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Monday, March 2, 2015

JPEF Celebrates Women In The Partisans

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


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

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

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

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

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Women's History Month Resources

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

Essie Shor and Andrea Zakin
Mindfulness Publishing, 2009.

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

Eta Wrobel
The Wordsmithy, LLC, 2006.

Frank Blaichman 
Arcade Publishing, 2009.



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

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

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




Featured Jewish Partisan - Rae Kushner (A''H), born on February 27th

"But he knew the way how to go in the woods. We didn't know nothing. I [was with] my sister and my father and I said to him, '…we're going to die together or we're going to be rescued together.' We were sitting under the bushes for 10 days. And it was pouring."
— Rae Kushner.

Born on February 27, 1923, Rae Kushner was the second-oldest of four children. Her family lived in the Polish town of Novogrodek, where a thriving Jewish community comprised just over half of its population.

Soviet troops entered Novogrodek in September of 1939 after the Soviet Union invaded Poland. Though the Russians took away the Kushner business and home, life under Soviet rule was relatively tolerable. Then, in the summer of 1941, the Nazis invaded Poland at the start of Operation Barbarossa. Though rumors of mass killings had reached Novogrodek by that point, few Jews actually believed that the Germans would carry out such atrocities.

Following several massacres, the remaining Jewish population was forced into a ghetto. Rae lived in the city’s courthouse with her family and nearly approximately 600 other Jews. Rae's mother and older sister were killed in a subsequent massacre on May 7, 1943.

Starting in the middle of May, the remaining Jews dug a 600-foot tunnel during the nights, using tools made in the ghetto workshops and hiding the dirt in the walls of buildings. Rae and her family helped with the digging. When completed, the 600-foot tunnel was only large enough for one person to crawl through. Upon emerging from it, the escapees were met with gunfire, darkness and disorientation. Consequently, only 170 survived out of the 250 that escaped. Rae’s brother was among the fallen, having lost his glasses during the crawl through the tunnel.

Rae and her surviving family spent ten days hiding in the woods, eventually making their way to the home of an acquaintance. The woman fed them and allowed them to sleep in her stable with the cows for one week — a risk that carried the penalty of a violent death.

Shortly thereafter, the Bielski partisans took in the escapees from Novogrodek — including Rae and her family. In the Naliboki encampment where the Bielskis had managed to shelter over 1,200 people, Rae regularly stood guard and often cooked the camp meals — mostly potatoes, soup and small pieces of bread. During that time, Rae met and fell in love with Joseph Kushner, whom she knew prior to the war. Rae and Joseph were married in August of 1945, a little over a year after the Bielski camp was liberated by the Red Army. They were among the many partisan couples who found love in the forests.

After the war, Rae returned to her hometown of Novogrodek, only to find it destroyed. Rae and her family ended up in an Italian displaced persons camp for three years. It was here that Rae gave birth to her daughter Linda, the first of her four children.

In 1949, the family moved to New York and Rae had two sons, Murray and Charles, as well as another daughter, Esther. Both of her sons went on to have prominent careers in business. Rae passed away in 2004, but her name lives on in prominence today. The Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, New Jersey is one of the most prestigious Jewish schools on the East Coast, with over 850 students attending.

For more information on Rae, including seven videos of her speaking about her experiences, please visit the JPEF partisan pages. Rae is also featured in JPEF's short film A Partisan Returns — you can find it on our films page.


Edited by Kyle Matthews.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Featured Jewish Partisan - Sam Lato, born on February 24th

"Whenever you went on assignment, the most dangerous part is coming back. Going there, they don’t know you're there, so you sneak in. While you sneak in, they might catch you, they might shoot you, but going back is the problem, because they know you're here, and they're going to go after you. However, if they don't know the direction you went, they won't catch you, but if they saw one, they're going to go after you. Because this is their army here. So that was the most dangerous part."
— Sam Lato.

Sam Lato was born in Baronovich, Poland on February 24th, 1925. He moved with his family to Warsaw at the age of three, where his skills as a craftsman earned him a scholarship to a local Jewish trade school. He eventually returned to Baronovich, which went under Soviet control in 1939 after the blitzkrieg of Poland.

Life was calm in Baronvich until 1941 when the Germans invaded Poland and quickly occupied Sam’s hometown. Soon, the Baronvich ghetto was formed. It was here that Sam became a member of the local resistance, even before he knew of the partisans’ existence. He started making cigarette lighters to sell on the black market, and smuggled ammunition and medical supplies from his factory job.

A year later, the Germans began to commit massive acts of violence against the locals. While Sam was fortunate enough to avoid several massacres, he and 15 other young men decided to take their chances in the forests of Belarus. At the age of seventeen, Sam fled from Baronvich and eventually found his way to a partisan camp. He was surprised to discover that there were already over a hundred Baronvich Jews in the brigade. Sam wasn’t with the partisans long before he met Genia Wishnia, whom he married only a few months later. They went on several missions together.

Sam’s brigade was in poor condition when he first arrived. They had no explosives to commit sabotage, and their camp was infested with lice. Sam and his friends would joke, “When you take off your jacket, put it in the corner so it [won’t] go away. Otherwise, the lice [are] going to move it outside for fresh air.” However, in the spring of 1943, they began receiving airdrop support from the Russians. They received new weapons, clothes and medical supplies. Soviet paratroopers even came to help coordinate the brigade’s activities, and Sam was recruited into their ranks as an auxiliary.

Sam and Genia in Germany, 1946

Sam was at one point assigned to accompany a Polish paratrooper. He followed him everywhere because no one was supposed to be alone. Sam didn’t think much of the short Pole, and didn’t know who he was or what he did. After Sam was relieved of his assignment and returned to his brigade, he was summoned by his colonel. The colonel instructed Sam to never repeat what he saw or heard during his time with the Pole, because he was none other than the exiled Polish prime minister.

In 1944, Sam joined the Russians in their advance to the Baltic Sea. After the war, he and Genia stayed in the USSR for several years before ultimately immigrating to the United States with their son, Edward. Genia lost her life to breast cancer in 1987. In 2006, Sam wrote a book about his time as a partisan in response to the denial of the Holocaust, as well as those who believed that the Jews went quietly. "The Jews did not go quietly,” he said in a 2009 interview. “Resistance, both peaceful and fierce, was waged by rabbis, senior adults, and men, women and children alike." The book, From Ghetto to Guerilla: Memoir of a Jewish Resistance Fighter, received the gold medal for its category at the 2007 Independent Publisher Book Awards, and was introduced to the Holocaust Documentation and Education Center in Hollywood, Florida in February 2008.

Sam passed away in 2012, leaving behind three grandchildren.

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


Edited by Kyle Matthews.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

People Who Resisted: The Citizens Of Denmark

Their mission was supposed to be easy – armed with a list of addresses, small teams (made up of men from the SS and one Danish guide) would fan out across Copenhagen and northern Zealand, and round up all 7-8 thousand Danish Jews at home with their families for Rosh Hashanah. Their final destinations were to be the Nazi extermination camps across Europe.

This was the evening of October 1st, 1943, roughly a month after the resignation of the Danish government – the last political obstacle between the citizens of Denmark and Hitler’s plans to implement the “Final Solution” of murder and genocide to Denmark’s “Jewish problem”.

In most cases, however, the round-up teams found only empty houses and apartments waiting for them. The entire Jewish population of Denmark was warned days in advance to go into hiding and spread the word about the deportations. By the time the SS started knocking on doors, most of the country’s Jews were either in hiding or on their way to the coast, where most eventually made it safely across the Øresund strait to neutral Sweden.

All in all, the majority of Denmark’s Jewish population escaped Nazi persecution, and their casualties were the lowest in all of occupied Europe. How were the Danes so successful in such a blatant act of resistance against the Nazis?

“A model protectorate”

Because of the tolerant and inclusive climate Jews have enjoyed in Denmark since the Napoleonic Wars, Danish society by and large considered Danish Jews to be Danes, first and foremost. Danish Jews were granted full citizenship rights almost a hundred years prior to World War II. The Danish monarch, King Christian X, defiantly insisted on visiting the central synagogue in Copenhagen even after Hitler came to power in Germany, becoming the first Nordic monarch to visit a synagogue. (However, the popular tale of the king wearing the yellow star in solidarity with Danish Jews is a myth1.) As a result of such a social climate, the people of Denmark and the Danish Underground naturally rallied together to hide and smuggle their fellow citizens without any friction. Many smugglers did not charge for passage, and even the Danish police helped in the rescue effort.

On its end, Germany was reluctant to press the Danes for several reasons. The Nazis hoped to use occupied Denmark as an example of a “model protectorate” to the world, and Danish meat and dairy provided sustenance to over 3 million Germans. Upsetting this balance would’ve had negative political consequences for the Reich. Even ideologically-committed Nazis saw the need for moderation, although increased activity by the Danish Resistance and the grim news from the Eastern Front made moderation untenable to Hitler by mid-1943. But even though the orders came from the very top, the Gestapo did not at first allocate enough manpower for the mission and the unenthusiastic German army and navy units called in to support them often turned a blind eye to escapees.

Geography contributed its share – Zealand is less than 20 miles away from the coast of Sweden. The journey by boat takes about an hour, and there is less chance of being intercepted en route than for a comparable land journey.

Finally, even though the rescue effort was successful due in large part to so many ordinary people participating, the role of prominent public figures should not be discounted. The man who tipped off Denmark to the impending action was Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German maritime attaché and a secret moderate. Duckwitz, a businessman, had lived in Scandinavian countries for many years and enjoyed a warm relationship with Denmark’s elites. On September 28th, he leaked word to the leader of the Social Democrats, and the news spread across all levels of civil society. Nobel physicist Niels Bohr played a part - he petitioned the king of Sweden to make public his offer of asylum to Danish Jews shortly after being smuggled to Sweden en route to the US to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Though it is uncertain how this plea factored into the decision, Sweden announced its offer of asylum on the 2nd of October.

In the end, the Nazis managed to deport only around 450 Jews; most were sent to Theresienstadt, where they remained until the end of the war. Because of pressure from Danish authorities and the frequent visits from the Red Cross, the Nazis accepted packages of food and medicine for the prisoners. More importantly, they were persuaded not to deport the Danes to the Auschwitz extermination camp – a fate that would have meant certain death. An estimated 120 Danish Jews lost their lives in the Holocaust.

As per request of their members, the entire Danish Underground was awarded the status of “Righteous Among The Nations”. In 1971, Yad Vashem honored Duckwitz with the same title.


1. The myth originates in pro-Danish PR campaigns of the time to counter criticism that Denmark did not adequately resist the occupation – even though to do so militarily would have been tantamount to national suicide. The effort enlisted the help of Edward L. Bernays, father of modern PR, godfather to the term "Banana Republic", and a highly controversial figure in his own right. (It is said that Nazi arch-propagandist Joseph Goebbles was an ardent student of Mr. Bernays and had memorized many of his books, despite the fact that Bernays himself was Jewish.)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

2015 International Holocaust Remembrance Day - 70th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau

This year's International Holocaust Remembrance Day also happens to be the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp by the Soviet Red Army. The day has been commemorated around the world since the UN passed a resolution on the matter a decade ago, on the 60th anniversary of the camp's liberation. Below are some articles on the ways the day is commemorated this year:

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Featured Jewish Partisan - Mira Shelub, born on January 13

"Somehow, you know, when we came out from them, from the ghetto, I cannot tell you how good it felt to breathe the fresh air, to know that we are free, to know that we can go. Okay, there were difficulties, obstacles, but we knew that we can go, that nobody will stop us, to breathe the fresh air, to see the trees . It was something, a special, special experience and then we came to the forest. We came to the forest and then, and we were lucky enough, I mention again that we were nice, young, pretty so they accepted us, and we joined the Partisans."
— Mira Shelub.

A Polish Jew born in what is now Belarus, Mira Shelub joined a partisan group that operated in the forest near her native Zdziedciol at the age of 18. With her family, she escaped Zdziedciol’s ghetto in 1942 as the Germans began killing off the population.

Mira’s group engaged in sabotage against the Nazis and their Polish collaborators by disrupting communications and transportation to the war front. They blew up trains, attacked police stations, and stole food that had been provided for the Germans by peasants.

In Mira’s group, women comprised about a quarter of the partisans. They did the cooking, took care of the laundry and provided other vital support.

Nochim Shelub

While working with the partisans, Mira met her husband Nochim, who was the leader of the group. Nochim had first been in a mixed group run by Russians. However, anti-Semitism was common among the non-Jewish resistance fighters, and so he decided to form his own unit, though he still continued to coordinate activities with the Russians.

On a few attacks Mira carried extra ammunition for her husband’s machine gun, but usually stayed behind to help with work at the camp. In summer the unit slept on the ground in the open forest; in winter they took refuge in underground huts (called zemlyankas), or with sympathetic peasant families. Constant movement was a necessity to avoid detection. When it snowed, they had to alter their tracks into confusing patterns so that they could not be followed. Mira recounts,

“In the frost we did not only fight a physical battle, but also a spiritual battle. We were sitting around the fire, singing songs together, supporting each other and dreaming about betters days and a better future… a better tomorrow.”

After the Russian liberation in 1944, the couple made their way to Austria, then finally to the United States, where Mira had contacts with relatives. They settled in San Francisco, and soon after Norman opened a sandwich shop near the Embarcadero. They had three children: a daughter and two sons, both doctors now. Mira lives in San Francisco to this day.

Most recently, Mira has been featured in JPEF's newest documentary, The Reunion (click here to find out more). She attended the San Francisco premiere where she, along with fellow Jewish partisan Allen Small, took part in a Q&A session after the film.

Visit www.jewishpartisans.org for more about Mira Shelub, including seven videos of her reflecting on her time as a partisan.