Remembering Frank Blaichman, a Jewish Partisan Hero

Jan. 31 2019

Born in the Polish town of Kamionka in 1922, Frank Blaichman died last month in his Manhattan home. In 1942, three years after the start of the Nazi occupation, Blaichman fled Kamionka for the forests, where he found fellow Jews eager to fight back against the Third Reich. Neil Genzlinger writes:

[Blaichman soon] organized a defense force, though at first its main weapon was illusion created with pitchforks. “We broke off all the teeth, left one tooth on, and put a strap on the shoulder,” he said in [his] oral history. “From far away it looked like a rifle.”

Illusion of a sort also helped them acquire real weapons in the winter of 1942-43. His group learned of a farmer who had a stash of guns. He and another man went to see the farmer and convinced him that they were Russian paratroopers under orders to establish a resistance unit to battle the Germans. The ruse worked. “When we headed back to the forest, we had eight weapons,” Mr. Blaichman wrote. “Finally we could defend ourselves.”

The group grew more sophisticated and better armed, and Blaichman eventually commanded more than 100 armed Jewish partisans. His group linked up with other Jewish partisans, as well as groups like the [Polish] Communist partisan force Armia Ludowa, and spent the war disrupting German supply lines and communications and ferreting out Poles who were collaborating with the Nazis.

After the war Blaichman was assigned to the Polish Security Police, a unit of Poland’s new government, and given the job of tracking down Nazi collaborators. [In his memoir], Blaichman [depicted] certain other resistance groups as being severely anti-Semitic. That anti-Semitism . . . continued in postwar Poland. “As part of my job, I had interviewed many Poles who, unaware that I was a Jew, made no attempt to conceal their feelings about Jews,” he wrote. “As a result, I had come to realize the depth of Polish anti-Semitism.”

Blaichman and his wife, also a partisan veteran, quickly decided Poland was no place for Jews and emigrated to the U.S. Besides writing a book about his experiences, he was also active in efforts to commemorate Jewish resistance, and was instrumental in the creation of Jerusalem’s memorial to the partisans.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas, Holocaust, Resistance

 

Who Changed the Term “Nakba” into a Symbol of Arab Victimization?

April 19 2019

In contemporary Palestinian discourse, not to mention that of the Palestinians’ Western supporters, the creation of the state of Israel is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe—sometimes explicitly compared with the Holocaust. The very term has come to form a central element in a narrative of passive Palestinian suffering at Jewish hands. But when the Syrian historian Constantin Zureiq first used the term with regard to the events of 1948, he meant something quite different, and those responsible for changing its meaning were none other than Israelis. Raphael Bouchnik-Chen explains:

In his 1948 pamphlet The Meaning of the Disaster (Ma’na al-Nakba), Zureiq attributed the Palestinian/Arab flight to the stillborn pan-Arab assault on the nascent Jewish state rather than to a premeditated Zionist design to disinherit the Palestinian Arabs. “We [Arabs] must admit our mistakes,” [he wrote], “and recognize the extent of our responsibility for the disaster that is our lot.” . . . In a later book, The Meaning of the Catastrophe Anew, published after the June 1967 war, he defined that latest defeat as a “Nakba,” . . . since—just as in 1948—it was a self-inflicted disaster emanating from the Arab world’s failure to confront Zionism. . . .

It was only in the late 1980s that it began to be widely perceived as an Israeli-inflicted injustice. Ironically, it was a group of politically engaged, self-styled Israeli “new historians” who provided the Palestinian national movement with perhaps its best propaganda tool by turning the saga of Israel’s birth upside down, with aggressors turned into hapless victims, and vice-versa, on the basis of massive misrepresentation of archival evidence.

While earlier generations of Palestinian academics and intellectuals had refrained from exploring the origins of the 1948 defeat, the PLO chairman Yasir Arafat, who was brought to Gaza and the West Bank as part of the 1993 Oslo Accords and was allowed to establish his Palestinian Authority (PA) in parts of those territories, grasped the immense potential of reincarnating the Nakba as a symbol of Palestinian victimhood rather than a self-inflicted disaster. In 1998, he proclaimed May 15 a national day of remembrance of the Nakba. In subsequent years, “Nakba Day” has become an integral component of the Palestinian national narrative and the foremost event commemorating their 1948 “catastrophe.”

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More about: Arab World, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, New historians, Yasir Arafat