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Friday, June 21, 2013

Featured Jewish Partisan - William Stern

“Hundreds of miles we walked ... barefoot in the snow for several weeks before I was able to take the shoes off a dead German soldier.”
–Bill Stern

Running in the dark, shoeless in the bitter cold, racked with fatigue and hunger, constantly afraid of being discovered, arrested yet again, or thrown back into the horrendous abyss constructed for the annihilation of his people – this was William Stern’s life for eight long years as he struggled to survive, enduring the horrors of concentration camps, incessant deprivation, and unimaginable existential terror. Yet Bill Stern prevailed, eventually joining a partisan group, surviving to see the end of the war, and immigrating to the United States.

William Kurt Stern spent his childhood in Austria, but his family fled to Yugoslavia when he was 13 years old, fearing the rise of Nazism in the region. However, Germany occupied Yugoslavia in 1941, and along with his parents, William was interned at the Kerestinec concentration camp. While at Kerestinec, he slept on the floor with “hundreds of rats scurrying... over us, under our blankets and over our faces”.


Kerestinec concentration camp

During the summer of 1941, William’s family was inexplicably taken from Kerestinec and herded onto a train traveling southward to Sarajevo and then into Montenegro. The journey was terrifying as they switched from train to truck, following narrow roads that were “so narrow and twisting that the driver had to back up to be able to make the turn…this caused the whole back of the truck to hang over the side of the road over an abyss”. William and his family again suffered through successive bouts of starvation and bleak conditions, as they were placed in old, abandoned buildings, heavily guarded by Italian forces. He explained, “Food was scarce even for the local population. Our primary food were figs, which we would pick off trees, when no one was looking”.

This went on for another year until June 1942, when William’s family heard about the chance to go to Split, a Yugoslavian town controlled by the Italians. At this time the Italians were withdrawing from occupied territory and would go to annexed areas such as Split. Since William and his family were under the Italian army’s control and the Italians controlled Split, they were able to obtain a “propusnica” (a travel permission document) to allow the family’s entrance. But they were betrayed by the Italian Carabinieri, who refused them entry and confiscated their precious travel document. But soon after they were denied entry into Split, they found a way to slip past the border police. When they finally arrived, they found shelter, and felt safe and happy for the first time in years.

However, their problems were far from over. Just hours later, the police appeared in the middle of the night and arrested William and his family on the spot. They were immediately thrown into a tiny jail cell with common criminals for twelve days where they had to “sleep on the floor, on one side just to fit. When one person turned everybody had to turn”. Throughout this tortuous experience, they suffered from dysentery and desperate hunger. He explained, “We were told that we were allowed to go to the toilet only twice a day, creating major problems for us”.

Finally in July 1942, the Italian army moved William and his parents out of the jail and shipped them off on a ferry to Dubrovnik, a southern city in Croatia. Before the Nazis seized the city in the autumn of 1943, it was occupied by the Italians. Though Jews were likely to be persecuted by the local ustashi – a Croatian fascist organization appointed by the Nazis to rule over occupied Yugoslavia and responsible for over a half a million murders of Jews, Roma, and Serbs – the Italians did not allow mass deportations, and many refugees fled to Dubrovnik during that period. However, dire starvation was also rampant. William describes scrounging for rotten fruit and cabbage leaves at the market place when the Italian army was not paying close attention. “It was so bad, that I only weighed forty two kilos (under a hundred pounds). I was sixteen years old and about 6ft. 2 inches tall. I was so thin that I could see my heart beat and looked like a skeleton”. Were it not for the nuns, who gave out a thin soup made of corn meal once a day, they would not have survived.

In the autumn of that year, the Germans successfully persuaded the Italians to round up Dubrovnik’s Jews, and in October 1942, William and his family were moved to Kupari, a concentration camp along the Adriatic coast operated by the Italian Carabinieri. Here they suffered through constant hunger and debilitating illness, all the while being expected to perform relentless hard labor. William’s mother became so sick the doctor declared that she would not survive. Thankfully, she recovered but did not regain her strength for a long time after.

Ultimately, Italy capitulated to the Allies in October 1943. After a year in the concentration camp, one day William and his family “woke up to find that all the watch towers and other military posts [of the concentration camp] were deserted… all the troops had left”. By now, William was 16 years old. Soon after, partisans from the mainland arrived to help relocate them from the concentration camp to liberated territory. It was important to be quick since “the Germans or even worse, the dreaded Ustashi were imminent”.

William, his parents, and several other people walked with the partisans for many hours through the countryside before arriving at a farm where they were allowed to stay. For the next six months, they stayed with the partisans in the same farmhouse, “simply sitting and waiting”. It was not uncommon for them to wake up in the morning to German air raids: “We were attacked by the Germans from the air. We heard a plane making circles around us, and then they started to drop bombs on us.”

Tito's Partisans celebrate victoryThe partisans fighting in Yugoslavia during this time were a unified body, led by commander Josip Broz Tito – no small feat for a region ravaged by nationalist bloodshed. After hiding out and dodging German air raids for half a year, William decided to join Tito’s partisan brigade. He remained an active member for a whole year, leaving his parents behind. To stay agile and light, his partisan group always consisted of 12 to 18 men and women who “were very nice people”. William said, “We went into areas that were dangerous, full of Nazis, and would kill as many as we could. When they went to fight back, we would go behind a tree and hide, and then fight back when the time was right”.

Eventually, in February 1945, William received a note from partisan command ordering him to go to Topusco. When he arrived there, he was lucky to rediscover his parents at the Rab concentration camp. Two months later William, his parents, and all other Jews from the concentration camp were transported by a British warship to Bari, Italy, where they were “deloused and disinfected”, free and safe after many long years. Since William spoke four different languages – English, Italian, Croatian, and German – he was hired as an interpreter for the British occupation. “They treated me very well. I could even wear one of their uniforms. They needed me for all the languages I could speak”.

William and his family wanted to go to the United States but were not allowed to immigrate for another three years. In March of 1948, they were finally given immigration visas and set off for New York on a Russian ship called “Rossia”. In New York, they were greeted by William’s uncle who instantly took them in and helped them to settle and find work. “The Jewish community was very guiding and supportive in helping me with starting my new life,” William recalls.

By the time he arrived in New York, he was 22 years old. His first priority was to catch up on the 10 years of education he had missed. He scored well on a high school equivalency test, and attended a university in New York. During his studies, he worked the night shifts as a hotel elevator operator, then a bus boy. With the help of the Tisch family, he eventually climbed his way up the ranks of the hotel industry, where he continued to work for another 42 years.

Despite his traumatic youth, William has successfully re-established himself in the U.S. Contributing factors to William’s success include his ability to learn languages and close family relationships that gave him purpose and support. He is the father of two children: Eric, who lives in the Bay Area; and Amy, who lives in Baltimore. William resides with his wife Joyce, just south of San Francisco.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Partisans In The Arts - Nandor Glid, Sculptor

Much of Nandor Glid’s story pre-World War II is a mystery to the public - perhaps in part because, like many, he lost all he knew in the Holocaust. Glid was born in Subotica, Yugoslavia (now Northern Serbia). While his family was sent to Auschwitz, he was deported to Szeged, Hungary, where he was forced to work at a labor camp. He managed to escape and join Tito's Yugoslav Partisans, who played a major role in driving German forces out of Yugoslavia. Glid was wounded in March 1945 during a battle in Bolman, Yugoslavia.

After the war, Glid was admitted into the Academy of Applied Arts in Belgrade where he studied sculpture, among other mediums. He won numerous awards and recognition for his highly expressive sculptures and graphics. Glid’s most recognizable work is the “International Monument”, which was picked out of other competitive entries to provide a memorial for the victims of the Dachau concentration camp. Glid’s strikingly composed sculpture was deemed the winner by judge Albert Guerisse, a Belgian Communist who was himself imprisoned at Dachau. Glid created the piece in 1959 and it was dedicated and implemented at the museum in 1968 where it stands today - an aptly arresting vision in front of the museum’s entrance:


“International Monument” at the Dauchau Museum

A talented sculptor, sketcher, and graphic artist, Glid continued to produce highly recognizable and expressive sculptures that speak loudly of his experiences, many of which are monuments scattered throughout the former Yugoslavia. Many of his works have been exhibited internationally. His final work was commissioned by the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece and dedicated to Jewish Holocaust Victims by the President of Greece in 1997. Glid was able to complete designs for the project, but passed away before he could begin the execution of the monument. Based on these plans, his son, Daniel, completed the bronze sculpture and it is now located near the pre-World War II Jewish quarter of Salonika, Greece - an area that lost 96% of its Jewish population during the war.


"One for Hundred" (1980). Sumarice Park, Kragujevac, Serbia


“Burning Menora” (dedicated in 1990). Overlooking the Danube, Dorcol, Serbia

Friday, June 7, 2013

Guest Blogger - Moshe Baran: Memories Revisited

Moshe Baran is a Polish-Jewish partisan who escaped from a labor camp near Krasne and joined a Russian partisan group. 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.

Moshe maintains an active blog entitled Languages Can Kill: Messages of Genocide, which focuses on hate speech and its consequences. We are proud to repost his reflections on the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's 20th anniversary celebration, which he attended this spring:


Memories Revisited

It is Monday, April 28, 2013 in Washington, DC, and we are approaching May 8, the 68th anniversary of the end of the war. The Holocaust Museum is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its opening. I am attending a salute to the veterans of WWII and Holocaust survivors, a gathering of more than 4000 people, among them 900 survivors and 150 veterans. We are assembled to witness the presentation of the flags of the American divisions who entered concentration camps in Germany and Austria. The Army orchestra plays as each unit enters with its flag and a voice announces the camps they liberated. Those who are present rise and applaud, my face and those around me flooding with tears of sorrow and pain mixed with tears of joy and pride in those who finally destroyed the beast of the 20th century. President Clinton, Elie Wiesel, teachers and students who are engaged in preserving the memory of the Holocaust are sharing their experiences.

As I stand there, my memory takes me back to January of 1945 when the Second Russian Army, of which I was part, moved west to seal the fate of Hitler’s thousand year Reich. We drove over recent battlefields where the remnants of vehicles were mixed with the remains of bodies. It takes me back to the summer of 1944 when the Russian army, after several years of fighting German hordes, advanced to the west and liberated Belarus and entered Poland. I was part of the resistance that was sabotaging the communications of the occupying forces. I remember the day in 1942 when I stole weapons from a German warehouse, escaped from the forced labor camp where I had been imprisoned for six months, found a group of local Jews who had sought shelter in the surrounding forests and swamps and joined the resistance. I recall the horrible time in the fall of 1941 when the Germans ordered us out of our ancestral homes and herded 300 families into 15 homes, separated by barbed wire from the rest of the town and guarded around the clock, deprived of access to food, water and basic necessities. There we waited knowing that we are doomed, trembling at the sound of mechanized vehicles that might signal the arrival of our fate. From behind the barbed wire we watched as our former neighbors went about their lives assembling in the church across the street to pray after they had been preying on us, performing weddings accompanied by the sound of music. My mind goes back to the good old days prior to 1939 when under Polish rule, in the midst of a Belarusian minority, we enjoyed a naively tranquil life in the shtetl, a village of 300 families, a rabbi, a Hebrew day school, a bank, a free loan association, and volunteers who cared for widows, orphans, and those just passing through. That all came to an end when the Red Storm from the east and the Nazi hell that eventually engulfed all of Europe from the west converged in our place.

I move back towards the present, recalling a visit to an extermination camp in Poland in 2004 accompanied by my son-in-law Paul and grandsons Yossi and Boaz. After stepping out of the barracks where we saw compartments with childrens’ shoes, clothing, and luggage marked from various countries, Paul went outside, sat on the steps and burst into tears. He cried and cried, lacking words, and expressing in the only way he could the despair that he felt.

What is the responsibility of those of us who survived, and those who witnessed the liberation of the concentration camps? It is to share our memories with as wide an audience as possible. We are the last of those who can tell the story in the first person, who can bear personal witness to the destruction of an entire culture. It is painful for us to reach the point in life where the world is so unsettled, where killings and bombings are a daily occurrence. We hoped that WWII would be the end of all wars, but today we live in a world where the institutions of peace are paralyzed and where war is an everyday event, an unremarkable item in the news over which we shake our heads.

In the great economic turmoil of the last few years, there is one bright spot. Israel, the bright and beautiful child of the tragedy of WWII, the dream of a people who were nearly destroyed, has emerged unscathed, one of only five countries that continued to grow and prosper during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression. We pray and hope that the example set by Israel will serve as a beacon to humankind.

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

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.