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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

2012 Youth Writing Contest Winners Announced!

We are proud to announce the winners of the Third Annual Youth Writing Contest! From hundreds of entries from around the country - and around the world - three winners in two different age groups have been chosen by a judge panel that includes Jewish partisan William Stern.
This year's contest focused on Jewish partisan women. Students were asked to write about the lessons that can be learned from their experience to inspire people today to make the world a better place. The winning essays discussed topics ranging from bullying to Burma. The first-place winners, along with their teachers, will receive a Kindle Fire.
The winners are:
Lower Division (8th-9th Grades):
1st place:
Breanna, 8th grade, Billinghurst Middle School, NV
2nd place:
Yitzhak, 8th grade, Park East Day School, NY
3rd place:
Micaela, 9th grade, Congregation Ner Tamid, NV
Upper Division (10th-12th Grades):
1st place:
Leah, 10th grade, Kehillah Jewish High School, CA
2nd place:
Joshua, 11th grade, Solomon Schechter High School, NY
3rd place:
Samantha, 10th grade, Duchesne Academy, NE
The winning essays discussed the life lessons of these Jewish Partisans:
We want to take the opportunity to thank all of the students who participated in the contest, and all of the administrators, educators and mentors who encouraged their participation. We would also like to thank all the volunteer readers who helped us judge this contest.
These essays were deeply touching and inspiring to all of us here at JPEF: the staff, board members and partisans. We look forward to hosting the contest again next year.
For further information or questions about the contest, please contact
This writing contest was made possible by contributions from the Alper, Bedzow, Blaichman, Charatan, Felson, Holm, Kushner, Orbuch, and Wohl families.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Partisans in the Arts: Marko Behar, Bulgarian artist (1914-1973)

Marko Behar, a talented sketch artist and draftsman (among other mediums), provides us with a unique view into Bulgaria during World War II through his drawings. Behar served as the second commissar of a partisan battalion in the framework of Georgi Dimitrov, who was an international symbol of resistance to Nazism at the time. As such, Behar’s sketches, lithographs, and cartoons reflect partisan and underground life. While he drew moving glimpses of Jewish and partisan life at the time, he also featured caricatures of fascism, such as a cartoon aimed at pro-German authorities in Bulgaria.

Partisans in the Winter, 1948
Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem

Behar lived out his days in Bulgaria: he was born in 1914 in Skalitsa, a southeastern town, and passed away in Sofia in 1973. His work has been featured in a number of international exhibitions and has been honored with the Ilia Beshkov prize for drawing. Along with renowned Bulgarian poet, Valeri Petrov, Behar was also one of the founding members and contributors to the popular Bulgarian newspaper Starshel (which translates to “The Hornet”), a weekly publication of humor and satire. His work continues to be exhibited in retrospectives and collections, including a recent (2009) exhibit at the National Gallery of Foreign Art in Sofia.

Clockwise from top left: Race Laws in Bulgaria, 1943, Sofia; A Young Member of the Underground Distributing Leaflets, 1943; Partisans, 1962 (lithograph); Wearing a Jewish Badge, 1943, Sofia.

All materials property of Ghetto Fighters' House, except "Partisans In The Winter", courtesy of the Collection of the Yad Vashem Art Museum, Jerusalem.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Defiance, Our Partisan Heroes: Original Poem Inspired By The Jewish Partisans

We recently received this moving poem from Florida educator Bracha Goffer:

Our Partisan Heroes
Holding On To Traditions

What gave them strength to resist?
Preserving pride, self-worth
Resolving not to surrender
To the last breath on earth

How did they safeguard their spirit?
What kept their spark, their drive?
Heads held high amidst evil
How did they last…stay alive?

Lost all loved and dear-ones
Robbed of all they possessed
They marched to their death…to the ovens…
But faith was never repressed…

Clinging to customs, traditions
Their soul they would not betray
Bodies tormented, shattered
Hearts in silence did pray


Unspeakable courage and daring
Ignited revolt with a passion
They joined underground forces
To strike at Nazi oppression

These were our Partisan heroes
Defiant, would not succumb
Resisting surrender, submission
Inspired decades to come

The remnants of staggering slaughter
Climbed-out of ashes and sand
An ancient vision pulled Homeward
To build their beloved Homeland

-Bracha Goffer

Bracha is a poet, composer, and educator, as well as an expert in Gematria and Hebrew. She teaches an ongoing Torah class every Tuesday night in Aventura, highlighting “Women spirituality and significance of Israel”.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Reflections from Prague, Part 3 – Auschwitz/Birkenau: The Heart of the Beast

JPEF Education Manager Jonathan Furst recently returned from a trip to Prague for the ELMLE conference European International School middle-school educators. The trip included a pre-conference tour of the Terezin ghetto, and was followed by a trip to Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland.

Read Part I here.
Read Part II here.

Following the trip to Terezin, I realized that my journey would be incomplete – I would be incomplete – until I went to the heart of the beast: Auschwitz-Birkenau. I arranged to visit a few days after the conference.

The first thing to know about Auschwitz-Birkenau is that it is cold. On the day I went, the temperature was -30˚ Celsius on a windless day. Even in thermals and a heavy coat I was chilled. I took my shoes and gloves off to pray for 20 minutes – days later, my hands were still chapped and my feet felt painfully cold. How anyone survived there at all is beyond my understanding.

Bikenau is one of the most desolate places on earth. 1.1 million people were murdered* – more than a thousand human deaths occurred every day for years. Truly a death machine.

They say that no birds and no animals ever strayed near, and no plants grew there during the Holocaust. And I believe it. The ground is barren – the ruins of barracks (destroyed by the Nazis’ attempt to erase evidence of their crimes) lie behind stretches of 13-foot high barbed wire. Electrified barbed wire: something about that still stuns and enrages me, the mere fact that someone could conceive of it.

My overall reaction, though, wasn’t rage. Or even shock or sadness (although I felt all of those). Unexpectedly, I felt a defiant pride. The Reich that was supposed to last a thousand years didn’t even last twenty. But we still live on, after four thousand years on this earth. “You’re gone,” I thought, “and we are here”.

And even here there was resistance – even the armed kind. Very few people have ever heard of the Auschwitz-Birkenau Revolt, when a group of Jews overcame the guards and destroyed one of the crematoria. (Tiny amounts of gunpowder were smuggled into the Birkenau death camp by women who worked in the munitions factory in Auschwitz). The ruins of the crematoria are simultaneously horrifying and inspiring to see in person.

And then there were the latrines. Dysentery was rampant, yet inmates who were in a constant state of diarrhea were allowed to go to the bathroom only at two or three fixed times of the day, and for no more than a few minutes. The latrine is a vast barn with hundreds of crude holes placed over a trench, side-by-side and back-to-back, to be used by 32,000 people a day. It’s the little details like this that bring the horror home.

The smell must have been asphyxiating. In an attempt to humiliate intellectuals and other ‘troublemakers’, the Germans would assign them the task of cleaning out the filth. But the job of ‘Scheissekommando’ was secretly considered an opportunity instead of a humiliation. Not only could the enslaved workers relieve themselves as often as they needed, but the guards would refuse to go in do to the stench, so this was one of the few places where Jews could talk without being overheard. Here is where the resistance organized and made plans.

Even in the most desperate conditions such as this, one could unearth stories of resistance. Most of them will never be known, but some still survive. To find out more, visit the following links:

*Until the end of the communist occupation of Poland, Birkenau was referred to as the place where 1.1 million Poles and other people, including Jews, were killed. Of those murdered at Auschwitz, approximately 75,000 were Polish. One million were Jewish.

All photos and videos taken by Jonathan Furst during his trip. Copyright 2012 JPEF.

Part 1 — Insights from the Prague International Schools Conference
Part 2 — Terezin: Healing Through Art and Storytelling

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Ralph Berger Shares His Impressions Of Speaking At Miami-Dade College

Ralph Berger, the editor of With Courage Shall We Fight and the son of Jewish partisans, recently spoke at Miami Dade College as part of Miami’s Holocaust Education Week. He shares his experiences our readers.

In February 2012, as part of Miami’s Holocaust Education Week, my brother Al and I were fortunate enough to have been asked to speak about the book we edited, With Courage Shall We Fight: The Memoirs and Poetry of Holocaust Resistance Fighters Frances “Fruma” Gulkowich Berger and Murray “Motke” Berger, which tells the story of our parents’ lives before, during and after WWII. The experience at Miami Dade College was one that neither of us will soon forget.

The College did a great job of publicizing the event. As we walked around campus, we saw posters announcing the event containing not only our pictures and the book cover, but one of the Bielski Brigade as well. The auditorium seated 350 people. We were quite surprised as students and professors kept coming into the room. More and more piled in. Extra chairs had to be brought in and some students wound up sitting on the floor. Unfortunately, some had to be turned away at the door.

As people were walking in, a slide show obtained from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum was playing. One professor then spoke about Jewish resistance during WWII and the Bielski Brigade in particular. He introduced the JPEF film “Intro to the Partisans.” Another professor introduced me and Al and had clearly read the book. He talked about our parents and the roles that they played in the Brigade.

This was one of the most attentive audiences we had ever seen. After our presentations, a professor came up to us and said that the “audience was so focused you could hear the proverbial pin drop.” The highlight for me came when one of the students read a poem of my Mom’s, “The Little Orphan.” He had a thick Spanish accent. Me and Al were “fahrklempt.” I could see my parents smiling.

Many of the students were from Cuba and Puerto Rico. They asked very heartfelt questions after the lectures. Though not Jewish, it was clear that they were engrossed in the story because so many of them could identify with parts of it - the universal story of resistance to oppression, fleeing from persecution and for a better life. I feel so lucky and so privileged to have been given the opportunity to help educate people – not only about the Partisans, but also about this very important chapter in Jewish history.

— Ralph Berger