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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.

Friday, December 11, 2020

Celebrating the Life Jewish Partisan Frank Blaichman (z''l), born on December 11

"Those who could not come with us, that could not fight, we found shelter for them by farmers, some of them, who made bunkers for them; and they lived there until the area was liberated. And then in Parczew Forest there were maybe 200 Jews like that, in the forest, living until the end. They were under our protection. All the bandits knew if they were going to touch them, they were going to be punished for that."
— Frank Blaichman.

Born in the small town of Kamionka, Poland on December 11, 1922, Frank Blaichman was just sixteen years old when the German army invaded his country in 1939. Following the invasion, German officials issued regulations intended to isolate the Jews and deprive them of their livelihood. Frank took great risks to help his parents and family survive these hardships. With a bicycle, he rode from the neighboring farms to nearby cities, buying and selling goods at each destination. He refused to wear the Star of David armband and traveled without the required permits, but his courage and fluent Polish ensured his safety.

When word spread that the Jews of Kamionka were to be resettled in a nearby ghetto, Frank hid in a bushy area outside of town. He stayed with a friendly Polish farmer and then joined other Jews hiding in a nearby forest. In the forest, the threat of being discovered was constant and Polish hoodlums beat any women who left the encampment. Frank encouraged the men to organize a defense unit. He obtained firearms by posing as a Polish policeman, using an overcoat he had found.

After a German attack on the partisans' encampment killed eighty Jews, the survivors left the forest to hide with sympathetic farmers. Always on the move, they killed German collaborators, destroyed telephone lines, damaged dairy factories and ambushed German patrols.
Frank’s squad joined a larger all-Jewish unit, with strong ties to the Polish underground and Soviet army. They were responsible for protecting 200 Jews living in a forest encampment. Only 21, he was the youngest platoon commander in the unit and escorted the future prime minister of Poland to a secret meeting with Soviet high command.

“I’m very proud of what I did all those years,” he says. “The reality was we had nothing to lose, and our way to survive was to fight.” Frank Blaichman's memoir, Rather Die Fighting, was published in 2009 by Arcade Publishing.

Visit for more about Frank Blaichman, including seven videos of him reflecting on his time as a partisan, as well as the Frank Blaichman: Jewish Partisan Platoon Leader study guide.

Frank Blaichman is also one of JPEF's featured partisans on Facing History and Ourselves web pages featuring Jewish resistance during the Holocaust and in USHMM's Holocaust Encyclopedia: Personal Stories - Jewish Partisans.

Frank passed away on December 27, 2018.

Young Frank (left) with his friends.

Frank's wife Cesia (z''l) in 1945.

Frank Blaichman with Defiance director Ed Zwick

Frank Blaichman with Jewish partisans Rose Holm (center) and Isadore Farbstein (left).

Thursday, December 10, 2020

Celebrating Chanukah: An Act of Jewish Resistance

On a Friday evening in December 1932 before the start of Shabbat, the Posner family prepared to light the 8th candle on their Chanukiah as they had done on each of the preceding nights. Across the street from their home stood the town hall, a large and imposing work of old-world German architecture. A Nazi flag prominently hung from the side of the building, flapping in the cold December wind.

Already a powerful political party in 1932, the Nazis did not shy away from using anti-semitism as the driving force behind their politics; Rachel Posner considered this as she looked at the menorah prominently displayed in her window in juxtaposition to the flag. Committing one of the earliest documented acts of Jewish resistance to Nazi oppression, she took this photograph, which was subsequently published in a local newspaper.
Rachel Posner was married to Rabbi Akiva Posner, a doctor of philosophy and the only rabbi for the small Jewish community in Kiel, a north German harbor city. Kiel’s congregation of around 500 was not particularly religious, according to Akiva and Rachel’s granddaughter Nava, but Shabbat services were well-attended by Jews and non-Jews alike who wanted to hear Rabbi Posner’s lectures. Though the Nazi party was gaining strength and routinely paraded through the streets, the Posners “were not afraid,” says Nava. It would take another year for that to change.

One year later, Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, marking the official start of the Third Reich’s twelve-year reign of terror and oppression. That night, the Nazis organized a torchlight parade; thousands poured into the streets to celebrate the appointment, cheering their new Chancellor and waving the flag bearing the Nazi Party’s dreaded emblem – the infamous black swastika.

Two Symbols
Though the swastika had been an ancient symbol of auspice and power1 in use throughout the entire world for well over ten thousand years, the Nazis co-opted it to symbolize Germany’s racial heritage, connecting with it the racial mythology of the ‘Aryans’ to their future destiny under the Third Reich as conquerors of the world. Nazi propaganda eventually went as far as to state that the swastika in the new German flag symbolized the “victory of the Aryan peoples over Jewry."

By contrast, the Chanukiah has a clear and unambiguous meaning. The miracle of the oil burning for eight days is one of the more popular stories in Jewish tradition, and continues to enjoy almost universal recognition today. The true miracle of Chanukah, however, is the act of defiance and the victorious struggle of a small band of Jewish warriors led by Judah Maccabee2 against Greco-Macedonian oppression. The Chanukiah should be proudly displayed in one's window to signify the miracle of the Maccabees' victory. However, this was difficult for Jewish communities in Europe, where the danger of anti-Semitic hostilities was a constant threat.

* * * *

Incorporating a line from a popular Nazi youth party anthem of the time, Rachel wrote the following lines on the back of the photo she took:

"Chanukah, 5692.
‘Judea dies’, thus says the banner.
‘Judea will live forever’, thus respond the lights.”

(note that the actual Jewish year was 5693)

The Posners left Germany in 1933, not long after Hitler became Chancellor. In the prior spring, the murder of a local lawyer by a Nazi mob during a nationwide boycott of Jewish businesses shocked the Posners. (Rabbi Posner had to personally see to it that the man was buried properly.) Shortly before he left, Akiva warned his congregation of the Nazi menace and of the ruin it would bring to the German nation, urging them to leave. After the speech, several congregants told him that he was already a marked man.

Kiel’s Jewish population heeded Posner’s advice – of the 500 Jews that lived in Kiel, only eight died in the concentration camps; the rest had emigrated. After leaving, the Posners eventually settled in Jerusalem, where Akiva helped build a synagogue and a library, and where their descendants live to this day.

The swastika symbol, heralding death to Judaea, is banned in many European countries, and its use is illegal in Germany. The Chanukiah that sat in the Posners’ window in Kiel is on year-round display at Yad Vashem – except for the eight days of Chanukah, when the family proudly displays its lights in the window of their home.

Akiva Baruch Mansbach, the great-grandchild of Rabbi Akiva Baruch Posner (z''l) and a soldier in the IDF, salutes the family Chanukiah.

The original photograph is featured in JPEF's Tactics of Resistance lesson plan and E-Learning module.

1. The origins of the swastika are shrouded in speculation – its twisted form is hypothesized to represent the sun, the seasons, the elements, or perhaps even the tail of a comet. To the Kuna people of Panama, it is the octopus that created the world. Though Hitler “personally” adopted the symbol in the 1920s, it was in use by German populist – or völkisch – movements long before that (including the quasi-occult Thule society, which had numerous ties with the Nazi party). The aforementioned Kuna – who assumed autonomy from the rest of Panama in 1930 – are the only ones who still use the swastika on their flag. In 1942, they added a nose ring to the center to distance themselves from the Nazis.
2. It is said that Judah received his surname, which may be interpreted as “hammer”, because of his ferocity in battle.

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman turns 101 years old today!

"Pictures of Resistance" is an international success!

It’s hard to believe that this incredible woman is 101 years old. I am honored to have had the opportunity to spend some time with Ms. Schulman when she travelled all the way, by herself, to Israel for the opening international premiere of “Pictures of Resistance” last November.
I was struck by how I could still see that beautiful girl, that one who pushed herself beyond the limits of self - fighting the Nazi’s, that girl who was afraid of blood but helped endlessly as a doctor’s aide in the forest ,and fearsomely documenting the experience. That young woman radiates through her being.

One of Ms. Schulman proudest accomplishments remains the three lives she directly saved including the young Jewish girl who was eight years old whose life she saved by negotiating for hours with her commander to allow the child to serve in the partisan unit as her aide until she could be safely airlifted out of the woods to relatives in Moscow.

There is so much to update on “Pictures of Resistance” since our last blog post. “Pictures of Resistance: The Wartime Photography of Jewish Partisan Faye Schulman” is one of the best ways that JPEF can reach thousands of people in communities all over the world, some of whom have never heard of the Jewish partisan experience. The images are a visual testament to the thousand of Jewish boys and girls who heroically fought against the Nazi’s and shatters the myth of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust.

“Pictures of Resistance” has exhibited in nine cities around the world including Zurich, Switzerland and Tel Aviv, Israel. It continues to draw international acclaim and media attention, bringing JPEF’s work to more and more communities. The exhibit is now in Santa Barbara, Calif.

( Captivated viewers at "Pictures of Resistance" in Berkeley, CA)

In March 2009 “Pictures of Resitance” exhbitied again in the United States in Berkeley, California.

The event was a smash hit and covered in the Jewish Week. Many longtime JPEf supporters and board members coming out to view the incredible photographs they had heard so much about.

( JPEF Founding Board Member Michael Grossman and board co-chair Paul Orbuch in Berkeley)

Yom Hashoah 2009 “Pictures of Resistance “ had both a national and international viewing, Internationally a selection of the photos were on view in Tel Aviv at a special event for survivors, partisans , their children and children’s children sponsored by “Second Generation".
Nationally the exhibit was on view at the Columbia/Barnard Hillel. Faye was the keynote speaker to a standing room only audience at the closing reception.

Simon Klarfield, Hillels’ Exectuive Director had this to say about the exhibit, "The vital history of the Jewish Partisans has to be taught to the ‘next generation’, and the exhibit allows for students to raise essential questions regarding heroism, justice, ethics of war, the power of a few, and the list goes on."
(Faye speaking to a standing room only crowd at Columbia University)

Most recently “Pictures of Resistance” was in Memphis, Tennessee. Barb Gelb, Temple Israel’s Director of Education, reported, “Everyone’s reaction has been positive – just blown away by the exhibit. Many people have never heard of partisans before. Our students have learned so much and our teachers have learned so much, especially from the training workshop. Our sisterhood had an amazing presentation. We are thrilled to be able to participate in this.” While in Memphis received some press including this article in the Commercial Appeal.

Some of the most exciting things with the exhibit have been happening overseas. This summer at version of the exhibit was translated into Polish and is showing at the Galicia Jewish Museum in Poland.

( Curator Jill Vexler in Poland with "Pictures of Resistance" )

A new donor brought JPEF to Zurich, including Aron Bell (last surviving Bielski brother) and our photo exhibit. The exhibit was made just for this one night's screening and showing, and brought in from Poland where we had it fabricated, then driven 12 hours to Zurich for the evening. Mitch ran a Q& A to a sold out crowd of 500 people and then a private tour of the exhibit with many key people in the Zurich Jewish community. We now have a second copy of the exhibit to begin touring the US in 2010!

("Pictures of Resistance" on display in Zurich, Switzerland)

Future exhibitions will be in Palm Beach Gardens, Miami, Atlanta , South Africa and Toronto. Toronto is Faye’s “hometown” and she will no doubt the star of the 2010 Yom HaShoah programming built around this exhibit.

In Israel, Faye explained to me how she came to live in Toronto. After the war people simply put their names on lists in the DP camps. Whatever place was willing to take you first is where you went. Faye is somewhat of a community treasure and local hero in Toronto, however she confided in my how she always wanted to live in Israel. JPEF is so honored to have been able to bring “Pictures of Resistance” to both of Faye’s “hometowns”. Yom Heuledit Sameach Faye!
Pictures of Resistance was made possible by: Thomas and Johanna Baruch, the Epstein/Roth Foundation, the Koret Foundation, the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation the Taube Foundation for Jewish Life & culture, Diane and Howard Wohl, and the Holocaust Council of MetroWest.