For Teachers

About Essie and the Bielski Partisans

Esia “Essie” Shor was just 16 when the Nazis invaded her town, Novogrudek (then a part of Poland, now in Belarus)‚ and killed 4000 Jews on a single day, including her mother and all her brothers and sisters. The 700 who remained, including Essie and her father, were herded into prison-like conditions in the ghetto the Nazis established. But Essie escaped at night through a hole in the fence, and became one of the first 25 Jews to join her cousins, the Bielski Brothers, in an encampment that would eventually save 1200 Jews (including her father, who followed her later). She spent two years living in the forest camp, was one of only two girls to go on armed missions, worked side by side with Jewish and non-Jewish fighters, and was an active part of this unusual community.

After the war, she married, emigrated to the United States, and worked as an elementary school teacher for 15 years, from 1990 to 2005. Her students often asked her about her European accent, and about her life during the war, and those conversations inspired Essie to think about writing a book. She wanted a response to her students asking her why she was different, and she promised her students that one day she would write a book and tell them her story. Now, at last, she shares her story of courage and survival—and the crucial message that any one of us can make a difference, and that in troubled times, ordinary people can become extraordinary.

Now in her eighties, she lives in New York City.

Her book tells the story of those two years, including:

  • The terrible Nazi selection process, and the massacre that followed
  • Escaping with the aid of the family she worked for as a slave‚ and from a former teacher she found in a chance encounter in a field
  • Being coerced to accompany a group of drunken and dangerous Russian partisans on a mission‚ and then making her way back on foot after they abandoned her
  • The dramatic rescue of her cousin’s daughter from the family that had sheltered her during the war but refused to give her back when the war was over

If you’d like to use Essie: The True Story of a Teenage Fighter in the Bielski Partisans in the Classroom

Essie’s book makes an excellent addition to any curriculum on the Holocaust, resistance to totalitarianism, women’s studies, Jewish studies, or Eastern European history. For 2008-09, The Jewish Partisan Education Foundation is teaching 6000 Educators about the Bielski Partisans. We would be happy to supply books in quantity, at a 30 percent discount for any order of 10 or more (plus shipping at actual cost).

Essie is also available to have a 15-minute conference call with your class, at no charge. She can also make a limited number of in-person appearances, especially in the New York City and Philadelphia areas‚ please contact us to discuss fees, dates, and content.

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