Personal Stories: Jewish Partisans
Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror. Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. Learn about some of their experiences.
The following list of Jewish partisans features personal stories from the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation (external link). It is not a comprehensive list of all Jewish partisans, but rather a small sampling to illustrate various personal experiences for educational purposes.
Abe's partisan unit grew to several thousand people, including the woman who later became his wife.
Leon Bakst was a teenager from Ivie when he escaped from a work camp and hiked to the Naliboki forest with over a dozen other escapees to join the Bielski Brigade.
At age 17, Charles became a Bielski partisan, collecting supplies for the group, scouting, and going on sabotage and ambush missions.
In the Naliboki forest, Tuvia set up a functioning partisan and family camp, with everyone working to support the community in a variety of ways.
At 21, Frank was the youngest platoon commander in his all-Jewish unit of 400.
After Nazi collaborators killed her family, Gertrude convinced the commander of a Russian partisan camp to let her fight.
As a partisan, David ingeniously smuggled munitions supplies destined for the resistance movement in Athens past the German blockades, by emptying milk barrels and filling them with guns.
A partisan in the First Alpine Division, Harry used his fluency in German to interrogate captured soldiers.
Joe found a group of fellow escapees hiding in the woods. They were beginning to organize themselves into a partisan unit when Joe joined them.
To reach the partisans in the mountains, Romi forged a German military travel order, sending him to the last German outpost before partisan-controlled territory.
Max joined the famous Bielski Brigade, where he met and married his wife in the forest.
After the Nazis occupied Turin, Marisa fled into the mountains around Torre Pellice to join the partisans, soon becoming the vice-commander of information for her unit.
After joining the partisans, Bernard sabotaged railroad lines and phone lines, and stole food and supplies from the German army.
After Don's brother Stan convinced him to join the partisans, they sought revenge against the Nazis by dynamiting railroads, ambushing German convoys, killing soldiers, and building a reputation for valor.
During the war, Sara went from village to village recruiting women who wanted to fight, forming a band of female partisans.
Eugenio Gentili Tedeschi
In Milan, Eugenio and his friends tore down the antisemitic propaganda posted, their first act of resistance in that city.
In the spring of 1943 the Soviets made contact with Jeff's partisan group, airdropping weapons and explosives and sending in professional Russian paratroopers, well armed and with shortwave radios.
For a time, Joseph worked as a member of the Polish underground, raiding a German train depot and aiding in the assassination of a prominent SS official.
Sam heard about partisans through a sympathetic Pole and convinced 22 other prisoners of war to escape the camp with him and join the partisans.
Joe and Rose Holm
When partisan groups began allowing a few women to join, Joe appeared on Rose's doorstep. He said, “I'm going; you come with me.”
Shortly after the beginning of the German occupation of Greece in 1941, 16-year-old Leon joined a group of partisans.
Leah and her family escaped with the help of a guide sent by Tuvia Bielski and joined the Bielski Brigade in the Naliboki forest, where they survived until the end of the war.
In Athens, Jack became involved with the underground movement by bombing factories and writing anti-German slogans on the city streets under the cover of darkness.
Ben joined the Russian partisan group of more than 1,600 fighters led by General Fyodorov.
In the Vilna ghetto, Vitka and others, including Aba Kovner, successfully organized a resistance movement called the United Partisan Organization (FPO) and began to arm themselves, smuggling weapons through the sewer system.
In 1941, Abba Kovner galvanized the divided factions of the Vilna ghetto resistance to join together and fight back against their would-be murderers, creating the United Partisan Organization (FPO).
Village by village, Joe and other teenagers counted men, checked equipment, noted who the ranking officers were and where they were camped, providing information to fellow partisans who mined bridges and railroads to disrupt German military activity.
After escaping from Novogrudek ghetto, Rae Kushner fought with the Bielski partisan unit.
Sol Lapidus, a partisan from Minsk, escaped a prisoner-of-war camp and joined the Chokulov brigade as a demolitions expert.
Sam became a part of the resistance in the Baranovichi ghetto even before he learned about the partisans.
Escaping a slave labor camp, Miles joined a Jewish partisan unit formed by other escapees.
Samuel was in a partisan group called Chavdar that roamed Bulgaria, near the border with Yugoslavia.
Escaping the Vilna ghetto, 16-year-old Benjamin Levin fled to the woods and joined a brigade of partisan fighters under the leadership of an old forester named Batya.
As a partisan Noah became versed in the arts of sabotage, cutting down telegraph wires, taking apart railroad tracks, mining roads, and conducting sniper attacks against German forces.
Walter escaped from Luxemburg to Italy, where he joined the Italian partisans.
Posing as a Catholic at a boarding school, Bernard became a courier for the Sixième, a resistance group in Rodez, France.
Dora hid with a non-Jewish farmer for a year before joining her sister and brother-in-law in the forests controlled by the partisans.
After hiding in the freezing woods for months, Sonia was able to join a Russian partisan detachment.
Silvio became a member of the Fratelli Bandiera, which began conducting raids and sabotage missions in spring 1943.
While hiding at a monastery, Martin found a partisan pamphlet calling on Slovaks to resist the occupation.
As a rebel soldier, Meir learned how to use a gun and helped his countrymen cut off the retreat lines of the fleeing Germans.
In October of 1942, Norman organized an escape group of 55 people and fled to the surrounding forest.
During her time as a partisan, Faye took over a hundred photographs. She is the only known Jewish partisan photographer.
After escaping a death camp and spending several months in hiding, Brenda connected with a large Soviet-backed partisan unit made up of 1,600 people.
In 1943, armed with an automatic rifle and a shortwave radio, Leon parachuted into the Lithuanian forest to conduct espionage operations.
Mira's group engaged in sabotage against the Nazis and their Polish collaborators by disrupting communications and transportation to the war front.
When the Nazis came to take his family away, Allen Small's mother hid him in the attic, all the while telling him, “you must survive!”
Simon worked as a spy and a saboteur in liaison with a partisan unit established by the Russian army, gathering information about troop and supply movements, mining roads, and blowing up bridges.
Alexander escaped a forced-labor camp and fled to the mountains, where the Yugoslavian partisans, led by Tito, captured him.
Eta helped organize an exclusively Jewish partisan unit of close to eighty people.
After spending the cold winter months of 1942 in an underground bunker, Shalom and his comrades sought out the local partisan brigade.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance?
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced each individual's decisions and actions?
- How can societies, communities, and individuals reinforce and strengthen the willingness to stand up for others?