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Thursday, April 28, 2011

Remembering the Shoah, Remembering Courage

Mitch Braff, JPEF Executive Director

Holocaust Remembrance Day, often known as Yom HaShoah, is a time when we all reflect upon the atrocities and losses which occurred during the Holocaust. The intent of this day, established by the Israeli Knesset in 1951 (and declared a public holiday in 1959), was to recognize both the devastation and the heroism. Its complete name in Hebrew is Yom HaShoah v’HaGevurahGevurah meaning heroism or courage, and Shoah referring to the Holocaust.

JPEF encourages using the full name for this commemoration, as do many communities across the United States. The specific date was chosen to coincide with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, so resistance was always to be intertwined with this day.

We have developed a short two page guide on putting the Gevurah back into Yom HaShoah. I encourage you to download it from our website.

I hope that everyone has a meaningful Yom HaShoah v'HaGevurah this May 1st or any time during the Days of Remembrance (May 1-8) when it is commonly acknowledged among schools and communities throughout the United States.

-Mitch Braff

Founder & Executive Director


Second Annual Youth Writing Contest

For the second year in a row, JPEF‘s Youth Writing Contest will challenge middle and high school students (8th-12th grade) throughout the country to creatively express how the life lessons of the Jewish partisans relate to their own lives. This year’s entrants are asked to describe how the famous quotation- “The only way for evil to prosper is for good people to do nothing.”- remains relevant today, using examples from the life story of at least one Jewish partisan. Each essay must also address what the writer can do personally to ensure that evil – in whatever form – never prospers in her or his own community.

The most inspiring essays in the 8th to 9th grade level and the 10th-12th grade level will win the writer (and his/her teacher!) an iPod Touch, preloaded with all of JPEF’s short films. Essays must be submitted via the JPEF website by May 17, 2011.

Winners will be announced June 1. Go to to enter or download a printable classroom poster with contest guidelines. The JPEF writing contest will be judged by a prestigious panel that includes Jewish partisans. Please email us at if you have any questions.

Innovative Class Links Native American and Jewish Resistance

At the Fort Washakie School, on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming, Librarian and Film-maker Robin Levin teaches “Responses to Genocide”, a high-school class which ties the cultural history of her mostly Native American students to the life lessons of the Jewish partisans.

Robin uses Teaching with Defiance in concert with her documentary, Taken From My Home: Indian Boarding Schools in Perspective, Told by Teenagers Who Lived Through the Unthinkable, and many other resources, including interviews from both boarding school survivors and former Jewish partisans. She plans to show excerpts from these interviews for "Defying Genocide", a community-wide Days of Remembrance ceremony on May 3, 2011 at the Lander Public Library in Fremont County, WY.

Robin says that common threads can be drawn in understanding the ways that dominant societies set out to victimize groups in their midst and that, for her students, the parallels to the Jewish experience in the Holocaust are obvious: “Every native student alive today is a survivor. The connection is intuitive, it’s there. They know that the cavalry mowed down their forebears; they know that their relations suffered forced marches and starvation and relocation and dehumanization. Yet here they are today, victorious: they’re still here and still identifying themselves as a member of a tribe, a family, and clan.” She notes that studying the Jewish partisans also gives her students a sense of hope, "Every story of survival is an actual miracle.”

Robin starts her course with a discussion of the U.N. definition of genocide. The students then study Ishmael Beah's book A Long Way Gone: Memoirs of a Boy Soldier and the related film The Storytelling Class, and discuss whether or not the book’s circumstances can “technically” be considered genocide. The class then moves on to the Holocaust and Jewish resistance, focusing on the film Defiance and JPEF's accompanying curriculum. She concludes the course with the history of the Indian Boarding Schools, and the actions that helped end them. This gives the students an opportunity to “bring their own family stories into the loop” using curricula she developed to accompany Taken From My Home. Robin notes that the Indian Boarding School movement clearly falls within the U.N. definition of genocide: destroying the cultural identity of a group, taking them from their home, refusing them their language, clothing expression, games, and song and, under extreme duress, forcibly imposing Euro-American values.

Robin shared several tips for using the Jewish partisans in the classroom, starting with the film Defiance which, she says, leaves her students "breathless; at the end of the film, their reaction is, 'oh that was awesome.'" She stresses the importance of watching the entire film, Defiance, breaking when needed but taking as long as it takes over several class sessions to see the entire movie and hone in on issues of greatest interest to the students. She also suggests using testimonials from surviving partisans to present an active voice in reinforcing messages of the film.

Robin laminated several copies of JPEF's Faye Schulman “Pictures of Resistance” poster (available from JPEF), which she passes out to her students, asking them to describe what they see: who the people pictured in the poster are, how they seem to function together and what their responsibilities were, during both peaceful moments as well as during warfare.

She concludes her segment on the partisans by assigning the students a creative project -- a poem, drawing, home design -- that the student develops as a “gift” for a partisan, designed to meet a need of theirs in either his or her past, present, or future. Levin explains, “Don’t dictate what to expect. If the students says, 'I can’t do anything', then ask what could this person could do for you, if you were in need.

For more information about the Taken From My Home DVD and curriculum, click on the "store" link at or email

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 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.

Monday, April 18, 2011

2011 Youth Writing Contest Currently Underway

Reflections from the 2010 contest winner Talia Weisberg:

Last year, a friend of mine told me about the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation’s Youth Writing Contest. Since I only had a basic knowledge of the partisans’ accomplishments, I really looked forward to doing research on them. I was amazed by the courage and strength of the partisans. The fact that these young men and women were brave enough to take a stance and to fight back really made me think about how I live my own life.

Am I continuing their legacy, and the legacy of their ancestors? Am I fighting against what I think is wrong, speaking up when I hear something I oppose? Or am I letting injustice slide past me without protest?

The lessons that the partisans have taught me are invaluable. Even if I hadn’t won the contest last year, just learning more about the partisans and writing an essay about them would have been rewarding enough. The partisans have really changed my opinions towards past history, current society, and how I want the future to be.

One year after her Youth Writing Contest essay, this young woman continues to think about the Jewish Partisans and their experiences. Studying the partisans and writing an essay have had a significant impact on her.

Educators and Administrators: help your students have a similar experience! Encourage and support their entry in our 2011 Youth Writing Contest.

Students: your voices can be heard, your words can be powerful. Enter our 2011 Youth Writing Contest - you may win an iPod and you will help shape your vision of the past, the present and the future.

Submissions to the 2011 Youth Writing Contest are due May 17th. For more information, including entry rules and guidelines, please visit our contest page at