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Showing posts with label Nekama. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Nekama. Show all posts

Friday, June 6, 2014

Featured Jewish Partisan: Chaya Porus Palevsky Blog

Obeying a last-minute command from a friend, Chaya jumped off a train filled with residents of the Swieciany ghetto, bound for the town of Kovno. Not long afterwards, in Vilna, she learned that everyone on the train – including her entire family – was murdered by the Nazis.

Swieciany (Švenčionys), the small town where Chaya was born, is located in the northeastern corner of Lithuania, 84 kilometers north of Vilnius. In June 1941, the Nazis forced all the town’s Jews into a ghetto. Chaya and her family became active in housing runaway Jews and their home became a meeting place for people who wanted to learn about the war. Chaya's sister Rochel, who was a registered nurse, worked in the secret hospital and was known as the “angel of the ghetto” for her tireless efforts helping the sick.


The town of Švenčionys, circa 1916 (German postcard)

After she found out the Nazis murdered her family, Chaya turned grief into action by joining a partisan group led by Fedor Markov, a well-respected teacher from her hometown. Typically, women were not allowed to fight in resistance groups, but Chaya gained admittance by proving her usefulness with a small handheld Belgian gun she owned. Her group formed alliances with other Jewish partisan groups, and a Jewish unit was formed. They called it “Nekamah” – which means revenge in Hebrew. Markov boldly stated “You should be proud, you are young and very brave people.” Nekamah flourished into a thriving partisan outpost, with around ninety members, all living deep in the woods in zemlyankas (underground bunkers that held up to twenty people, carefully camouflaged into the forest floor). There were also smaller bunkers, including one designated for ill partisans.

Chaya's partisan group lived up to their name, as they participated in significant acts of retribution against the Nazis. Nekamah burned down an electric station, derailed trains, destroyed German weapons and food sources. They were also active in communicating news about the resistance and warning people in nearby villages and ghettos about the Nazis’ plans of mass extermination.

The small percentage of women – including Chaya – who had gained membership into partisan groups, experienced a different set of hardships than their male counterparts once they were accepted. Unwanted advances from male partisans were all too common. Women were often assigned to gender-related tasks like cooking and cleaning, instead of fighting.


Partisans from the "Nekama" unit. Photo credit: Ghetto Fighters House/Eliat Gordon Levitan.

Eventually, Nekamah was dismantled by the Soviets, who would not allow Jewish partisan groups under their watch. After liberation, Chaya went on to marry a fellow partisan, Simon and immigrated to New York City, where they opened up a jewelry business and spent the rest of their lives. They had two sons and remained active in assisting Holocaust survivors in finding employment.

To find out more about Jewish women partisans, please visit our curriculum page.

–By Julia Kitlinski-Hong

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Partisans in the Arts: Alexander Bogen (1916-2010)

"Why would a man in grave danger create art? For an artist, the motivation to create is even more powerful than existence itself."
— Alexander Bogen.

From the series: "Partisans", 1949. Lino-cut. Copyright © 2011 Yad Vashem — The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

Alexander Bogen’s sketches during World War II show a tremendous knowledge of the human condition: an abandoned child in the streets of the Vilna ghetto, an old man who is dying, comrades drinking vodka and playing cards around a bonfire. Although condemned to record his subjects often without—or in place of—the ability to save them, his passion for art was a weapon in itself against the Nazi forces.

Alexander Bogen, unit commander of Nekama. Copyright © 2011 Yad Vashem — The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

Bogen was, however, able to save a great deal of lives through his efforts as the commander of a partisan unit. Born in 1916, Bogen grew up in Vilna, Poland, and studied painting and sculpture at Vilna’s university. When World War II began, he left and joined a partisan movement in the endless forests surrounding Lake Naroch in Belarus. Facing discrimination from the non-Jewish partisans, Bogen assisted in forming an all-Jewish otriad called Nekama, meaning Vengeance. He served as a unit commander, helping transport people from the Vilna ghetto before it was liquidated.

During the war, Bogen compulsively sketched his surroundings to document ghetto and partisan life, dropping his gun to capture his brothers in arms. In the forest he scavenged scraps of packing paper, burnt twigs, charcoal from fire to continue his representations of life. These sketches serve as an invaluable record not only of Jewish partisan life, but also of human perseverance.

Jewish Partisans, 1943. Ink on paper. Copyright © 2011 Yad Vashem — The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority

Once the war was over, Bogen completed his studies at the university and worked as a professor of art. The versatility of his work after the war blossomed and Bogen became famous in Poland as an artist, set designer and book illustrator.

Alexander Bogen and his wife, Rachel, at the opening of an exhibition of his works at the Museum of the Ghetto Fighters’ House
In 1951 Bogen immigrated to Israel where he worked as a painter, sculptor and art educator. His work continued to gain recognition and was exhibited in museums worldwide. Influenced by Chagall, Matisse, and Picasso, Bogen was always learning and expanding, never tied down by one single style. He recalls, “My encounter with the abstract, lyrical art style of the ‘New Horizons’ movement, which was dominant in Israel during the years 1950-1970, was a revelation to me.” Bogen has in his lifetime created a body of work both varied and true to his passions, with great skill in sketching and range as a painter—his artwork, like many great compositions, is both lovely and terrifying.

The Deportation, 1996. Oil on Canvas

For Alexander Bogen, who wrote on his work, art fulfilled several needs:

When I asked myself why I was drawing when I was fighting night and day, [I realized] it was something similar to biological continuity. Every man is interested in continuing his people, his family, to bring the fruits of his creativity (his children) towards the future and to leave something behind… To be creative during the Holocaust was also a protest. Each man when standing face to face with cruel danger, with death, reacts in his own way. The artist reacts in an artistic way. This is his weapon… This is what shows that the Germans could not break his spirit.

For more of Alexander Bogen’s story and artwork:

His website
His partisan story
His exhibit at Yad Vashem
Featured works on the "Learning about the Holocaust through Art" website
Bogen on creating art