weiss, First Place Winner - Upper Division, felt the contest was transformative, "I now not only remember the bitter end of the six million Jews, but also the fighting spirit of the forceful resistance. This contest has forever changed my perspective of the Holocaust, my people, and my family."

Jewish Partisan Sonia Orbuch with winning essayist EJ Weiss.
They had the opportunity to meet last week.

EJ's History Instructor at Kehillah Jewish High School, Jaclyn Guzman was excited to share that "JPEF's writing contest is a perfect match for classes that are looking to transform the lessons of history into their understanding of the world. The contest provides a true connection to real people and brings the past to the present for the students."

Molly Oberstein-Allen, Second Place Winner - Upper Division, observed, "I was glad to be given the opportunity to write about a topic so meaningful to me and to my heritage. I think the contest is a great way for students to both learn about people who stood up for others and to relate those people's actions to current times. The contest gave me new understanding of the Holocaust."

Molly's teacher at Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, Michal Cahlon, adds, "The Youth Writing Contest helped students reflect on the different ways they could effect change in their community, and on the importance of choosing to be a participant rather than a bystander during life's most difficult moments."

"Before the contest, I was familiar with the history of the Holocaust, having recently visited Terezin and Auschwitz." commented Nick Sexton (Third Place Winner, Upper Division), "By participating in the JPEF's Youth Writing Contest I gained insight into the lives of those that resisted the Nazis, teaching me things I did not know before - including that there were people that stood up and managed to save thousands of lives."

Mary Solomon, 8th Grade English and Literature teacher of Mason Stevens, the First Place Winner, - Lower Division, commented, "The Holocaust is a major part of our 8th Grade curriculum, which I have been teaching for more than twenty-five years. The JPEF web site is fabulous because in earlier years when students tried to research partisans there was not much available. This site is now on my list of highly recommended resources. We especially like to emphasize all the people who made a courageous decision to act rather than remain bystanders. Thanks for all that you do to make these stories available to students. They need images of heroes who are not rock stars or sports figures. The JPEF website provides that for them."

Jennifer Peterson, Second Place Winner - Lower Division, observed, "Researching and learning about the Jewish partisans has been a great experience. Thanks to the wonderful resource of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation website, I was able to learn so much I hadn't known about the Holocaust."

JPEF's 2011 Youth Writing Contest was made possible by a contribution in memory of Eta Wrobel (z"l) and contributions in honor of Rose Holm and in memory of Joe Holm (z"l).

Information about the 2012 Writing Contest will be available at www.jewishpartisans.org/contest in January, 2012.

For more information or questions about the contest, please email writingcontest@jewishpartisans.org

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Announcing the Winners of Our Second Annual Youth Writing Contest



Winning Essays are posted below -
please scroll down and click on links.


From 500+ entries representing 20 states across the country as well as entries from Canada and South Africa, in public, private, Jewish and parochial schools, the six top essays were chosen as winners: three from 8th-9th grades and three from 10th-12th grades.

Students were given the following quote as an essay prompt: “The only way for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.” An English statesman expressed this sentiment, two hundred years before the Holocaust. This quote is commonly attributed to Edmund Burke, a member of the House of Commons in England during the time of the American Revolution. Burke supported the independence of the American colonies from England. His quote is as relevant today as it was then.

Student essayists were asked: How do you think this quote relates to the Jewish partisans? Then they wrote a 300 to 500 word personal essay answering this question using specific examples from at least one Jewish partisan that inspired them. Additionally they were asked to write about how they see this quote as relevant today.

The students essay portions on the relevance today ranged from bullying, to pollution to Darfur to standing up against discrimination and oppression.

Essays remained anonymous to our volunteer readers. Each essay was read three times by three different readers.

The winners are:
Lower Division (8th-9th Grades):
1st place:
Mason Stevens, 8th grade, St. Cecilia Catholic School, TX
2nd place:
Jennifer Peterson, 9th grade, Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart, NE
3rd place:
Ashley Gomez. 9th grade, Arts High School, NJ

Upper division (10th-12th Grades):
1st place:
EJ Weiss, 10th grade, Kehillah Jewish High School, CA
2nd place:
Molly Oberstein-Allen, 12th grade, Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, KS
3rd place:
Nicholas Sexton, 11th grade, McNair Academic High School, NJ

The winning essays discussed the life lessons of these Jewish Partisans:



We want to take the opportunity to thank all of the students who participated in the contest, and all of the administrators, educators and mentors who encouraged their participation. We would also like to thank the 40 volunteer readers who helped us judge this contest.

These essays were deeply touching and inspiring to all of us here at JPEF: the staff, board members and partisans. We look forward to hosting the contest again next year.

For further information or questions about the contest, please contact Doug Moss at doug@jewishpartisans.org