This piece was first published as ‘Discovering My Family’s Legacy as Jewish Partisans’ on The Sisterhood blog at the Forward.
Michal Oshman, a trailblazing Jewish educator who has been nominated for special recognition by the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation at its upcoming annual gala, always sensed her family’s past was different from that of other families. Growing up in South Florida, she noticed that her grandparents were always invited to light a candle at her community’s annual Yom HaShoah commemoration, but she didn’t know the details of their Holocaust stories.
That all changed when she and her family attended a special advance screening of Edward Zwick’s 2008 film, “Defiance,” about the Bielski partisans brigade during WWII. She looked over at her grandfather as he watched a scene where the partisans walked through a body of water, plucking leeches from their skin. Her grandfather was wiping his forehead as he relived his actual experience of what was shown in the movie. That powerful moment spurred Oshman to learn in detail and depth about her ancestor’s experiences as Jewish partisans.
“Tuvia Bielski [one of the brothers who led the Bielski brigade] was at my bat mitzvah, but I didn’t know who he was at the time,” Oshman, 39, recalled in a conversation with The Sisterhood. Now, of course, she knows why Bielski was celebrating with her family, and how his presence at her simcha makes her part of a special circle with a unique legacy.
This legacy will be front and center at JPEF’s event in New York on October 28. The organization will recognize third generation Jewish partisans (grandchildren of the WWII-era partisans) who are making an impact by perpetuating the history and inspiration of their grandparents.
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© 2013 Renee Ghert-Zand. All rights reserved.