Jewish partisans
Jewish partisans were fighters in irregular military
Irregular military
Irregular military refers to any non-standard military. Being defined by exclusion, there is significant variance in what comes under the term. It can refer to the type of military organization, or to the type of tactics used....

 groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany
Nazi Germany , also known as the Third Reich , but officially called German Reich from 1933 to 1943 and Greater German Reich from 26 June 1943 onward, is the name commonly used to refer to the state of Germany from 1933 to 1945, when it was a totalitarian dictatorship ruled by...

 and its collaborators during World War II
World War II
World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...


A number of Jewish partisan groups
Partisan (military)
A partisan is a member of an irregular military force formed to oppose control of an area by a foreign power or by an army of occupation by some kind of insurgent activity...

 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
Bielski partisans
The Bielski partisans were an organisation of Jewish partisans who rescued Jews from extermination and fought against the Nazi German occupiers and their collaborators in the vicinity of Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland...

, numbered in the hundreds and included women and children. They were most numerous in Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe
Eastern Europe is the eastern part of Europe. The term has widely disparate geopolitical, geographical, cultural and socioeconomic readings, which makes it highly context-dependent and even volatile, and there are "almost as many definitions of Eastern Europe as there are scholars of the region"...

, but groups also existed in occupied France
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 and Belgium
Belgium , officially the Kingdom of Belgium, is a federal state in Western Europe. It is a founding member of the European Union and hosts the EU's headquarters, and those of several other major international organisations such as NATO.Belgium is also a member of, or affiliated to, many...

, where they worked with the local resistance
Resistance movement
A resistance movement is a group or collection of individual groups, dedicated to opposing an invader in an occupied country or the government of a sovereign state. It may seek to achieve its objects through either the use of nonviolent resistance or the use of armed force...

. Many individual Jewish fighters also took part in the other partisan movements in other occupied countries. In all, the Jewish partisans numbered between 20,000 and 30,000.


The partisans engaged in guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare
Guerrilla warfare is a form of irregular warfare and refers to conflicts in which a small group of combatants including, but not limited to, armed civilians use military tactics, such as ambushes, sabotage, raids, the element of surprise, and extraordinary mobility to harass a larger and...

 and sabotage
Sabotage is a deliberate action aimed at weakening another entity through subversion, obstruction, disruption, or destruction. In a workplace setting, sabotage is the conscious withdrawal of efficiency generally directed at causing some change in workplace conditions. One who engages in sabotage is...

 against the Nazi occupation, instigated ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprising
Ghetto uprisings were armed revolts by Jews and other groups incarcerated in ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europes during World War II against the plans to deport the inhabitants to concentration and extermination camps....

s and freed prisoners. In Lithuania alone, they killed approximately 3,000 German soldiers. They sometimes had contacts within the ghettos, camps, and Judenrat
Judenräte were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to...

s, and with other resistance groups
Resistance during World War II
Resistance movements during World War II occurred in every occupied country by a variety of means, ranging from non-cooperation, disinformation and propaganda to hiding crashed pilots and even to outright warfare and the recapturing of towns...

, with which they shared military intelligence
Military intelligence
Military intelligence is a military discipline that exploits a number of information collection and analysis approaches to provide guidance and direction to commanders in support of their decisions....


In Eastern Europe, many Jews joined the ranks of the Soviet partisans
Soviet partisans
The Soviet partisans were members of a resistance movement which fought a guerrilla war against the Axis occupation of the Soviet Union during World War II....

: 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.


The Jewish partisans had to overcome great odds in acquiring weapons, food, shelter and evading capture. They typically lived in underground dugouts called zemlyanka
Zemlyanka — is an Eastern Slavic name for a dugout or earth-house which was used to provide shelter for humans or domestic animals. Based on a hole or depression dug into the ground, these structures are one of the most ancient types of housing known...

and camps in the forests. Nazi reprisal
In international law, a reprisal is a limited and deliberate violation of international law to punish another sovereign state that has already broken them. Reprisals in the laws of war are extremely limited, as they commonly breached the rights of civilians, an action outlawed by the Geneva...

s were brutal, as they employed collective punishment
Collective punishment
Collective punishment is the punishment of a group of people as a result of the behavior of one or more other individuals or groups. The punished group may often have no direct association with the other individuals or groups, or direct control over their actions...

 against their supporters and the ghettos from which partisans had escaped, and often used "anti-partisan actions" as a guise for the extermination of Jews. 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.

The partisans operated under constant threat of starvation. In order to survive, Jews had to put aside traditional dietary restrictions
Kashrut is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha is termed kosher in English, from the Ashkenazi pronunciation of the Hebrew term kashér , meaning "fit" Kashrut (also kashruth or kashrus) is the set of Jewish dietary laws. Food in accord with halakha (Jewish law) is termed...

. While friendly peasants provided food, in some cases food was stolen from shops, farms or raided from caches meant for German soldiers. As the war progressed, the Soviet government occasionally airdrop
An airdrop is a type of airlift, developed during World War II to resupply otherwise inaccessible troops, who themselves may have been airborne forces. In some cases, it is used to refer to the airborne assault itself. Early airdrops were conducted by dropping or pushing padded bundles from...

ped ammunition, counterfeit money and food supplies to partisan groups known to be friendly.

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.

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.

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.

Notable partisan groups

Some of the best-known Jewish partisan groups were the Bielski partisans
Bielski partisans
The Bielski partisans were an organisation of Jewish partisans who rescued Jews from extermination and fought against the Nazi German occupiers and their collaborators in the vicinity of Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland...

 who operated a large "family camp" in Belorussia (numbering over 1,200 by the summer of 1944), and the United Partisan Organization which attempted to start an uprising in the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania
Lithuania , officially the Republic of Lithuania is a country in Northern Europe, the biggest of the three Baltic states. It is situated along the southeastern shore of the Baltic Sea, whereby to the west lie Sweden and Denmark...

 and later engaged in sabotage and guerilla operations. Thirty-two Jews from the Mandate for Palestine were trained by the British and parachuted behind enemy lines to engage in resistance activities.

Notable partisans

  • Fred Friedman
  • Yitzhak Arad
    Yitzhak Arad
    Yitzhak Arad , is an Israeli historian, retired IDF brigadier general and a former Soviet partisan who has served as director of Yad Vashem from 1972 to 1993...

  • Bielski partisans
    Bielski partisans
    The Bielski partisans were an organisation of Jewish partisans who rescued Jews from extermination and fought against the Nazi German occupiers and their collaborators in the vicinity of Nowogródek and Lida in German-occupied Poland...

  • Masha Bruskina
    Masha Bruskina
    Masha Bruskina was a 17-year-old Soviet Jewish partisan who was a volunteer nurse. She was arrested on October 14, 1941, by members of the Wehrmacht's 707 Infantry Division and the 2nd Schutzmannschaft Battalion; Lithuanian auxiliary troops under the command of Major Antanas Impulyavichus...

  • Eugenio Calò
    Eugenio Calò
    Eugenio Calò is a national hero of Italy. Born in Pisa to an old Sephardi family, he was posthumously awarded the Gold Medal for Military Valour, Italy's highest honor for heroism. Eugenio Calò was an Italian partisan, second in command of the Pio Borri partisan division that fought the Germans in...

  • Abba Kovner
    Abba Kovner
    Abba Kovner was a Lithuanian Jewish Hebrew poet, writer, and partisan leader. He became one of the great poets of modern Israel. He was a cousin of the Israeli Communist Party leader Meir Vilner.-Biography:...

  • Dov Lopatyn
    Dov Lopatyn
    Dov Lopatyn was the head of the Judenrat in Łachwa, Poland in 1941-1942. He refused the demand of the Einsatzgruppen that the Lakhva Ghetto inhabitants line up for deportation, and on September 3, 1942, he led one of the first ghetto uprisings of the war.More than half of the ghetto population was...

  • Moše Pijade
  • Haviva Reik
    Haviva Reik
    Haviva Reick was one of 32 or 33 Palestinian Jewish parachutists sent by the Jewish Agency and Britain's Special Operations Executive on military missions in Nazi-occupied Europe....

  • Dr. Roman T. Solecki
  • Hannah Szenes
    Hannah Szenes
    Hannah Szenes , often anglicized as Hannah Senesh was a Hungarian Jew, one of 37 Jews from the British Mandate for Palestine that were trained by the British army to parachute into Yugoslavia during the Second World War in order to help save the Jews of Hungary, who were about to be deported to...

  • Shalom Yoran
    Shalom Yoran
    Shalom Yoran is a survivor of the Holocaust and a former Jewish partisan. His World War II memoir, The Defiant. A True Story of Jewish Vengeance and Survival, was published in 2003....

  • Simcha Zorin
    Simcha Zorin
    Shalom Zorin was a Jewish Soviet partisan commander in Minsk.Many Jewish partisans in Belorussia had their own units that operated as part of the general Belorussian partisan movement and the overall Jewish resistance movement fighting the Nazis in occupied Europe, although some of these Jewish...

  • Icchak Manski
  • Moshe Manski

See also

  • Jewish Brigade
    Jewish Brigade
    The Jewish Infantry Brigade Group was a military formation of the British Army that served in Europe during the Second World War. The brigade was formed in late 1944, and its personnel fought the Germans in Italy...

     — a unit of 5,000 volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine that fought in the British Army
    British Army
    The British Army is the land warfare branch of Her Majesty's Armed Forces in the United Kingdom. It came into being with the unification of the Kingdom of England and Scotland into the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707. The new British Army incorporated Regiments that had already existed in England...

     during World War II
    World War II
    World War II, or the Second World War , was a global conflict lasting from 1939 to 1945, involving most of the world's nations—including all of the great powers—eventually forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis...

  • Special Interrogation Group
    Special Interrogation Group
    The Special Interrogation Group was a unit of the British Army during World War II. It was organized from German-speaking Jewish volunteers from the British Mandate of Palestine...

  • Koniuchy massacre
    Koniuchy massacre
    The Koniuchy massacre was a massacre of civilians carried out by a Soviet partisan unit along with a contingent of Jewish partisans under their command during the Second World War in the Polish village of Koniuchy on January 29, 1944.-Massacre:A small local self defence unit was created to defend...

  • Defiance (2008 film)
    Defiance (2008 film)
    Defiance is a 2008 World War II era film written, produced, and directed by Edward Zwick, set during the occupation of Belarus by Nazi Germany. The film is an account of the Bielski partisans, a group led by three Jewish brothers who saved and recruited Jews in Poland during the Second World War...

     - Film based on the Bielski Partisans
  • Parczew partisans
    Parczew partisans
    The area including Parczew and Włodawa counties near Lublin in the General Government became one of the primary battlefields of the Jewish partisan movement. An area of forests and lakes, with few passable roads, the Parczew forest was an ideal location for partisan activity. Notable partisan...

  • Zog Nit Keynmol
    Zog Nit Keynmol
    Zog Nit Keyn Mol is the name of a Yiddish song written in 1943 by Hirsh Glick, a young Jewish inmate of the Vilna Ghetto...

     - the "Partisan Hymn"

External links

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