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Showing posts with label Sonia Orbuch. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sonia Orbuch. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Partisan Tools for Survival: The Forests and Swamps

"And I saw the trees very big trees, heavy trees and it was a wind and it was blowing the trees back and forth. And I said here we come this will be our life we have to sleep here to live here. Snow, rain or whatever… this is our home and we have to take it."
— Sam Gruber.

For partisans like Sam Gruber, the nearby forests and swamps were a mixed blessing. For the same reason they provided protection, they could also be treacherous. It was a setting, however, that sheltered many partisans throughout Europe.

Sonia Orbuch explains: “We had to choose a place with so many trees. In a way it was like a protection.” The forests were great forts, thickly wooded—the swamps, their endless moats. “Without the forest we couldn’t survive,” Norman Salsitz declares.

These were territories not so easily tread by invading forces—even local collaborators stayed away from the swamps and forests. Don Felson explains that there were, “a lot of forests in my part of the country, huge forests that, once you’re in the forest, they’re not gonna find you.” Not that it was easy for the partisans, either. Mira Shelub tries to describe the miserable feeling of having to trudge through the swamps “one foot in, one foot out, one foot in, one foot out”: “Because you become so desperate when you go, you know: it's swamps… you don't know when or how will it end.”

Jewish Partisans in a Yugoslavian Forest

Out of necessity, partisans used the forest for their benefit. Others were not so adept at navigating the woods. Jeff Gradow speaks about the ability to read the forest: “On the big trees, on the north side, what do you call, the moss is growing, and so we know if this is north, south, east, west. We have no compasses, and still nobody got lost. Even today, after so many years, I go in the woods, it doesn't bother me. I can find my way out.”

The forests, the swamps, though difficult, were a symbol of a relief to many—if only because they meant escape and obscurity. Fleeing to the forest, “is the first time I felt like a free human being,” says Jeff Gradow. “Even I didn't know where the heck I'm going to go, or what I'm going to do.” Mira Shelub invokes a similar feeling: “I cannot tell you how good it felt to breathe the fresh air, to know that we are free, to know that we can go. Okay, there were difficulties, obstacles, but we knew that we can go, that nobody will stop us… to see the trees, it was something, a special, special experience.”

Photo taken in 1999 of a zemlyanka in the Naroch forest, Belarus. From Alexander Bogen’s book, Revolt.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Women's History Month Resources

Schulman, Faye, Sarah Silberstein Swartz
Second Story Press, 1995.

Essie Shor and Andrea Zakin
Mindfulness Publishing, 2009.

Sonia Shainwald Orbuch and Fred Rosenbaum
RDR Books, February 23, 2009.

Eta Wrobel
The Wordsmithy, LLC, 2006.

Frank Blaichman 
Arcade Publishing, 2009.



Vitka Kempner “Crossroads of Life.” Yalkut Moreshet 43–44 (August 1987):171–176; 

Vitka Kempner “The Memory of the Shoah and its Lesson.”

Vladka Meed,  “Jewish Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto.” Dimensions, Vol. 7 No. 2; 1993.




Thursday, February 13, 2014

Guest Blogger - Paul Orbuch: "If, By Miracle"

My name Is Paul Orbuch and I am the Founding President and Chairman Emeritus of JPEF. My mother, Sonia Orbuch, fought with the Soviet partisans – as did Michael Kutz, whose gripping memoir, “If, By Miracle”, was recently published by The Azrieli Foundation in Canada as part of their Holocaust Survivor Memoir series. The Azrieli Foundation has published many fine books in the series, but this one was the first on a Jewish partisan. It caught my attention for that reason, but as I read it I was amazed to see how it resonates with the work JPEF has done and specifically how it parallels in so many ways my mother’s story, which was told in her memoir, “Here, There Are No Sarahs”, which was released in 2009. I worked closely with her and her co-author Fred Rosenbaum for 3 years; many of the threads in Kutz’s memoir correlate with her story as a teenager who fled to the forests and eventually was lucky enough to join a fighting unit of Soviet partisans.

But this story is told through the eyes of a young teenage boy, whose struggle to prove oneself as a fighter, and the joy of finally being able to fight back after enduring the loss of family, friends and community nevertheless mirrors that of my mother and many other partisans. We see the same strand of antisemitism – even within the resistance groups. (This is analyzed more deeply in the JPEF course, Antisemitism in the Partisans.) We see the same joy and intoxicating camaraderie infuse their memories as they recollect this important period of their young lives.

There is a valuable introduction by the historian Anike Walke, who explains how large-scale history plays out through the eyes and experiences of this teenage Jewish boy. “The sweeping breadth of his story takes us on a journey through twentieth–century Eastern European, Soviet, Canadian, Jewish and global history.” Through Kutz’s eyes we learn about the split within the Jewish community in pre and post war Poland – between the Zionists who advocated emigration to the ancient land of Israel and the leftist groups who wanted to work towards a revolutionary new pluralistic world in their places of birth. Kutz’s parents even argued whether he should be educated in Hebrew (the Zionist view) or Yiddish, which exemplified the basic split in the community regarding the proper aspiration for the Jewish people.

Michael’s first-hand account of being buried alive in a pile of murdered bodies takes us on a journey into the brutality of the German Einsatzgruppen, and what has been termed the "Holocaust By Bullets". These were mobile death squads responsible for the rounding up and murder of Jews in mass shooting operations. These, in addition to the death camps we are more familiar with, were a key component of the implementation of the Nazis’ plan to annihilate the Jews in Eastern Europe. This is a harrowing and until recently neglected area of Holocaust history and I think "If, By Miracle" takes us right into the heart of this history.

This is a coming of age story – Michael was only a child when he joined the partisans. He learned to fight with them and, as time went on, he taught these skills to others. The account of his first mission where he was selected by his commanders to crawl to a police station at dawn to place dynamite because he was small enough to do so will entrance anyone reading it – but especially any teenager who responds to adventure and daring.

“ …we walked through woods and fields all night long…I was camouflaged and carried dynamite in my rucksack. ..I crawled to the barbed wire fence, pulling a long cord along behind me. ….when I got there I placed the dynamite in contact with the fuse and made my way back…..after we lit the end of the cord, there was an explosion a minute or so later…for our group of partisans, especially the Jewish ones, this was quite a victory. ………we earned a great deal of respect from the non-Jews as fighters who could strike a serious blow to our enemies. My participation in that first military operation was also a personal victory in avenging the death of my family and my people….”

The story of the uprising in Michael's hometown that he later hears about is particularly interesting, as it was one of the first instances of such revolts in the Ghettos and was a precursor to the well-known one in Warsaw.

The second half of the book is a unique retelling of this young man’s escape from Europe and his eyewitness account of the coordinated efforts of so many disparate groups that enabled countless survivors to overcome the many obstacles on the way to the ancient Jewish homeland of Israel. Although Michael eventually came to Canada, prior to leaving Europe he spent many months involved in the training and support of the many thousands who ran the British blockade and formed the nucleus of the new Jewish State.

As Michael settled into his new life, he never forgot the lessons he learned as young Jewish partisan –to stand up for the underdog and, in his own words:

“I tell my story to….the young people of Canada because I feel an obligation to keep the legacy alive for future generations, to be vigilant so that the Holocaust never happens again, to recognize the rights of all peoples regardless of colour, religion or nationality, and to live together and respect one another because we are all God’s children.

–Paul Orbuch, JPEF Founding President and Chairman Emeritus

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Partisan Tools for Survival: Hidden Identities

For partisan groups, fighting the powerful and well-equipped German army in open combat was typically not an option. Partisans spent much of their time hiding from the enemy, and discovery of their whereabouts was a major, ever-looming threat. The Nazis used local spies, bribes, aerial surveillance, and forest sweeps to root out partisan groups hiding in the countryside, so the partisan had to constantly be on high alert.

Jewish partisans had to fear for their lives not just because they were fighting against the occupying army but because of their Jewish identity. All partisans1 had to be wary of enemy bullets, lice and typhoid, and of leaving footprints in the fresh snow, but Jewish partisans faced an added threat. For many Jews, their accent, the way they looked or dressed, their unfamiliarity with non-Jewish society, and a myriad of subtle details marked them as "other". This otherness exposed them to mortal danger – and not just from the Nazis and their collaborators, but also from unfriendly members of the Armia Krajowa, antisemitic peasants, and (if they were in a mixed otriad) even their fellow partisans. (For more information on this subject, see our Antisemitism in the Partisans E-Learning course.)

Even a doctor's oath to "do no harm" was no guarantee of safety. After being wounded, Norman Salsitz had to seek treatment from a local doctor – a known antisemite. Norman's anecdote provides a stark illustration of the ever-present danger Jewish partisans found themselves in:

[We] went to the doctor and she said, “I have somebody who was wounded yesterday. He’s from the AK,” if he will look at me. He said yes. She brought me over and he started…he said, “Let down your pants.” So I was afraid that he does it purposely to see if I’m Jewish...I took out a hand grenade and I took out the pin and I said, “If you do something I will let the pin out and we all be killed.”

Identity was treated as a matter of life-and-death – not just by the Nazis, but also by most other groups hostile to the Jews as well, such as the various ultra-right wing nationalist groups in Poland, Ukraine, and the Balkans. Though many Jews lived in their own communities, segregated from the gentile population, they were nonetheless well-known by the locals, and could frequently be singled out by their accents2, names that looked or sounded "Jewish", and appearance.


Norman Salsitz


Sonia Orbuch

Sonia Orbuch was born Sarah Shainwald, but the commander of her otriad made her change her given name to the more common and less Jewish-sounding Russian name Sonia – to keep her safe from antisemites. “Here there are no Sarahs,” he explained to her. To keep himself out of trouble in Moscow, Leon Senders concealed his Jewish identity by simply bleaching his hair with peroxide. Likewise, Ben Kamm excelled at smuggling food through the countryside because of his blue eyes and blond hair.


Ben Kamm


Leon Senders

Fluency in other languages helped many partisans avoid danger - particularly if they could speak without a Yiddish or foreign accent. Running away from his village after the Nazis rounded up all his classmates, 15 year old Joe Kubryk found work as a farmhand with a Ukrainian farmer who never suspected he was Jewish – all because Joe spoke fluent Ukrainian. Growing up in Metz on the northern border of France, Bernard Musmand learned to speak German in school at a young age. Later, while running dangerous missions as a courier for the Sixieme3, he used his fluency in German to dispel suspicions about his identity – usually, with a friendly request for the time or for a match.


Joe Kubryk


Bernard Musmand

Bernard was not only fluent in German – he was also well-versed in Catholicism, another useful instrument of disguise. When his family fled to southern France, he had to pose as a Catholic to attend the local boarding school. He was so diligent at keeping up appearances that the priests actually asked him if he was interested in going into the seminary. Leon IdasLeon Idas, a Greek partisan, grew up attending a private school run by the local Orthodox church. Consequently, he was able to use the religious knowledge he learned there to keep his Jewish identity secret when he joined the partisans.

Though Norman Salsitz was already a partisan, joining the AK was the only way he felt he could strike an effective blow against the Nazis – to do so was the patriotic duty of any able Pole. However, he could not do so without concealing his Jewish identity. He managed to join by assuming the name (and ID card) of another AK soldier. Along with Joseph Greenblatt, Norman is one of the many Jewish partisans who worked for the AK under an assumed Christian name. Norman’s allegiances were tested when a command was given to murder a group of Jews hiding on a farm. He volunteered for the mission – after killing his Polish companions, he rescued the Jews and fled to his original partisan unit. There are many other instances of Jews infiltrating the AK under Christian identities, acquiring rank and status, and using their power to help other Jews escape persecution and death.


Left: photo on Norman's ID card; right: the real Norman Salsitz.

Nazi Germany’s plans for the occupied territories included specific methods for singling out and isolating the Jews, such as the infamous yellow badges. When Frank BlaichmanFrank Blaichman smuggled food through the countryside, his preferred method of disguise was to remove the badge from his clothing and hide it until he returned home. Though it may sound simple in hindsight, such an act was punishable by severe beatings, imprisonment, and even death. He could have easily been found out - travel permits were required for even the most routine trips out of town. Frank had no official documents, but he did have a backup: his fluency in Polish allowed him to talk his way out of trouble if he was ever stopped.

The falsification of identity papers was vital to the underground. Romi Cohn was instrumental in providing Jewish refugees with false documents that identified them as Christians. The forgeries were of a very high quality – a connection at the local Gestapo headquarters supplied him with German seals to stamp the documents. Working at an employment agency in the early 1940s, Eta Wrobel used her clerical skills to forge identity papers for Jews. Even the famed mime Marcel Marceau – himself a Jewish partisan – utilized his drawing skills to make false identity cards for Jewish children.


Eta Wrobel


Romi Cohn

Not surprisingly, a number of Jewish partisans served the cause as spies. Their combined skills – as forgers, as polyglots, as people used to living in a constant state of disguise – put them in a unique position. Even though he was only 15 at the time, Joe Kubryk was trained in the arts of espionage. While Leon Senders was valuable to Moscow as a radio operator, his real art was subterfuge. Leon's knowledge of German, Russian, Polish, and Lithuanian helped him fool his enemies and make new friends. He successfully built up a network of informants he used to acquire sensitive information that was instrumental in bombing the German supply lines. Wearing a tattered shepherd’s coat, Leon was so good at disguising himself he was once kicked out of a farmer’s house because a German officer, who wished to eat lunch there, objected to the presence of “Lithuanian swine” at his meal.

In a war where millions of civilians were murdered for no reason other than their identity – be it ethnic, religious, sexual, or political – the means and the opportunity to conceal and change it often meant the difference between life and death. Even the smallest adjustment could have major consequences: Leon Bakst’s father was a merchant, but when the SS asked for his occupation during the first roundup of the Jews in his hometown of Ivie, he simply answered “brush-maker”. He reasoned that the occupiers would have more use for a brush-maker than a merchant. He was correct: his life was spared that day.


1. Out of the hundreds of thousands of partisans active during the war, only 20,000-30,000 were Jewish.
2. The primary language spoken in Eastern European shtetls was Yiddish, and though not unheard of, unaccented fluency in languages like Polish or Ukrainian was not common.
3. La Sixieme was the underground incarnation of Eclaireurs Israélites, a French Jewish scouting organization. The EI went underground in 1942 and became known as the “Sixth Bureau”, smuggling children and adults into Switzerland, hiding Jews, providing forged documents, and even taking part in battles for the liberation of France.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

New Jewish Partisan Book Out From Scholastic Publishing!

Educators: we are pleased to inform you that Scholastic has recently published a collection of stories entitled We Fought Back: Teen Resisters of the Holocaust. The book is written by Allan Zullo, and is his fourth book about the Holocaust for the teenage audience. The book is aimed at young readers, and gives a true-life narrative account of seven teen-aged partisans fighting the Nazis in World War II.

Each story opens with an attention-grabbing scene of sabotage, ambush, or a bloodied battlefield. The stories are fast-paced and captivating, but their content is always grounded in the actual experience of partisans, allowing students to see how life was like for teens of similar age in the most dire of situations.

Of the seven stories in the book, five are about partisans profiled on the JPEF partisan pages. These include Frank Blaichman, Sonia Orbuch (known in the book as Sarah Shainwald), Martin Petrasek (in the book as Martin Friedman), Shalom Yoran (in the book as Selim Sznycer), and Romi Cohn. At least one more will join them in the coming weeks as we finalize four new partisan biographies with accompanying photos and video interview clips.

The book provides a great opportunity for middle and high school teachers to supplement their history and English classes. As the book gives an account of a lesser-known aspect of the Jewish experience during the war, it is an obvious complement to the study of the Holocaust in schools. In addition to offering first-hand accounts of the war experience, the book supports curriculum aimed at exploring Jewish identity, leadership, and resistance.

In English courses, the book’s dramatized versions of the partisan fighters’ true stories provide a counterbalance to reading lists traditionally centered around fiction. Often we find non-fiction underutilized in the English classroom and yet it accounts for much of adult reading. This is an opportunity to engage students with narrative in an alternative way, potentially appealing to reluctant readers – or simply enriching the reading experience for all students.

The age of the protagonists in these stories makes it easy for students to identify with them, and the narrative of survival and resistance to oppression is powerful and compelling, especially for that age group. In these ways and more, We Fought Back can be a great resource for any classroom.

— Written by Chelsea Martin.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Youth Writing Contest Profile: Leah LeVine and her teacher, Jaclyn Guzman

This year, hundreds of students from around the world entered our 3rd annual Youth Writing Contest , competing for the honor and a chance to win a Kindle Fire. Starting this week, we will post the reflections (and, if available, photographs) of this year's contest winners. Here, we feature first place Upper Division winner Leah LeVine and her history teacher, Jaclyn Guzman of Kehillah High School in Palo Alto, CA.

Echoing Sonia Orbuch’s memorable statement about dying as a fighter and not as a Jew in the opening of her winning essay, Leah was inspired by “the ideal that one should be willing to fight for one's identity rather than suffer persecution because of it.” She stated “I will embrace this philosophy as I continue my growth as a Jewish woman.” Leah’s essay touched on subjects of gender identity, power of will, and the importance of taking action rather than embracing passivity and apathy.

For Jaclyn Guzman, this was the second year that she encouraged student involvement in the contest and motivated a winning essayist. Last year, Jaclyn taught first-place winner EJ Weiss – another student inspired by Sonia Orbuch’s story. Perhaps her insistence upon a compound, nuanced understanding of history and the importance of personal narratives influenced her her students’ success:

At Kehillah Jewish High School our philosophy is to approach history as a series of woven perspectives. No singular person has the “correct” view of history and everybody has a unique perspective on every situation. Who we are as individuals impacts how we view the world and how we will remember the major events in our past. I encourage our students to participate in the Youth Writing Contest in order to explore the various perspectives and experiences of the Holocaust. The majority of their education of the Holocaust has been the camp experience and the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation has wonderful resources that enable my students to look at the various acts of bravery Jews exhibited during the most horrific time period. Each year the contest provides a different angle to approach the same history: through the lens of a youth, a woman, etc. This pattern is a perfect fit for our curriculum that is geared toward hearing as many voices as possible in evaluating our collective past.

Thanks again to Jaclyn, Leah, and Kehillah High School for participating in the contest, and we look forward to reading their inspiring essays again next year!

Friday, May 25, 2012

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.

September 1st marks the official start of World War II, when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. Sarah Shainwald was 14 years old and getting ready to start high school when the bombs began falling. 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 his 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. Several thousand were in that camp 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, “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 energies 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 at amazon.com.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2012 Youth Writing Contest Winners Announced!

We are proud to announce the winners of the Third Annual Youth Writing Contest! From hundreds of entries from around the country - and around the world - three winners in two different age groups have been chosen by a judge panel that includes Jewish partisan William Stern.

This year's contest focused on Jewish partisan women. Students were asked to write about the lessons that can be learned from their experience to inspire people today to make the world a better place. The winning essays discussed topics ranging from bullying to Burma. The first-place winners, along with their teachers, will receive a Kindle Fire.

The winners are:

Lower Division (8th-9th Grades):

1st place:
Breanna, 8th grade, Billinghurst Middle School, NV
2nd place:
Yitzhak, 8th grade, Park East Day School, NY
3rd place:
Micaela, 9th grade, Congregation Ner Tamid, NV

Upper Division (10th-12th Grades):

1st place:
Leah, 10th grade, Kehillah Jewish High School, CA
2nd place:
Joshua, 11th grade, Solomon Schechter High School, NY
3rd place:
Samantha, 10th grade, Duchesne Academy, NE

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 all the 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 outreach@jewishpartisans.org.

This writing contest was made possible by contributions from the Alper, Bedzow, Blaichman, Charatan, Felson, Holm, Kushner, Orbuch, and Wohl families.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Sonia Orbuch Q&A Webcast posted to Youtube

A recording of our recent Q&A webcast with Jewish partisan Sonia Orbuch is now available on Youtube! JPEF Executive Director Mitch Braff interviewed Sonia at her home this Tuesday, with over twenty schools watching the live stream. During the broadcast, students had the opportunity to ask Sonia questions via Facebook, email, and Twitter.

Watch the video below:

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Resource Suggestions for 2012 Days of Remembrance

The theme for this year’s International Holocaust Days of Remembrance (April 15-22) is “Choosing to Act: Stories of Rescue”. The Jewish resistance movement is rife with stories of partisans liberating fellow Jews from work camps and smuggling them out of ghettos. The Jewish partisans fought not only for survival and vengeance, but also to rescue Jews and other victims of Nazi oppression from the horrors of the Holocaust. JPEF offers a variety of resources and study guides that are ideally suited for exploring this theme with your students.

JPEF Resource Directory on Jews Rescuing Jews

Online Courses – jewishpartisans.org/elearning
Note: for classroom use, we recommend selecting chapters ahead of time and skipping “How to Use This in the Classroom”.

  • Antisemitism in the Partisans: Survival strategies and interviews with Jewish rescuers
  • Teaching with Defiance (includes Educator’s Guide): 1,200 Jews were rescued by the Bielski partisans – includes testimonial from the last surviving Bielski brother

Lessons and Activities – www.jewishpartisans.org/resist

  • Jewish Partisans Rescuing Jews: Highly recommended resource on Jewish resistance fighters who save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust
  • Putting the Gevurah (Heroism) Back Yom HaShoah: Remembrance and liturgy on Jewish resistance for Holocaust Memorial Day (April 19, 2012).
  • Eight Degees of Gevurah: Partisan rescuers and tzedakah as acts of justice through Maimonides’ ladder
  • Antisemitism in the Partisans and Tuvia Bielski Study Guide: Stories of successful Jewish rescuers plus historical background

Partisan Webcast: April 17, 2012, 10am PST – www.jewishpartisans.org/webcast

  • At the age of 18, Sonia Orbuch joined the fight to bring an end to the Holocaust. Bring her inspiring stories to your students by live videocast and Q&A. Save your spot here!

Additional Resources

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Announcing the Jewish Partisan Webcast - April 17, 2011

We’re happy to announce a rare opportunity to bring Jewish partisan Sonia Orbuch to your classroom or desktop via a live Webcast with Q&A.

More resources on Jewish Women in the Partisans - including online videocourse, film and study guides:

Students can ask questions ahead of time. Twitter #JPEFWebcast or e-mail webcast@jewishpartisans.org. If you are unable to make the live event, we will send you a link so you can access the videorecording online.

"There is such a thing as fighting back… If I was going to die, it would be as a fighter. Not as a Jew."
– Sonia Orbuch

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.

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

Friday, June 10, 2011

Youth of Today Inspired by Youth of the Holocaust Era

The first place winner of the Upper Division category (10th-12th grade) of our 2011 Youth Writing Contest was EJ Weiss, a sophomore from Kehillah Jewish High School in California. Congratulations, EJ!

Winning essayist EJ Weiss (on right)
with her History Instructor Jaclyn Guzman

EJ's essay starts by talking about what she believes is threatening humanity today - silence. "It is not guns, nor gas, nor bombs that threaten humanity. It is silence," she says.

Cries of the innocent, the deafening shot of a rifle, the faint sound of gas spreading, followed by utter silence. It is not guns, nor gas, nor bombs that threaten humanity. It is the silence. A silence that only a strong person can break. A silence that was broken by young people standing guard in the freezing cold, mining the train tracks, slowly nursing people back to health, and saving lives of brave men and women who entered a seemingly impossible battle. While evil stared in the hollow faces of men, women, and children, piercing the hearts of mothers, fathers and children, the partisans took action.

Using her limited knowledge of her great uncle Shmuel, a Jewish partisan, EJ shows her understanding of the partisans.

"My great uncle Shmuel was one of these brave young partisans. I know he had a great spirit of resistance and fought for the freedom of my family and the Jewish people. Unfortunately, that is all I know about him. His story was never told. He was one of the millions that perished in the war, but one of only thousands that died while fighting back."

Her essay continues, referencing the story of Jewish partisan Sonia Orbuch.

click on name for more information on Sonia

"I imagine that his story is like that of Sonia Orbuch. Sonia Orbuch could have worried for her own safety and never faced the wicked force threatening her people, but, instead, she devoted herself to combating the atrocity. Even in a predominantly non-Jewish, Russian partisan unit, without training in weapons, she retaliated. She is an inspiration. Partisans like Sonia resisted by sabotaging the Nazis by stealing weapons and food, and prevailed by living and cultivating a proud Jewish existence. She and her fellow Partisans were not among the silent. They would not allow evil to prosper. They fought back. They were fundamental in the triumph of good, and are a key component to my proud, strong, Jewish identity."

EJ's essay concludes with a discussion of what is happening in the world today.

"The horrors of war and genocide still exist in the world, but the greater evils that Shmuel and Sonia faced are not at my doorstep. It is easy to close our eyes and live in the cocoon of our comfortable existence, but we must open our eyes to the corruption and injustice surrounding us. If we listen, we can hear the cries of our poor, hungry and homeless neighbors. If we are aware, we can feel the despondency of the drug addict and the pain of victims of prejudice, racism and anti-Semitism. And if we only look, we can see the irreversible damage to our planet that is caused by pollution. It is our duty to even the scales of justice in the world. We must take action. Through educational initiatives the cycle of poverty can end, by going green we can save our planet, and through donating blood and marrow to the terminally ill we can fight for life. But, the way to truly defeat evil is by teaching others not to be indifferent. We must resist, we must defy, we must fight, and we must never embrace silence."

In addition to meeting the contest's guidelines, EJ's essay exemplified the inspiration between the student and the partisan, which resonated very strongly with the readers and judges.

Reflecting on her experience with the Writing Contest EJ notes, "the Writing Contest has inspired me and given me pride in the relatives I will never meet because they fought against the cruel hand of injustice. 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."

EJ's History Instructor Jaclyn Guzman adds, "JPEF’s Writing Contest is a perfect match for classes that are looking to transform the lessons of history into their students’ understanding of the world. The essay contest provides a true connection to real people and brings the past to the present for the students. Instead of their writing being removed from and only commenting on the history they are learning, the students are motivated to reflect on and relate with the history. The interactive nature of the essay and the JPEF website mirrors the hands-on history philosophy of my school in which the students are participants and not merely observers of history."

Elliott Felson, co-chair, JPEF Board of Directors commented, "JPEF's Writing Contest allowed me to experience the impact our work has on the kids that are exposed to it. The student's essays were thoughtful, bright, and creative: each one of them, from middle school to high school, spoke from the heart and were moved to make a difference in the world in their own way."

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