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- Definition

in Ghettos
and Camps

Jewish Resistance:

in the

Did the Jews
to the Nazi’s Inhumane Policies


In his book ‘The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy’,
Martin Gilbert defines Jewish resistance as

"In every ghetto, in every deportation train, in every labor camp, even in the death camps, the will to resist was strong, and took many forms. Fighting with the few weapons that would be found, individual acts of defiance and protest, the courage of obtaining food and water under the threat of death, the superiority of refusing to allow the Germans their final wish to gloat over panic and despair.

Even passivity was a form of resistance. To die with dignity was a form of resistance. To resist the demoralizing, brutalizing force of evil, to refuse to be reduced to the level of animals, to live through the torment, to outlive the tormentors, these too were acts of resistance. Merely to give a witness of these events in testimony was, in the end, a contribution to victory. Simply to survive was a victory of the human spirit.

See Also  Resistance in the Holocaust, Fighting back any way they could.  
Eli Barnavi. My Jewish Learning

Holocaust Encyclopedia  


Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements developed in approximately 100 ghettos in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe (about one-fourth of all ghettos), especially in Poland, Lithuania, Belorussia, and the Ukraine. Their main goals were to organize uprisings, break out of the ghettos, and join partisan units in the fight against the Germans.

The Jews knew that uprisings would not stop the Germans and that only a handful of fighters would succeed in escaping to join the partisans. Still, some Jews made the decision to resist. Weapons were smuggled into ghettos. Inhabitants in the ghettos of Vilna, Mir, Lachva (Lachwa), Kremenets, Czestochowa, Nesvizh, Sosnowiec, and Tarnow, among others, resisted with force when the Germans began to deport ghetto populations. In Bialystok, the underground staged an uprising just before the final destruction of the ghetto in September 1943. Most of the ghetto fighters, primarily young men and women, died during the fighting.

The Warsaw ghetto uprising in the spring of 1943 was the largest single revolt by Jews. Hundreds of Jews fought the Germans and their auxiliaries in the streets of the ghetto. Thousands of Jews refused to obey German orders to report to an assembly point for deportation. In the end the Nazis burned the ghetto to the ground to force the Jews out. Although they knew defeat was certain, Jews in the ghetto fought desperately and valiantly.


Under the most adverse conditions, Jewish prisoners succeeded in initiating resistance and uprisings in some Nazi camps. The surviving Jewish workers launched uprisings even in the extermination camps of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz-Birkenau. About 1,000 Jewish prisoners participated in the revolt in Treblinka. On August 2, 1943, Jews seized what weapons they could find—picks, axes, and some firearms stolen from the camp armory—and set fire to the camp. About 200 managed to escape. The Germans recaptured and killed about half of them.

On October 14, 1943, prisoners in Sobibor killed 11 SS guards and police auxiliaries and set the camp on fire. About 300 prisoners escaped, breaking through the barbed wire and risking their lives in the minefield surrounding the camp. Over 100 were recaptured and later shot.

On October 7, 1944, prisoners assigned to Crematorium IV at Auschwitz-Birkenau rebelled after learning that they were going to be killed. The Germans crushed the revolt and murdered almost all of the several hundred prisoners involved in the rebellion.

Other camp uprisings took place in the Kruszyna (1942), Minsk-Mazowiecki (1943), and Janowska (1943) camps. In several dozen camps prisoners organized escapes to join partisan units. Successful escapes were made, for example, from the Lipowa Street labor camp in Lublin.

Despite being vastly outgunned and outnumbered, some Jews in ghettos and camps did resist the Germans with force. The spirit of these efforts transcends their failure to halt the genocidal policies of the Nazis.

Holocaust Encyclopedia

Most Jewish armed resistance took place after 1942, as a desperate effort, after it became clear to those who resisted that the Nazis had murdered most of their families and their coreligionists. Despite great obstacles (such as lack of armaments and training, conducting operations in a hostile zone, reluctance to leave families behind, and the ever-present Nazi terror), many Jews throughout German-occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans. As individuals and in groups, Jews engaged in opposition to the Germans and their Axis partners. Jewish resistance units operated in France, Belgium, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, and Poland. Jews also fought in general French, Italian, Yugoslav, Greek, and Soviet resistance organizations.


In eastern Europe, Jewish units fought the Germans in city ghettos and behind the front lines in the forests. While most Jewish armed resistance began in 1943, it should be noted that the general resistance movements in the region, operating under more favorable circumstances and with a more sympathetic local population, also did not start until 1943.

Despite minimal support and even antisemitic hostility from the surrounding population, thousands of Jews battled the Germans in eastern Europe. Resistance units emerged in over 100 ghettos in Poland, Lithuania, Belorussia, and the Ukraine. Jews resisted when the Germans attempted to establish ghettos in a number of small towns in eastern Poland in 1942. Revolts took place in Starodubsk, Kletsk, Lachva, Mir, Tuchin, and several other towns. As the Germans liquidated the major ghettos in 1943, they met with armed Jewish resistance in Krakow (Cracow), Bialystok, Czestochowa, Bedzin, Sosnowiec, and Tarnow, as well as a major uprising in Warsaw. Thousands of Jews escaped from the ghettos and joined partisan units in nearby forests. Jews from Minsk, for example, established seven partisan fighting units. Jews from Vilna, Riga, and Kovno also formed resistance units.

In western Belorussia, the western Ukraine, and eastern Poland, family camps were established in which Jewish civilians repaired weapons, made clothing, cooked for the fighters, and assisted Soviet partisan operations. As many as 10,000 Jews survived the war by taking refuge with Jewish partisan units. The camp established by Tuvia Bielski in the Naliboki Forest in 1942, for example, gave refuge to more than 1,200 Jews.

There were even uprisings in the killing centers of Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz during 1943-1944.


 In France, the "Armée Juive" (Jewish Army), a French Jewish partisan group, was founded in Toulouse in January 1942. Composed of members of Zionist youth movements, the Jewish Army operated in and around Toulouse, Nice, Lyon, and Paris. Its members smuggled money from Switzerland into France to assist Jews in hiding, smuggled at least 500 Jews and non-Jews into neutral Spain, and took part in the 1944 uprisings against the Germans in Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse. "Solidarité," a Jewish Communist unit, also carried out attacks on German personnel in Paris. Many Jews joined the general French resistance as well.

In Belgium, a combined Jewish and non-Jewish resistance unit (also named "Solidarité") derailed a deportation train in April 1943. On July 25, 1942, Jewish resisters attacked and burned the files of the organization that the Nazis had forced on the Jews of Belgium. Jews were also active in the Dutch and Italian underground movements.

The impact of armed Jewish resistance should not be exaggerated. It did little to stop the Nazi apparatus from implementing the mass murder of the Jews. Most Jewish resistance to the Nazis focused on rescue, escape, aid to those in hiding, and spiritual resistance. Nevertheless, organized armed resistance was the most direct form of Jewish opposition to the Nazis.

Holocaust Encyclopedia

The deprivations of ghetto life and the constant fear of Nazi terror made resistance difficult and dangerous but not impossible. In addition to armed resistance, Jews engaged in various forms of unarmed defiance. These included organized attempts at escaping from the ghettos into nearby forests, non-compliance with Nazi demands on the part of certain Jewish community leaders, illegal smuggling of food into the ghettos, and spiritual resistance.

Spiritual resistance refers to attempts by individuals to maintain their humanity, personal integrity, dignity, and sense of civilization in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize and degrade them. Most generally, spiritual resistance may refer to the refusal to have one's spirit broken in the midst of the most horrible degradation. Cultural and educational activities, maintenance of community documentation, and clandestine religious observances are three examples of spiritual resistance.


 Throughout occupied Poland, hundreds of clandestine schools and classes were organized inside the ghettos. Going to and from class in various apartments and basements, students hid their books under their clothing. Jews smuggled books and manuscripts into many ghettos for safekeeping, and opened underground libraries in numerous ghettos. These underground libraries included the secret library at Czestochowa, Poland, which served more than 1,000 readers. Activists established a 60,000-volume library in the Theresienstadt ghetto, near Prague.

In the ghettos, Jews also engaged—insofar as possible—in a variety of cultural activities. Unlike the schools, these were not always forbidden by German authorities. Concerts, lectures, theatrical productions, cabarets, and art contests took place in many ghettos, despite the hardships of daily life.


 Groups in many ghettos established secret archives and methodically wrote, collected, and stored reports, diaries, and documents about daily life in the ghettos. These efforts served to gather evidence on situation of Jews in occupied Europe and also sought to reaffirm a Jewish sense of community, history, and civilization in the face of both physical and spiritual annihilation.

The best known of these archives was that of the Warsaw ghetto, code-named Oneg Shabbat ("Joy of the Sabbath") and founded by historian Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944). Some of the containers holding the archives were dug up from the rubble of the Warsaw ghetto after the war. The papers found inside have provided valuable documentation of life and death inside the ghetto. In the Bialystok ghetto, activist Mordechai Tenenbaum, who had come to Bialystok from Warsaw in November 1942 to organize the resistance movement, established ghetto archives modeled after Oneg Shabbat. An archive was also kept in the Lodz ghetto, but unlike the Warsaw and Bialystok archives, it was not entirely clandestine and therefore operated under certain limitations. These and many other smaller collections document daily life in the ghettos.


 The Germans forbade religious services in most ghettos, so many Jews prayed and held ceremonies in secret—in cellars, attics, and back rooms—as others stood guard. In Warsaw alone, in 1940, 600 Jewish prayer groups existed. Rabbinical authorities adjudicated religious disputes on the basis of religious law and attempted to adapt this law to the changed and difficult circumstances in which the community found itself. Prayer helped sustain morale, reaffirmed a cultural and religious identity, and supplied spiritual comfort. Many Orthodox Jews who opposed the use of physical force viewed prayer and religious observances as the truest form of resistance.


The Wiener Holocaust Library

Despite the repression of their opponents, resistance to the Nazis occurred throughout their time in power. This resistance manifested in different ways.

Some people joined organised groups of resistance, some participated in armed uprisings, some refused to do the Hitler salute, and others produced secret writings condemning the regime.

This section will discuss and give examples of resistance, opposition and non-conformity, starting with organised and more risky examples of resistance.


Within the camps and ghettos of Nazi occupied Europe, there were several instances of resistance through armed uprisings.


Following the start of the Second World War in September 1939, the Nazis imprisoned hundreds of thousands of Jews in ghettos across occupied Europe.

In response to their imprisonment, around one hundred underground resistance movements developed within the ghettos. These movements resisted Nazi rule through distribution of illegal newspapers and radios, sabotage of forced labour efforts for the war, aiding escape from ghettos, and armed uprisings. Armed uprisings were difficult to organise, as most ghettos had high security measures and if resistors were caught they faced harsh punishments. Despite these obstacles, several armed uprisings did take place.

The most famous of these armed uprisings was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place from 19 April 1943 – 16 May 1943. In addition to the uprising in Warsaw, several smaller uprisings took place such as the Białystok Ghetto Uprising (16 August 1943).

Despite the desperate efforts of those involved, most of the armed uprisings were quickly crushed by the Nazis. Many of those involved were either killed while fighting or caught, tortured, and deported to extermination camps.


As with ghettos, armed resistance in camps was extremely difficult to organise and carry out.

However, whilst difficult, some still managed to create underground groups – undetected by the Nazis – where they coordinated efforts to resist.

In the extermination camp of Sobibór, these efforts culminated in the Sobibór Uprising of 14 October 1943, during which eleven SS guards were killed by members of the Sonderkommando. Three hundred prisoners managed to escape the barbed wire and cross the minefield which surrounded the camp. Approximately one hundred escapees were recaptured and shot.

A similar uprising took place six weeks earlier on 2 August 1943 in Treblinka, where one thousand prisoners revolted and set fire to the extermination camp. Two hundred prisoners managed to escape, but one hundred were recaptured and murdered.

Other armed uprisings also took place in the largest extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau and other smaller camps, such as Janowska in eastern Poland.

Organised groups and networks

One common way of resisting Nazi rule and persecution was participation in resistance groups and networks. These groups had a variety of different aims. Some aimed to sabotage the Nazi war efforts by destroying equipment, some helped people escape from camps and ghettos, and others disseminated anti-Nazi pamphlets.

Youth – Baum Group

The Baum group was an underground resistance movement based in Berlin and led by Herbert and Marianne Baum. The group was founded shortly after the Nazis rise to power in 1933 and its members were mostly young Jews who had Zionist and communist sympathies. Prior to the Second World War, the group focused on producing anti-Nazi leaflets and anti-fascist graffiti.

After 1939, the group’s actions became more aggressive. In 1941, they spread information regarding the Nazi atrocities on the eastern front. In 1942, they set fire to a prominent Nazi exhibition in Berlin entitled Soviet Paradise which sought to ridicule communism and identify Jews with the Soviet system. Although the fire was put out fairly quickly, one section of the exhibition was destroyed. The group were severely punished for their actions – in total 32 members of the Baum group were murdered by the Nazis, in addition to several of their family and friends who were sent to concentration camps.

Partisans – Bielski brothers

The Bielski brothers were a group of partisans who survived the Holocaust by hiding in the forests of Belorussia. After their parents and two of their siblings were murdered by the Nazis in the Nowogrodek ghetto, Tuvia, Asael and Zus Bielski escaped fled to the nearby forests. Initially, their aim was to simply survive and rescue their own family. However, the group soon grew and helped others to escape. By 1942, the group had grown to over seven hundred people.

As the Germans increased raids to crack down on the partisans in late 1943, the group moved to the Naliboki forest, west of Minsk, which was less accessible and therefore better protected. The group refused to turn people away, and the community grew to include a synagogue, bakery, school, synagogue and a basic hospital.

As well as ensuring the survival of the group itself, several members also carried out sabotage missions, helped escape attempts, and attacked German and Belorussian officials suspected of antisemitic persecution.

In mid-1944, the area was liberated by the Soviet army. By that time, the group had grown to 1,230 people, 70% of which were women, children, or elderly.

Intellectuals – White Rose Group

The White Rose was a non-Jewish resistance group created by Professor Kurt Huber and his students (including brother and sister Hans and Sophie Scholl) at the University of Munich. The group primarily focused on creating and distributing anti-Nazi pamphlets and anti-Nazi graffiti. They criticised the Nazis persecution and oppression of Jews, and called for wider resistance to Nazi rule.

After starting their anti-Nazi activities in June 1942, and the group continued until the majority of its leadership were arrested by the Gestapo on the 18 February 1943. Most of those arrested were put on trial and executed, including Professor Huber and the Scholl siblings.


A portrait of Ernst Eduard vom Rath. Vom Rath was a Nazi German diplomat working in the German embassy in Paris. In 1938, vom Rath was shot by the Polish-German Jew Herschel Grynszpan, in retaliation for his parent’s deportation from Germany to the Polish border. Vom Rath died of his injuries two days later. His death sparked numerous pogroms on Jews across the Third Reich.

Assassinations of Nazi officials were another form of resistance which aimed to weaken or cause the collapse of the Third Reich.

Hitler assassination attempts

Several individuals and groups attempted to resist the Nazis by murdering their leader, Adolf Hitler. Some hoped that by removing the Nazi leader the Third Reich would collapse, whereupon the German people could end the war and surrender to the Allies. Others were motivated more specifically by opposition to the Nazis’ anti-Jewish policy, but this varied from attempt to attempt.

After 1939, the attempts on Hitler’s life became more numerous, with approximately ten attempts before the end of the war.

One of the best-known attempts to murder Hitler was carried out on 20 July 1944 by Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg, an officer in the Germany Army. Stauffenberg acted as part of a group of army officers and civilians who were opposed to Hitler.

On 20 July 1944, Stauffenberg travelled to Hitler’s headquarters, commonly known as the Wolf’s Lair, and placed a suitcase with a bomb inside under Hitler’s table. After Stauffenberg had left the room, however, the briefcase was moved slightly further away. The bomb detonated and killed four people, but only injured its intended victim – Hitler.

As soon as Hitler was discovered to have survived the plot quickly fell apart. Most of those involved were arrested and brought before the People’s Court for show trials and then executed. In total more than 7,000 people were arrested, and 4,980 were murdered.

The assassination of Heydrich

Other leading Nazis were targets of assassination.

As a leading figure in the Nazi Party, Reinhard Heydrich was a high-priority target, especially following his appointment as Deputy Protector of Bohemia and Moravia (previously part of Czechoslovakia) on 29 September 1941.  On 27 May 1942, soldiers from the Czechoslovak army-in-exile, in cooperation with the British government, attempted an assassination of Heydrich. Heydrich was badly wounded, and died of his injuries one week later.

In retaliation for Heydrich’s death, the Nazis destroyed the villages of Lidice and Ležáky and murdered or deported almost all of their inhabitants.


As persecution intensified and the Nazis occupied more of Europe, many Jews chose to go into hiding to resist further oppression or imprisonment. Some Jews changed their names and obtained false papers, and allowing them to live openly as ‘Aryans’. Others physically hid from the Nazis and their collaborators by remaining out of sight in a variety of places, such as cellars, caves or barns.

Hiding in plain sight

For those who decided to hide in plain sight by changing their identity, it was key to obtain false papers as quickly as possible as there were regular identity checks in wartime and papers were often needed to obtain items such as rationed food.

Many Jews who went into hiding also moved to a new area to avoid recognition by those who knew them. Whilst in wartime moving around was relatively common, the arrival of new people to rural close-knit communities could arose suspicion. If this suspicion was not dealt with immediately, Jews living under false papers risked being denounced to the Nazis.

Hiding in plain sight was typically only an option for Jews who looked ‘Aryan’ or did not have stereotypical or distinctive Jewish features. Anyone suspected of being a Jew risked being arrested by the Nazis.

Parents also sometimes deposited their children with ‘Aryan’ friends or in convents to hide their true identity from the Nazis. Young boys could potentially still be identified by their Jewish circumcision, and so remained at risk.

Whilst the exact figures are unknown, thousands of Jews survived the Holocaust using false papers.

Concealed out of sight

Many Jews were unable to hide using false identities and instead concealed themselves in places such as caves, cellars, attics, or barns.

This type of hiding often relied on help from non-Jewish friends or the local population, as obtaining practical provisions without attracting notice was difficult. This cooperation from outsiders also brought the risk of denunciation – from the friends themselves or their acquaintances, neighbours or even family.

Whilst many hid in attics or cellars, others hid in more obscure locations such as the 38 Ukrainian Jews who hid in the Priest’s Grotto cave southwest of Kiev between 1942-1944.

One family who went into hiding was the family of Anne Frank, who became famous after the war for the diary she kept whilst she was in hiding. The Franks hid in a secret attic annex in Amsterdam from July 1942 to August 1944. The family relied on the help of family friends and colleagues for food and clothing. After a tip off, the Gestapo discovered the annex in 1944 and arrested everyone inside. Only Anne’s father, Otto Frank, survived the Holocaust.


Many hundred Jews resisted the Nazis by escaping from deportation trains on route to extermination, concentration, or labour camps.

Several factors influenced whether or not people attempted to escape from the deportation trains, including: knowledge of the purpose of deportations, knowledge of successful escapes, geographical location of the transit camps (i.e how long the Jews spent on the deportation train and whether or not they travelled in the night), the type of train, the moral pressure of other prisoners, and family members.

Leo Bretholz and Manfred Silberwasser were both successful in escaping from the 42 Transport from Drancy to Auschwitz on 6 November 1942. Breholz and Silberwasser were two young men who had been neighbours in Vienna. They both understood that their deportation to Auschwitz would end in death, and therefore they decided to attempt to jump and escape the moving train. Those inside their train carriage heard their plan. Whilst some encouraged and helped them create a hole in the roof, others tried to persuade them to stay (for fear of punishment for themselves when it was found that they were missing, or out of fear for Silberwasser and Bretholz’s own safety). The two men were successful, and both survived the war. Just four men from their train of over one thousand Jews, including Silberwasser and Bretholz, survived the Holocaust.

Hundreds of people managed to survive the Holocaust through this form of resistance.


Although many of those who arrived at the extermination camps were killed immediately, some were kept alive to be used as forced labour. In hybrid camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, or in concentration camps, such as Mauthausen, less people were killed on arrival than at purely extermination camps, such as Treblinka.

Some of those who survived the initial selection planned to escape.

Some people joined underground groups and organised uprisings and mass escapes, such as at Sobibór in 1943. Others acted individually or in smaller groups of three or four people. On 20 June 1942, Kazimierz Piechowski, Stanislaw Gustaw Jaster, Józef Lempart, and Eugeniusz Bendera escaped from Auschwitz after stealing SS uniforms, weapons and a car and impersonating SS soldiers. In total, approximately 928 prisoners attempted to escape from Auschwitz, although only 196 of these were successful.

Jews resisted the Nazis in many ways. Even in the ghettos and camps many managed to preserve their cultural and religious identity. They maintained schools and prayer groups. Others organised cultural and artistic groups. There are many examples of this kind of resistance.

In the Vilna ghetto, they managed to maintain an underground lending library. In the Warsaw ghetto a great teacher, Janusz Korczak, set up an orphanage. He taught the children, organised plays for them and tried to make their lives as normal as possible. He even accompanied them to their deaths in Treblinka so that they should not be frightened of the dark.

Many people wanted the world to know what was happening and kept diaries. One person hid his diaries in six milk churns in Warsaw; five of them were discovered after the war and the diaries were published.

Other forms of unarmed resistance were common within the ghettos. The smuggling of food was mainly carried out by the young. It was a form of resistance that was significant as it enabled people to eat and therefore survive.


Who was Anne Frank?

The face of Anne Frank is one of the most well known images of the Holocaust. Who was this remarkable young lady? What is the significance of her amazing diary?

Anne Frank was born to a Jewish family in Frankfurt, Germany in 1929. When, in 1933, the Nazis came to power in Germany, her family thought they would be safer in Holland, so went to live in Amsterdam. For a few years they were safe. However, in 1940, the Germans occupied Holland. The family was once again living under Nazi control.

Otto, Anne’s father, began making plans to hide himself and his entire family until the War was over.

On 6 July 1942, a month before Anne’s 13th birthday, the family went into hiding in a part of Otto’s office building. Within a few months four other people joined them. Four of Otto’s staff knew about the hiding place and helped them survive.

By August 1944 Anne Frank and her family had been in hiding for just over two years. The Franks were then betrayed. On 4 August 1944, the Nazis found out about the hiding place and raided the office, arresting all eight people. All were sent to Westerbork, a transit camp near to Amsterdam. From there they were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau on the last ever transport from Westerbork to the camp. Anne’s mother, Edith died in Auschwitz.

In October 1944 Anne and her sister, Margot, were sent to Bergen-Belsen. The camp was extremely overcrowded; the conditions were terrible. Anne and her sister both died of typhus in Bergen-Belsen in March 1945. Anne had lived until she was 15 years old.

What is the Diary of Anne Frank?

On her 13th birthday – she had gone into hiding by then – Anne was given a diary as a birthday present. For the two years she was in hiding Anne wrote a detailed diary. She invented an imaginary friend, Kitty, who was the person she imagined telling her thoughts to. Anne wrote about life in hiding, her family relationships, the other people in hiding with her and her own physical and emotional development. It is a very moving personal record of what happened during the Holocaust.

The Diary of Anne Frank is not just an historical document. It is the testimony of a young woman who refused to give up. She resisted the Nazis. Throughout those two years Anne held on to her culture, her ideals, her hopes and her dreams in the face of adversity, even though she was trapped within the confines of the family’s hiding place.

Anne’s father Otto was the only member of the whole family who survived the Holocaust. He was liberated in Auschwitz on 27 January 1945. Later he returned to Amsterdam. On his return, Miep Giese, one of his worker’s who had helped the family during their two years in hiding, gave him the pages from Anne’s diary that she had saved from the hiding place. In 1947, Otto published the diary.

Anne Frank’s diary remains one of the best-known published works throughout the world.


Rebellions were organised by Jewish prisoners at three of the six extermination camps – Treblinka, Sobibor and Auschwitz-Birkenau.


There were several escape attempts from Sobibor, some of which were successful. However, the Nazis executed many prisoners as punishment and as a warning to others.

In the summer of 1943, led by Leon Feldhendler, the prisoners began planning a mass escape. This was helped by the arrival at the end of September 1943 of many Soviet Jewish prisoners of war. This group included Lieutenant Aleksandr Pechersky. He was made leader of the underground group, with Feldhendler as his second-in-command. The prisoners planned to kill the SS soldiers, steal their weapons and escape from the camp.

On 14 October 1943, the prisoners managed to kill 11 SS men and several Ukrainian guards. Around 300 prisoners were able to escape. However, many of them were captured and killed. Most of those who had not joined the escape were also killed. About 50 of the escapees survived the war.

After the uprising, the Nazis destroyed Sobibor. The whole area was ploughed, planted with crops and given to a Ukrainian guard.


There were several attempts to escape en route to Treblinka. Most failed. There were also attempts to escape the camp itself. One such attempt was planned as the Germans prepared to liquidate the camp.

The SS and their Ukrainian collaborators suppressed the uprising and killed most of the 750 Jews who had attempted to escape.


In October 1943 a transport of Jews arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau from Bergen-Belsen, a camp in Germany. All of the people on the transport were selected for death.

In the undressing room of crematorium II one of the women seized the pistol from an SS officer. She shot two SS guards, one of whom later died from his wounds. Other women joined the attack. The SS overcame the mutiny and killed all of the women.

There are examples of Jews escaping from the crematoria and gas chambers. One such incident involved men, women and children who had been transported from Hungary. On the night of 25/26 May 1944, they escaped and hid in the woods and in ditches. The SS tracked them down and killed them.

On 10 June 1942 Polish prisoners in a work detail attempted to escape while working on a drainage ditch in Auschwitz-Birkenau. Very few got away. Twenty prisoners were shot by the SS. To prevent future acts of resistance and in revenge, more than 300 Poles were murdered in the gas chambers.

The most ambitious uprising at Auschwitz-Birkenau involved the actions of 250 Jewish Sonderkommando on 7 October 1944. They set fire to one of the crematoria. They managed to cut through the fence and reach the outside of the camp. The SS surrounded them. In the fight that followed, they managed to kill three SS guards and wound 10 of them. All 250 Jews were killed.

One of the work camps made arms for the German army. The SS discovered that four Jewish women had stolen explosive material from this factory and given it to the Sonderkommando. The women were captured and hanged in front of other prisoners – again as an act of revenge, but also to stop others resisting.


Nazi treatment of any act of resistance was extremely harsh. In addition it was almost impossible to get hold of weapons.

The majority of people lived within family groups, which included the elderly, the young and the vulnerable. Initially people did not resist, fearing it would affect their families. However, there were many examples of physical resistance in the ghettos after the deportation of the children and the old.

In France at least a quarter of the famous French resistance was Jewish. Jewish armed resistance groups also operated in Italy, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Yugoslavia. Thousands of Jewish men and women joined the partisans in Yugoslavia and fought in the forests of Slovakia and Eastern Europe. Very few Jews who took up arms against the Nazis survived.

The Warsaw ghetto uprising

As early as the spring of 1942, groups of young Jewish political activists had begun to discuss armed resistance. It was only after deportation of the majority of Jews from the ghetto that it began.

On the eve of Passover, 19 April 1943, the Germans began the final liquidation of the ghetto. A group of young Jewish men and women, with very little ammunition, held out against a far superior German force. The Germans responded by systematically burning down the buildings. The Jewish defenders of the ghetto fought for a month until the Germans finally succeeded in gaining control.

There were very few survivors.

The uprising had been led by the 24 year old Mordechai Anielewicz who died along with his people. This is an extract from his last letter:

‘I cannot describe the conditions in which the Jews are living. Only a few will hold out; the rest will die, sooner or later. Our fate is sealed. In all the bunkers where our comrades hide, you cannot light a candle through lack of air…The main thing in my life’s dream has come to be. I had the privilege of seeing the Jewish defence of the ghetto in all its greatness and glory.’

For Mordechai Anielewicz the very act of resisiting, fighting back against the Nazi war machine, was highly significant. The fact that the ghetto fighters had held out for a month against the brutality of the German Army was success itself.

As news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising spread, it served as an example for Jews in other ghettos and camps. There were many uprisings in the camps and ghettos of Eastern Europe.

The Bielski Brigade

Throughout the War the Bielski brothers carried out a continuous guerrilla war against the Nazis. They often used captured German weapons gained from ambushed German patrols. They also derailed troop trains and blew up bridges and electricity stations.

Who were these remarkable resisters to the Nazis?

The Bielski family were millers and grocers living and working in and around a town called Novogrudek, in the Soviet Union. In 1941, the Nazis established a ghetto in the town. In December 1941, after their parents were killed in the ghetto the brothers fled to the nearby Naliboki forest.

In the spring of 1942, some 40 people had formed a partisan group deep in the forest. The oldest brother, Tuvia, was their leader. They formed a camp that was more like a small village in the forest. Eventually the partisan group had 1,236 members, 70% of whom were women, children and the elderly. Within the camp they built kitchens, a mill, a bakery, a bathhouse, a medical clinic and a metal workshop to repair damaged weapons. There was also a school and a synagogue.

About 150 from the group were involved in armed resistance against the Nazis. They attacked the Nazis and their collaborators, often carrying out sabotage missions. Under Tuvia’s leadership the Bielski group remained independent from other resistance groups and worked to protect Jews and attack Nazis. At one point the Nazis had to allocate a large amount of vital resources to try to defeat the partisans.

The Bielski group was eventually divided into two groups. One led by Tuvia became the Soviet Army’s Kalinin Unit. It eventually returned victoriously to Novogrudek as the War ended. Three of the four brothers survived the War and as their story became widely known, they became regarded as leading resistance fighters against the Nazis.

Jack talks about the Bielski Brigade

Jack was born in Novogrudek in the Soviet Union. The town is now in Belarus.

In 1941, the town was invaded and taken over by the Nazis. Jack was only 12 years old, when the Nazis invaded, but remembers vividly how the Nazis brought in many anti-Jewish laws. He also remembers the terrible atrocities committed by the Nazis and their accomplices.

Jack remembers life within the ghetto. Very soon after being imprisoned Jack managed to escape and joined up with the Bielski brigade.

Yad Vashem

During the Holocaust, Jews fought back on three levels: armed uprisings in ghettos and death camps, escape and smuggling of Jews from towns and ghettos to the forests for partisan warfare, and various forms of rescue.

The ghettos buzzed with rumors about the murder of Jews. Most inhabitants, however, found the vague information difficult to absorb, especially in view of the unprecedented nature of the events described. However, resistance groups obtained reliable information about the murders by means of couriers and liaisons outside the ghettos. As the information accumulated, they finally realized that a terrifying campaign of systematic murder, previously unheard of in human history, was being perpetrated. However, they only grasped this awareness after the execution of the deportations from the ghettos, and then they began to prepare for armed resistance.

The war of self-defense was carried out on three levels: armed uprisings in ghettos and camps; escape and smuggling of Jews from towns and ghettos to the forests for partisan warfare; and hiding by individuals in various hiding places, collective rescue efforts, and rescue of children.

Jews were active in the Belgian and French resistance and played a considerable role in the Slovakian uprising that broke out in the summer of 1944. Most Jews who fled to the mountains of Yugoslavia joined Tito’s partisan army. Tens of thousands of Jews reached the forests of Belarus and the Ukraine; they helped to establish partisan companies and fought admirably in special Jewish units or in mixed battalions. In Belarus and the Ukraine, family camps were established in the heart of dense forests; the fugitive noncombatant Jews who lived there were fed and protected by Jewish fighters.

Rebellions also took place in the death camps. In August 1943, the uprising in Treblinka broke out. Three groups of prisoners who had been put to work burning bodies and sorting the many victims’ belongings killed some of the camp commanders and guards, took over the armory, and set the gas chambers and the camp barracks ablaze. In Sobibor, prisoners rose up and several managed to escape. In Auschwitz-Birkenau, a group of prisoners blew up one of the crematoria.

Yad Vashem

Approximately 1.5 million Jews fought in the regular Allied armies. In many cases the percentage of Jews fighting was greater than the percentage of Jews in the population.

About 500,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the Red Army during World War II. Some 120,000 were killed in combat and in the line of duty; the Germans murdered 80,000 as prisoners of war. More than 160,000, at all levels of command, earned citations, with over 150 designated “Heroes of the Soviet Union”— the highest honor awarded to soldiers in the Red Army.

Approximately 550,000 Jewish soldiers fought in the US Armed Forces during World War II. They served on all fronts in Europe and in the Pacific. Some 10,000 were killed in combat, and more than 36,000 received citations. Many Jewish soldiers took part in liberating the camps.

Approximately 100,000 Jews fought in the Polish army against the German invasion. They made up 10% of the Polish army, commensurate with the percentage of Jews within the general population.  Approximately 30,000 Jews fell in battle, were taken captive by the Germans, or declared missing during the battles defending Poland, 11,000 in the defense of Warsaw. Thousands of Jews later served in various Polish armies fighting against the Germans in the Allied Forces.

About 30,000 Jews served in the British army in 1939-1946, some in special units of Jews from Palestine, such as the Jewish Brigade.


Jewish Resistance in German-occupied Europe      Wikipedia

Holocaust History - Jewish Armed Resistance and Rebellions -  The International School for Holocaust Studies, Echoes and Reflections, Lesson 6: Jewish Resistance  Yad Vashem

Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation

Holocaust European history Michael Berenbaum, Encyclopedia Britannica

10 Incredible Cases Of Jewish Resistance During The Holocaust    Listverse

Jewish Resistance - Key Stage 3 - The Holocaust Explained

Resistance During the Holocaust   Anti-Defamation League

Background: Resistance  British Library

Review of “Jewish Resistance Against the Nazis”  by Patrick Henry, Reviewed by Murray Polner, History News Network