Jewish armed resistence

Jewish armed resistence

Nazi treatment of any act of resistance was extremely harsh. In addition it was almost impossible to get hold of weapons.

The majority of people lived within family groups, which included the elderly, the young and the vulnerable. Initially people did not resist, fearing it would affect their families. However, there were many examples of physical resistance in the ghettos after the deportation of the children and the old.

In France at least a quarter of the famous French resistance was Jewish. Jewish armed resistance groups also operated in Italy, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Yugoslavia. Thousands of Jewish men and women joined the partisans in Yugoslavia and fought in the forests of Slovakia and Eastern Europe. Very few Jews who took up arms against the Nazis survived.

The Bielski Brigade

Throughout the War the Bielski brothers carried out a continuous guerrilla war against the Nazis. They often used captured German weapons gained from ambushed German patrols. They also derailed troop trains and blew up bridges and electricity stations.

Who were these remarkable resisters to the Nazis?

The Bielski family were millers and grocers living and working in and around a town called Novogrudek, in the Soviet Union. In 1941, the Nazis established a ghetto in the town. In December 1941, after their parents were killed in the ghetto the brothers fled to the nearby Naliboki forest.

In the spring of 1942, some 40 people had formed a partisan group deep in the forest. The oldest brother, Tuvia, was their leader. They formed a camp that was more like a small village in the forest. Eventually the partisan group had 1,236 members, 70% of whom were women, children and the elderly. Within the camp they built kitchens, a mill, a bakery, a bathhouse, a medical clinic and a metal workshop to repair damaged weapons. There was also a school and a synagogue

About 150 from the group were involved in armed resistance against the Nazis. They attacked the Nazis and their collaborators, often carrying out sabotage missions.

Under Tuvia’s leadership the Bielski group remained independent from other resistance groups and worked to protect Jews and attack Nazis. At one point the Nazis had to allocate a large amount of vital resources to try to defeat the partisans. 

The Bielski group was eventually divided into two groups. One led by Tuvia became the Soviet Army’s Kalinin Unit. It eventually returned victoriously to Novogrudek as the War ended. Three of the four brothers survived the War and as their story became widely known, they became regarded as leading resistance fighters against the Nazis.