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Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Celebrating Eta Wrobel, born on December 28, 1918

"I was the girl who played soccer with the boys. I was the girl who rode a bicycle on the street in shorts, which no other Jewish girls didn’t do that, I had no objections from my parents. We had a very good home. And not to forget, which hurts my life, we had ten children in our family, and I’m the only survivor. The only one. I have no family whatsoever in my background, so like when we get together in the family there is that celebration, or a wedding or bar mitzvah or whatever there is, I have nobody. Everybody who comes, nieces, nephews, are all from my husband’s side. That’s the only thing I envy in my life — otherwise, I’m free." — Eta Wrobel.

Born December 28, 1918 in Lokov, Poland, Eta Wrobel was the only child in a family of ten to survive the Holocaust. In her youth, she was a free spirit who defied authority. As Eta puts it she was “born a fighter.” Her father, a member of the Polish underground, taught her the importance of helping people, no matter the circumstance.

In early 1940, Eta started work as a clerk in an employment agency. Soon she began her resistance by creating false identity papers for Jews. In October 1942, Eta’s ghetto was liquidated and the Jews were forced into concentration camps. In the transition, Eta and her father escaped to the woods.

Life in the woods around Lokov was extremely treacherous. Eta helped organize an exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to 80 people. Her unit stole most of their supplies, slept in cramped quarters, and had no access to medical attention. At one point Eta was shot in the leg and dug the bullet out with a knife. The unit set mines to hinder German movement and cut off supply routes. Unlike the other seven women in the unit, Eta refused to cook or clean. Her dynamic personality and military skills allowed for this exception.

She was active on missions with the men and made important strategic decisions.
In 1944, when the Germans left Lokov, Eta came out of hiding and was asked to be mayor of her town. Shortly after, Eta met Henry, her husband to be. They were married on December 20, 1944. In 1947, Eta and Henry moved to the United States. She and Henry had three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. Eta summarized her heroic years with the partisans by saying simply, “The biggest resistance that we could have done to the Germans was to survive.”

In 2006, her memoir My Life My Way The Extraordinary Life of a Jewish Partisan in World War II was published. Eta died on May 26, 2008 at her home in upstate New York. Eta’s grandson, Barak Wrobel, is following her leadership having joined the board of JPEF in 2018.

Visit for more about Eta Wrobel, including seven videos of her reflecting on her time as a partisan. Eta is also featured in an Emmy-nominated documentary from PBS entitled Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Looking Back on Jewish Partisan Gertrude Boyarski (z''l) During Women's History Month

"I...went back to the partisans that should take me to [commander] Bulak. And I said, 'You know [...] I want to come back because everybody's killed and I remain all by myself.' He said, 'Yeah, I know you girls want to come to the group to have a good time. You don't want to fight.' I said, 'No, I want to fight. I want to take revenge for my sisters and brothers and for my parents.' He said, 'Well, I'll take you in on one condition.' I said, 'What's the condition?' 'You'll stay on guard for two weeks, but a mile away from the group. We'll give you a horse, we'll give you a rifle, we'll give you a gun. And anything you hear, any little noise, you'll have to let us know.' I said, 'Okay.'"
–Gertrude Boyarski

Born in 1922 on the 2nd day of Rosh Hashanah, Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Boyarski was a teenager in the town of Dereczyn (Derechin), Poland.  She lived a quiet life with her family until the Germans invaded in 1941. Though the Nazis forced the majority of the town's Jews into a ghetto, they regarded Gertie's father – a butcher and a housepainter – as a 'useful' Jew, so the Boyarskis were moved to a guarded building just in front of the ghetto's entrance.

On July 24, 1942, a night of terror descended on the ghetto. The Germans began a mass killing of the town’s 3,000-4,000 Jews. The Boyarski family managed to escape to a nearby forest, where they hoped to join a partisan unit. To prove themselves to the partisans, Gertie's father, brother, and other Jews had to return completely bare-handed and attack the town's police station. They were successful, killing the guards and taking the station's stash of weapons and ammunition.  However, in the months that followed, Gertie and her family remained in a family camp with other noncombatant refugees. The camp lacked protection, and Gertie saw her mother, father, sister, and brother murdered before her eyes in surprise attacks by German soldiers and antisemitic Poles who hunted the woods for Jews.
Bereft of family and seeking revenge, she left the shelter of the family camp and sought to join a partisan detachment under the leadership of the Russian Commander Pavel Bulak, who initially brushed her off. But Gertie was insistent, saying, “I want to fight and take revenge for my whole family.”

Impressed by her conviction, Bulak agreed under one condition: she would have to stand guard alone, for two weeks, a mile from the partisan encampment. “I was alone in the woods ... each time I heard a little noise I thought it’s Germans… Two weeks – it was like two years.” But Gertie persisted and was accepted into the group. She fought with the partisans for three years, aggressively attacking German soldiers who came to the surrounding villages.

Gertrude went on to win the Soviet Union’s highest military honor, the order of Lenin. In honor of International Women's Day, Gertie and her friend – both teens – volunteered for a dangerous mission to demolish a wooden bridge used by the Germans. They had no supplies, so they hiked to a local village and asked for kerosene and straw. When told there was none in the village, Gertrude and her friends unslung their rifles and gave the villagers five minutes to find the supplies. The villagers quickly complied.

Gertie and her friend snuck up to the bridge, prepared and lit the fire. German soldiers saw the blaze and started shooting. In response, the women grabbed burning pieces of the bridge and tossed them into the river until the bridge was destroyed. "We didn't chicken out," says Gertie. This was just one of many missions Gertie and her fellow partisans completed.

In 1945, she married a fellow partisan, and they settled in the United States. Gertie still grapples with having lived through the war when so many perished. "I was the only one who survived. Why? Why me? I'm always asking that question." Her message to students studying the Holocaust is that “they should not be afraid of their identity – no matter what color, race or nationality – and they should fight for it.”

For more on Gertrude Boyarski, please see her short biography, the short film Jewish Women in the Partisans, and our study guide, "Gertrude Boyarski: From Frail Girl to Partisan Fighter."

Gertrude passed away at the age of 90 on September 17th, 2012 – the first day of Rosh Hashanah of that year.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

Featured Jewish Partisan - Nina Grutz Morecki (z"l)

Nina Grutz Morecki (z"l) was 18 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. Nina endured the loss of her mother, father, sister and brother-in-law before being sent to Janowska Concentration Camp as part of a work detail.

She luckily escaped a killing pit outside of the camp, and fled deep into the forest where she encountered the Polish Underground and the partisans, for whom she worked for almost a year and a half. Nina provided them with important stamped documents that allowed them to create chaos and havoc among the German military, and perhaps even save other resistors. She did this knowing the danger and the terrible punishment she would face if caught.

Toward the end of the war, Nina met and married another survivor from Lvov, Josef Morecki. Together, they had three grandchildren and 2 great-grandchildren at the time of Nina’s death in 2012.

Read about Nina's incredible story, and share your family's partisan stories here.

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

"The Partisan, 1942" — a poem by Laura Morowitz in memory of Faye Schulman

Faye Schulman

My heart lies in the woods

Red heart on soft white snow
Songs written in blood, not lead
written in red
Sheyne mydelach sinking to her knees
and weeping for her comrades her mother her lover
longing for warm blankets and warm food
Meyn sheyne mydelach not long for this world

Clean your gun, my pretty one, the smell of fire
clings to your hair
every night and every night again
resounds with footsteps cracking twigs distant thunder without rain
A crack a burst an echo
someone’s sister someone’s captain someone lost
you see them lying on a grave of leaves

Meyne Ketzele, my  kitten, pull your fur hat tighter round your chin
Begin again try to forget, to fargessen, to erase
Grip your pistol hold it tight don’t think
Here, beneath the branches shrouded in snow
The trees await their future lives as coffins
To live means for the moment not to know
But only to keep moving.

Laura Morowitz is a Professor of Art History at Wagner College New York. A  specialist on art in turn-of-the -century, as well as Nazi-occupied Vienna, she is the author of numeorus books and articles. She is the co-organizer, with Dr. Lori Weintrob of the international symposium on Heroines of the Holocaust: New Frameworks of Resistance, to be held on the Wagner College campus June 15-16 2022.

Monday, April 19, 2021

The Polish Home Army and the Jews by Professor Joshua Zimmerman

The Polish Underground’s military wing – the Home Army (Armia Krajowa, AK) - was the largest resistance movement in German-occupied Poland during the Second World War. While several resistance groups operated inside German-occupied Poland, the Home Army was by far the largest, constituting approximately three-fourths of underground fighters. Established by order of the Polish government-in-exile in November 1939, the Home Army (then named the Union of Armed Forces, ZWZ) served as a part of the Allied war effort fighting Nazi Germany. Its commander in Warsaw swore allegiance to the Polish government-in-exile and carried the title of deputy commander of the Polish Armed Forces. Through this chain of command, the Polish government-in-exile theoretically directed military actions inside occupied Poland throughout the war. 

By June 1944, the Home Army swelled to an estimated 350,000 fighters making it the second-largest resistance movement in German-occupied Europe next to Yugoslavia.1 Due to its numerical strength, the underground army represented a cross-section of Polish society as a whole, with members drawn from all social classes. Until March 1944, when part of the extreme right-wing National Armed Forces (NSZ) joined, the Home Army consisted of members loyal to one of the five prewar opposition parties: the Polish Socialist Party (PPS), the Democratic Party, the centrist Christian democratic Labor Party (SP), the center-right Peasant Party (SL) and the right-wing National Party (ND). The underground forces of the Polish communist party, the fighters of the Polish Worker’s Party (PPR) established in January 1942, remained separate throughout the war as well, as did the National Armed Forces (NSZ). Since the fall of communism in 1989, the Home Army has remained “one of the sacred icons of Polish memory,”2 as internationally acclaimed writer Eva Hoffman maintained. 

When the German occupying authorities ordered the mass murder of Jews in Soviet lands occupied in the second half of 1941, the organizational initiative for responding to the genocide fell almost entirely upon the Polish Underground and its military wing. The response of the Polish Underground to the systematic annihilation of Polish and European Jewry is both complex and controversial. 


The reaction of the Polish Underground Home Army to the persecution and annihilation of the Jews was extraordinarily varied, ranging from aid efforts to the murder of Jews both in hiding and fighting as armed partisans. The reasons for this seeming contradiction – that the same organization both aided and harmed Jews - is connected to the structure of the underground itself. The Home Army was an umbrella organization representing Polish society as a whole, including socialists, liberals, peasants, and extreme nationalists. Home Army members were drawn from clandestine forces of the various parties in the underground’s political wing. The attitude of these men and women towards the Jews often corresponded with the platforms of the political parties to which they belonged and which shaped their civic values. The underground’s non-military bodies – the Delegate’s Bureau and the Political Advisory Committee - were also drawn from a wide range of social and political elements within Polish society. Thus, to the question of whether or not the Polish Underground was hostile to Jews, the answer can only be a variegated one. 

Assessing Home Army attitudes also has to take into account changes in the underground itself during the different periods of the war. Throughout the war, the Polish Underground incorporated new political and military groups under its command. Most egregious with regard to the Jews was the incorporation of the clandestine forces of the Cadre Strike Battalion (UBK) in August 1943, as well as a part of the National Armed Forces (NSZ) in March 1944. The latter organizations were openly antisemitic. There is documentary evidence that some of their units collaborated with the Germans in northeastern Poland in the pursuit and murder of hidden Jews.

In stark contrast, and at the same time that the UBK and NSZ were hunting for Jews, the central authorities of the Polish Underground issued and carried out death sentences against Poles who blackmailed Jews (szmalcowniks). Polish historian, the late Teresa Prekerowa, found that 30% of the death sentences pronounced by the underground court in Warsaw on collaborators were for szmalcowniks.3 The latter pronouncements were published in the clandestine press of the Home Army & Delegate’s Bureau with the names and addresses of the criminals to exact maximum shame and to provide disincentives for would-be and current szmalcowniks. 

The Polish Underground, on the initiative of the Home Army's Jewish Affairs Bureau and Catholic organizations, also established one of the largest Jewish aid networks in German-occupied Europe. The Council for Aid to the Jews (Żegota) was established in December 1942 under the auspices of the Delegate's Bureau. The organization, with funds from the Polish government-in-exile and Jewish organizations in the US and Britain, gave assistance to Jews hiding outside of ghettos and camps. It provided the essentials needed for survival on the Aryan side: sets of false papers, money, work permits, and shelter. Perhaps the most outstanding representative of Żegota was Irena Sendler, who, with her legion of Polish helpers, rescued an estimated 350 children from the Warsaw Ghetto.4  Żegota also included Jews on its executive board, such as Adolf Berman and Shmuel Feiner, thus making it a collaborative, Polish-Jewish aid organization.

The Polish Underground also played a key role in getting out vital information to the free world about the fate of the Jews in what became known as the Holocaust. The Home Army’s Jewish Affairs Bureau chief, Henryk Woliński, was instrumental in preparing reports on the ghettos and death camps for the underground authorities in Warsaw. A steady flow of these reports, beginning in the second half of 1941, reached London where they provided the Polish government-in-exile with enough reliable evidence that it presented to the United Nations as proof of Nazi crimes.5 In occupied Poland, the clandestine press of the Home Army and Delegate’s Bureau, with few exceptions, aggressively informed Polish society about the course of the Holocaust. It also used its pages for the dissemination of death sentences on Polish szmalcowniks.6

Geography was another factor that accounts for the immensely varied response of the Polish Underground to the persecution and destruction of the Jews during World War II. The Home Army in Eastern Poland, established in 1941-1942, brought into the ranks of the underground new social and political elements. In northeastern Poland, in particular, the attitude towards the Jews was more decidedly hostile than in other parts of Poland. Here, in territory that the Soviet Union officially regarded as their own, the local Home Army often saw Soviet partisans as a greater threat than were the Germans. As the tide of the war turned inexorably in favor of the Soviets, and it became clear that liberation was going to come from the east, and together with it the threat of long-term Communist occupation, the Home Army in northeastern Poland increasingly identified local Jews as hostile, pro-Soviet elements. This led to several cases of local Home Army commanders waging battles against Jewish partisans desperately trying to survive in the forests. Reports of local Home Army commanders to the district chiefs in northeastern Poland falsely labeled Jewish partisans “Bolshevik-Jewish bands”. Jewish partisans in the area of Nowogródek, Białystok, Vilna and Lublin often lived in fear of repercussions and persecution at the hands of the Home Army.7 

Jewish partisans in Eastern Poland commented on this phenomenon. “The members of the Armia Krajowa,” Harold Werner remarked, “were very anti-Semitic, exhibiting the same attitudes they had held before the war. Now, however, they were armed, and Jews were ‘fair game’ for their attacks.”8  Still, others, like Norman and Amalie Salsitz, concurred. Norman, who posed as a Catholic when he joined the Armia Krajowa in Eastern Poland, shared the organization's goal of defeating the German Nazis. Yet the antisemitic orientation of his unit became quickly clear. When the unit commander authorized a mission to murder Jews hiding in a bunker on a local farm, Norman volunteered. As the unit approached the farmland, Norman turned on his unit, shooting the AK members in order to free the three hidden Jews. It is not surprising, therefore, that Norman and his wife – also a former partisan – later remarked that "the AK groups began to roam the forests and they proved just as dangerous to us as were the Germans.”9

In contrast, the local Home Army in the southeastern district of Lwów tended to see Jews as loyal elements in the increasingly bloody Polish-Ukrainian conflict. The consequence of this unique set of circumstances in the Lwów district was not only the enlistment of many Jewish individuals into the Home Army but the case of Jewish platoons fighting under a friendly Polish Home Army command. The most dramatic case was Hanaczów, a village located 25 miles southeast of Lwów that was under Home Army control and was protecting 250 Jews. When, in April 1944, German forces, aided by the Ukrainian Auxiliary Police, entered Hanczów to ferret out the Jews, the Home Army commander – Lt. Kazimierz Wojtowicz - ordered his fighters to attack the enemy. While holding the Germans and Ukrainians at bay, the Home Army commander ordered his remaining forces to evacuate all Jews in hiding to evade capture. By the time the Germans broke through the Home Army lines, two-thirds of the Jews of Hanaczów had already fled. The result was that 180 of the 250 hidden Jews survived the war. Based on the testimonies of these survivors, Yad Vashem bestowed upon Lt. Wojtowicz and his two deputy commanders – his brothers Alojzy and Antoni - the title of Righteous Among Nations. In their memoir published in 1992, brothers Alojzy and Antoni expressed a deeply-felt pride in having protected Jews and deep sadness for the ones who were murdered in the raid on Hanaczów.10

One of these Jewish evacuees was 17-year-old Selma Horowitz. Born in Hanaczów in 1927, the Home Army evacuated Selma, her mother, and her three younger siblings in April 1944. "The Home Army helped us," Selma recalled, "because we knew many of its people from Hanaczów. They came from the same village. They were also educated people – most of them had gone to the university in Lwów.”11 

In central Poland, the Home Army record was more mixed. Here, the bulk of the liberal wing within the Delegate's Bureau and Home Army operated in the central underground bodies, and this led to a more favorable climate. 

Based on the documentary evidence, both unpublished and published, we can conclude that the bodies making up the Home Army linked to the Polish government-in-exile were both pro-Jewish and anti-Jewish, friendly and hostile, righteous gentiles at best and vicious murders at worst. Joe Cameron, a Jewish partisan from the Vilna region, expressed this mixed legacy when asked if the entire Home Army was antisemitic in character. “I didn’t have bad experiences personally,” he replied, “but it was a feeling that [the Home Army] didn’t like Jews, not everybody, some.”12 

Joshua D. Zimmerman
Eli and Diana Zborowski Professorial Chair in Holocaust Studies 
and East European Jewish History 
Yeshiva University 

1. Tomasz Strzembosz, Rzeczpospolita podziemna: Społeczeństwo polskie a państwo podziemne, 1939-1945 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krupski i S-ka, 2000), 224.
2. Tomasz Strzembosz, Rzeczpospolita podziemna: Społeczeństwo polskie a państwo podziemne, 1939-1945 (Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Krupski i S-ka, 2000), 224.
3. Teresa Prekerowa, Konspiracyjna Rada Pomocy Żydom w Warszawie, 1942-1945 (Warsaw: Państwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, 1982), 294.
4. Anna Bikont, Sendlerowa: w ukryciu (Wołowiec: Wydawnictwo Czarne, 2017), 246.
5. See, for example, The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland: Note Addressed to the Governments of the United Nations on December 10th, 1942, and other Comments  (London & New York: Republic of Poland’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, 1942).
6. Examples of such announcements of Poles executed for blackmailing Jews in the Home Army press include, in Warsaw: “Obwieszczenie,” Biuletyn Informacyjny (Warsaw), 8 July 1943, p. 2; “Obwieszczenie,” Biuletyn Informacyjny, 16 September 1943, p. 1; & Biuletyn Informacyjny, 9 December 1943, p. 1; in Kraków: Biuletyn Informacyjny Małopolski (Kraków), 27 November 1943; & Biuletyn Informacyjny Małopolski (Kraków), 5 December 1943.  For a discussion of these cases, see Joshua D. Zimmerman, The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939-1945 (2017), ch. 11.   
7. See Zimmerman, The Polish Underground and the Jews, 1939-1945, ch. 10. 
8. Harold Werner, Fighting Back: A Memoir of Jewish Resistance in World War II (New York: Columbia University Press, 1992), 155.
9.  Norman and Amalie Salsitz, Against All Odds: a Tale of Two Survivors (New York: Holocaust Library, 1990), 350-351; and
10. Wojtowicz, Alojzy and Antoni Wojtowicz. Kronika małej ojczyzny: w Lwowskim Okręgu AK. (Zielona Góra: [s.n.], 1992). 112.
11.Selma Horowitz, telephone interview with the author, 30 March 2009.
12. Transcript of interview with Abe Asner and Joe Cameron, September 2001, Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation oral history archive, Tape 6;  On Joe Cameron, see

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

JPEF's Tribute to Larry King (z"l)

By Mitch Braff

Fifteen years ago, I was finishing four documentary films for JPEF on “Living and Surviving in the Partisans” that were going to be released with the study guide of the same title.

I was looking for a narrator, someone with a great voice and hopefully at least a little well known; someone who would help garner attention for the organization. I was having breakfast at Nate and Al’s in Beverley Hills when I spied Larry King sitting with a few of his friends a couple booths over. As I later learned, he went there every day for breakfast when he was working in Los Angeles. “He’d be perfect for this project,” I thought.

I channeled my inner stalker and waited until he finished his breakfast, left the restaurant, and was walking over to his waiting car. I nonchalantly jumped up and followed him, and just before he reached the door, I introduced myself and dropped Ed Asner’s name. I told him that Ed had recently narrated a film for JPEF and I asked Larry to narrate the newest films. To my surprise, Larry said yes to the project! I didn’t know it at the time, but he had just completed the reading of an audio book about Jewish partisans, one about the famed Avengers brigade and was already interested in the subject of Jewish resistance. He was very interested in Jewish partisan resistance. He liked the work JPEF was doing, took my card, and said that his office would call me to make arrangements.

Excitedly, I anticipated and waited for the call – but it never came. 

A month had passed, and I needed to finish the film. I was stuck. I had no way of contacting Larry. The only place I knew I could find him was at Nate and Al’s, but I was 350 miles away in San Francisco and not about to go full stalker. 

One morning I was struck with an idea…. I called Nate and Al’s around 8:00 am. To my surprise, when I asked for Larry King, I was told to hold. About 30 seconds later his deep and distinct voice came on the phone. I re-introduced myself, and he told me to call him later that day at his office. He gave me his “direct line.” I was in.

Or so I thought.

I called him that afternoon, already picturing the two of us in the studio together; Larry complimenting my script and direction....Unfortunately, I was brought back to reality by the sound of the phone ringing  and ringing without an answer. I soon realized that he didn’t have voicemail (“This is 2005, come on,” I thought to myself) and no assistant picked up. I was not deterred. I called the following day, and the next day, and the next, and had the same experience. I couldn’t give up. Over the next couple of months, I called many times; perhaps 80 times.  I would call him after breakfast, when I was in the car, after lunch, and no one ever picked up. Not ever. 

One day, I was doing my daily “Larry call” around 5:40 pm. Most of my previous calls were in the morning or early afternoon. I never called this late.  It rang and rang as it always did.. As I was about to hang up, that distinct voice came on the line....and to my amazement it was Larry! The number he gave me was to a phone at his desk, the desk he sat at every day, just before recording “Larry King Live” at 6pm PST.

A week later, I found myself face to face with Larry King in the studio, where we recorded the narration for four documentary films for JPEF.

Larry went on to record more films for us, excepts from another book, and even offered to participate as the star attraction for one of our fundraisers. His distinctive and eloquent voice made everything he did for us more engaging and impactful. The organization, the board, and stakeholders, all loved his participation. He raised the bar for our work. 

I will always remember him as a sweet and generous man – though to be honest, he wasn’t the greatest at taking my direction in the studio. He wanted to do it his way.

Of course. He was the legendary Larry King.

We will all miss him.

Larry King’s work can be heard in the JPEF films and on our website:

Living and Surviving in the Jewish Partisans: Food
Living and Surviving in the Jewish Partisans: Medicine
Living and Surviving in the Jewish Partisans: Winter and Night
Living and Surviving in the Jewish Partisans: Shelter
Fighting on Three Fronts: Antisemitism and the Jewish Partisans
Partisan Hideout Page – JPEF Website

Wednesday, January 6, 2021

Jewish partisan Judith Ginsburg turns 96 years old!

Today, Jewish partisan Judith (Yudis) Ginsburg (Kosczeinska) celebrated her 96th birthday.

Judith was born into a large and well-to-do family in Lida, Poland. She lost most of her family in the slaughter on May 8, 1942 when 6,000 Jews of Lida were murdered by the Einsatzgrupen. She remained in the Lida ghetto with her oldest sister and her sister’s two children until the liquidation of the ghetto.

As a teenager, Judith escaped from the line of Jews being marched to the trains bound for Majdanek. She was rescued and joined the Raschinsky Otriad, serving as a combatant. Antisemitism in her unit was rampant and to avoid danger, Judith left to join the Bielski brigade, for the rest of the war.

Upon liberation she returned to Lida, and found that the city had been completely destroyed. Her entire family had been murdered, and she was again alone. The situation in Lida was dire; there was very little food and most of the buildings had been burned out. Because he had been designated a war hero, Motke Ginsburg and his family occupied a large house in Lida and they were feeding anyone who needed food. It was there that Judith met the Ginsburg family and her future husband, Motke. After the tragic murder of Motke’s brother Tzalke, the family left Belarussia for Poland and then traveled to the Ferenvald displaced person’s camp in Germany.

Four years later in 1949, Judith, Motke and their two children Chaim and Rivka, immigrated to the United States and settled in Troy, NY. Life was not easy at first, but conditions improved as Motke started earning a living as a cattle dealer. Judith had two more children, Fran and Sheri, both born in America. Today, Judith has 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren and the number continues to grow. Judith has always been held in high esteem by her friends and the community at large. Today she is the beloved matriarch of the Ginsburg family and lives in Coconut Creek, Florida.

At Judith’s 90th birthday party in 2015, she and several of her fellow Jewish partisans, sang the Hymn of the Jewish Partisans for her many guests.

To honor Judith Ginsburg's 95th birthday on in 2020, her family founded the Judith and Marvin (z’’l) Ginsburg Jewish Partisan History Education Fund to support JPEF’s efforts to educate young people through the lessons of the Jewish partisans.

Judith & Marvin (z''l) were, and remain, dedicated to educating future generations about the remarkable resistance of the Jewish partisans. It was essential to them that young people be presented with an accurate history of all forms of Jewish defiance against Nazi oppression. You can help JPEF fulfill their commitment by making a gift toward the fund.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Remembering Jeff Gradow on his January 5th birth date

“It's hard to describe how a human being, being a prisoner, and suddenly he gets the power to fight back, even psychologically, he knows that he might get killed, but nobody worried about it. The main thing what happened in our minds is 'kill the Germans, kill those police officers.' But you [don't] worry about it – I never worried about myself, I might get killed. All I wanted is just fight them.”
–Jeff Gradow

Jeff Gradow escaped into the woods from a labor camp in Bialystok, and soon found a partisan unit where he became a trained fighter, participating in sabotage missions until the end of the war, when his partisan unit was assimilated into the Red Army and was sent to the front lines.

Jeff Gradow was born in 1925 to a middle class Jewish family in central Poland. When he was only 14 years old, the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact carved Poland in half – his town of Mlawa was located on the western side of the divide, and thus fell under the control of the Germans.

With the arrival of the Nazis came immediate danger: prior to the occupation, his father had a dispute with a neighbor over some horses and a wagon, and the newly-instated police force – made up mostly of Polish locals who required little incentive to settle old scores with their Jewish neighbors – were looking to arrest him. Those arrested were often never seen again, so his father hid with a local farmer outside of town, taking Gradow with him.

They remained there for a few days, but upon learning that the German-Soviet border was still easy to get across, they left for Soviet-occupied Bialystok, located just east of the dividing line. There, they settled down temporarily – Gradow’s father, Lohim, got himself a job and Jeff went to school, where he learned to speak Russian. Unfortunately, travel restrictions made it impossible to send for the rest of their family – Jeff’s mother and two younger sisters remained in Mlawa.

This did not last long, and their life in Bialystok soon changed for the worse. The Nazis broke the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact and invaded Soviet-occupied territories in July of 1941. This included Bialystok, whose Jewish inhabitants were treated by the invaders with particular brutality and ruthlessness. Less than a week after their arrival, Nazi troops locked around two thousand Jews inside the Great Synagogue – the largest wooden synagogue in Eastern Europe at the time – and burned it to the ground. Many other homes in the neighborhood were pillaged, looted, and burned that day, and many more people were murdered. During the mayhem, Jeff’s father Lohim was seriously injured by a grenade thrown into their house; he did not survive to see another morning. Alone, Jeff wandered the streets until sympathetic neighbors offered him shelter.

The Nazis forced every Jewish male in Bialystok to work. Jeff’s first assigned task was to dig ditches in a cemetery with some Russian PoWs. After the ditches were dug, Jeff watched as the Nazis shot all the Russians; Jeff and other survivors were then forced to bury them.

The Nazis eventually started quartering Jeff’s labor group inside a train station during nights, and he was not allowed to return to his neighbors. During the days, the group was forced to lay timber on the highway so that German military vehicles could pass through in the winter, when all the roads turned to mud. Jeff’s labor group was comprised of civilians; consequently, it was guarded by soldiers who were older and slower than the group of Russian PoWs working just up the road. These older soldiers had a habit of resting their legs once a day and took a 20-30 minute afternoon break, allowing the laborers to do the same.

Fed up with forced labor and believing he has nothing to lose, Jeff decided to make a run for it during one such break. When the soldiers weren’t looking, he slid into a ditch on the side of the road and bolted into the forest. He heard rifle shots in the distance as the German guards discovered they were one prisoner short, but he was already deep in the woods, and no one pursued him.

Jeff wandered the forest for three days, lost and alone, surviving only on wild blackberries. On the third night, he found a farmhouse and, taking a chance, knocked on the door. Jeff was wearing a Russian military jacket belonging to one of the shot Russian PoWs, and he had learned to speak fluent Russian in school during his time under Soviet occupation. Consequently, the farmer who opened the door was not able to discern whether the starving, rain-soaked prisoner before him was a Russian PoW or a Jew – a lucky situation for a young Jewish boy alone in the Polish countryside to find himself in.

The farmer sheltered him for the night and pointed him in the direction of a village under the control of local partisans. There, Gradow was given directions to the main partisan encampment in the woods after being deemed too young and inexperienced to be an enemy spy. The camp was a diverse one, comprised mainly of Jews and Russian soldiers, and included families. Jeff was even able to speak Yiddish to the guards at the encampment, who were surprised to learn that he survived an escape from a labor group. Rather than continue to wander through the woods, hungry and alone, Jeff joined the partisan group and immediately begun weapons training.

* * *

At that point in the war, partisan groups like Jeff’s were still mainly concerned with self-preservation. As the Soviets fought on and their situation began to improve, partisan units got more organized and better equipment became available. This is when their missions began to change, recalls Jeff, and focused more on sabotage, disruption of communications, and the elimination of local police. Jeff became a seasoned guerrilla fighter, traveling by night with all his belongings, in case the Nazis got tipped off to the whereabouts of his unit’s base camp. Oftentimes, they would come across traces of their old hideouts, destroyed by the Nazis.

The partisans lived in zemlyankas – holes four to five feet deep dug in the ground, covered by branches and dirt. Each one could sleep around 15 people; Jeff’s entire unit was comprised of around 100-150 people. The partisans slept during the day (except those who stood guard), and traveled by night.

In late 1943, the Soviets began airdropping supplies for the partisans. This included explosives – Jeff and a few of the other partisans used them to derail a German train in the dead of night. They slipped away amidst heavy Nazi casualties and confused machine gun fire. Such missions were only attended by a handful of partisans while the others stayed behind. However, when it came to missions like food-gathering or reprisals against collaborators, the entire unit followed – a handful of partisans went in, but the rest stayed behind, encircling the town to make sure the group was not caught unawares.

In the spring of 1944, Jeff’s unit joined other nearby partisan groups to defend a bridge for an upcoming Soviet tank assault. They succeeded, allowing the Russian troops to roll in and liberate the area. No longer in hiding, the local partisan groups gathered in the nearby town of Baronovich, where they were immediately absorbed into the Russian army. Gradow’s group was assimilated into the 348th “Bobruyska” Division and ordered to join the western front.

Jeff Gradow and a friend after the war.

Jeff fought on until he was badly injured near his hometown of Mlawa in August of '44. He was sent to a military hospital deep inside the Soviet Union, in the town Michurinsk, some 400km southeast of Moscow. The war ended during his recovery, and he sought leave to return to his hometown.
Only twenty years old, Jeff returned to Mlawa to find out that his mother and sisters (along with the rest of his extended family) were murdered in the Treblinka concentration camp. He left Poland shortly after and made it to the French sector of Berlin, where he spent the next four years before immigrating to New York City in 1949 via his great-uncle, who sponsored his arrival through the Displaced Persons Act program. In 1954, he married and moved to Los Angeles, where he raised two children. He passed away on June 23, 2014.

Jeff Gradow and JPEF Board President Elliott Felson at the 2011 Partisan Tribute Dinner.

Visit to find out more about Jeff Gradow, including six videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan.