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November 14, 2011 9:07 pm

Out of the Woods: A Celebration of the Jewish Partisans

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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Jack and Sally Pomeranc, long time residents of New York City, survived World War II as Partisans in the woods of Belarus. Pomeranc was a chairman of the committee that established the Memorial to the Jewish Soldiers and Partisans. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

This was one bunch of tough Jews. Written on their faces, and reflected in the eyes of their inheritors, is the courage, bravery, and organized chutzpah that carried them from the stranglehold of the Nazi net of death so darkly, deftly, thrown over most of Poland’s Jews. Faced with imprisonment in the ghetto, deportation, or murder at the hands of their “neighbors,” they refused to simply await fate and became the Partizankes – the Jewish Partisans.  Men and women, then, younger than the grandchildren who now accompany them, went into the forests.  There, they formed an army, with military discipline and organized brigades. Among the leaders were the three Bielski brothers – Zusia, Asael, and Tuvia –  whose story was dramatized in the 2008 movie Defiance. They were determined to survive.

Almost seventy years have passed: survivors still remember their days as soldiers, each recalling his or her particular brigade and the deeds accomplished. Many wear medals signifying their service. Fifty five were honored November 7 at a Gala Dinner in New York City. Together with some 350 family and friends they came to celebrate survival. When liberated by the Red Army in 1944, many were young teenagers. Most had spent years fighting the Nazis, hiding in the Nalibotskaya Pushcha forest. They came to the gala New York reunion to celebrate life and the courage and perseverance that kept them alive through harsh Belarus winters, despite the best efforts of the Nazis and the local populations to destroy each one of them.

Keynote speaker Ed Asner spoke of the Partisans with great admiration, noting their ability to overcome the “enormity of events.” “You’re overwhelmed; by the time you realize what has happened – confronted with the totality – it is an impossible thing…. One becomes overridden… and becomes not very articulate.”

Asner, (who had four cousins who fought with the Partisans -three were killed during the war, one lives in Canada) said the Partisans defied “the myth of Jewish cowardice -a canard.” The Partisans “were an armed resistance. They saved thousands of lives fighting back against the Nazis…It is the responsibility of Jews to be in the forefront of the outcry against Holocausts perpetrated against others.”

The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, a San Francisco-based educational foundation was founded 11 years ago. Executive Director Mitch Braff says its mission is to “transform people’s perception of the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.” The organization has developed RESIST, “a curriculum designed to transmit the enduring understandings arising from the stories of the Jewish partisans.”

Bielski Brigade Fighters Dr. Charles and Sara Bedzow, honored at the JPEF Gala. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

From Generation to Generation: Mathew Bielski, grandson of Zus Bielski, a leader of the Partisans featured in the 2008 film Defiance recited the HaMotzi prayer. Photo: Maxine Dovere.

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  • Ralph Levitt

    Just from the town of Bitola in Macedonia, there were—-
    General Bene Russo of the Partisan army
    Colonel Berto Russo
    Jamilla Kolonomos, brigade commissar and Yugoslav national hero.
    Estrella Ovadija who died fighting at age 22 and a national hero.
    The Sadakarios brothers, one of whom died on the last day of the war.
    They were all over Europe in the tens of thousands and they had to fight in spite of the insistence of the religious and secular leadership of the Jewish people that armed resistance to the Nazis and their allies was to be avoided.

  • frania kryszpel block

    It was not Mr. Asner. _ “they refused to SIMPLY await their fate”. “One bunch of tough Jews” “courage,bravery organized chutzpah” 3 ,000,000 JewsSimply awaited their fate. You see on their faces the strength, the toughness,……. It is not Asner. It is your romanticized vision. How many strong,tough,smart,Jews never had a chance. They were taken first because exactly they were a threat. And unfortunately, most were not from the part of Poland where there were woods.

  • Maxine Dovere

    NB: Mr. Asner’s comment was “defied the MYTH;”in no way does he imply cowardice.

    Please re-read the statement.

  • frania kryszpel block

    “Defied the myth of Jewish cowardice”… cowardice..where in the world would anyone that has any knowledge ever come to this? Cowards run. Not the ones who stayed to fight for their mother’s father’s grsndparents,babies,handicapped relatives. They were in the wrong part of Poland. The Germans came with planed,tanks,guns,ghettoes,killing vans, trains to chelmno,shot in the killing fields, burnt in the ovens. These were not strong people? I will speak for them. How dare anyone imply a lack of strength or cowardice to these martyrs . Thinking like this comes straight out of Stormfront. I am sickened.

  • frania kryszpel block

    To say in any way that the other Jews were cowards is to not know history. maps, and be totally ignorant. There are many who survived with entire families. They were near the woods in eastern Poland and they ran. They did not stay and fighy
    Y. They ran, had not much to lose, took their family and ran. To in any way diminish the Jews in the western part of Poland, who had no woods to run away into. And were the first to be gotten with their entire families. Strong men, strong women and children who fought the enemy any way they could Is to really not know what you speak of. Just look at a map of Poland. Look at the right side and see the woods they RAN INTO. RAN.HID.FOUGHT. Came out with family. Now look at the map again. Look to the left part of Poland. There was NO PLACE TO RUN EXCROT INTO GERMANY

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