Resistance during the Holocaust: An Exploration of the Jewish Partisans

European History

Essential Question

What can we learn about resistance during the Holocaust through the stories of Jewish partisans?


Too often, students of the Holocaust are left with the impression that Jews were simply helpless victims, lacking the courage or means to fight back. In fact, Jewish resistance against antisemitism and Nazi oppression occurred in every way imaginable, ranging from bold acts of defiance and altruism to armed resistance. 

In this unit, we focus on resistance as seen through the lens of the firsthand experiences of Jewish partisans, the women and men who fought in the armies of the Allies and the Soviet Union and in resistance brigades across Eastern Europe. Students will explore partisans’ lives, struggles, motivations, and goals through text- and video-based testimony, poetry, documentary film, and other primary sources. 

The activities included in this unit will deepen students’ knowledge of the Holocaust through an exploration of different acts of Jewish resistance, encouraging in the process the development of critical analysis and interpersonal communication skills as well as complicating their thinking about issues of identity and ethics during times of injustice and genocide. 

Teaching this Unit

This unit is made up of five lessons. The first lesson, Understanding Resistance, is intended to develop a common understanding among students of the term resistance and to build their knowledge of the Jewish partisan movement. The second, third, and fourth lessons, which can be taught independently or sequentially, explore the lives of three different Jewish partisans through a focus on such themes as identity, age, gender, and ethics. The fifth lesson is a multi-day research project that places student groups in charge of investigating the lives and choices of particular Jewish partisans through use of primary-source material collected in the Explore the Partisans section of this unit.

Learning Goals

  • Students will be able to define the concept of resistance and understand the term “Jewish partisan.”
  • Students will understand that the Jewish partisans played an important role in the resistance movement during the Holocaust.
  • Students will understand that circumstances can complicate our ethics and identity and can influence the choices we make.


Lesson 1 of 5

Understanding Resistance

Students learn about the concept of resistance as they are introduced to firsthand experiences of the extraordinary Jewish partisans. 

Lesson 2 of 5

Frank Blaichman: Ethics in a Time of Genocide

Students discover how a partisan unit developed its own ethical framework in the face of life-threatening situations.

Lesson 3 of 5

Vitka Kempner: Identity and Resistance

Students consider how identity, and in particular how age and gender, shaped a partisan's actions.

Lesson 4 of 5

Sonia Orbuch: Becoming a Partisan

Using a role identifying activity, students analyze the various roles undertaken by a teenage partisan during the Holocaust.

Lesson 5 of 5

Creating Student Projects

Using a project-based learning approach, students produce a museum exhibition that displays the stories of different partisans.

Looking for a Research Project for Your Students?

Investigate the lives of the Jewish partisans with these multimedia resources.

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