What is a Partisan

From the Jewish Partisan Encyclopedia

They were Jews in Europe, many of them teenagers, male and female, who fought against the Nazis during World War 2. The majority were regular folks who escaped the ghettos and work camps and joined organized resistance groups in the forests and urban underground.

Some, like Polish teenager Frank Blaichman, knew their village would be turned into a ghetto; He escaped and joined a group of partisans in a forest. Others, like Abe Asner, were among the very few Jewish partisans with military training. Most partisans knew nothing about guns and ammunition, so people like Abe became important teachers and leaders.

Less than ten percent of the partisans were women. Some were fighters and scouts; the majority were part of the vital infrastructure, cooking for the group and caring for the sick.

Jews who joined non-Jewish partisan groups often hid their Judaism because of  antisemitism. Norman Salsitz, for example, used seven non-Jewish identities while fighting the Nazis and was able to save dozens of Jews from certain death.

Categorized as Partisans

Where Did Jewish Partisans Fight?

Jewish partisans fought in almost every country in Europe. There was partisan activity in Belgium, Poland, Russia (Belarus and Ukraine), France, Italy, Greece and Lithuania. The partisans hid their encampments in the forests, swamps and mountains.

Partisan activity was particularly intense in Eastern Europe. Russian partisan units in Eastern Europe were highly organized and trained people to use guns, to dynamite bridges, and operate in a military fashion. Military order was kept in these groups (you could be shot for falling asleep on guard duty).

Partisans in Yugoslavia and Italy ambushed Nazi convoys and drew German attention away from the front. Entire battalions were removed from the front lines to deal with the “partisan problem.” Entire battalions!

Categorized as Partisans

Lithuania and Byelorussia

There were 850 Jews in the Lithuanian partisan movement. An additional 450 Jewish Lithuanian fighters in the Belorussian partisan movement and another 350 Lithuanian Jews in other groups brought the total to 1,650 Lithuanian Jews who fought as partisans. Of the 92 partisan battalions, Jews fought in the 22 that had sterling records in battle.

In 1943, Lithuanian Jewish partisans became unified under the direction of the Soviet Lithuanian partisan movement. The partisan movement was their only vehicle to fight actively against the Nazis. In some cases, all-Jewish units were formed within the larger organization of Lithuanian partisans.

Among their many successful missions, Lithuanian Jewish partisans derailed enemy trains, dynamited miles of train tracks, destroyed bridges, factories, water towers, and electrical transformers, and cut hundreds of miles of telephone and telegraph lines. In Vilna, they damaged the power station and sabotaged the water supplies. Other times they secured arms and food supplies.

Ten percent of the Lithuanian partisan population was comprised of Jewish partisans, but the units in which Jews served were responsible for 79% of the train derailments, 72% of the locomotives destroyed, and 22.9 % of the soldiers killed. Sabotage was only one their specialties. In total, 1,650 Jews took part in the resistance movement [as part of the] Lithuanian partisan movement. A total of 250 Jews were killed. Many received medals for their outstanding service.

Categorized as Partisans