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.
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.
RESISTANCE IN CAMPS
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.
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.
ARMED JEWISH RESISTANCE IN EASTERN EUROPE
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.
ARMED JEWISH RESISTANCE IN WESTERN EUROPE
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.
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.
CULTURE AND EDUCATION
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.
DOCUMENTATION OF COMMUNITY 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.
JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST~ Yad Vashem, 2017 (15.29)
This Educator Video Toolbox is aligned to Echoes and Reflections, a comprehensive Holocaust education program that delivers professional development and a rich array of multimedia resources for middle and high school teachers.
This video complements Lesson 6: Resistance. It addresses key historical context, supports your teaching, and provides a methodological and pedagogical framework to help you effectively teach the subject of spiritual and armed resistance during the Holocaust.
A common question when we’re studying about the Holocaust is, “Why didn’t the Jews resist?” But they did. In this video we discuss different forms and types of resistance, both spiritual and armed. In the unprecedented inhumanity of the Holocaust there were Jews who found the strength and the courage, both physical and spiritual, to retain their humanity and resist hopelessness and dehumanization. The story of their resistance is a human story that shows the heights that human beings can reach even in the depths of despair.
912 DAYS OF THE WARSAW GHETTO Pavel Levin 2013 (36.36)
The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. Frank ordered Jews in Warsaw and its suburbs rounded up and herded into the Ghetto. At this time, the population in the Ghetto was estimated to be 400,000 people, about 30% of the population of Warsaw; however, the size of the Ghetto was about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw.
The construction of the ghetto wall started on April 1, 1940, but the Germans closed the Warsaw Ghetto to the outside world on November 16 that year. The wall was typically 3 m (9.8 ft) high and topped with barbed wire. Escapees could be shot on sight. The borders of the ghetto changed many times through the next years.
The ghetto was divided by Chłodna Street, which due to its importance (Warsaw's major street leading to the east) was excluded from it. The area south of Chłodna was known as "Small Ghetto", while the area north of this street -- "Large Ghetto". Those two parts were connected by Żelazna Street (special gate was built at its intersection with Chłodna Street). In January 1942 a wooden footbridge, which after the war became one of the symbols of the Holocaust, was built there to ease pedestrian traffic. The first commissioner of the Warsaw ghetto was his chief organizer SA-Standartenführer Waldemar Schön. He was succeeded in May 1941 by Heinz Auerswald.
On January 18, 1943, after almost four months without any deportations, the Germans suddenly entered the Warsaw ghetto intent upon a further deportation. Within hours, some 600 Jews were shot and 5,000 others rounded up.
The Germans expected no resistance, but preparations to resist had been going on since the previous autumn. The first instances of Jewish armed resistance began that day. The Jewish fighters had some success: the expulsion stopped after four days and the ŻOB and ŻZW resistance organizations took control of the Ghetto, building shelters and fighting posts and operating against Jewish collaborators.
The final battle started on the eve of Passover of April 19, 1943, when a Nazi force consisting of several thousand troops entered the ghetto. After initial setbacks, the Germans under the field command of Jürgen Stroop systematically burned and blew up the ghetto buildings, block by block, rounding up or murdering anybody they could capture. Significant resistance ended on April 28, and the Nazi operation officially ended in mid-May, symbolically culminating with the demolition of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw on May 16. According to the official report, at least 56,065 people were killed on the spot or deported to German Nazi concentration and death camps, most of them to Treblinka.
In the face of Nazi terror, many Jews resisted the Germans and their collaborators. Underground resistance movements developed in over 100 ghettos in Nazi-occupied eastern Europe. Further, under the most adverse conditions, Jewish prisoners succeeded in initiating uprisings in some of the Nazi camps. Jewish partisan units operated in France, Belgium, the Ukraine, Belorussia, Lithuania, and Poland. Jews also fought in general French, Italian, Yugoslav, Greek, and Soviet resistance organizations. While organized armed resistance was the most direct form of opposition to the Nazis, resistance also included escape, hiding, cultural activity, and other acts of spiritual preservation.
JEWISH RESISTANCE IN THE HOLOCAUST Corey Long and Creed Reilly 2011 (9.59)
JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST Andrew Steiner Emeritus Professor Konrad Kwiet Sydney Jewish Museum 2013 (22.34)
JEWISH PARTISANS - RESISTANCE BASICS COURSE FOR STUDENTS JewishPartisans 2015 (30.25)
The Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation's introduction to the Jewish partisans who fought against the Nazis and their collaborators during World War II for students - grades 6-12. Please visit http://www.jewishpartisans.org for more information and educational tools.
JEWISH RESISTANCE DURING THE HOLOCAUST - Dr. Steven Katz uwaterloo 2015 (1.37.10)