Jewish partisans

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Jewish partisans were fighters in irregular military groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II.

A number of Jewish partisan groups operated across Nazi-occupied Europe, some made up of a few escapees from the Jewish ghettos or concentration camps, while others, such as Bielski partisans, numbered in the hundreds and included women and children. They were most numerous in Eastern Europe, but groups also existed in occupied France and Belgium, where they worked with the local resistance.[1] Many individual Jewish fighters took part in the other partisan movements in other occupied countries. In all, the Jewish partisans numbered between 20,000 and 30,000.[2]


The partisans engaged in guerrilla warfare and sabotage against the Nazi occupation, instigated teens and freed prisoners. In Lithuania alone, they killed approximately 3,000 German soldiers.[3] They sometimes had contacts within the ghettos, camps, Judenrats, and with other resistance groups, with whom they shared military intelligence.

In Eastern Europe, many Jews joined the ranks of the Soviet partisans: throughout the war, they faced antisemitism and discrimination from the Soviets and some Jewish partisans were killed, but over time, many of the Jewish partisan groups were absorbed into the command structure of the much larger Soviet partisan movement.[4] Soviet partisans arrived in western Ukraine in 1943,[5] and consisted of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and Jews,[6] and were smaller in size than that of units in Belarus, which was more suitable for partisan warfare.[7] Released Soviet archive data suggest that Jews accounted for 5.2% of partisans in Ukraine.[5]


Belorussia, 1943. A Jewish partisan group of the Chkalov Brigade.[8]

The Jewish partisans had to overcome great odds in acquiring weapons, food, shelter and evading capture. They typically lived in underground dugouts called zemlyankas (Russian: землянка) and camps in the forests.[2] Nazi reprisals were brutal, as they employed collective punishment against their supporters and the ghettos from which partisans had escaped,[9] and often used "anti-partisan actions" as a guise for the extermination of Jews.[10] In some areas, partisans were supported by local villagers, but due to widespread antisemitism and fear of reprisal, the Jewish partisans were often on their own.[3]

The partisans operated under constant threat of starvation. In order to survive, Jews had to put aside traditional dietary restrictions. While friendly peasants provided food, in some cases food was stolen from shops,[2] farms[3] or raided from caches meant for German soldiers.[2] As the war progressed, the Soviet government occasionally airdropped ammunition, counterfeit money and food supplies to partisan groups known to be friendly.[2]

Those who managed to flee the ghettos and camps had nothing more than the clothes on their backs, and their possessions often were reduced to rags through constant wear. Clothes and shoes were a scarce commodity. German uniforms were highly prized trophies: they were warm and served as disguises for future missions.[2]

Those who were wounded or maimed or fell ill often did not survive due to the lack of medical help or supplies. Most partisan groups had no physician and treated the wounded themselves, turning to village doctors only as a last resort.[2]

The forests also concealed family camps where Jewish escapees from camps or ghettos, many of whom were too young or too old to fight, hoped to wait out the war. While some partisan groups required combat readiness and weapons as a condition for joining, many noncombatants found shelter with Jewish fighting groups and their allies. These individuals and families contributed to the welfare of the group by working as craftsmen, cooks, seamstresses and field medics.[2]

Notable partisan groups[edit]

Members of the Jewish partisan militia, the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye, active in the Vilnius Ghetto

Jewish partisan groups of note include the Bielski partisans who operated a large "family camp" in Belorussia (numbering over 1,200 by the summer of 1944),[11][12] the Parczew partisans of southeast Poland, and the United Partisan Organization which attempted to start an uprising in the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania and later engaged in sabotage and guerrilla operations.[13] Thirty-two Jews from the Mandate for Palestine were trained by the British and parachuted behind enemy lines to engage in resistance activities.[3] In the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, two groups of partisans, the right-wing Jewish Military Union (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ŻZW) and the left-wing Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB) led the uprising separately.


Approximately 100,000 Jews fought in the Polish army against Germany. They made up 10% of the Polish army, commensurate with the percentage of Jews within the general population. Approximately 30,000 Jews were killed in battle, captured or declared missing.[14] There were no partisan groups established before 1943. Eventually the Armia Ludowa was founded as a communist underground. This group was very weak, having only a few arms. When they eventually grew stronger there were not a lot of Jews left, but the surviving Jews did join. The weapons they did have were often stolen and occasionally bought from peasants, until eventually the Soviet Union dropped some down using parachutes. The AL was against fighting the Nazis and did not want to get drawn into the action, unless they had no other choice. There were around 30 Jewish partisan detachments and most of these were connected to the AL. About half of these were detachments off in forests.[15]

Soviet Union[edit]

The Soviet Union was late on having partisan groups. The first ones started around 1941-1942. The partisan groups mainly embarked out in forests, as 6,000-8,000 Jews were able to escape to them. Many did not make it, but if they did they joined Soviet partisan detachments. One partisan group in the Soviet area was the Minsk Ghetto. The Minsk Ghetto was the fourth largest ghetto in Europe. The group was led by the Jewish communists. The group within the Minsk ghetto was supported by the Jewish council which allowed them organize a mass escape into the surrounding woods. This escape released between 6,000-8,000 Jews. Who tried to go join existing partisan groups. They were known for their resistance movements. There were a large amount of partisan groups in the Soviet Union but not much information can be found on them due to Soviet record keeping.[15]


In Lithuania there were four ghettos that remained after a mass murder campaign by the Nazis in 1941. There were armed resistance groups in three of them. These ghettos were Vilna, Oszmiana, and Kovno. The Vilna Ghetto was the site of the first Jewish resistance group known as FPO. The FPO tried to persuade the occupants within the Vilna Ghetto to revolt against the Nazis but it failed. This led the group to leave after an armed altercation in September 1943. The partisan group left the ghetto because of a lack of support and went through the sewers to escape to the eastern Lithuanian woods. However the partisan group in the Kovno Ghetto had no intention of fighting in the ghetto itself. They had always planned to fight outside of the ghetto. They organized a large escape from the ghetto that took place over a long period of time. It led to many people escaping and joining outside partisan groups, which eventually led them to create their own.[15]

Notable partisans[edit]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]

  1. ^ "Armed Jewish Resistance: Partisans". Holocaust Encyclopedia. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h "Living and Surviving as a Partisan". Jewish Virtual Library. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Jewish Partisans". The Holocaust: A Learning Site for Students. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 2006-06-15. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  4. ^ Marek Jan Chodakiewicz (2006-04-21). "Review of Sowjetische Partisanen in Weißrußland by Bogdan Musial". Sarmatian Review, Vol. XXVI, No. 2. Archived from the original on 2012-07-18. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  5. ^ a b The Holocaust Encyclopedia. p. 653. 
  6. ^ Rossolinski, Grzegorz. Stepan Bandera: The Life and Afterlife of a Ukrainian Nationalist. p. 282. 
  7. ^ Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. p. 475. 
  8. ^
  9. ^ Abraham J. Edelheit. History of the Holocaust: A Handbook and Dictionary, p. 98. Westview Press, 1995-07-01. ISBN 0-8133-2240-5
  10. ^ Yitzhak Arad. The Murder of Jews in Nazi-occupied Lithuania (1941–1944), in The Vanished World of Lithuanian Jews, p. 183, eds. Alvydas Nikzentaitis, Stefan Schreiner, Darius Staliunas. Rodopi, 2004-05-01. ISBN 90-420-0850-4
  11. ^ Ruby (EDT) Rohrlich. Resisting the Holocaust, p. 89, Berg Publishers, 1998-08-01. ISBN 1-85973-216-X
  12. ^ "Photo Gallery: Partisan family camp in the Naliboki forests". Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance. 1997. Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  13. ^ Jennifer Rosenberg. "Abba Kovner and Resistance in the Vilna Ghetto". Retrieved 2006-07-09. 
  14. ^ "Jewish Soldiers in the Allied Armies". Yad Vashem.
  15. ^ a b c Bauer, Yehuda. "Jewish Resistance and Passivity in the Face of the Holocaust". Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews: 235–251. 

Further reading[edit]

  • Yitzhak Arad. "Family Camps in the Forests", in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, vol. 2, pp. 467–469. Illustrations, map.
  • Israel Gutman, Shalom Cholawski, Dov Levin, Shmuel Spector. "Partisans", in Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust, vol. 3, pp. 1108–1122. Illustrations, map.
  • Lester Eckmann and Chaim Lazar. The Jewish Resistance: The History of Jewish Partisans in Lithuania and White Russia during the Nazi Occupation, 1940–1945. (New York: Shengold Publishers, 1977)
  • Jack Kagan and Dov Cohen. Surviving the Holocaust With the Russian Jewish Partisans. (Mitchell Vallentine & Company, 1998) ISBN 0-85303-336-6
  • Hersh Smolar. The Minsk Ghetto: Soviet-Jewish Partisans Against the Nazis. (USHMM, 1989) ISBN 0-89604-068-2
  • Resistance: Untold Stories of Jewish Partisans (2001). Documentary film directed by Seth Kramer. (IMDB record).

External links[edit]