Number of Soldiers: 4,572
Number of Fallen: 1,318
Number of Medal Holders:: 160
With a tradition of defiance against foreign rule, the population’s resistance to the Nazi occupier in Yugoslavia began right upon completion of the Country’s occupation by the Germans. Various Groups, made of members of Army and the Gendarmerie, fled to the mountains and started getting organized and preparing to fight the Germans. One of those Groups was the Chetniks (Armed Guerrilla Groups, in Serbian), under the command of Colonel Draza Mihajlovic who wanted to raise an Underground Army and fight the Germans in cooperation with the Allies. A second Group was the Communists, who got organized under the command of Josip Broz Tito and called themselves Partisans; they waited for the Soviet Union to enter the war. Shortly after the launching of the German Offensive on the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa), they started a widespread rebellion against the occupation Forces. This struggle began in July, 1941, at the outset of the Serbian Uprising. The Communists soon became the leading factor in it, and in mid-1943 upwards of 200,000 fighters were already fighting in their ranks. At the height of the battle these fighters compelled the German Army to employ 20 Divisions against them.
Jews in a great majority joined Tito’s camp and they did it on a relatively large scale. The names of 4,572 Jews were counted operating within the ranks of Tito’s Organization. About 3,000 of them served with the Fighting Forces and the rest with Auxiliary Units.
1,318 Jewish fighters fell in battle;
150 were awarded with the medal of “Partizanska Spomenica 1941”, a commemorative medal of the Partisans;
10 others were awarded with the highest Yugoslav decoration – “Nardoni Heroji Jugoslavije”, or National Hero of Yugoslavia.
Many Jews held senior ranks, including that of General.
Jews played an important role in the establishment of medical services for the Partisans and in the logistical infrastructure of the entire Partisan Army. The Partisan leadership demonstrated a strong friendship towards the Jews and extended them a lot of help, often even making considerable efforts to come to their rescue. Expressions of Anti-Semitism in the Yugoslav Underground were rare.
Most of the Jews of Slovenia were deported to the Island of Rab, off the Croatian Coast, where they managed to raise a battalion of Jewish fighters in the framework of the Yugoslav Underground. This battalion withstood severe German pressure until its dismantling after about six months, and the remaining fighters joined other Underground Units.
Jews also joined local Undergrounds in Slovenia.
In Macedonia, 69 Jews joined Partisan Units, and 14 of them fell in battle.
The partisan movement in Yugoslavia was significant. There were 4,572 Jews listed as partisans, 3,000 of whom where in fighting units. Since the Jews were recognized as equals due to fierce lack of institutional antisemitism, they did not need to have their own units, and there was nothing Jewish about the make-up of the units in which they served. The large number of Jewish partisans is especially remarkable given the obstacles they faced in joining the resistance. When the resistance began in the fall of 1941, the majority of the Jews of Yugoslavia had been murdered. Those who could fight had to find a way to reach the remote region where the combat was being waged.
One thousand three hundred and eighteen died in the conflict; 150 received the First of the Fighters Medal. Ten Jews were given the National Hero award, the highest medal awarded by the Yugoslavian government. A number of Jews became high-ranking officers in the partisan movement including General Voja Todorovic, who became head of the land forces after the war, and Dr. Rosa Papo, the first woman to become a general in the Yugoslav army. Jews took a key position in establishing the medical corps under the direction of Dr. Herbert Kraus.
JPEF - Partisans Operating In Yugoslavia
Many Yugoslav Jews, both women and men,whether or not they had been
Communists before the war, joined the Partisans. They were warmly received and suffered no discrimination due to antisemitism. As a result, a remarkably large number of Partisan women fighters, especially within the medical corps, were Jews. Indeed, roughly half of 1,075 Jewish medical workers documented by Jaša Romano as having been actively involved in the National Liberation Movement were women. This list of Jewish Partisan women includes 384 nurses, thirty-nine physicians, nineteen medics, eighteen pharmacists, and about fifty other medical personnel; more than a hundred of these women lost their lives during the fighting. Among the Jewish women physicians who had been involved in left-wing activities before the war and joined the Partisans at the beginning of the uprising in 1941 were Roza Papo (1913–199?), Lota Ejdus (1913–1941), and Berta Bergmann (1892–1945) from Bosnia; Ru?ica Ripp (1914–1942) and Ru?ica Blau-Fran?eti? (b. 1914) from the Vojvodina; and Klara First (1908–1944) and Frida Guttmann (1896–1944), foreign-born women who practiced medicine in Serbia. A second group of Jewish women physicians, including Zora Goldschmid-Steiner (1902–1985), Julijana Kraus-Lederer (1893–1942), Klara Fischer-Lederer (1908–1985), Marija Schlesinger-Brand (1895–1943), Ljuba Neumann (1894–1943), and Eta Najfeld-Spitzer (b. 1916), were among the eighty-one Croatian Jewish physicians whom the Ustaša authorities sent to Bosnia to combat endemic syphilis in 1941; virtually the entire cohort of physicians later joined the Partisans. Some Jewish women, including Milica Band-Kun (1913–1943), worked as physicians in Croatian concentration camps, such as Loborgrad, a camp for women and children; others directed Partisan field hospitals. Several women physicians were promoted to officer rank and received military decorations for their war service; out of thirty-nine Jewish women physicians fighting with the Partisans, thirteen lost their lives. Among the survivors, Roza Papo became the first female major-general in the Yugoslav Army after the war; several other Jewish women Partisans also continued to serve as army physicians as well.
In addition to the many Jewish women who served in the Partisan medical corps, Jewish women from all walks of life also took part in the Yugoslav resistance movement. While some were among the “first fighters” who joined the Partisans in 1941 or 1942, many others became involved in 1943 or later. Jewish women who were fortunate enough to escape to the Italian-occupied zone within Croatia, especially those interned in camps on the island of Rab in the Adriatic, became involved in resistance activities in 1943, joining the Jewish Rab Battalion or other Partisan forces. Many of those who perished received recognition for their service to their country on various memorial plaques after the war. Estreja Ovadija (1922–1944), a young textile worker from Bitola who was active in the Communist youth movement and then the Communist Party during the war, joined the Partisans in 1943 and served as political commissar in a battalion of the Macedonian Brigade. Killed in the fighting in 1944, nine years later she became the only Jewish woman ever declared a National Hero, the highest designation for wartime bravery in Yugoslavia.
by Harriet Freidenreich