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Showing posts with label Holocaust education. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Holocaust education. Show all posts

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Celebrating Joe Kubryk's 91st Birthday - July 1st

"We had a very difficult time in the partisans among our own soldiers. What happened is we had Ukrainians, we had Poles, we had Polish soldiers that escaped from the prisons of Juaros and came to the partisans. And we had Russians. None of them really liked the Jews."
- Joe Kubryk on being a Jewish partisan.

Joe Kubryk was born in the Russian Ukraine, not far from Odessa, on July 1st, 1926. Before the war, the Kubryk family did not experience much antisemitism, but after the war broke out, Joe’s village was filled with Ukrainian fascists, who cooperated with the Germans to kill Jews. When Joe saw the Germans rounding up his classmates, he knew he had to run for his life. In August 1941, not long after his friends were taken by the Nazis, Joe left the village. He found a Ukrainian farmer who hired him as a farmhand. The farmer had not idea Joe was Jewish as Joe was fluent Ukrainian. While Joe cried himself to sleep at night, he never let anyone see him doing it. He didn’t want to explain why he was crying.
Near the end of 1941, Russian partisans came scavenging for food at Joe’s farm. Curious, he asked them who they were. “Russian partisans,” came the reply. “Who are you?” When they heard he was Jewish and alone in the world, they said, “You are one of us,” and took him to a camp in the forest of Drohobicz. A few months after Joe arrived, a junior secret service was formed. Joe and the other teenagers began serious training in spying — learning how to recognize guns, artillery pieces and officers’ insignia. They were “toughed-up” in the training, taught secret codes and the rules of espionage. The Junior Secret Service spied on German troops. Platoon by platoon, they counted men, checked equipment, noted who the ranking officers were and where they were camped. They also provided information to saboteurs who mined bridges and railroads to disrupt German military activity. Joe still bears the shrapnel scars he received during gunfights with the German army, and a German bombardment left him deaf in one ear.
After the war, Joe worked for the Bricha, the illegal immigration of Jews to Israel. Joe then fought in Israel’s War of Independence and worked for the Mossad, the Israeli Secret Service, before moving to America, where he became a successful businessman.
Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Joe Kubryk, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan. Our study guides section also contains a guide titled Joe Sasha Kubyrk: Teenage Partisan Spy.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Featured Jewish Partisan - Sonia Orbuch, Born May 24

“I didn’t even bend down my head, I wasn’t worried that I was going to get killed, If I was going to get killed I was going to get killed as a fighter, not because I am a Jew.”
— Sonia Orbuch, during JPEF interview.
Sarah Shainwald was 14 years old and ready to start high school when the bombs began falling on September 1st, marking the official start of World War II. The Soviets invaded Poland from the east and Lubomi was handed to the Russians under the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact that divided Poland between the two powers.

For two years, with Lubomi under the Soviets, Sarah grew up against the backdrop of war with worries about her family’s future. Then in 1941, her small Polish town fell under German occupation following Operation Barbarossa, Germany's attack on the Soviet Union. Sarah and her family were confined to the ghetto alongside the other members of the Jewish community.
When the Nazis began killing Jews in the ghetto, it did not take long for the news to spread. Sarah's brother and several male friends escaped to join a partisan group, but this group only accepted young men – so the open forest was the only hope for Sarah and her parents. They hid among the trees where they survived in freezing temperatures for months.
Eventually, Sarah and her family made contact with a nearby Russian partisan group through the help of a sympathetic local peasant. Fortunately, her uncle Tzvi was a trained scout. The Russians needed his life-long knowledge of the surrounding terrain, and accepted the entire family into their group. Thus Sara began her new life in the forest encampment that served as a base for sabotage and resistance missions.
Sarah was renamed Sonia by the partisans, for 'Sarah' is not a common Russian name and would have exposed her to danger from various anti-Semitic elements. Early on, Sonia was assigned to guard duty and providing first-aid on missions to mine enemy train tracks. With little training, Sonia learned the skills of a field-hospital aide, treating the wounds of injured partisans, using whatever makeshift supplies were available.
In the winter of 1943-44, Sonia’s battalion joined eleven others to establish a winter camp deeper in the forest. The camp had several thousand members and her duties were transferred to the camp’s hospital. Sonia recalls her day-to-day experience there:
“During the daytime, the fights were terrible...you didn’t take off your shoes, you didn’t wash; you barely ate. You just worked very hard providing whatever comfort your could...I was frightened, horrified at the numbers of people we lost.”
To avoid possible torture and interrogation in the event of capture, Sonia carried two hand grenades on her person, “One for the enemy, and one for myself.”
In 1944, Sonia and her parents faced the decision of either leaving the partisans or joining the Red Army. They decided to leave the partisans and took refuge in an abandoned house. They were unaware that the house was infected with typhus, which soon claimed Sonia’s mother, leaving only Sonia and her father.
As the war ended, Sonia focused her energy on getting to America. These days, Sonia lives in Northern California. But the past is never far away. “I miss my family every minute of the day,” Sonia says. “I see them always before my eyes.”
Sonia defiantly proclaims. “I want young people to know we were fighting back and that you can always find a way to fight back against injustice, racism, or anti-Semitism. If I was going to get killed, I was going to get killed as a fighter and not because I am a Jew. That itself gave me strength to go on.
Sonia realized that while terror was raging around her, kindness always managed to shine through. “I feel great respect for the Russian people who were so brave and helpful to us,” Sonia says. “Life is very precious. Even though the world is cruel, there are some good people and they should not be forgotten.”
She continues to share her experiences - most recently, she participated in our live Q&A Partisan Webcast. Over twenty schools tuned in to watch. She was also featured in several of the winning essays from our 2012 Youth Writing Contest - click here to read them. Pictured below is Sonia with last year's contest winner EJ Weiss:
Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about the Sonia Orbuch, including seven videos of Sonia reflecting on her time as a partisan. You can also download our study guide Sonia Orbuch: A Young Woman With The Russian Partisans.
Sonia has written about her experiences in the partisans in her book Here, There Are No Sarahs: A Woman's Courageous Fight Against the Nazis and Her Bittersweet Fulfillment of the American Dream, available on Amazon.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Joseph Greenblatt - Jewish partisan born 101 Years Ago Today

"I lost my family -- lost my father, my mother, my brother, lost all the close relatives, and that was about 70 members of my closest family. It was tough to talk about it, and the refresh bring it back to your memory. It was painful. But as the time was going by, and I felt the story which I know firsthand has to be told."
- Joseph Greenblatt.
Joseph Greenblatt was born in Warsaw in 1915. He learned about resistance from his father, an army captain who had fought for Polish independence during WWI. At eighteen, Joe enlisted in the Polish army as an infantryman, becoming an officer in 1938. In 1939 he was mobilized and sent to the Polish-German border. He witnessed the German invasion directly and fought for almost twenty days before being taken prisoner and sent to a German POW camp. It was in the camp that he began to establish connections with the newly formed Armia Krajowa (AK). The AK hijacked a German truck, transporting Joe to a hospital, freeing him and his fellow prisoners.
Joe returned to Warsaw, only to find the Jewish population of the city walled into a newly formed ghetto. Though they were imprisoned the Jews of Warsaw were far from passive; underground resistance units had already begun to form. Joe used his army connections to amass a stockpile of black market weapons. He also met and married his wife, the younger sister of a comrade in arms.
In the spring of 1943, rumors of a full-scale liquidation circulated. Joe and the other partisan commanders decided it was time to act. Disguised as Nazis, they attacked German soldiers as they entered the ghetto. Joe remembers how men from his unit threw a Molotov cocktail into a tank, destroying it and killing several Germans. Joe eventually escaped from the ghetto through the sewer system, emerging in the Gentile quarter. Hiding his identity with a Christian alias, Joe made contact with his old POW comrades and joined the AK. He then worked as a member of the Polish underground, raiding a German train depot and aiding in the assassination of a prominent SS official. In late 1944 he was remobilized with the Polish army.
When Germany surrendered, Joe was working as the commander of a camp of German POWS. After the war Joe went to work for the Irgun under the command of Menachem Begin, traveling between Belgium and Israel as an arms dealer.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Joseph Greenblatt, who passed away on March 11, 2003 at the age of 87, including four videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Leon Idas, born July 11, 1925, Fought for the Liberation of Greece at 16

"We are Jewish, and you know what happened to the Jews, I said, they round them up and we come here, we didn't care if it is Communists or Royalists or Democratic, Conservative, we come here to become Partisan, to fight the common enemy — the Nazis."
— Leon Idas.
      Leon was born July 11, 1925 in Athens, Greece and grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood with his father, a textiles merchant, mother, four brothers, and sister. He attended a private school run by the Greek Orthodox Church. The Christian theology Leon learned there proved useful as a means to keep his Jewish identity hidden during the war.
      Shortly after the beginning of the German occupation of Greece in 1941, sixteen year-old Leon joined a group of partisans fighting for the liberation of Greece under a socialist banner. At that time, there were three groups of partisans in Greece: socialist, democratic, and loyalist. Leon fought and served as communications specialist with the partisans for more than two years, winding wires through the trees in various villages to establish telephone communication.

Leon Idas training to use a machine gun.
      The partisans lived in, and organized armed resistance against the German army, from bases in the mountains of Greece. Aided by nearby villages, British airdrops of supplies, and their own resourcefulness, the partisans employed primarily ambush and guerrilla tactics against the German army. The Germans in turn attempted to eliminate the partisans by destroying villages that supported them.

Leon Idas (middle) with two army friends
      Leon spent more than three years with the partisans. During that time, Leon suffered through hunger, lice, and lack of adequate clothing, and had virtually no contact with his family — save for a single encounter with one of his brothers who was fighting for another partisan group.
At the end of the war in December 1945, Leon left the partisans and returned to his family home in Athens. Once there, he was reunited with what was left of his family and learned that his parents and brother Gabriel had died in Auschwitz during this time.
      Leon eventually made his way to the United States with no more than 50 cents in his pocket and settled in Baltimore, Maryland. He married and raised a family of three sons and one daughter, and started his own clothing business, Royal Vintage Clothing. Leon passed away on April 12th, 2013, and was laid to rest in the private Jewish Family Cemetery on the island of Samos, Greece, alongside his grandfather Leon Goldstein and Uncle Albert Goldstein.
      Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Leon Idas, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan. Leon's son, Sam Idas, has created a photo montage of Leon's life. He was gracious enough to share it with JPEF - click here to view the montage video.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

New JPEF Curricula, Film and E-Learning 2.0 for 2012-2013

Here’s a sneak peak at just some of what JPEF has planned for the coming school year in 2012-2013:

  • New Curricula – including Tactics of Resistance and a new How-To series, starting with Strengthening Jewish Pride
  • E-Learning 2.0 – Improved interface, professional development units and new courses
  • New FilmThe Reunion: Jewish partisans from around the world gather and share their stories – including two friends who reunite for the first time in 65 years
  • New Workshops and Pilot Programs

New Curricula
Tactics of Resistance

When is violence is an appropriate response to Aggression (if ever)? Was non-violence effective during the Holocaust? Expand your students’ vocabulary and creative/critical thinking around the spectrum of violent and non-violent resistance to aggression today (globally and in our own lives) through the lens of Jews who fought back against the Holocaust. Includes an overview of Jewish armed and unarmed resistance during the Holocaust.

Painting on the right by Mieczyslaw Watorski, courtesy of the Holocaust Library & Resource Center at Albright College.

How to Use JPEF Materials to…

JPEF is launching a new series of educator’s guides on how to use our materials for specific subjects and contexts such as Language Arts, Tolerance and Civics classes. Our first module, Strengthening Jewish Identity includes discussion questions to go with our films, tips for increasing Jewish pride, and an index of materials best suited to day schools, summer camps, supplementary programs, youth groups and more.

Workshops and Pilot Programs

E-Learning 2.0

Draft screenshot of our new E-Learning interfaceOver 89% of educators who have take a JPEF E-Learning course said they would take another and 97% would recommend it to a colleague. Now the State of New Jersey Holocaust Commission is offering professional development units for each course, and we’re working on more certifications. We’re also developing new courses for our upcoming curricula and other projects.

The Reunion

In November 2011, JPEF honored more than 55 surviving Jewish partisans in a series of events in New York City. JPEF’s newest documentary, "The Reunion," features candid conversations about the responsibilities of being one of the last Holocaust survivors, and moments of joy as former resistance fighters see each other for the first time in over 65 years. "The Reunion" tells the story of lifelong bonds and a unique legacy that connects people across decades and generations.

  • The Reunion premieres in New York, San Francisco and Miami with an additional screening in Dallas, and will eventually be featured on our website
  • For more information about the film, please visit our Reunion page.

Allen and Leon at the JPEF Partisan Tribute Dinner

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 www.yadvashem.org, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org, and www.ushmm.org.

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, 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.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

This Month in Jewish Partisan History: Nesvizh Ghetto Resistance, July 1942

The Jews in Nesvizh organized one of the first Jewish uprisings during World War II in order to resist complete liquidation of their community. Nesvizh is a small city in Belarus, over 100 kilometers southwest of Minsk, full of public parks and architectural attractions, and is passed through by a lake. On the small lake’s eastern bank the formidable Nesvizh castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, stands tucked in between shade trees, cosseted by ramparts and canals. As a center for fairs, the town attracted artisans, horticulturalists, and farmers. Until 1942, there had been a Jewish community here for hundreds of years.

Nesvizh Synagogue, date unknown. Compiled by the members of the Nesvizh Study Group.

After the German invasion in June 1941, an aktion was ordered on Nesvizh and thousands of Jews were executed all at once in the small city. By October 30, 1941, the Jewish population in Nevizh had been reduced from between 4,500 to 5,000 to approximately 600 Jews. The remaining Jewish population was limited to a ghetto.

Anticipating a second aktion, an underground movement in the ghetto was formed to resist the community’s complete annihilation and to embody the mottos: “We shall not go like sleep to slaughter” and “Let me die with the Philistines”. Underground participants acquired arms by having weapons — including a machine gun — smuggled into the city from storehouses. Nine months later, in July of 1942, the Nesvizh ghetto began to hear of German liquidation engulfing nearby communities. They prepared for the imminent orders: digging bunkers, organizing into fighting units, and preparing additional homemade weapons like knives and hatchets. In the event of an occupation, they planned to set fire to the ghetto and break through to the forest.

On July 20th, a German commander stood outside the gates of the ghetto and announced the order to liquidate with the exception of thirty essential skilled workers. When the Germans and collaborating Belarusians infiltrated the ghetto, the Jewish resistance set their houses aflame and fought towards the gate. The Germans and Belarusians soon overpowered the resistance, killing most in the onslaught. Only twenty-five underground fighters succeeded in escaping to nearby forests.

Having endured one of the first ever ghetto uprisings, many of these survivors went on to join partisan units, including the Zhukov Otriad, and continued in the struggle to resist.

Entrance to the Nesvizh Castle, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

This uprising is described in detail in: Cholawski, Shalom, Soldiers from the Ghetto: The First Uprising Against the Nazis (San Diego and New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., Inc, 1980).

Nesvizh, 2004.