Faces of Resistance: Women in the Holocaust
Estreya (Mara) Ovadia – 1923 – 1944
Esteria (Ester) Ovadia was born in the city of Betula, Southern Macedonia, to an impoverished in December 1923. Her family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods of the Jewish quarter of the city. There, she studied in the Jewish school and was a member of Hashomer Hatzair. After her father died, she quit school and supported her family. She and two friends were sent to Belgrade to work as apprentices in a local textile factory. There, she joined the communist political party. When the Nazis invaded Yugoslavia in 1941, she came home knowing that "All of us Jews, no matter where we will be, we will always be the first target of fascism."
The city of Betula was designated to the control of the Bulgarian Kingdom as a reward for joining the Axis powers. As a result, a resistance movement formed in which Jewish people played a central role. Ovadia was one of the first to join the resistance movement, alongside many of her friends from Hashomer Hatzair. She distributed resistance pamphlets and gathered volunteers for partisan units that started emerging in the surrounding forests.
In 1942, Bulgarian authorities were alerted to the locations of many Jewish resistance activities in the city and arrested a large group of activists. This imprisonment was a major blow to the resistance movement, which was forced to move further underground.
In early 1943, Macedonian Jews were deported en masse to Treblinka, encouraging many young people to join the partisans. Members of the resistance hid for five weeks in a shop, after which they were led covertly to the partisan unit established on Mount Bear (“Machka-Planina”). The young Jewish women each received a nickname, and thus, Ester Ovadia became Mara. Two weeks after arrival, the partisans attacked the Bulgarian police station in the village Buff. Eight station officers were captured and disarmed, their guns were given to new recruits (including Ovadia). The partisan unit continued to conduct a series of operations against the Bulgarian and Italian forces, in rural areas of Southern Macedonia and the Albanian border.
The partisan unit became a battalion in November 1943, when they confronted the local Nazi Wehrmacht units. The battalion inflicted heavy losses on the Nazis, and Ovadia herself stood out for her bravery, arming a heavy machine gun and eliminating an enemy squad.
In August 1944, her battalion set out to attack the Bulgarian Border Police headquarters. On August 26th, she was shot and killed.
In November 1944, Macedonia was liberated by the 7th Macedonian Partisan Brigade. On October 11th, 1953, Yugoslav President Josip Bruz Tito presented Ovadia with the “Heroine of Yugoslavia” medal. She was remembered as a symbol of humanity and heroism for the Jews of Betula. Her memory was also immortalized in a Macedonian folk song, which goes: “Remember her, brothers, Esteria Mara, Esteria Mara, fell for the people, for the people she fell, for Macedonia.”