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From our research there were Jewish partisans in the following countries: Belgium, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, France, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Russia and Yugoslavia. For more information, please see the Partisan Activity Maps.
Yes. Since the partisans operated behind enemy lines, these guerilla fighters had great strategic value for the Allies and worked with them whenever possible. The areas with the greatest support were locations strategic to the Allies. Thus, almost all countries in Eastern Europe received support from the USSR. For instance, in Poland, Lithuania, the Ukraine and Belarus, the Soviets airdropped supplies, which included food, weapons, currency, and radio equipment. They even airdropped radio operators and officers to help organize the partisans. By the end of 1943, Moscow was controlling much of the partisan activity in Eastern Europe. One exception to this supportive relationship was all-Jewish partisan units. For many of these groups, antisemitism on the part of the Soviet partisan units prevented cooperation. Many all-Jewish groups were discriminated against and were not allowed to have access to supplies, due to this antisemitism. In Greece, France, and Belgium, the British and American forces supported partisan units.
It is difficult to know exactly how many Jewish partisans fought, for two reasons. First, many Jews hid their identities in order to be accepted into partisan units, due to antisemitism (hostility towards or violence against Jews). Secondly, due to the nature of partisan life, a life on the run with little resources, it was not easy to keep records. But some records did survive. Holocaust scholars estimate that between 20,000-30,000 Jews fought as partisans in Soviet-controlled areas. One Greek Holocaust scholar has found evidence to suggest that more than 1,000 Jewish partisans fought in Greece. Other sources estimate that 30,000-40,000 Jewish partisans fought during World War Two. There were over a million partisans all over Europe, fighting the Nazis in many occupied countries. For me information on locations of Jewish partisan units, please go to the Partisan Activity Maps.
There were many differences between Jewish and non-Jewish partisans. First, Jews were the targets of genocide. Like their neighbors, the enemy occupied their country, but unlike their neighbors, the enemy was committed to their destruction. Secondly, the Jewish partisans often had to contend with deadly antisemitism from local civilians, a danger not faced by non-Jewish partisans. Jewish partisans even faced prejudice from their fellow fighters. Some antisemites who attacked and killed Jewish partisans were partisans themselves. Lastly, unlike some non-Jewish partisans, almost all Jewish partisans were unarmed, untrained civilians with little or no resources and no support, though some did have prior military experience (See Abe Asner’s short biography).
For more information on Jews who fought in all-Jewish groups, see the JPEF biographies on Tuvia Bielski, Sam Gruber, Vitka Kovner, Mira Shelub, and Frank Blaichman).
Partisans used small arms-guns, rifles, and machine-guns that they could carry easily and incorporate into their hit-and-run style attacks. In Eastern Europe, partisans got their weapons from three main sources: when Germany attacked Russia in 1941, many retreating soldiers dropped their weapons to save their lives. These weapons were mostly rifles, some handguns, bullets, sub-machine guns, machine guns, and grenades. Local citizens picked them up and hid them. The Jewish partisans later acquired these weapons by buying, being given, or stealing them. Partisans also collected weapons from the Germans and their collaborators after successful battles. Another source of weapons and ammunition came from the Allies who supplied weapons to the partisans by airdrop.
Yes. The exact number is very hard to come by, but women made up approximately1-5% in non-Jewish units and 10% in all Jewish units. The main role of women was to support guerilla warfare by cooking and feeding troops, nursing the wounded, etc. Women also acted as spies, smugglers and couriers. Women sometimes participated in missions with men, often acting as a diversionary force. Some women fought alongside men, but this was the exception. For more information on women in the partisans please see Gertrude Boyarski, Marisa Diena, Sara Fortis, Vitka Kempner, Dora Oltulski, Sonia Orbuch, Brenda Senders, Mira Shelub, and Eta Wrobel.
Teenagers did not have the same family responsibilities as older people. A parent could not leave his or her children alone and attempt to join a partisan group, whereas a teenager was old enough to leave home, and could leave their parents. Thus, many teens were active in partisan groups. Younger people were also healthier and stronger than their elders were.
For the majority of the partisans, religion was a luxury they could not afford. For instance, choosing to eat only kosher (prepared in accordance with Jewish dietary laws) food when food was very scarce could mean the choice between life and death. (See Gertrude Boyarski short biography) In non-Jewish groups where antisemitism was rampant, drawing attention to one’s Jewishness could be dangerous. Finally, it was often impossible to keep track of the calendar while living as a partisan, so religious observances were easily overlooked. However, despite these obstacles, some Jews did attempt to continue their religious practices, even in the forests, but it was rare.
It’s hard to measure the impact that Jewish partisans had on the war, but the fact is that thousands of Nazi trains and convoys were destroyed by Jewish-only partisan groups and approximately 30,000 Jews participated in partisan armies all over Europe. By cutting off supplies and taking troops away from the front, the Jewish partisans contributed to the defeat of the Nazis. In Lithuania, where Jews made up 10% of the partisan activity, they were responsible for over 70% of the damage to Nazi trains. Three detachments in Lithuania were responsible for destroying 2,159 railroad cards, 3,099 miles of train track, and killing 6,633 enemy soldiers.
Jewish Partisans live all over the world, and as with other Holocaust survivors, with the greatest concentration living in Israel and the United States.
Please see the "Resources" section in the JPEF website. You can get there by clicking here.