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Friday, May 31, 2013

Oakland School for the Arts Students Respond to Talk Given by Jewish Partisan Murray Gordon

Across the nation, every year, students in high schools read Elie Wiesel’s “Night.” However, few students are introduced to the history of the Jewish partisans alongside such popular pieces of Holocaust literature. A great way to introduce students to this parallel history is through a letter-writing project. Using JPEF’s biographies and first-person video testimonials by Jewish partisans, students can respond to these materials with a letter to a partisan expressing their general reflections and feelings; or they can respond to a specific teacher-generated prompt – for example, “if you could interview your partisan, what questions would you ask them?”

One class at the Oakland School for the Arts last May had the opportunity to ask Jewish partisan Murray Gordon their questions face-to-face. They heard the first-hand account of his experience as a partisan during the war: about his escape from the ghetto, joining a Lithuanian partisan group, sabotaging German supply trains and a narrow miss with a Nazi bayonet. Afterwards, a few students got a chance to ask him questions directly.

Hearing Gordon’s story helped students make the connection between present and past. Students were deeply engaged and their letters expressed thanks for his talk, sharing that Gordon was their “new hero,” and that they would like to continue his “fight for equality.” One student letter included the following sentiment, “I admire your selflessness and the fight for the freedom of your people.”

Encourage your students to make a personal connection to a Jewish partisan by assigning them to read a JPEF biography and watch the accompanying video testimonial clips. Ask students to write letters to Jewish partisans describing their reaction to these stories of resistance. Even if a student’s chosen partisan might no longer be alive, it's still a great theoretical exercise, and if students choose a living partisan they can send the letters directly to their partisans through JPEF. Submit your stories to us and we may post them on our blog!

Friday, May 24, 2013

Forced Remorse and the de-Nazification of German Society

May 8th marked the 68th anniversary of the Allied victory against Nazi Germany. Though the theater of war had closed, the liberating armies – and the rest of the world – experienced a new kind of shock and horror as evidence of a carefully planned, technologically sophisticated genocide against European Jews and other groups began to emerge.

“The things I saw beggar description,” wrote Eisenhower in a cable to Army Chief of Staff George C. Marshall, describing his reaction to his visit to the Ohrdruf concentration camp:

The visual evidence and verbal testimony of starvation, cruelty, and bestiality were so overpowering as to leave me a bit sick. In one room, where they were piled up twenty or thirty naked men, killed by starvation, [US General] George Patton would not even enter. He said that he would get sick if he did so. I made the visit deliberately, in order to be in a position to give first-hand evidence of these things if ever, in the future, there develops a tendency to charge these allegations merely to 'propaganda.’

Eisenhower was deeply shaken by this experience, and soon after, requested that a delegation comprised of congress members and journalists see for themselves what he saw. Not long after the world learned the terrible truth, the inevitable question was asked: what did the German people know of the Nazi atrocities against the Jews and when?


A German girl walks by the exhumed bodies of prisoners from the Flossenberg concentration camp

“How many people heard or read the reports (about the murder of European Jews) and to what extent the reports were believed and their meaning grasped…is impossible to ascertain.”1 The Allies, conscious of the role Goebbles and his powerful propaganda machine had in keeping the public supportive of the regime, decided to confront the German people with visual evidence of Nazi crimes – the program included compulsory visits to nearby concentration camps, posters displaying dead bodies of prisoners hung in public places, and forcing German POWs to view films documenting the Nazis’ treatment of Jews. It also included the removal of all remnants of Nazism from public life - including the removal of anyone affiliated with the Nazi party from public offices, teaching posts, and any other positions of influence over society. This was also the first time in history that propaganda was treated as an instrument of war crimes, with prominent Nazi propagandists put on trial and convicted alongside other senior party officials at the Nuremberg tribunals2.

This is not to say that there was no debate over these forced viewings. The displayed footage did provoke discussion among the POWs and the German population, albeit with unintended consequences: wary of being manipulated by images and media again, many Germans argued that it was the Allies who were now tricking them with their propaganda. “They showed us ghastly photos of corpses piled up in the concentration camps,” writes diarist Ursula Von Kardoff, a native of southern Germany, “But the people here who saw them said that they were really pictures of the bombing of Dresden. This is the result of Goebbles’s propaganda. These people no longer believe anything and mistrust everything and everybody.”

James Agee, American author, screenwriter and film critic, made the point in his May 19, 1945 article for the Nation that the forced viewing of these films and sites of atrocities was a method to pin the guilt on the whole of the German people, justifying what he called a “hard peace” against them. Ultimately, he argues against a passion for vengeance because it is:

…a terrifyingly strong one, very easily and probably inevitably wrought up by such evidence, even at our distance. But however well aware I am of its strength, and that in its full immediate force and expression it is in some respects irrelevant to moral inquiry, I doubt that it is ever to be honored, or regarded as other than evil - and in every direction fatally degrading and destructive; even when it is obeyed in hot blood or in a crisis of prevention; far worse when it is obeyed in cold blood and in the illusion of carrying out justice.

The photos below give two perspectives on one such viewing in which German POWs on American soil are forced to watch scenes from concentration camps. The photographs are taken at different angles: one depicts the back of the POWs’ heads, so that they are faceless, leaving only the projected image on the screen to provide context; the other depicts only the faces of the POWs as they react to the footage.



The two photographs and this old newsreel video are an excellent springboard for discussion regarding the role of propaganda in shaping war memory, and the role and responsibility of victors in the stabilization and reconstruction of societies ravaged by war and conflict. In the larger context of the Allied efforts to rebuild Germany, these programs of "forced remorse" point to the social complexities of post-war reconstruction: the balance between the need to teach the truth about the horrors of genocide in hopes of creating a stable society and an immediate imperative to satisfy the need for justice or even vengeance.


1. P. 142, State of Deception: the Power of Nazi Propaganda, Steven Luckert and Susan Bachrach; published by USHMM in conjunction with an exhibit by the same name, 2009-2011.
2. The most prominent among them - Julius Streicher, editor of the rabidly anti-Semitic Nazi tabloid Der Stürmer, which routinely printed explicit calls for the death of Jews - was sentenced to hang.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Ask A Partisan Q&A - Frank Blaichman

JPEF executive director Mitch Braff had a chance to record a short Q&A session with former Jewish partisan platoon commander Frank Blaichman while visiting at his home in New York City. The questions all came from the Ask A Partisan section of our website, where students submit questions to be answered later by a panel of Jewish partisans – including Blaichman. Here are some of his responses:
Q1. So was it difficult to go back to normal life after the war?

Q2. What did you learn in the resistance about dealing with other people?

Q3. Were there kids born and raised in the resistance environment? Was this allowed?


To learn more about Frank Blaichman, you can download the JPEF study guide on the Curriculum Page of the site, or read his memoir, "Rather Die Fighting"

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

New JPEF Resources For 2013

Ideal for Days of Remembrance / 70th Anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Revolt

April 19, 2013 marks the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, where the vastly outnumbered Jewish underground managed to force the German army outside of the walls of the ghetto, holding them off for over three weeks (two weeks longer than the German invasion of France).

Most students don't realize that the astonishing story of the Warsaw revolt was more than just an isolated incident and represents only a few of the millions of acts of Jewish resistance that occurred each day of the Holocaust, forming a vast pattern of Jewish defiance in the face of genocide.

JPEF recently released two new lessons to help you dramatically teach your students about the broad spectrum of Jewish armed and unarmed resistance. We also have four new e-learning courses and other resources that you can use during Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurah (April 7, 2013) and the National Days of Remembrance (April 7-14).

Two New Lessons

(available at www.jewishpartisans.org/elearning and www.jewishpartisans.org/resist)

Tactics of Resistance: Give your students tools to analyze conflict and make better choices in how they respond to aggression in their own lives. Includes:

  • The ‘Resistance Matrix’, a framework for analyzing historical and current events throughout the rest of the school year
  • Jewish Resistance Slideshow of archival images (accessible via e-learning - can be used with or without the lesson)

Strengthening Jewish Pride: Transform student perceptions and foster a more positive sense of Jewish identity

  • Can be used in as little as 30 minutes
  • Includes resources for integrating this transformative lesson into nearly any Jewish context (History, Holidays, B’nai Mitzvah/Youth Groups, etc.)

Free Online Professional Development

Four New Teacher Trainings to help you use these and other lessons:

Improved Interface - faster, easier to use
Free CE Units for New Jersey educators; more locations coming soon
Now accessible via iPhone, iPad and other mobile devices

Additional Recommended Resources:

Putting the Gevurah Back into Yom HaShoah — The full name of this Remembrance Day, and the way it is marked in Israel, is Yom HaShoah v'HaGevurah - Holocaust and Heroism Day. The two are mentioned as one. Click the link to learn more.

New partisan profiles:

USHMM Days of Remembrance — Information for teachers and events, including DVD of remembrance planning resources.

We Fought Back — New young adult nonfiction reader from Scholastic books; features several partisans from the JPEF website.

Beyond Courage — A well-researched and visually rich new text on resistance during the holocaust for young adult researchers.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Guest Blogger – Moshe Baran: A Journey Into Memory

Moshe Baran is a Jewish partisan from the town of Horodok, located in present-day southwestern Ukraine but belonging to Poland prior to the war. (View a video of pre-war life in the Horodok shtetl here.) Moshe was in his early 20s when the Nazis rounded up the Jews in Horodok and sent him to a labor camp near Krasne, where he worked grueling 12-hour shifts laying railroad ties and survived on bread crust and potato peel soup.

Having heard about the resistance movement – and the price of admission in the form of a weapon - he was eventually able to assemble a gun from scrap parts he managed to obtain with the aid of friends. He eventually escaped and joined a Russian partisan battalion, where he mined roads, planned ambushes, and set fires in the woods to mark airdrop spots. Moshe was also able to arrange the rescue of his mother, brother, and sister, which was a truly fortunate and rare occurrence for his situation. After the Russians liberated the region in ‘44, he was conscripted into the Red Army – but was spared the uncertain fate of the front lines, thanks to his bookkeeping skills.

After the war, he ended up at a DP camp in Linz, Austria; there, he met his wife Malka, a survivor of the Treblinka concentration camp. They married in the newly-formed state of Israel and emigrated to New York City in 1954. Now in his 90s, Moshe Baran lives in Pittsburgh, and devotes his time to speaking out about his experiences and the destructive power of hatred, which can have devastating consequences for society if left unchecked.

We are honored to re-post the following blog post from Moshe’s blog, Languages Can Kill: Messages of Genocide:


A Journey Into Memory

I had the privilege on January 9 to be interviewed for a documentary on the subject of Jewish resistance during the Second World War in Belarus. The documentary is being produced by Julia Mintz for national release later this year. During the interview, she led me to recount stories of the period prior to the War in the 1930s when the Nazis took power in Germany and began their hate campaign against the Jews. Even when the hate campagain eventually spilled over into Poland, in Belarus in the east where I lived at the time, I did not experience any blatant anti-semitism. The Belarus were a minority in Poland, and we Jews were a minority among them. So there was generally an amiable relationship among the population.

In the process of the interview for the documentary, I recalled that the news of what was going on in Germany and in western Poland certainly had reached us at the time. But as it is in human nature, unless one experiences something oneself, it not was easy to believe that what we were hearing could affect us directly. As with most ordinary people, we were simply naive enough to rely upon the humanity of our fellow humans. This proved to be a great disappointment, to put it mildly.

When words of hate are being disseminated we need to take it very seriously. There is never room for complacency, even when it seems that we ourselves are safe and unlikely to be affected by such speech. Words of hate lead to acts of hate, acts of hate lead to atrocities and genocide. We did not believe at the time that the words we were hearing could affect us in such a short time. But hate has no borders: those words did affect us, and they eventually affected the entire world.

“Love blinds us to faults, hatred to virtues” — Moshe Ibn Ezra

Click here to view the original post on Moshe's blog.

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.


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Jewish Partisan Morris Sorid (z''l) Passes Away

Last month, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation mourned the passing of Jewish partisan Morris Sorid.

Born Moshe Yudewitz, he worked in Pruzany, Poland as a respected educator; by the time the Nazis invaded in 1940, he was living with his wife Regina and their young daughter, Tsveeyah. Having already confined them to a ghetto, the Nazis began the systematic deportation of Pruzany’s 10,000 Jews on January 27, 1943. Realizing that their best chance for survival lay in escape, Morris and Regina tearfully left Tsveeyah in the care of her grandparents several days later and hid in a bunker underneath their home. After 18 days, they escaped the ghetto and found temporary refuge in the home of a Catholic farmer, who risked his life to harbor them.

Shortly after, Morris and Regina began their odyssey in the forests of the Bilaloviez Wilderness; after wandering for about a week, they met and were accepted into the Russian Chapayev Brigade. With five detachments, the Chapayev Brigade was part of the larger Malenkovah Otriad.

A trained midwife, Regina treated the sick and the wounded. Morris participated in various acts of armed resistance, from securing food to blowing up bridges. By November 1943, he was appointed Deputy Commander of the Malenkovah Otriad. Morris and Regina were liberated from the forest in July 1944 and their first son was born just two months later. They named him Victor, as a remembrance of their liberation.


Morris Sorid (far left) in Munich, Germany with other survivors, 1948.

After the war, Morris and Regina learned that their daughter and the rest of the family had perished in Aushwitz. They spent several years in a DP camp in Germany before emigrating to the United States in 1948 and settling in Brooklyn. Morris changed the family name to Sorid, a variation of the Hebrew word for survivor “sarad”. He worked long hours to provide for his family, which by now included a second son Harvey. At 95 years old, Morris penned his memoir titled "One More Miracle." Eventually relocating to Far Rockaway, Morris achieved fame in October 2012 as the oldest evacuee from Hurricane Sandy and his story was the subject of many news articles. Read another article about his remarkable life on Philly.com.

Morris passed away on January 14, 2013, just shy of his 102nd birthday. The board and staff of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation extend their deepest condolences to the entire Sorid Family. May Morris’ memory be a blessing.