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Showing posts with label Polish underground. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Polish underground. Show all posts

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Eta Wrobel Defied Gender Roles as a Jewish Partisan

"I was the girl who played soccer with the boys. I was the girl who rode a bicycle on the street in shorts, which no other Jewish girls didn’t do that, I had no objections from my parents. We had a very good home. And not to forget, which hurts my life, we had ten children in our family, and I’m the only survivor. The only one. I have no family whatsoever in my background, so like when we get together in the family there is that celebration, or a wedding or bar mitzvah or whatever there is, I have nobody. Everybody who comes, nieces, nephews, are all from my husband’s side. That’s the only thing I envy in my life—otherwise, I’m free."
— Eta Wrobel.

Born December 28th, 1918 in Lokov, Poland, Eta Wrobel was the only child in a family of ten to survive the Holocaust. In her youth, she was a free spirit who defied authority. As Eta puts it she was “born a fighter.” Her father, a member of the Polish underground, taught her the importance of helping people, no matter the circumstance.

In early 1940, Eta started work as a clerk in an employment agency. Soon she began her resistance by creating false identity papers for Jews. In October 1942, Eta’s ghetto was liquidated and the Jews were forced into concentration camps.

In the transition, Eta and her father escaped to the woods.

Life in the woods around Lokov was extremely treacherous. Eta helped organize an exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to eighty people. Her unit stole most of their supplies, slept in cramped quarters, and had no access to medical attention. At one point Eta was shot in the leg and dug the bullet out of her leg with a knife. The unit set mines to hinder German movement and to cut off supply routes. Unlike the other seven women in the unit, Eta refused to cook or clean. Her dynamic personality and military skills allowed for this exception.

She was active on missions with the men and made important strategic decisions.

In 1944, when the Germans left Lokov, Eta came out of hiding and was asked to be mayor of her town. Shortly after, Eta met Henry, her husband to be. They were married on December 20, 1944. In 1947 Eta and Henry moved to the United States. She and Henry had three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Eta summarized her heroic years with the partisans by saying simply, “The biggest resistance that we could have done to the Germans was to survive.”

In 2006, her memoir My Life My Way The Extraordinary Life of a Jewish Partisan in World War II was published. Eta died on May 26, 2008 at her home in upstate New York.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Eta Wrobel, including seven videos of her reflecting on her time as a partisan. Eta is also featured in an Emmy-nominated documentary from PBS entitled Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Armia Krajowa (AK) and the Jewish partisans

Over the years, there has been heated debate among Polish and Jewish academics over the treatment of Polish Jews by the Armia Krajowa (AK) during the war and the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation recently found itself in the midst of this controversy.

The Armia Krajowa, “Home Army”, was the largest underground resistance group in Poland, with an estimated 250,000-400,000 members. The group conducted sabotage and intelligence operations against the Germans. Armia Krajowa FlagOne of its main purposes was to fill the power vacuum in Poland that would inevitably follow Germany’s defeat with a nationalist Polish group. Originally, the AK planned to attack the Germans only upon their impending retreat.

It should be understood that Jewish resistance and Polish non-Jewish resistance were working under two different and conflicting time pressures. Ghettoized Jews had only until deportation to rise in arms, whether or not they had a chance for victory; otherwise it would be too late and they would be killed. The AK could wait until there was a chance for victory, until the Soviet army was within range. While individual Poles were being persecuted and the Polish nation decimated, there was no plan to murder all the Poles and they could choose when and where to battle the Germans.

Leading up to World War II, Poland experienced an increase in antisemitic sentiment following the 1935 death of its politically moderate Chief of State Jozef Pilsudski, and the subsequent rise of the nationalistic Endejca party which enacted a wide array of antisemitic laws aimed at disenfranchising the Jews and confiscating their property. Cultural differences also played a role in inciting antisemitism. In rural areas, Jews primarily spoke Yiddish and many Poles regarded this as their refusal to assimilate, a sign of disloyalty to Poland. The influx of Jewish refugees fleeing the Ukraine further accelerated antisemitism among Poles who feared that they brought Bolshevist and Communist elements with them.

Antisemitism predictably arose among nationalist groups including the AK. Virulent antisemitism was especially prevalent among the partisan contingent of the group (2,500 – 3,000 armed fighters), many of whom came from the Narodowe Siły Zbrojne (NSZ), a Polish, anti-Soviet and anti-Nazi paramilitary organization, where there was already a strong undercurrent of antisemitism. There were also many members of the AK who, unaffected by this prejudice, took action to help the Jews. The famous Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal credits the AK with sheltering his wife during the war and there are other documented instances of friendly AK commanders helping Jewish partisan units in their area – even warning them of pending danger1.

AK soldiers
Soldiers of the Armia Krajowa, 27th Division

JPEF acknowledges the honorable actions of individuals in the AK, but must also describe the antisemitic violence perpetrated by others within the organization. Over the years, it has conducted numerous interviews with Jewish partisans from Poland who routinely spoke of antisemitic actions directed at them and other Jews by the AK. Abe Asner reported that the AK often posed a greater threat to the Jewish partisans than the Nazis, as their familiarity with the forests and with local residents put them in a better position to locate Jews. Rose Holm stated that she escaped post-war Poland with her husband because of the AK’s continued reprisals against the surviving Jewish population. The survivor testimonies of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw also contain a number of references to the danger the AK posed to Jews in hiding, and of a prevailing air of antisemitism in the group. These testimonies were collected in the years 1945-1946, and are not affected by revisionists. View JPEF’s short film Antisemitism in the Partisans, narrated by Larry King, for more details.

The AK holds a near-sacred position in the hearts and minds of many Poles, representing their national counterpart to the Allied struggle – much like La Résistance does for the French. Questioning its treatment of Jews undoubtedly assails its credibility as a national icon, resulting in the failure to acknowledge this chapter of the AK’s history and the outright refusal to admit that many of its factions were not only antisemitic but engaged in the persecution and killing of Jews. When even the popular internet encyclopedia Wikipedia ignores this fact, and labels it “disputed”, it is incumbent upon the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation to ensure historical accuracy on its website.

JPEF’s glossary definition of the AK was developed through both extensive historical research and interviews with surviving Jewish partisans who interacted with the AK. While we understand that JPEF’s description of the AK may upset both surviving members and their families, we present the truth as best as we are able to discern from both written documentation and partisan testimony. JPEF acknowledges that there were many members of the AK who helped rescue Jews and collaborated with Jewish partisans to fight against the Germans and holds these honorable men and women in high esteem. We also hold the cause of the AK, the battle against German occupation, in equally high esteem.

Click here to see the definition of the Armia Krajowa on our glossary page.


1. War Of The Doomed, Ch.6, p.132