Hobbyist re-enactors bring Holocaust into the fold

 

Allison Hayden said she is tired of people not talking about the Holocaust when they re-enact World War II.

Hayden, an Israel, education and Jewish Community Relations Council program specialist at the Milwaukee Jewish Federation, is a hobbyist re-enactor. As a pastime, she combines her passions for performing and history to educate people on subjects they may not have learned about.

Hayden typically participates in a re-enactment of the 7th Banija division, a Yugoslavian unit from World War II. But for an upcoming event, she and her friends are branching out to tell a lesser-known story.

For a May event at Pioneer Village in Ozaukee County, Hayden is participating in a re-enactment of the Bielski brigade.

“If you want to accurately talk about history, you need to talk about all aspects, and you really need to talk about the Holocaust,” she said. “It can’t be ignored anymore in the re-enacting community, because it’s leading to a generation of people who don’t have as much Holocaust knowledge.”

The Bielski brothers created a family camp in the forest of Western Belarus, according to Yad Vashem. They created their partisan unit after their parents and other relatives were killed in a massacre of about 5,000 Jews in 1941, and went on to save about 1,200 Jews.

“I hear a lot of people say, ‘Well why did the Jews just let themselves get murdered in the Holocaust? Why didn’t they do anything to fight back?’” Hayden said. “I’ve always tried to be like, ‘No, they did fight back. There was a lot of resistance.’ But I feel like it’s never represented at re-enactments.”

Hayden is creating the impression with Daniel Palama, who founded their original 7th Banija unit. Palama, who has a degree in Holocaust studies, said his research shows the Bielski brigade became so organized that its village included a synagogue, schools and a hospital.

Palama said he wants people to learn from this re-enactment how a culture was lost as people were displaced from their homes – an issue he said is mostly skirted around in World War II re-enactments.

He also said the re-enacting community needs “a narrative that helps to make things much more complex than just the black-and-white of it being G.I. Joe versus Jerry from Bavaria.”

Hayden and Palama said they will create a camp with Jewish antiques for this impression, including prayer books, along with Russian and Polish Jewish books. In addition to being available throughout the day to talk with visitors, their unit is creating a formal presentation, they said.

Hayden said she hopes people will better understand the Jewish experience during the Holocaust.

“There was a sense that the Jews weren’t going to go down without a fight, and that Jewish life was present and precious,” she said. “Despite the best efforts of the Germans and their collaborators, they could escape, and they could move on and they did fight back. They didn’t just roll over to their deaths, as I’ve heard some people say.”

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How to go:

What: Re-enactment of the World War II Bielski brigade, a real-life Jewish partisan fighting unit, with at least a half-dozen re-enactors participating. Part of a larger “WWII Living History Event,” a large re-enactment.

When: Saturday, May 18, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Where: Ozaukee County Pioneer Village 4880 County Road I, Saukville.

Cost: $10 for adults, $8 for students and seniors, $5 for veterans and children.

More information: Ochs.Co.Ozaukee.Wi.Us/Events