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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People who resisted - Sophie Schwartz

When the French police arrested more than 13,000 Parisian Jews at the behest of Germany during a massive raid on July 16, 1942, Sophie Schwartz-Micnic took action to protect as many children as possible. She and her fellow resistors provided hundreds of children with fake identities and hid them with host families, saving their lives.

René Goldman and
Sophie Schwartz in 1959

René Goldman, himself a rescued child currently living in Canada, is the author of a book on Sophie’s fascinating life story. In Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999, he tells the story of a woman who he considers to be his adoptive mother.

Sophie Schwartz was born in 1905, in an area of Poland belonging to the Russian Empire at the time. She grew up in a well-off, Orthodox Jewish family with her seven siblings. Horrified by the Great War, she became interested in politics at age 13 and joined the youth section of the Bund, a secular Jewish socialist party. When she turned 15, her parents could not afford to send her to school anymore, so Sophie started working in a curtain factory, where she joined a union. These were the beginnings of her involvement in activism, which would continue for most of her life.

At age 19, her father banned her from political activism after she was briefly arrested. She defied him and left the family house for an autonomous life, emigrating to western Europe, far away from her parents’ worries.

Sophie would never see her parents again; they perished with three of her siblings in 1942 after they were deported.

In 1927, after spending some time in Holland, Sophie emigrated to Belgium. At once, she got involved in both Jewish and communist organizations, including the Kultur-Liga, where she met the like-minded Leizer Micnik, her future husband. Leizer’s involvement in a trade union would later force them to leave Belgium and immigrate to France. He was arrested and handed off to the Germans by the French police in 1942, never to be seen again.

During her lifetime, Sophie was very devoted to the Jewish community, and to all deprived families in general. When World War II broke out, she immediately took part in the underground: she headed a committee to aid women whose husbands were taken by the police and ran an illegal printing shop producing Yiddish pamphlets and false identity cards. The soul of her work, however, became saving Jewish children, and she created several homes for those who had lost their families. After the aforementioned July raid – known as the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup – she worked tirelessly to smuggle hundreds of children into hiding among the peasantry. The following year, she organized a daring operation to rescue children from the asylums set up by the UGIF1, escorting 63 of them out of the facilities by female underground members posing as relatives. She eventually became the head of the CCE (Central Commission for Children) that reportedly supported several hundreds of children – 450 of them in 1949 alone.

Children of deported Jews, in a UGIF facility

In several passages of the book, she argues that being Jewish pushed her into believing in communism; she actually saw this as a hope for equal rights and a better life, not only for the Jews, but for all mankind. Though she would become ideologically disillusioned following her awareness of Stalin’s crimes and her subsequent expulsion from Poland in 1968, it is obvious that the various organizations she took part in gave her an effective network and resources that she could rely on to assist the many operations she organized to save lives and, after the war, make this world a better place to live.

After being expelled from Poland, she spent the rest of her life back in France, surrounded by her old friends and fellow underground members. Because of her past with the resistance, she obtained a residence permit, and then French nationality. René Goldman, the author of her biography, kept in touch with her as she became older, up until her death in 1999 at age 93. He was called upon to read an eulogy at her funeral.

According to René Goldman, Sophie never gave up her optimism and her generosity, even after the many disillusions she went through. He states, “Throughout her life, she had not only the courage of her ideas, but the courage and intellectual probity to recognize that it was wrong to believe in an ideology that was a serious and sad mistake.” He adds: “Sophie was an example of unity of thought and action, which, according to the teaching of Judaism, is the essence of integrity.”

*“Tout au long de sa vie, elle avait eu non seulement le courage de ses idées, mais aussi ce même courage et la probité intellectuelle de reconnaître qu'elle avait eu tort de croire en une idéologie qui fut une grave et triste erreur.” L’auteur ajoute:“Sophie avait été un exemple d'unité de la pensée et de l'action, unité qui, au regard de l'enseignement du judaïsme, est l'essence même de l'intégrité.”

Sophie Schwartz-Micnic accompanying a group of children on a train in 1947.

Reference: “Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999”, AGP : Paris, 2006.

— Written By Isaline Jaccard

1. The UGIF – or L'Union générale des israélites de France – was an organization created by French law in 1941 at the behest of occupying Germany. Its main purpose was to take control of all other Jewish organizations, social agencies, philanthropies – including their assets – and to oversee the administration of Jewish affairs while taking their cues from the Vichy regime and the Nazis. In effect, they were France’s nationwide equivalent to the Judenrat councils set up in the ghettoes of eastern Europe.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Happy Thanksgiving From JPEF!

Allen and his childhood friend Leon Bakst were reunited for the first time in over 65 years at the November 2011 Jewish partisan reunion in NYC. While their meeting is the focus of JPEF's newest documentary film The Reunion, it was not the only life-altering experience Allen had at this event. He was surprised to reconnect with Judith Ginsburg, another fellow partisan who, unbeknownst to Allen, has been living in Florida a short distance from his home for many years. Since November 2011, the Ginsburg and Small families have celebrated many happy occasions together – including Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

Allen Small and Judith Ginsburg at the 2011 Partisan Reunion in NYC.

Allen credits the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation with bringing him new family members on this holiday of Thanksgiving and is grateful for the blessings that have come to him since last November. JPEF, in turn, is grateful for Allen for having stood up against the forces of evil and oppression at an incredibly young age – and for sharing his story with us, which you can read on the JPEF Partisan Pages, where new short biographies have been posted for Allen Small and his friend Leon Bakst.

Stay tuned for two more new biographies on our partisan pages after the holiday weekend!

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Pictures of Resistance

“A partisan came in and said, ‘What do you think?’ And I said to myself, ‘My family was murdered. I am in the partisans. I’m alone. I won’t be living here anymore. The Nazis occupied my father’s house that he built himself.’ And I said to the partisan, ‘Burn it!’”
– Faye Schulman.

Faye Schulman's Family Home

When interviewed by the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF) at her current day home in Toronto, Canada, Faye Schulman, the only known Jewish partisan photographer, shared this story behind her photograph of her charred family home. Almost every one of Faye’s photographs and personal captions in the traveling photography exhibit, Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photographs of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman, move me to tears. The tears, however, do not come only from a deep feeling of sadness for the tragic losses of the Holocaust, but from a stirring sense of pride, as well, for the bravery of those who resisted.

Due to her photographic skills, Faigel “Faye” Lazebnik Schulman was one of only 27 who were spared when the Germans liquidated the Lenin ghetto on August 14, 1942 and killed 1,850 Jews. They forced Faye to develop and print photos of their aggressions, including the picture of her parents’ mass grave. When ordered to train a young Russian apprentice in photography, Faye realized that she would soon become “useless” to the occupiers, and that they would kill her too. Thus, she escaped to the woods, but not before protecting the lasting proof of their atrocities. She hid the photos of the Lenin ghetto massacre in the middle of a box of unexposed photographic paper and told the young apprentice, who knew little about photography, that she must never expose the box to the sun. Later, as a member of a Russian partisan brigade, Faye came back on a mission and recovered both the photos and the camera that she would carry with her throughout her two and a half years in the woods – and to this day.

It was not easy to become a partisan, especially for Jewish women. Though she had no training whatsoever, the fact that her brother-in-law had been a doctor won Faye acceptance into the Molotova Shish Bridage’s Detachment as a nurse. Luckily for her, there was a great need amongst the partisans for nurses and doctors. Faye explained, “The main part of being a partisan was not the killing but keeping the wounded alive, bringing the wounded back to life so they could continue fighting and bring the war to an end.”

Faye volunteered often to go on dangerous raids in order to replenish her photographic supplies. With her camera, she captured experiences that most of us have never and, hopefully, will never even be able to fathom. Her photos range from images of Jewish partisans being buried next to Russian partisans and honored for their brave deeds to defeat a common enemy to that of a young girl whom Faye saved. Some of the pictures are quite serene and artistic. For example, the one of Faye in a canoe with a man in partisan uniform. Were it not for Faye’s narration of the photograph included in the caption, one would never know that Faye and the man were about to embark on a dangerous mission from which the man would not return.

You must see her photographs yourself, for my words cannot do the images justice. Thirty of Faye’s exquisite photographs are displayed in Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photographs of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman, which was produced by JPEF and curated by the well-known Jill Vexler, Ph.D. It is currently on exhibit at the Dallas Holocaust Museum until November 26. To learn how to bring the exhibit to your community, visit or e-mail

JPEF Executive Director gives a tour of the exhibit to Bay Area educators

There are no other known Jewish partisan photographers. When I learned that Faye had to bury her camera and come back for it alone, develop the pictures under a blanket in the night, and lug her pictures with her while running from the Nazis, it was no wonder that she was perhaps the only one to capture the partisans’ experiences on film. In the woods, surrounded by enemies, during unforgiving winters, partisans struggled just to survive, let alone steal chemicals on raids to take pictures! Without her determination, the world would never have seen these images.

As she said, “I want people to know that there was resistance. Jewish people didn’t go like sheep to the slaughter. If they had the slightest opportunity to fight back, they did and took revenge. Many lost their lives heroically. I was a photographer. I have pictures. I have proof.”

– Lisa Block

Friday, October 19, 2012

Actor Liev Schreiber Narrates Documentary “The Reunion” – World Premiere to Be Held in New York at Paley Center for Media

NEW YORK CITY – October 19, 2012 – The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (JPEF), an organization dedicated to inspiring the next generation by teaching the history and life lessons of Jewish partisans, will host the premier of its latest documentary “The Reunion”, narrated by actor Liev Schreiber who portrayed Jewish resistance fighter, Zus Bielski, in the film Defiance. The premiere will be held at the Paley Center for Media on October 22.

The documentary was inspired last fall, when JPEF hosted a reunion for all surviving Jewish partisans in New York City. 55 Jewish partisans attended the event, WCBS Anchor Dana Tyler was the emcee and actor Ed Asner gave a special presentation.

Allen Small and Leon Bakst were close friends growing up in Poland, both fought against the Nazis as Jewish partisans, and each lost their families during the Holocaust. They said goodbye, for what they thought was the last time, 66 years ago in a displaced persons camp in Germany. Their story unfolds in The Reunion, written and produced by JPEF’s executive director, Mitch Braff.

"This is an important story that must be told. I was happy to contribute to The Reunion, in hopes of helping ensure more people learn what the Jewish partisans went through and the incredible things they accomplished," said Schreiber. "Working on Defiance was a powerful and very personal experience for me. It was the beginning of an awareness and commitment that I'm certain will be with me for the rest of my life."

JPEF develops free educational materials for schools on the 30,000 Jews who fought against the Nazis as partisans. The Jewish partisans saved thousands of lives and destroyed thousands of German trains and convoys. Small, who now lives in Florida, Bakst, who now lives in Texas, and other partisans - including Frank Blaichman and Romi Cohn from New York, as well as Leah Johnson from Florida – are featured in the film. The movie answers questions about their very challenging life experiences.

Ticket sales can be purchased either on site or online at All proceeds from the ticket sales go towards developing JPEF’s curriculum. Members of the press, partisans and their families are invited to attend complimentary. A preview of the film can be seen at

About Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation:
JPEF is a not for profit organization and is the only association in the world solely committed to teaching the history and life lessons of the 30,000 Jews who fought back as partisans during World War II. More than 6,500 schools and synagogues worldwide use the organization’s free curriculum targeted for 7th-12th grades. Our mission is to develop and distribute effective educational materials about the Jewish partisans and their life lessons, bringing the celebration of heroic resistance against tyranny into educational and cultural organizations. For more information about the organization, the curriculum, to connect with other partisans or to donate, please visit

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.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Liev Schreiber Narrates "The Reunion", A New JPEF Documentary

On September 21st, JPEF executive director Mitch Braff was in New York City with Liev Schreiber, recording the narration voice-overs for JPEF's new documentary film, "The Reunion". The film features candid conversations with Jewish partisans about the responsibility of being among the last Holocaust survivors, and celebrates moments of joy as former resistance fighters reunite and see each other for the first time in over 65 years.

This photograph was taken right after the studio session. JPEF is grateful for Liev's continual help over the years, including our PSA last summer with Larry King and Edward Zwick. Liev Schreiber played Zus Bielski in the 2008 film "Defiance".

The film will premiere across the United States in 2012-2013. Premieres are confirmed in New York City on October 22nd at the Paley Center for Media, as well as in San Francisco on November 13th at the Delancey Street Screening Room. More dates and venues to be announced in the future.

Watch the hymn of the partisans sung by the Tribute Dinner attendees in this clip from the upcoming film:

For more information about the film, please visit

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Intern Guest Blog: A Day In The Life at JPEF

My name is Aaron Lapidus and I am interning at The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation for the summer through the Kohn Internship program at Jewish Vocational Services in San Francisco. Starting out in June, I had no idea what I was getting into. I have never held a nine-to-five, all-week kind of job, so this was my first foray into the real working world. I had heard of JPEF, but did not know exactly what they were all about. I was told that, as their name implies, they teach about the Jewish partisans: Jewish resistance fighters who fought back against the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II. Going into this job, that is all I thought they did, but I have since learned that they are so much bigger than that.

Every week, I start my Mondays off by inputting new registrants into an online database. Entering this weekly data has shown me that JPEF does not just reach out to educators (thought that is a big part of it). We do outreach to everyone from museum staff and Holocaust memorial curators to students. Educators teaching everyone from preteens to college aged students are a part of the JPEF network, as well as people from all around the world. To think that in a little over ten years, a few people in an office in San Francisco could touch so many people – who are in turn teaching others to fight oppression and stand up for themselves – is quite remarkable.

A big goal of my summer internship here at JPEF has been to analyze the annual Educator Survey, which JPEF conducted a few months ago. Going over every question in detail got a little monotonous and turned into an endless stream of numbers and Excel tabs. However, one of the last questions asked if the educators had any suggestions for JPEF to be more helpful or if we could do anything to improve their teaching experience with regards to the partisans. Over half responded that everything was great, and they were totally satisfied with JPEF materials. Many were telling their friends about it, and most said they would be interested in having teacher workshops in their areas. They could see the impact the curriculum had on their students, who were only familiar with the stories of Jewish victimhood during the Holocaust until they learned about the partisans.

From my perspective, this was tangible evidence that our work here at JPEF really does make a difference. Through open-minded, engaging educators, students and young people are learning about this rarely-taught subject on the Holocaust, as well as understanding the importance of fighting back, not giving in, and resisting oppression. Across the globe, people’s lives are being touched every day when they learn about this group of people who dared to stand up to the Nazis. Knowing that, for a few months this summer, I could help touch people’s lives in some small way makes this a truly special experience.