Thoughts on a Jewish freedom-fighter, Masha Bruskina

Israel/Palestine
on 10 Comments

This piece appeared lately at Occupation Magazine:

Recently I went to an exhibit, Shifting the Gaze: Painting and Feminism, at the Jewish Museum in New York City. 

bruskina I was particularly struck by Nancy Spero’s canvas about Masha Bruskina, a 17 year old Communist partisan–a volunteer nurse and leader of the Minsk resistance movement–who was arrested by the German authorities and publicly hanged. Before her execution, she was paraded around the streets with a sign that said, “We are partisans and have shot at German soldiers.” Despite being tortured, she never revealed the other members of her group and as she was about to be hung, refused to look at the crowd where the guards tried to force her gaze.

I was reading and looking at this piece when I got flashes of that morning’s news. The Jewish boat to Gaza had been intercepted by Israeli forces, but not before they made their voices heard along with the many other boats trying to contribute to the movement to break the siege of Gaza.

I was so moved by Masha Bruskina and challenged to think about the one life we live and how we live it. At seventeen years old, she chose to resist injustice at all costs. Tragically, she lost her life but never did she lose her integrity.

I read about Masha Bruskina and it makes me think more deeply about resistance. My thoughts go back to the news of the Jewish boat. I challenge myself about my own commitment.

I wonder what this young Jewish woman, an activist passionately committed to justice, would be doing if she were alive today. I think about this in the context of recent Israeli government actions–for example, the ongoing siege of Gaza, the loyalty oath, and the Judaization of East Jerusalem.

I imagine Masha Bruskina engaging with one or more of the many forms of resistance, reverberating within Palestine and without, responding to these and other Israeli government actions and demanding justice for the Palestinian people, the global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement called for by Palestinian civil society; the Jewish boat and the flotillas of boats from around the world; the organizing on the ground opposing the Wall and the occupation; the cultural resistance through theatre and music and film; and the ongoing work of solidarity among communities everywhere.

Masha Bruskina got inside my soul. Her courage, her integrity. Maybe part of it is that when she was resisting fascism, she was the age of my daughter whom I see growing up with a tremendous commitment to pursuing justice.

As someone who draws inspiration from those parts of Jewish history where injustice was not tolerated, I want to keep the memory of Masha Bruskina alive; to me, that is one meaningful way I, as a Jew, can both remember our freedom fighters and re-commit myself to standing with the Palestinian people in the struggle for dignity and for justice.

Donna Nevel, a community psychologist and educator, is a long time organizer on Palestine-Israel.

About Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is Founder and Co-Editor of Mondoweiss.net.

Other posts by .


Posted In:

10 Responses

  1. eee
    December 15, 2010, 1:21 pm

    Please, if you want to fight fascism go to Gaza or Ramallah.
    Oh, how brave were the Jews on the boat. Comparing them to Bruskina and her very real sacrifice is a travesty.
    If you were really brave and committed you would come to Israel and fight a political battle to convince Israelis, not put on plays and watch movies in NY.

    • janeinmia
      December 17, 2010, 6:10 pm

      eee has no idea who Donna Nevel is or the depth of her commitment to the cause of justice for Palestinians. Those who do know her never fail to be amazed and inspired by her life-long passion for human rights of all kinds, in particular Donna’s decades long and intense activism on behalf of Palestinian rights.

  2. Mooser
    December 15, 2010, 1:24 pm

    “I, as a Jew, can both remember our freedom fighters and re-commit myself to standing with the Palestinian people in the struggle for dignity and for justice.”

    For some reason, after reading this article about a Communist partisan all I can think is: ” Please don’t do those poor Palestinians any favors”
    Figure the Palestinians and Jewish Communists can march forward together into the Worker’s Paradise? Hoo Boy!

    • Colin Murray
      December 15, 2010, 8:11 pm

      I second your notion. Some leftists on this issue just have no clue how to connect to people outside their own bubbles. It doesn’t matter how heroic Bruskina was, a Communist role model buys you nothing but bewilderment or contempt from the vast majority of Americans who might otherwise give you the time of day.

      Yes, yes, the Nazis were an abomination and their occupation of the Soviet Union was horrific, but the Communists were at least as bad. In point of fact, within the first disastrous year of the war against Nazi Germany, Stalin retooled his propaganda machine to emphasize loyalty to the Motherland at the expense of Communist ideology, even re-implementing ‘bourgeois’ officers’ ranks and privileges. The vast majority of Soviet citizens simply weren’t motivated to fight by it.

      Why on Earth would a contemporary moderate Westerner be inspired by Communist sacrifice? The author needed to emphasize the struggle-against-fascism part and leave the Communist stuff on the sidelines. Perhaps this isn’t fair to Bruskina, but this isn’t about what’s fair. It is about what works to convince Americans to turn against Israeli ethnic cleansing and Jewish colonization and those who support them.

      • Ofer Neiman
        December 16, 2010, 12:27 pm

        Disagree. The Nazi ideology was INHERENTLY abominable. Not true for Marxist ideology. On the contrary.

        It may not be appealing to the American public, but give this public a few more years of imperial collapse, energy sources scarcity, and rising poverty, and “Socialism” may become much more palatable a word. Think Sweden.

        Bruskina was a humanist, a hero, not a Nazi activist.

  3. hophmi
    December 15, 2010, 1:29 pm

    “I wonder what this young Jewish woman, an activist passionately committed to justice, would be doing if she were alive today. I think about this in the context of recent Israeli government actions–for example, the ongoing siege of Gaza, the loyalty oath, and the Judaization of East Jerusalem.”

    Or maybe she’d have gone to Israel, fought with the Irgun, and would be standing up today for the right of Jews to self-determination. Don’t wrap yourself in the cloak of martyrs of other causes. They’re not here to support you.

    • Ofer Neiman
      December 16, 2010, 12:29 pm

      But look who’s talking on behalf of Holocaust victims…
      we all know that these millions wanted Israel to exist, THIS type of Israel. Ask Netanyahu.

    • pjdude
      December 17, 2010, 6:35 am

      the jews don’t have a right to self determination. religions don’t get that right(which why Israel and the holy see as countries for religions both need to go the way of the dinosaur). and even if we accept the jews as an ethnicity(something I am loathe to do) they still wouldn’t have the right to self determination in the way you are claiming because that right is vested in the legitimate population of a territory. to claim a jewish right of self determination is to spit on everything that self determination is.

      and why would we support Israel if some commusnist girl fought for a jewish terror group?

  4. jon s
    December 17, 2010, 4:52 am

    All those who fought against the Nazis were heroes -regardless of their politics . Communists, Zionists, Bundists, Orthodox, assimilationists…whatever.

    Incidentally, today is the 10th of Tevet, a fast day, also designated as “yom ha’kaddish ha’cllali” , the “general Kaddish day” for victims of the Holocaust whose day of death (yahrzeit) is unknown.
    We should all take a few moments, and recite the Kaddish at least once today in memory of one such victim.

Leave a Reply