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Give Rise to the Heroism of Those Who Showed Bravery During the Holocaust

April 17, 2012 1:16 pm 4 comments

Actor Daniel Craig in the film "Defiance", the Hollywood adaptation of the Bielski brothers story. Photo:

Starting at 8 pm ET on Wednesday evening until sundown on Thursday, Jews around the world will commemorate Yom Hashoah, or Holocaust Remembrance Day, in memory of the six million European Jews murdered by Hitler’s Nazis and their supporters.

Throughout Israel, people will stop what they’re doing and stand in silent devotion as a siren blares for two minutes on Thursday morning.

Special ceremonies will be held throughout the country including the main commemoration at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, highlighted by the reading of the names of the Holocaust victims. All places of entertainment will be closed, with television and radio featuring programming appropriate for the somberness of the day.

Being the son of Polish survivors on my father’s side (at the age of 36 I probably fit into a group consisting of some of youngest first generation post-Holocaust survivors today), who succeeded in fleeing the “shtetel” just days before the Nazis liquidated the Jews from my family’s town, I understand the significance of the day – especially since the rest of my extended family, nearly 100 souls, were tortured and murdered by Ukrainian Policemen who gladly sided with the Nazis in carrying out Hitler’s war on the Jews.

In 1992, I traveled back to the area with my family and stood over what was clearly a mass grave, where most likely the bodies of my great uncles, aunts, and cousins were dumped after their brutal slaying. Today, not a trace of Jewish life remains in that area except for the newly constructed “matzevot” or memorials to the Jews murdered there.

While this horror story is similar to an innumerable amount of other Holocaust episodes which are no doubt tragic and should be re-told on Yom Hashoah (and throughout the year) in order to never forget, there is an aspect to the day which I feel sometimes gets lost in the shuffle.

The official name of the day is “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah”— the “Day of Holocaust remembrance and Heroism.” It’s the heroism aspect that I feel that needs more attention.

Yes, the date for Yom Hashoah was chosen by the Israeli Knesset to coincide with the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (the 27th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan), but I fear that the narratives of the Jewish and non-Jewish warriors and heroes, who against all odds to put up a fight against the Nazi war machine, remains year after year a secondary and diluted subject.

The ghetto uprisings, fighting in the forests, or missions of exceptional courage such as those undertaken by people like Hannah Senesh, all deserve and need to be discussed more on Yom Hashoah, to draw attention to these acts of defiance.

The reason that bravery and heroism should become part of the centrality of this day is so that when Jews say “never again” in regard to another Holocaust, those words do not become an oft repeated and meaningless cliché.

With Iran on the fast track towards launching its nuclear capabilities, and other Arab terror groups just as eager to see a world without Israel, only that brave Jewish soldier, led by an equally brave Jewish leadership will ensure that we will truly never again witness the loss of Jewish life on such a grand scale.

It is our job as human beings and as Jews do use all the resources given to us by G-d to guarantee the future of our people.

The first step in this process is visualization, using the mind’s eye not only to focus on the Jew in the Holocaust as a victim but as a Jewish warrior. What better day to spend time contemplating this image than on “Yom Hashoah Ve-Hagevurah.”

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  • Ralph Levitt

    There are so many examples and so many stories of the
    Jews who resisted during WW II. But the following is
    Monastir/Bitola in Macedonia.
    The fighters included——
    Bene Russo who became a General in the Yugoslav Army.
    Berto Russo who became a Colonel.
    The Sadakarios brothers.
    Jamilla Kolonomos attained the rank of brigade commissar
    and was a spokesperson for the Yugoslav resistance
    after the war.
    Estrella Ovadija who died fighting at age 22—named a hero of the Yugoslav liberation movement.
    Of those who did not resist over 99% died.
    Of those who joined the resistance the figure drops to 75% but that includes urban areas where the death rate had
    to be much higher. For those who went to the mountains
    the survival rate was better.
    Milovan Djilas, in his account Wartime, tells the story of the Albaharis from Belgrade. He was known before the war as the “button king.” He manufactured buttons. They
    were older people but they went to the mountains, joined
    the resistance and survived the war. Djilas said the partisan movement discussed creating separate Jewish units but rejected the idea.
    This went on all across Europe.

  • Ralph Levitt

    We won——as many as 2 million Jews fought—-in the US, British, Australian, Canadian, South African and other armies. A large contingent in the Red Army. Tens of thousands of fighters in the ghettos, forests and mountains of Europe.
    We won and less than 5 years later won another historic
    fight in the Holy Land.

  • The Untold Bielski Story- The Real Thing.
    Growing up they had to defend themselves and their business from the locals. They were always a family team, and also had many non-Jewish friends. They developed a reputation before the War for many kilometers that “you shouldn’t mess with the Bielskis because you are sure to lose,” a quote by Aron Bell Bielski. They were never petty criminals as referred to in the movie, although the police knew of them and their penchant for provoked violence. As the environment grew more hostile against Jews and the Bielskis in particular, the ante was raised and so was their response to it, ruthlessness and compassion. The ‘Defiance’ movie did not show enemies’ heads being axed (see The History Channel 11/06, Jerusalem in the Woods). The Bielski Enemas in which enemies’ behinds were cleansed for their sins by grenades as each watched his fellow get blown up knowing that he will be next (The Bielski Partisans a documentary by Kumar 1996). Many unmentionable acts were done without remorse by Zus and others. In context, envision what would you do if they killed your mother and father, your brothers, your wife and daughter? Between me and you if the Bielskis’ ‘Defiance’ movie has any positive influence on Israeli gov’t, a more assertive and permanent solution would already be in place both politically and militarily. ‘Defiance’ was not intended to directly comment on Israeli policies, it was intended to show that all Jews are capable and obligated to live and be defiant to anyone who threatens our existence, anytime. So? The question is this; does the Defiance movie say anything to Israel, USA, Iran and the various players? I’m Zus’s son, a Bielski, so I think diplomacy better work for those players.

    Two of Zus’s sons served in the IDF, as did two of his grandchildren.

  • The Bielski story was alluded to by our great prophet Moses when he called the Red Sea Crossing a Sea of Reeds. From inspiration HaShem revealed to me the passages from the Tanakh where this story was hidden for hundreds of years. Jeremiah the prophet also noted the second exodus in chapter 23. Tuvia Bielski like Moses lead the Children of Israel across a real Yam Suph-Sea of Reeds! It’s worth looking at the depth of this story that I have written about in part on my website and in an up coming book.

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