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Monday, June 1, 2015

Jewish Partisans Charles Bedzow and Leah Johnson Escaped the Lida Ghetto

With the help of Tuvia Bielski, siblings Charles Bedzow and Leah Johnson escaped the Lida ghetto before its residents were rounded up, shot and tossed into mass graves. Their biographies are available on the Partisans section of our main website. Charles Bedzow (born Chonon Bedzowski) and Leah Johnson (born Leah Bedzowski) grew up in Lida, a Polish town located in present-day Belarus. When they were in their mid-teens, the Nazis invaded Poland and confined Lida’s Jewish population into a ghetto, where their family lived in overcrowded, pest-infested quarters. Miraculously, the siblings' immediate family escaped the massacres that followed months later.

Convinced no one would be spared, the Bedzowskis were resolute to get out. Help came from Tuvia Bielski – the Bielskis knew the Bedzowskis, and Tuvia managed to get a letter to them to ask if they would join him and his brothers. They escaped the ghetto to join the Bielski brigade in the woods, where both Charles and Leah served as scouts, stood guard, and went on supply-gathering missions, among other things.

Charles and Leah survived the war with the Bielski camp and escaped to a DP camp in Torino. They and their families – both were now married – immigrated across the Atlantic to Canada.

Read the biographies here:

Monday, May 18, 2015

People Who Resisted: Paul Rusesabagina, Rwandan Humanitarian

Paul Rusesabagina’s story was adapted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, along with the events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His humanitarian efforts during the 1994 Rwandan genocide preserved the lives of 1,268 refugees during the 100 days of mass killings that took 800,000 Rwandan lives.

In 1994, Rusesabagina was the general manager at a hotel in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where he lived with his wife and children. He is of Hutu descent, his wife, Tutsi. The two major ethnic groups of Rwanda, Hutus are the largest group and Tutsis had been put in a place of power by the colonizing Belgians until 1959. On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan president, who was Hutu, was assassinated when his plane was shot down, setting spark to an ethnic tension that was already on edge.

Following the assassination, Hutu government officials collectively organized military squads to exterminate Tutsis, whom they maligned through propaganda claiming Tutsis were a plague to their nation and would cause its downfall. When Rusesabagina was unable to secure protection for himself and his family from the international peacekeepers, who completely underestimated the violence and terror involved, he moved them to the Hotel des Milles Collines, an international hotel that he hoped would provide a safe haven.

The hotel’s managers gradually evacuated as violence increased, leaving Rusesabagina to act as General Manager of the Milles Collines. With difficulty, he convinced staff to heed his authority as he took in refugees and orphans. He had no weapons, their only defense was the hotel’s international status and mattresses set against windows to protect from grenades and gunfire.

The Hutu militia announced an ensuing attack on the Milles Collines, a special target was Rusesabagina’s wife, Tatianna, who is Tutsi. She and their children were able to desperately steal away to the airport while Rusesabagina remained at the Hotel, a decision that came down to Rusesabagina’s belief that “so far I'm the only person who can negotiate with the killers.” To ward off the Hutu militia, Rusesabaginia frantically called upon figures abroad, who influenced the Rwandan National Police to call off the siege. Rusesabagina protected the hotel and its inhabitants until the Tutsi rebels forced Hutus out of Rwanda. He then transported Tutsi orphans to safety in Tanzania, away from the ethnic tension in Rwanda.

While other Hutus were killing neighbors, even spouses, Rusesabagina explains his resistance in true form with little pomp and due directness: “This is why I say that the individual's most potent weapon is a stubborn belief in the triumph of common decency.”

Copyright © 2006 Richard Lowkes under Creative Commons license

Monday, April 20, 2015

Featured Jewish Partisan - Martin Petrasek, born on April 21st

Martin Petrasek was born in Chust, Slovakia in 1926. In 1938, Czechoslovakia became the first victim of Hitler’s expansionist plans when Germany annexed a group of German-speaking regions of Czechoslovakia known as the Sudetenland (Hitler invaded the rest not long after). However, the region of Slovakia was granted autonomy in return for supporting the Nazis and rounding up and deporting its Jewish population. Martin got a job in a furniture factory where the foreman protected him, but he still lived in constant fear of being sent away. When he fell ill and was sent to a sanatorium in the mountains, he took the opportunity to leave and sought refuge in a monastery.

While at the monastery, Martin found a partisan pamphlet calling on Slovaks to resist the occupation. He decided that it was time to fight back. A local sympathizer gave him the name of a contact for the resistance in a nearby town. Martin found the man and was inducted into a partisan brigade.


Martin Petrasek's partisan identification card

Martin worked as a spy, scouting the movements of troops and conducting hit-and-run attacks against local German forces. Soviet paratroopers had organized his brigade, and they regularly airdropped supplies to the partisans.

After the German defeat at Stalingrad in 1943, public opinion in Slovakia began to turn against the Nazis, and in 1944 Slovaks staged a widespread uprising against their occupiers. However, the uprising was short lived—Hitler sent in elite SS units that brutally repressed the resistance, and the retreating German army conducted “clean-up” operations on their way back from the Eastern front.

The brigade knew that retreating Nazis were scouring the forest and killing every partisan they found. Instead of staying in the path of Germans, Martin’s brigade decided to advance to the front to reunite with the Red Army. They met up with the Romanian army en route, and were liberated.

Martin joined up with the Czechoslovakian army and became a military police officer responsible for punishing soldiers who deserted from the front. After the war, Martin defected from Soviet-controlled Czechoslovakia, entering West Germany and moving to Israel. Martin eventually immigrated to the United States in 1959. He lives there today, along with his wife and his two grown children.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Martin Petrasek, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan.


Martin (center) at the 2011 Partisan Tribute Dinner in NYC

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!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Featured Jewish Partisan - Rachel Margolis

Rachel Margolis was born in Vilna (Vilnius), Lithuania, in 1921. In 1941 Nazi Germany invaded Lithuania and Rachel was sent to live in hiding with a Christian family. A year later, she decided instead to move to the Vilna Ghetto; a ghetto so terrible that over the two years of its existence, the population fell from 40,000 to only a few hundred. During her time in the Vilna Ghetto, Rachel joined the Fareinikte Partisaner Organizatzie (the United Partisan Organization), headed by Abba Kovner.

When the ghetto was liquidated in 1943, under the orders of Reichsführer of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, Rachel and her future husband escaped to the surrounding forests. Although they faced the constant threat of starvation and disease – not to mention capture by their oppressors – the partisans actively fought back by blowing up Nazi lines of communication.

The sole Holocaust survivor in her family, Rachel went on to gain a Ph.D. in biology and worked as a teacher until the late 1980s. In 2005, Rachel found and published the diary of Kazimierz Sakowicz, a Polish journalist who witnessed the Ponary massacre of 1941 to 1944, which killed up to 100,000 people, the majority of whom were Jews. In a turn of events that astonished the international community, the Lithuanian authorities sought to question her in 2008 for her role in alleged war crimes. The motivation behind this is an ongoing historical revisionist movement that seeks to equate Soviet occupation with the Nazis and the Holocaust by describing it as a 'double genocide'. In 2010, Rachel published her own memoir, A Partisan from Vilna, chronicling her early life and battle to survive Nazi oppression during World War II.

Monday, March 2, 2015

JPEF Celebrates Women In The Partisans

In honor of Women's History Month, here's a great article we're reposting from the Jewish Women's Archive blog:


During World War II, thousands of Jewish women demonstrated extraordinary strength and determination to fight back as partisans against the Nazis and their collaborators. Faced with the constant threat of death, these women, many of them teens, overcame near-impossible odds. Here are just a few of their stories:

  • Matilde Bassani Finzi, an Italian Jew, was a member of the partisan group Comando Partigiano Supremo (the Supreme Partisan Command). After Germany invaded Italy, Bassani Finzi went to work passing information between partisan groups, writing and distributing anti-fascist and anti-Nazi newsletters and newspapers, stealing flashlights and medicines from the Germans on the pretext of activity for the Red Cross, and more. In April 1944 she was captured by the Germans outside the Vatican, where she had tried to secure sanctuary for Jews. She managed to escape, despite a gunshot wound to the leg.
  • Ida Landau (later Ida Fink) was confined to the Zbarazh ghetto with her family until 1942, when she and her younger sister acquired false identity papers. A fair haired, blue-eyed young woman, Landau did not look identifiably Jewish. The two sisters survived the war in hiding by concealing their identities. A fictionalized account of the war years appears in her novel The Journey.
  • Eta Wrobel escaped from a Nazi prison in Lublin and from two deportations. She smuggled guns she’d stolen from Germans in Lodz to her hometown of Lukow, Poland, and fled to the woods, where the Jewish partisans made her their commander. At one point Eta was shot in the leg and dug the bullet out of her leg with a knife. Unlike the other seven women in the unit, Eta refused to cook or clean. "We fought to survive," she would say. "We fought so that some of us would get out of there and make new families, to spit in the Nazi’s eyes. Our babies are our revenge."

Discover more stories of female Jewish partisans at the Jewish Partisan Education Foundation blog, including Sonya Oshman, Rae Kushner, Vitka Kovner, and Mira Shelub.

These women were ordinary people who, faced with extreme circumstances, made a difference and did the extraordinary. This Women's History Month, the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation honors their courage and heroism.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Women's History Month Resources

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

Essie Shor and Andrea Zakin
Mindfulness Publishing, 2009.

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

Eta Wrobel
The Wordsmithy, LLC, 2006.

Frank Blaichman 
Arcade Publishing, 2009.



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

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

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