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Partisans, Soldiers and Pioneers: Networks of "Resistance" among the She'erit Hapletah

Sun, December 16, 12:30 to 2:00pm, Seaport Hotel & World Trade Center, Cityview 2 Ballroom

Abstract

Between 1945 and 1947, the population of Holocaust survivors in Central Europe swelled to nearly 300,000, as surviving Jews, emerging from concentration camps, hiding places, the forests, and the Soviet Union found shelter in DP camps, primarily under the supervision of the US Army and UNRRA. In the aftermath, survivors formed transnational networks on the basis of shared wartime experience, common geographical origin, and shared political agendas that were far more specific than later more general categories of “Holocaust survivors.” Even so, although most of the surviving population had not been able to participate in the resistance, partisans and ghetto fighters rose to a position of prominence as leaders of the “She’erit Hapletah,” despite the fact that the organization of Partisans, Soldiers, and Pioneers (PH”H) constituted a small minority of the surviving population. With such a diverse range of wartime experiences, how and why did resistance come to be the preferred narrative of the surviving remnant, interested in hearing stories of those who fought and died for the Jewish future? And how was it that the memory of wartime heroism would become fused with the drive to create a Jewish state in the Land of Israel? Although dissenting voices in the DP camps argued against the creation of a cult of heroism, such concerns of political manipulation of the memory of the ghetto fighters were a minority viewpoint in the DP camps, as the Zionist political consensus coalesced around the largely unquestioned place of honor occupied by the ghetto fighters. The embrace of a shared wartime past of resistance was not merely ideological, however. Surviving ghetto fighters and partisans played a key role in organizing the Jewish population after the war, demonstrating that their wartime leadership in the resistance merited postwar leadership of the Jewish public. This paper will examine the place of the partisans, ghetto fighters, and “resistance” as an organizing principle in the collective identity of the surviving remnant, and the ways in which it was used to shape political activism among survivors after the war.

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