Understanding Resistance | Facing History & Ourselves
Russian partisans, one of them photographer Faye Schulman, gathering together in the forest, Naliboki Forest, Belarus, December 1944. The Molotava Brigade was a partisan group made up mostly of escaped Soviet Army POWs. The woman pictured is Faye Schulman, a Jewish woman who fled into the Naliboki forest with her camera equipment and joined the Molotova Brigade. For two years in the forest she photographed the partisan's activities, worked as medical aid and participated in the partisans raid's.

Understanding Resistance

Understand the many forms that Jewish resistance to fascism, antisemitism, and Nazism took. 


One 50-min class period


  • History
  • Social Studies




English — US



About this Lesson

Jewish resistance to the Nazis took many forms, ranging from bold acts of defiance and altruism to armed resistance. In this lesson, students are introduced to resistance through the singular voices of those who took part in the Jewish partisan movement, as some of their stories, motivations, and goals are revealed in poetry, film (an introductory video), and writing (Abba Kovner’s call to resistance in his Ghetto Manifesto). The activities included in this lesson will deepen students’ knowledge of the Holocaust through an exploration of different acts of Jewish resistance and will encourage the development of critical analysis and interpersonal communication skills. Students brainstorm together to write their own definition of resistance and deconstruct Abba Kovner’s Ghetto Manifesto, focusing on word choice and phrases to evaluate the meaning of his call to resistance.

This lesson sets the stage for the rest of the unit by providing students with the background to understand, identify, and investigate the stories of the partisans and the choices they made.

What can be learned from the experiences of the Jewish partisans during the Holocaust?

Students will be able to:

  • Understand the term “Jewish partisan”
  • Define and discuss the concept of resistance
  • Relate the importance of resistance to the Jewish partisans
  • Summarize the goals of the Jewish partisans
  • Analyze words and phrases written by Abba Kovner in his call to resistance

This lesson includes:

  • 3 Lessons
  • 2 Documents
  • 1 Video

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Lesson Plans


  • Help students establish a working definition for the word resistance. A working definition is one that builds in meaning as students receive information and gain clarity on the topic being explored. You might choose to begin by discussing the definition of resistance: “The refusal to accept or comply with something; the attempt to prevent something by action or argument.”
  • Have students work in small groups, and ask each group to create their own definition of resistance.
  • Next, have students read the poem “Resistance Is...,” which explores the different ways that Jews resisted during the Holocaust. Then ask students whether they would revise their definition after reading the poem.

This lesson focuses on Jewish partisan resistance. To give students background, have them read Jewish Partisans in the Resistance before viewing and discussing the film “Introduction to the Jewish Partisans”.

  • Focus the class discussion on the resistance tactics used by the partisans by asking these questions:
    • What motivated the partisans, and what were their goals? What similarities and differences do you notice across the different partisans in the video? 
    • What challenges did the partisans face?
    • How did they survive? 

Now that students have begun to explore the concept of resistance, they will review a very specific call to resistance: the Vilna Ghetto Manifesto written by Abba Kovner. 

  • To begin, divide the class into small groups and ask students to read through the The Vilna Ghetto Manifesto using the Close Reading Protocol. Have one student from each small group read the text out loud as the others follow in silence. Then have each small group discuss the following questions. Have one student in each group take notes that include the significant points of their discussion. 
    • What was the objective of the manifesto? How do you think Kovner wanted people to respond?
    • What is he asking the ghetto’s inhabitants to believe, and what is he asking them not to believe?
  • Ask the small groups to read the passage one more time. This time, ask them to focus on the language and answer the following questions:
    • What metaphors, words, or phrases does Kovner use to convince people that Ponary is not a labor camp?
    • Which words or phrases have the most impact?
  • Have each group review the first definition of resistance that they wrote earlier in the lesson. Encourage them to discuss whether or not they think they need to make changes based on examining Abba Kovner’s call to resistance. If the answer is yes, give them time to do so.
  • In the closing discussion, ask each group to share their definition of resistance and tell whether they revised that definition after they read the Ghetto Manifesto (and why). Then conclude the discussion by asking the class: Where do the experiences of Jewish partisans fit in with your understanding of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust?

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