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Partisans

Throughout occupied Europe, partisans banded together to engage in guerrilla warfare against the Germans. Jewish partisans, both male and female, played a prominent role in areas of Soviet Union where the geographical conditions permitted such warfare. They fought in existing partisan units or, faced with antisemitism, set up their own. The Jews of Minsk established seven partisan units. In all, about 10,000 Jews fled to the forests from Minsk; most were killed by German forces during the war. In southern European countries such as the former Yugoslavia and Greece, Jews joined general partisan units. In western European countries, such as Belgium, resistance was characterised mainly by underground movements, and Jews played a significant role in them.

After the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and other ghetto revolts, some of the ghetto fighters escaped to the forests to join partisan communities in the forests. Jews from France, the former Yugoslavia, Greece and the former Soviet Union were also active as partisans or members of other underground resistance groups.

The Jewish partisans’ objectives were ‘revenge and rescue.’ Some of their activities included: attacking and harassing German troops directly, cutting railway lines, establishing links between partisan groups throughout Europe and setting up underground networks to rescue Jews and transport them out of occupied Europe.

 

Jewish Resistance Groups
Area of Activity Organisation Leadership 
Algeria Jose Aboulker Family Jose Aboulker
Auschwitz-Birkenau Resistance, Sonderkommando revolt Battle Group Auschwitz, Jewish Sonderkommandos
Balkans and Austria Jewish Parachutists Jewish leadership in Palestine
Bedzin Ghetto Underground Jewish Youth Groups
Bialystok Ghetto Jewish Anti-Facist Bloc Mordechai Tenenbaum
France Armee Juive Abraham Polonski & Lucien Lublin
Germany Baum Group Herbert & Marianne Baum
Italy Jewish Brigades Jewish leadership in Palestine
Kovno/Kaunas Ghetto Jewish Fighting Organisation Young Zionists and Anti-Facist Struggle Organisation
Krakow Resistance Zinoist Youth Movements & Jewish Fighting Organisation
Lida Ghetto Bielski Partisans Tobias Bielski and brothers
Lvov Ghetto Resistance/underground Tadek Drotorski
Minsk Ghetto Partisans Tobias Bielski and brothers
Minsk Ghetto Partisans Kazinets a.k.a. "Slavek"
Novogrudok Ghetto Bielski partisans Tobias Bielski and brothers
Riga Ghetto Underground "Secret Cells"
Sobibor death camp Resistance & revolt Aleksander Pechersky & Leon Feldhandler
Treblinka death camp Resistance & revolt Dr. Julian Chorazycki, Marceli Galewski, & Zelo Bloch
Vilna Ghetto Partisans Yehiel Scheinbaum
Vilna Ghetto Underground/United Partisan Organisation Josef Glazman & Yitzhak Wittenberg
Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Fighting Organisation Mordecai Anielewicz, Tzivia Lubetkin, Yithak Zuckerman
Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Military Union (Zionist Revisionists) Pavel Frenkel

 

The Bielski Partisans

Operating in Western Belorussia during 1942-1944, the Bielski partisan group (about 150 of whom were involved in armed operations) was one of the most significant Jewish resistance groups against the Nazis. The four Bielski brothers (Tuvia, Alexander (Zus), Asael and Aron) not only fought the Nazis and their collaborators, but were responsible for saving 1,200 Jews, particularly women, children and the elderly who had managed to flee into the forests of Belorussia. Tuvia, the oldest brother, a Polish ex-military man, was the commander. He sent messengers to infiltrate the ghettos in the area and encourage Jews to escape and join them in the forest.

Having been a farming family near Stankiewicze, the Bielskis had local knowledge which helped them to evade the German authorities and their Belorussian supporters. With the help of non-Jewish friends, they were able to acquire guns that were later supplemented with weapons captured from German units, as well as Soviet equipment provided by Soviet partisans.

The Bielski group conducted sabotage missions, blowing up rail beds and bridges and disabling German trains, and carrying out reprisals against locals who had betrayed Jews. In August 1943 the Germans led two major clearing operations against all partisan groups in the area and offered (unsuccessfully) a reward of 100,000 Reichs Marks for assistance in the capture of Tuvia Bielski.

Saved by the Soviet-led offensive and liberation of Belorussia in June 1944, Tuvia and Zus Bielski migrated with their families to then-Palestine at the end of World War II, where they fought in the Israeli armed forces during the 1948 War of Independence that helped to establish the State of Israel. They subsequently migrated to the United States.

Recommended Reading
Tec, N. (1993). Defiance: The Bielski Partisans. New York: Oxford University Press.