I’m Proud to Be a Partisan
One of the most pernicious and popular soundbites being exploited these days is the denigration of “partisanship.” When it comes out of the mouths of Republicans who perfected the art of soulless political grandstanding in the 90s, it’s hard enough to take. It’s even tougher to stomach when it comes from George Bush with his thorough devotion to Karl Rove (who needs no better reason to sabotage national security and flagrantly violate the law than the fact that someone is a Democrat). Then there are the useful idiots like Sam Waterston and the Unity ’08 nuts who really just don’t know what they’re talking about.
But people like Joe Lieberman (and his protege Barack Obama) who consistently indulge this frame ought to know that sometimes the right thing to do is to acknowledge that the other side cannot be bargained with, that no negotiation is possible, that what you’re up against is just wrong and it’s incumbent upon people of conscience to draw a line in the sand and say “enough.” That too is partisanship, and they need to stop decrying it just because it focus groups well with people sick of the GOP and their bully tactics. Partisanship in fact has a glorious history.
To backtrack just a bit, I arrived in the DC area about three weeks ago with one of my closest friends Linda M whom many people met at YK last year. Linda is the child of holocaust survivors. One of the things she wanted to do when she got here was go to the US Holocaust Museum, and we did. It was an extremely rewarding experience and I was so grateful to be able to share it with her but let me tell you, the only thing tougher than going through the Holocaust Museum is doing it with someone who has lived in its aftermath their entire life.
Every time we turned the corner there was something else that was right out of her parents’ past. A photo mural of Hungarians arriving at Auschwitz in 1944 told the story of her father, who stepped off a train at the age of 17 with no knowledge of what was going on. He was immediately separated from his family and asked someone where he could find them. The man pointed to the smoke billowing out of the smokestack and said “there’s your family. You’re young and strong. You’re going to have to fight to live.”
Linda was strong throughout, never broke down even as she steeled herself to step on the train like the one that carried her father to Auschwitz and tried to imagine what his experience must have been like. At one point we came upon one of the cement slabs where the gold teeth were extracted from the corpses before they went to the ovens. As one of the few Hungarians to survive Auschwitz because he was indeed young and strong, there were many things her father had to do that she knew about and this was one of them. She often wonders what he did not tell her.
We were there for five hours. I was still recovering from from chemo 5 days before so every once in a while I had to sit down and rest not only from the physical toll but also from the difficulty of staring into the hollow, hopeless faces of genocide for so long. It wasn’t exactly possible to start tapping my watch to hurry things along so I was writing my blogmates on my Treo to ask them to cover for me when Linda came around the corner crying.
“The partisans! It’s the partisans! They have a wall on the partisans!” Tears were streaming down her face as she grabbed me and pulled me into a section of the museum that was unlike any other we had been to. The faces were tired but full of hope, brave and invigorated and fueled with the fire of the fight. I’d heard Linda’s mom, recently deceased, was a member of the Jewish Partisans in Russia but I confess I really did not know their history up until then.
It was a glorious and awe inspiring tale:
Some Jews who managed to escape from ghettos and camps formed their own fighting units. These fighters, or partisans, were concentrated in densely wooded areas. A large group of partisans in occupied Soviet territory hid in a forest near the Lithuanian capital of Vilna. They were able to derail hundreds of trains and kill over 3,000 German soldiers.
Life as a partisan in the forest was difficult. People had to move from place to place to avoid discovery, raid farmers’ food supplies to eat, and try to survive the winter in flimsy shelters built from logs and branches. In some places, partisans received assistance from local villagers, but more often they could not count on help, partly because of widespread antisemitism, partly because of people’s fears of being severely punished for helping. The partisans lived in constant danger of local informers revealing their whereabouts to the Germans.
Many Jews participated in the partisan units formed in France and Italy to help regular Allied forces defeat German forces. They forged documents and identity cards, printed anti-Nazi leaflets, and assassinated collaborators.
Lieberman considers his refusal to criticize Republicans a reflection of the fact that he is above “partisan bickering,” but really it’s just collaboration with those who have gone utterly rogue and lawless. It’s an excuse to do their bidding for personal political gain. And with all due respect to Barack Obama, about whom there are many things to admire, the “pox on both your houses” messaging he so frequently invokes whether he is promoting himself or criticizing this administration does not do justice to those who have steadfastly fought the battle to hold George Bush, Dick Cheney and their criminal cabal accountable. Yes, we’re partisans.
So the next time someone starts throwing around blanket condemnations of all “partisanship,” be suspicious. And remind them that this too is what it means to be a partisan:
Twenty-three-year-old Hannah Senesh, a Hungarian Jew who emigrated to Palestine in 1939, was one of the thirty-two Palestinian parachutists the British dropped behind German lines to organize resistance and rescue efforts. Before crossing the border in Hungary on June 7, 1944, to warn Hungarian Jews about the extermination camps, Senesh, a poet, handed a poem to one of her companions. It ended with these lines: “Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor’s sake. Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.” Senesh was captured the next day and executed as a traitor to Hungary.
The need to fight right now to restore the Constitution and end the war is strong, and that means some people are going to have to take a stand against a ruthless and intractable opponent. We need to rally behind them and acknowledge their heroism rather than stand back and allow others to tear them down as “partisans” for their willingness to do so.
Because sometimes fighting is the right thing to do.
I’m proud to be a partisan.
(photo of Yugoslav partisans with Jewish parachutists from Palestine. Yugoslavia, 1944, from the USHMM.)