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On this date in 1941, only days after Nazi Germany invaded the USSR and the lands it dominated, Joseph Stalin called for the formation of Soviet partisan units that would undermine the Nazi war effort. By late August, there were some 230 partisan units active in Byelorussia, with about 5,000 fighters, according to Yad Vashem’s Shoah Resource Center — a number that swelled by 1944 to more than 300,000. Partisans were also very active in the Ukraine, but less so in Poland, which had a less forested landscape. “Scholars believe that some 20-30,000 Jews participated in the partisan units,” writes Yad Vashem. “The Eastern European forest was a natural place for Jews running from the Nazis to hide and regroup... the territory was full of thick woodlands and many swamps, which provided ample cover,” and “many of the Jews had lived in nearby areas before the war and were familiar with the terrain.” In Lithuania, some 850 Jews made up more than 10 percent of the active partisan forces, and are thought to have killed more than 3,000 German troops. In recent years, some Jewish survivors of these partisan groups have been investigated by the Lithuanian government for possible “war crimes,” as part of an historical revisionist effort to view Nazi and Soviet domination of Lithuania as equally malign. To read “Soviet Jewish Partisans,” Jack Nusan Porter’s 1982 article from our Sid Resnick Archive, click here.
“Jews did not join the partisans as a normal act of choice. We were forced to fight the Nazis to save ourselves from extermination. We took the gun in our hands in a desperate situation, when our parents, brothers and sisters were murdered, when children were grabbed from their mothers and sent to their gruesome death. We fought in order to survive; we fought against fascism, which was our enemy, the enemy of all democratic forces and the enemy of Lithuania.... However, in a military action, you cannot avoid civilian casualties and death. That is the ugly reality of war, particularly a war of partisans who live in the forest and do battle against a world power.” —Sara Ginaite (pictured above), “ ‘Investigating’ Jewish Partisans in Lithuania”