Thursday, October 19, 2017
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.
Wednesday, August 17, 2011
On the night of July 24, 1942, the ghetto of Dereczyn was liquidated; between 3,000 and 4,000 Jews were murdered and placed in a mass grave.
Before the Germans swept Dereczyn, some 250 Jews evaded execution and fled into the forests. They were assisted by another survivor, 33-year old Dr. Yehezkel Atlas who had fled from Kozlowszczyzna, in the Slonim district of western Belarus, where he saw his sister and parents murdered. He was the physician of a partisan group commanded by Pavel Bulak and Boris Bulat, and he brought the refugees from Dereczyn to the two Soviet commanders. There was already a partisan fighting group of Soviet and Polish soldiers, but Atlas announced his intention to form an all-Jewish unit, to give the survivors of Dereczyn vengeance for their murdered families.
Bulak dismissed him, insisting Jews were not fighters, and in any case they did not have weapons to prove themselves. Furthermore, Bulak did not want Atlas, although he was a skilled tactician, to be a partisan leader; he was essential as a physician. Dr. Atlas was adamant and convinced Bulak enough that the commander sent the Jewish men to prove their merit on a dangerous operation — half-expecting failure. When Atlas and the others returned with newly attained arms, Bulak allocated forces for an all-Jewish partisan unit.
One Jewish partisan who came from Dereczyn, Gertrude Boyarski, described her choice to join the fighting unit under Bulak instead of the family camp:
On August 10, 1942, Dr. Yehezkel Atlas received permission to attack the Germans at Dereczyn. Under the authority of Bulak and Bulat, Atlas led 300 partisans in an armed attack on the German garrisons. They successful took control of the town, capturing 44 German policemen and killing almost 20 in the struggle. After raiding the supplies, the Jewish partisans now all had high Russian boots, leather knapsacks, shirts, and a number of small, good-quality arms and ammunition. Atlas ordered the 44 captured German policemen atop the mass grave outside Dereczyn, where they were lined up and executed.
After the operation, Atlas told his unit:
Friday, August 5, 2011
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.
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.
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:
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:
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:
For more information about the Jewish partisans, please visit the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation's website.
Wednesday, July 6, 2011
The first scene of the film Defiance, as originally produced, opens with an elderly Tuvia Bielski (played by Daniel Craig) driving a cab in New York City. He picks up an fare — an elderly gentleman, who is a former Bielski partisan who recognizes Tuvia by his cabbie's license.
In this video shot recently in New York, Defiance director Edward Zwick discusses this scene, and why he ultimately replaced it with something that wouldn't be "comfortable" or "nice".
For more videos, including Zwick discussing Defiance, visit our youtube page. For more on Defiance — including educational material and interviews with Tuvia Bielski's brother Aron — go to jewishpartisans.org/defiance.