By Andrew Strassmann
Interestingly, most of the Jews who chose to fight -- particularly the leaders -- had been prepared to fight back long before they began in the Resistance. For example, Tuvia Bielski (who led over 1,200 Jews in Byelorussia) had been a sharpshooter in the Polish Army. The escapees from the Novaky labor camp who formed an independent Jewish brigade were members of Hashomer Hatzair, a Zionist organization, and had conducted uniformed drills in the camp prior to the 1944 Slovak uprising that gave them their chance to escape. The leaders of both Jewish partisan groups in the forests outside Sobibor (Samuel Gruber and Yechiel Greenshpan, a.k.a. Mietek and Chil) had been corporals in the Polish army. The Warsaw Ghetto fighters had two groups, one started by the Young Zionists and one by Jewish members of the Polish Workers (i.e. Communist) Party. And Harry Burger, who fought in the mountains of Italy, had been a Boy Scout and a skier.
Contrary to popular myth, many of those fought survived to tell their stories. Indeed, when you track the Jewish partisan groups, you discover that the survival rates of those who fought back, despite the odds against them, was significantly greater than the survival rates of those who passively accepted going to the camps or cooperated with the Germans. In Slovakia, for example, the general Jewish survival rate was 7.8% (7.2% after post-liberation trauma casualties), while the survival rate among the Jewish partisans was approximately 85%. And of the dozen-plus Sobibor escapees who reached the Mietek/Chil partisan group, all but one survived until liberation.
This is particularly impressive because Jewish partisans often had to fight their ostensible allies, not just the Germans. Over and over again Jews were betrayed by the local populace or attacked by non-Jewish partisans the resulting deaths far exceeding those from normal combat -- and in Poland the killing of Jews went on even after the war ended. For example, Leon Feldhendler, one of the two leaders of the breakout from the Sobibor death camp, was killed in Lubin by Polish National Army troops who were actively hunting Jews. Furthermore the Soviets, who were the primary suppliers for most partisan units, opposed and regularly eliminated units with loyalties other than to the Soviet Union. Thus the Jewish Novaky brigade was not defeated by German weaponry but disbanded by Soviet order.
It is also interesting to note that there were quite a few Jewish women who fought among the partisans. The first person to fight in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and unfortunately, the first Jew to die in it was Emily Landau, a 17-year-old girl. While hard numbers are difficult to come by, women with guns often appear in the pictures and in survivorsí descriptions.
Listed at the Resource Page are some websites, and at the Readings of Interest page videos, and books, about Jewish armed resistance in World War II. If you know of more such resources, please let us know about them. (see Submissions Guidelines)
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