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Showing posts with label art as resistance. Show all posts
Showing posts with label art as resistance. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Celebrating Chanukah: An Act of Jewish Resistance

On a Friday evening in December 1932 before the start of Shabbat, the Posner family prepared to light the 8th candle on their Chanukiah as they had done on each of the preceding nights. Across the street from their home stood the town hall, a large and imposing work of old-world German architecture. A Nazi flag prominently hung from the side of the building, flapping in the cold December wind.

Already a powerful political party in 1932, the Nazis did not shy away from using antisemitism as the driving force behind their politics; Rachel Posner considered this as she looked at the menorah prominently displayed in her window in juxtaposition to the flag. Committing one of the earliest documented acts of Jewish resistance to Nazi oppression, she took this photograph, which was subsequently published in a local newspaper.
Rachel Posner was married to Rabbi Akiva Posner, a doctor of philosophy and the only rabbi for the small Jewish community in Kiel, a north German harbor city. Kiel’s congregation of around 500 was not particularly religious, according to Akiva and Rachel’s granddaughter Nava, but Shabbat services were well-attended by Jews and non-Jews alike who wanted to hear Rabbi Posner’s lectures. Though the Nazi party was gaining strength and routinely paraded through the streets, the Posners “were not afraid”, says Nava. It would take another year for that to change.
One year later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, marking the official start of the Third Reich’s twelve-year reign of terror and oppression. That night, the Nazis organized a torchlight parade; thousands poured into the streets to celebrate the appointment, cheering their new Chancellor and waving the flag bearing the Nazi Party’s dreaded emblem – the infamous black swastika.
Two Symbols
Though the swastika had been an ancient symbol of auspice and power1 in use throughout the entire world for well over ten thousand years, the Nazis co-opted it to symbolize Germany’s racial heritage, connecting with it the racial mythology of the ‘Aryans’ to their future destiny under the Third Reich as conquerors of the world. Nazi propaganda eventually went as far as to state that the swastika in the new German flag symbolized the “victory of the Aryan peoples over Jewry”.
By contrast, the Chanukah menorah – known as the Chanukiah – has a clear and unambiguous meaning. The miracle of the oil burning for eight days is one of the more popular stories in Jewish tradition, and continues to enjoy almost universal recognition today. The true miracle of Chanukah, however, is the act of defiance and the victorious struggle of a small band of Jewish warriors led by Judah Maccabee2 against Greco-Macedonian oppression. The Chanukiah should be proudly displayed in one's window to signify the miracle of the Maccabees' victory. However, this was difficult for Jewish communities in Europe, where the danger of anti-Semitic hostilities was a constant threat.
* * * *
Incorporating a line from a popular Nazi youth party anthem of the time, Rachel wrote the following lines on the back of the photo she took:
"Chanukah, 5692.
‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner.
‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

(note that the actual Jewish year was 5693)
The Posners left Germany in 1933, not long after Hitler was given Chancellorship. In the prior spring, the murder of a local lawyer by a Nazi mob during a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses shocked the Posners. (Rabbi Posner had to personally see to it that the man was buried properly.) Shortly before he left, Akiva warned his congregation of the Nazi menace and of the ruin it would bring to the German nation, urging them to leave. After the speech, several congregants told him that he was already a marked man.
Kiel’s Jewish population heeded Posner’s advice – of the 500 Jews that lived in Kiel, only eight died in the concentration camps; the rest had emigrated. After leaving, the Posners eventually settled in Jerusalem, where Akiva helped build a synagogue and a library, and where their descendants live to this day.
The swastika symbol, heralding death to Judaea, is banned in many European countries, and its use is illegal in Germany. The Chanukiah that sat in the Posners’ window in Kiel is on year-round display at Yad Vashem – except for the eight days of Chanukah, when the family proudly displays its lights in the window of their home.

Akiva Baruch Mansbach, the great-grandchild of Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner (z''l) and a soldier in the IDF, salutes the family Chanukiah.
JPEF's Education Manager Jonathan Furst interviewed the family, who gave us the details and permission to use the photo. The original photograph will be featured in our upcoming Tactics of Resistance lesson plan and E-Learning module – watch our blog for updates in 2013!

1. The origins of the swastika are shrouded in speculation – its twisted form is hypothesized to represent the sun, the seasons, the elements, or perhaps even the tail of a comet. To the Kuna people of Panama, it is the octopus that created the world. Though Hitler “personally” adopted the symbol in the 1920s, it was in use by German populist – or völkisch – movements long before that (including the quasi-occult Thule society, which had numerous ties with the Nazi party). The aforementioned Kuna – who assumed autonomy from the rest of Panama in 1930 – are the only ones who still use the swastika on their flag. In 1942, they added a nose ring to the center to distance themselves from the Nazis.
2. It is said that Judah received his surname, which may be interpreted as “hammer”, because of his ferocity in battle.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Hirsh Glik, Poet/Songwriter - Hymm of the Jewish Partisans

In the summer of 1944, Hirsh Glik disappeared from the ghetto in Goldfilz, Estonia, and was presumed dead. He was only twenty-two but had devoted his life to writing and had already established his legacy through the song, “Zog Nit Keynmol” (“Never Say”). This song was a triumphant, a hopeful call for defiance, inspired by the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “Never Say” became a beacon to many and quickly grew to be known as the “Song of the Partisans”.

Hirsh Glik was born in Vilna, Poland, in 1922. He demonstrated talent early: at age thirteen he began to compose poetry in Hebrew—and then solely in Yiddish—and his works were published frequently in the Jewish-Soviet press. When the Germans occupied Vilna in June 1941, Glik was sent to work the peat bogs in Biala-Waka, Rzesza. Displacement and grueling labor did not prevent him from writing: in between hauling impossible loads of turf, Glik would ask friends to hum a tune so that he could improvise lyrics. When Biala-Waka was liquidated in 1943, Glik returned to the ghetto in Vilna and joined the United Partisans Organization (FPO), where he took part in the literary scene. Here, Glik first recited “Never Say” to a poet friend, Shmaryahu Kaczerginski, at an event arranged to pay tribute to Yiddish writers, called “Spring in Yiddish Literature”. The scope of anguish, defiance, and hope in the song made it an anthem to many in Vilna.

Glik was also inspired by the actions of Vitka Kempner, a founding member of FPO, and wrote “Shtil, Di Nacht Iz Oysgeshternt” (Still the Night is Full of Stars) about her first act of sabotage, blowing up a Nazi train line.

The struggle to survive at Biala-Waka, Vilna, and later Goldfilz in Estonia, never broke Hirsh Glik’s inspiration to write. He composed sometimes on scraps but mostly in his head, reciting poems to other prisoners. Some written copies of Glik’s poems were discovered buried beneath the Vilna Ghetto. Though most of his words were lost, “Hymm of the Jewish Partisans” is considered worldwide one of the most important anthems of Jewish partisans and is still sung today in remembrance of those who died in the Shoah.

Hymm of the Jewish Partisans (audio)
Never say this is the final road for you,
Though leaden skies may cover over days of blue.

As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!

From lands so green with palms to lands all white with snow.

We shall be coming with our anguish and our woe,

And where a spurt of our blood fell on the earth,
There our courage and our spirit have rebirth!



The early morning sun will brighten our day,

And yesterday with our foe will fade away,

But if the sun delays and in the east remains –
This song as motto generations must remain.

This song was written with our blood and not with lead,
It's not a little tune that birds sing overhead,
This song a people sang amid collapsing walls,

With pistols in hand they heeded to the call.



Therefore never say the road now ends for you,
Though leaden skies may cover over days of blue.

As the hour that we longed for is so near,
Our step beats out the message: we are here!

Transliterated Yiddish:
zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,
khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.

kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho,
s'vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!



fun grinem palmenland biz vaysn land fun shney,
mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey,
un vu gefaln iz a shprits fun undzer blut,

shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut!


s'vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haynt,

un der nekhtn vet farshvindn mit dem faynt,
nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in der kayor –
vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.



dos lid geshribn iz mit blut, un nit mit blay,
s'iz nit keyn lidl fun a foygl oyf der fray,

dos hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent

dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.

to zog nit keyn mol, az du geyst dem letstn veg,

khotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.

kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sho –
es vet a poyk ton undzer trot: mir zaynen do!

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Featured Jewish Partisan – Eugenio Gentili-Tedeschi, born March 31st, 1916

Eugenio Gentili-Tedeschi was born in Italy in 1916. In the aftermath of the Great War, his hometown of Turin became a hotbed of social unrest, and witnessed a great deal of political violence as the Fascists sought to suppress the socialists and other left-leaning movements. When Eugenio was ten years old, Mussolini instituted emergency measures to consolidate his dictatorial powers after several assassination attempts on his life.

By the mid 1930s, Germany’s support for Italy’s invasion of Ethiopia solidified what had been an otherwise rocky relationship between the two regimes. Though Mussolini initially showed little interest in Hitler’s racist agendas, Hitler’s influence won over: Italy’s own racial laws, based on the Nuremberg laws, were put into effect in 1938. These laws put Jews out of work, dissolved Italian-Jewish marriages, and essentially stripped Italian Jews of their citizenship and rights. As a consequence, Eugenio’s father lost his job, and Eugenio’s family went into hiding.

A young man in his 20s by this time, Eugenio traveled to Milan, where the bureaucracy was inefficient enough that he could sit for his university tests without harassment. After scoring top marks, Eugenio went to work as an architect’s apprentice in Milan, where he would stay for several years. In Milan, Eugenio got his first taste of resistance by going around with his friends and tearing down the anti-Semitic propaganda posted in the streets. Eugenio also got involved by transporting underground pamphlets from a communist print shop in Turin to Milan.

When Italy’s military situation became untenable and the king fired and arrested Mussolini, the Germans invaded northern Italy and set up a puppet government (with Mussolini at the head, freed by the Germans in a dramatic rescue). To escape the bombardment that followed the German invasion, Eugenio left Milan and fled west to the Valle d’Aosta countryside, near the French-Swiss border. There, he eventually connected with the Arturo Verraz partisan group hiding out among the mountainous terrain. He captured his life with the partisans through sketches - these are of critical historical importance, as they provide a first-hand graphical account of the partisan experience.

Eugenio and his partisan unit kept the mountain trails open for the Allies and kept the Germans pinned down in Italy, preventing reinforcements from reaching the front lines in France. He was personally responsible for hiding the dynamite used to blow up roads and tunnels underneath his bed, as well as obtaining supplies needed for daily survival, such as shoes and food. In the fall of 1944, he fought alongside British and American soldiers and then followed the front lines into France before heading back to Rome, where he learned of the liberation of Turin and Milan.

After the war Eugenio settled down to make a life for himself, marrying and continuing his studies. He would eventually become a master architect, as well as a professor at the Polytechnic University of Milan. He died in Milan in 2005.

For more on Eugenio, visit his bio page on the JPEF website for more of his unique sketches, as well as seven interview clips (including English transcriptions).

Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Hymn of the Jewish Partisans

The Days Of Remembrance are marked with ceremonies, processions, speeches, school activities, seminars, and other public events. The mood is somber as the generations of the living commemorate the millions who perished at the hands of Nazi evil and attempt to convey the enormity of what had befallen the world to those who are too young to remember or fully understand.

Yet it may surprise some to learn that, for many across the world, this day will be commemorated by the singing of a song.

The song is called Zog Nit Keynmol in Yiddish, and is known simply as the Hymn of the Partisans. From the ghettos and the camps it has journeyed across generations to become the official hymn of many Remembrance ceremonies in Israel and abroad. The words were originally written by Yiddish poet and resistance member Hirsh Glik, who was only 21 years old when he first recited it at a Yiddish literature event in the Vilna ghetto. Though Glik disappeared and was presumed to have died a year later, his song quickly spread beyond Vilna — the song's tone and mood perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the various resistance movements around Europe.

Four years after the fall of Hitler, the tune would be used as a form of resistance against another 20th century tyrant. Paul Robeson traveled to Moscow in June of 1949 to give a performance to an audience that included many Communist Party elites, as well as what little remained of the Jewish intelligentsia after Stalin's purges. At the end of the concert, Robeson stunned the audience with a surprise rendition of the Partisan Hymn. His introductory remarks contained references to the Yiddish language, the deep and enduring cultural ties between the US and Russian Jewish communities, as well as to leading Jewish intellectuals who had been "disappeared" by the regime.

The remarks, the spontaneous translation of the song to the shocked audience, and thunderous applause that followed were cut from the recording by Stalin's censors, but the chaos is evident in the mixture of applause and jeers that follows the actual performance. Lamentably, Robeson kept his criticisms of the Soviet Union to himself when he returned to the United States, not wishing to be used by right wing political groups to advance their causes. But the recording remains, as does the pain and fury in Robeson's voice.

“Zog Nit Keynmol” Hymn of the Jewish Partisans

Zog nit keyn mol az du geyst dem letsten veg,
Khotsh himlen blayene farsthtelen bloye teg.
Never say you are walking your final road,
Though leaden skies conceal the days of blue.


Kumen vet nokh undzer oysgebenkte sha'ah,
S'vet a poyk ton undzer trot mir zaynen do!
The hour that we have longed for will appear,
Our steps will beat out like drums: We are here!


Fun grinem palmenland biz vaysen land fun shney,
Mir kumen on mit undzer payn, mit undzer vey.
From the green lands of palm trees to lands white with snow,
We are coming with all our pain and all our woe.


Un vu gefalen s'iz a shpritz fun undzer blut,
Shprotzen vet dort undzer gevurah, undzer mut.
Wherever a spurt of our blood has fallen to the ground,
There our might and our courage will sprout again.


S'vet di morgenzum bagilden undz dem haynt,
Un der nekhten vet farshvinden miten faynd.
The morning sun will shine on us one day,
Our enemy will vanish and fade away.


Nor oyb farzamen vet di zun in dem kayor,
Vi a parol zol geyn dos lid fun dor tsu dor.
But if the sun and dawn come too late for us,
From generation to generation let them be singing this song.


Dos lid geshriben iz mit blut un nit mit blay,
S'iz nit keyn lidel fun a foygel oyf der fray,
This song is written in blood not in pencil-lead.
It is not sung by the free-flying birds overhead,


Dos hot a folk tsvishen falendike vent,
Dos lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent!
But a people stood among collapsing walls,
And sang this song with pistols in their hands!

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Partisans In The Arts: Paula Burger

Born in 1934, Paula Burger lived with her parents and younger brother Isaac in a small town about one mile from the larger Novogrodek shtetl. As common tradition in many Jewish families dictated, her family lived with Paula’s maternal grandparents. Paula’s grandfather was a landowner - a rarity among the Jewish population of Belarus - and her father owned a small grocery store in addition to overseeing the family ranch. She fondly remembers the candy her father sold at his store and the middle class life she lead until the Nazis invaded and occupied Novogrodek in July 1941.

Together with her parents, brother, and grandmother, Paula was rounded up and herded into the ghetto; they were allowed to take only what they could carry. Paula’s father managed to escape from the ghetto and joined various partisan units to fight the Nazis, all the while formulating a plan to save his family. Jealous neighbors, desirous of his ranch and the land it stood on, instigated a search for him. In their efforts to find him, the Nazis arrested Paula’s mother and brutally interrogated her to reveal her husband’s whereabouts. Since she had no idea where he was hiding, the torture brought no results; the Nazis kept her as an interpreter for a month and then shot her.

By then, Paula’s father had connected with the Bielski partisans and made arrangements to smuggle Paula and Isaac out of the ghetto with the help of a non-Jewish business colleague. Sealed in a large water barrel, Paula (age 7) knew that they could not make a sound or it would mean certain death and she took extreme care to make sure that Isaac, who was just 3 years old, stayed absolutely still. Paula and her surviving family stayed with the Bielski partisan group throughout the war, although there were times when they could not travel with them due to the harsh winter conditions, keeping themselves hidden in forest shelters instead. Although she was just a young girl, Paula contributed actively to armed resistance against the enemy, using her small fingers to pack explosives into yellow bricks, which were later used to blow up and derail Nazi supply trains.


Menorah #8

When the war finally ended more than three years later, Paula’s father refused to go back to Novogrodek and the family instead went to Lida before crossing over into Czechoslovakia. Aided only by their wits and the kindness of strangers, the family made their way to the American Zone in West Germany. Paula learned English in the DP camp there. In 1949, on the cusp of becoming a teenager, Paula and her family moved to Chicago to join relatives, where Paula was finally able to hone her natural talent as an artist while attending high school.

As a child, Paula’s most prized possession was a box of colored pencils with which she would draw for hours. Although Paula did not begin painting professionally until she retired from a career in retail, real estate and nursing home administration, she was always painting pictures in her head and had an overwhelming desire to act on this passion. In a journal she kept as a young woman, Paula wrote, “I hope I don’t die before I get to paint.”

The passion for creative expression ran deeply through the veins of both Paula and Isaac. Though they had successful careers in business, they always pursued their art. While Paula painted colorful landscapes, still-lifes, and Judaic themed canvases, Isaac used his beautiful voice to become a Cantor - an avocation that continues to this day. Moved by the majestic beauty of the Rocky Mountains, Paula relocated to Denver with her family in 1967.

Paula Burger and Isaac KollPaula’s art has been shown in galleries throughout Colorado and one of her painting hangs in the state capitol. After a childhood filled with dark images of horror and loss, Paula’s goal is to capture the beauty in life through her art with the bold use of color and imagery. Two of her favorite paintings are show here. Her catalogue can be viewed at paulaburger.com.

Paula Burger has been speaking to students in middle schools, high schools and universities and to civic groups for over 20 years. She recently completed an autobiography about her experience as a child surviving in the forests during World War II, entitled “Temporary Pillows.” For more information, please email Paula at burgerart@gmail.com.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Partisans In The Arts: Marcel Marceau (1923-2007)

“It’s good to shut up sometimes.”

— Marcel Marceau

Marcel Marceau, a French-born performance artist, championed the art of pantomime for his generation. Before his prominence as a mime, however, Marceau took part in the French resistance during World War II. He used his talents to help Jewish children escape German-occupied France and his art to provide moments of humor.

Born Marcel Mangel in Strasbourg on March 12, 1923, Marceau’s interest in performing pantomime had early roots: as a boy he enjoyed imitating gestures and behaviors. In March 1944, Marceau’s father was deported to Auschwitz, but a teenaged Marcel and his elder brother, Alain, were able to evade capture. Together they adopted the last name Marceau, in reference to a French Revolutionary general, and decided to help the French Resistance. Marcel used his drawing skills to forge identity cards for Jewish children and the brothers Marceau, dressed as boy scouts, led many to the Swiss frontier.

During this time, Marcel began mime acting in order to keep children quiet while they escaped. Later, his talent with body language and illusion came in handy: Marceau claimed that while fighting with the French Resistance he accidentally ran into a unit of German soldiers and, startled, he imitated an advance guard of a much larger French force, successfully persuading the German soldiers to surrender. At the end of the occupation, Marcel used his art to entertain Jewish children who were living under false names in La Maison de Sevres near Paris.

One of Marceau’s performances was seen by a theatrical historian who persuaded him to enroll in the drama school of Charles Dullin and study with Étienne Decroux. As a mime artist, Marceau was acknowledged without peer. His original exercises all became classics: e.g., The Cage and Walking Against the Wind. His oft-used onstage persona, Bip the Clown, became as intertwined with Marceau’s name as The Little Tramp is with Charlie Chaplin’s. Marceau toured all over the world, won countless awards, became a favorite of Johnny Carson and Merv Griffin, and appeared in films like Barbarella and Mel Brooks’ Silent Movie. In 1999, New York City even declared March 18 to be “Marcel Marceau Day”.

For Marceau, however, his name’s synonymy with pantomime was bittersweet, as he feared that l’art du silence would be buried along with him. Truthfully, enthusiasm for pantomime has long since lost momentum, although Marceau’s talent went on to inspire many popular performing artists, including Rowan Atkinson and Michael Jackson whose moonwalk was based on Marceau’s “Walking Against the Wind”. Marcel Marceau’s inimitable talent was his ability to express the human condition through his art; and he explains the implication of such a performance: “As we go on in life, torn between light and shadow, encountering injustice, violence, misery, we still have one weapon against despair – to make people laugh through their tears.”

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Partisans in the Arts: Marko Behar, Bulgarian artist (1914-1973)

Marko Behar, a talented sketch artist and draftsman (among other mediums), provides us with a unique view into Bulgaria during World War II through his drawings. Behar served as the second commissar of a partisan battalion in the framework of Georgi Dimitrov, who was an international symbol of resistance to Nazism at the time. As such, Behar’s sketches, lithographs, and cartoons reflect partisan and underground life. While he drew moving glimpses of Jewish and partisan life at the time, he also featured caricatures of fascism, such as a cartoon aimed at pro-German authorities in Bulgaria.


Partisans in the Winter, 1948
Monotype
Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem

Behar lived out his days in Bulgaria: he was born in 1914 in Skalitsa, a southeastern town, and passed away in Sofia in 1973. His work has been featured in a number of international exhibitions and has been honored with the Ilia Beshkov prize for drawing. Along with renowned Bulgarian poet, Valeri Petrov, Behar was also one of the founding members and contributors to the popular Bulgarian newspaper Starshel (which translates to “The Hornet”), a weekly publication of humor and satire. His work continues to be exhibited in retrospectives and collections, including a recent (2009) exhibit at the National Gallery of Foreign Art in Sofia.

Clockwise from top left: Race Laws in Bulgaria, 1943, Sofia; A Young Member of the Underground Distributing Leaflets, 1943; Partisans, 1962 (lithograph); Wearing a Jewish Badge, 1943, Sofia.

All materials property of Ghetto Fighters' House, except "Partisans In The Winter", courtesy of the Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Paintings by Mieczyslaw Watorski

Dear readers, we need your help! We recently received an email from a Holocaust Center on the East Coast about a duo of paintings someone recently donated to them. The paintings came from a collection of Holocaust artifacts owned by the parents (both survivors) of the donor. The artist’s name is Mieczyslaw Watorski, but little else is known about him, other than that both paintings were the 8th in a series of 8.

The first painting depicts the annihilation of the Krakow Ghetto:

The second painting shows the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising:

If you have any info about these paintings or the artist, Watorski, please email us at outreach@jewishpartisans.org.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Reflections from Prague, Part 2 - Terezin: Healing Through Art and Storytelling

JPEF Education Manager Jonathan Furst recently returned from a trip to Prague, Czech Republic, where he attended the 26th European League for Middle Level Education (ELMLE) Conference for European International School middle-school educators. The trip included a pre-conference tour of the Terezin ghetto, and was followed by a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland. He shared the following reflections.

Read Part I here.
Read Part III here.

When I saw that there would be a pre-session educators’ tour of Terezin (also known as the National Memorial of Suffering), I was both eager and frightened. Even though I have worked in Holocaust education for more than 5 years, I had yet to visit a concentration camp.

Jonathan leading an impromptu partisan workshop.

A “model” camp used by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, Terezin was a place of lies. But it was also the setting for startlingly brave acts of truth-telling. Jewish artists, poets, journalists — even a secret photographer — risked their lives to document the physical and emotional reality of this horrible place. There were many other acts of spiritual, artistic and other resistance, perhaps the best-known documented in I Never Saw Another Butterfly, a book of children’s art from the camp, and the film Brundibar about an opera created in the camp, which helped to both keep spirits up and serve as a coded cry for help.

Room where the opera Brundibar was performed. The Terezin
Judenrat also used it for meetings.

For the first part of the tour, I felt both sadness and shock, but when we stepped into the crematorium, the reality of the horror hit me: the scale of the room, the meticulous engineering of the ovens. I purchased a candle, and was touched when one of the teachers on the tour asked if she could light one with me. However, that was nothing compared to the emotions I experienced when nearly the entire tour said Kaddish (the Jewish prayer for the dead) with me. Words do not describe the feeling of support and compassion from this group of strangers — almost all non-Jewish — who stood with me. It was a transformative experience.

I can not thank our tour leader, Trudi van der Tak of the American School of the Hague in Amsterdam, enough for the sensitivity, depth of knowledge and sense of humanity that she brought to the experience. I am also grateful that she invited me to speak about the Jewish partisans at the end of the tour.

Though we were all somber, it made the experience more bearable for both my fellow educators and for me. And that is one of the most valuable lessons I received: telling the stories is just as healing as hearing them, perhaps even more.

So I highly recommend encouraging your students to share what they learn about Jewish resistance to their family, friends, and anyone else who will listen. We all know that the best way to truly learn something is to teach it. The lessons of the Jewish partisans and the millions of others who engaged in non-violent resistance teach us that resistance is always possible, always worthwhile. Evil can be fought even in the harshest circumstances, and even the smallest acts of defiance make a difference. The world will always need these lessons and people to teach and realize them.

Part 1 — Insights from the Prague International Schools Conference
Part 3 — Auschwitz/Birkenau: The Heart of the Beast

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Partisans in the Arts: Abraham Sutzkever, Poet (1913-2010)

In 1984, the New York Times declared Abraham Sutzkever, “the greatest poet of the Holocaust.” His poems (which are written in Yiddish and have been translated into 30 languages) possess a subtlety met with powerful imagery, his language stripped down by the directness that comes from witnessing far more horrors of reality in a few years than most do in the span of their lives. Before he was a universally acclaimed figure in poetry, Sutzkever was a renowned poet in Vilna, known as the Jerusalem of Lithuania because of its intellectual and cultural development.

Sutzkever, who lost his mother, his newborn son, and his city of Vilna in the occupation, did not give up his fight or his art. He smuggled weapons into the ghetto and composed poems whatever the conditions. Sutzkever even hid in a coffin to write, during which he witnessed the liquidation of a smaller ghetto. These lines were composed here:


I lie in this coffin
The way I would lie
In a suit made of wood,
A bark
Tossed on treacherous waves,
A cradle, an ark.

Sutzkever and a group of intellectual friends, who were known as the “Paper Brigade”, rescued cultural works from destruction by the Nazis. Originally tasked with collecting Jewish cultural documents for the Nazi-created Institute for the Study of the Jewish Question, which intended to study the Jewish race after they were annihilated, Sutzkever instead carefully hid the works, including drawings by Chagall and the diaries of Theodore Herzl.

Before the ghetto was liquidated, Sutzkever, his wife, and a few of his friends escaped through sewers. They joined with partisans and fought against the Germans and collaborators until the end of the war. Sutzkever recalls, "conditions for the Jewish partisans in the forest were very difficult. A typical Jewish partisan had to prove himself to the partisan headquarters. They gave these Jews missions that were almost impossible to fulfill in order to test them."

After the war was over, Sutzkever returned to Vilna, resurfaced the precious cultural treasures he had hidden during the occupation, and with these works launched the Museum of Jewish Art and Culture. Sutzkever also testified at the Nuremburg trials (click here to watch a video of the testimony). In a 1985 interview with the New York Times, Abraham Sutzkever said: “When I was in the Vilna ghetto, I believed, as an observant Jew believes in the Messiah, that as long as I was writing, was able to be a poet, I would have a weapon against death.”

"A Wagon of Shoes”:

The wheels they drag and drag on,

What do they bring, and whose?

They bring along a wagon

Filled with throbbing shoes.

The wagon like a khupa
In evening glow, enchants:

The shoes piled up and heaped up,

Like people in a dance.

A holiday, a wedding?

As dazzling as a ball.

The shoes — familiar, spreading,

I recognize them all.

The heels tap with no malice:

Where do they pull us in?

From ancient Vilna alleys,

They drive us to Berlin.

I must not ask you whose,
My heart, it skips a beat:

Tell me the truth, oh, shoes,

Where disappeared the feet?

The feet of pumps so shoddy,

With buttondrops like dew —
Where is the little body?

Where is the woman too?

All children's shoes — but where

Are all the children's feet?

Why does the bride not wear

Her shoes so bright and neat?

'Mid clogs and children's sandals,

My Mama's shoes I see

On Sabbath, like the candles,

She'd put them on in glee.

The heels tap with no malice:

Where do they pull us in?

From ancient Vilna alleys,

They drive us to Berlin.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Figures of Resistance: Bei Dao (born Zhao Zhenkai, 1949)

Bei Dao’s poetry may not appear subversive, however his writings and his involvement in the publication of a literary journal brought dangerous attention to him during China’s Cultural Revolution. Without conceding to governmental pressure, Bei Dao was exiled in 1989.

Bei Dao, whose pseudonym means “Northern Island”, once wrote: “Poets must not exaggerate their own function, but even less should they underrate themselves.” Similarly, Bei’s resistance did not come inherently from his words, but rather from the fact that he unapologetically created and disseminated them despite the threat of persecution. He came of age during the Cultural Revolution and like nearly all youth at that time joined the Red Guard, Mao’s indoctrinated movement - which was oftentimes violent. In 1969, however, Bei Dao’s mindset changed when he saw the so-called idyllic countryside of contemporary propaganda — which, in reality, he found to be backwards and poverty-stricken. His enthusiasm for the Cultural Revolution waned; he instead became interested in reading and writing.

While living as a construction worker, Bei met with friends who exchanged their writings. They founded the journal Jintian and took turns posting it around Beijing in broad daylight; they could not do so at night, as they were likely to “disappear”. Bei recalled, “I and two others volunteered to put up the pages, knowing that we were taking great risks in doing this. But the thing that was even more anxiety-inducing was that we didn't know what kind of reception the writing might get!”

According to Bei, the “Misty Poets”, as he and his friends were called, troubled the government with their writing because of the language it used, “which differed greatly from the official language to which people were accustomed.” In addition, the poetry was attacked as being too subjective and promoting individualism. Bei Dao’s writing became popular, especially among Jintian’s core fans: university students.

Bei’s writing was tacked on to the Democracy Movement, which he once apparently supported in the 1976 protests at Tiananmen Square. Over a decade later when the 1989 events of Tiananmen Square occurred, the government exiled Bei who happened to be at a literary conference in Berlin. Months earlier, Dao began a letter project which included thirty-three other signers, asking for the release of political prisoners in China.

As a poet, Bei Dao’s separation from home—and six years separation from his wife and daughter—would not stop him from writing. In Stockholm, he revived Jiantian in reaction to the 1989 Tiananmen Square events. The journal’s revival gave a voice to other Chinese writers who had been exiled or were unable to publish their work to a Chinese audience. Bei Dao’s writing, even in translation, is brilliant, widely published, and has been repeatedly nominated for a Nobel Prize. Its existence alone is a symbol of resistance against government censorship.

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

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Featured Jewish Partisan: Eugenio Gentili-Tedeschi (z''l)

Soldier's Sketches Only Known Drawings of Jewish Partisan Experience

Eugenio Gentili-Tedeschi was a young man in Turin, Italy during the time of Mussolini and fascism. When Italy’s racial laws – based on the Nuremberg laws – were put into effect, he was able to continue his university education by relocating to Milan, where the bureaucracy was too inefficient to notice him. Eugenio stayed in Milan for several years, working as an architect’s apprentice. His first act of resistance began when he and his friends tore down antisemitic propaganda posted throughout the city.

Following the German invasion, Eugenio connected with the Arturo Verraz partisans, surviving in the mountains and sketching scenes of his life in the resistance. His partisan unit kept mountain trails open for the Allies and prevented reinforcements from reaching the Germans. Eugenio was personally responsible for hiding the dynamite used to blow up roads and tunnels and obtaining critical supplies for partisan survival such as shoes and food. In the fall of 1944, he fought alongside British and American soldiers, following the front lines into France.

Eugenio’s sketches are the only known drawings made during the war by a Jewish partisan, and are of critical historical importance. You and your students can view these artistic documents (with annotations) by clicking the "IMAGES" tab on his profile at www.jewishpartisans.org/eugeniogbio. There is also a video of him explaining the sketches with an English translation.

After the war, Eugenio remained in Milan, marrying and continuing his studies. He eventually became a master architect, as well as a professor at Milan’s Polytechnic. Eugenio died in Milan in 2005. May his memory be for a blessing.