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Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

Nazi persecution and mass murder of the Jews gave rise to Jewish resistance movements that acted against the Third Reich within the occupied areas of Europe. The most forceful form of resistance was the armed resistance groups organized in over 100 ghettos throughout Russia and Poland.

In early 1943, after rumors spread throughout the Warsaw Ghetto that the remaining Jews were to be deported imminently to the Treblinka death camp spread, the Jews there organized an armed revolt against the Nazis. As soon as police, along with SS units, entered the ghetto, the members of the Jewish Fighting Organization mounted their attack. They threw hand grenades and Molotov cocktails at the approaching German tanks. Using these munitions and the few small arms that they had amassed, the resisters were able to stop the German forces, albeit for only a few days. The German army was stunned by the ferocity of the Jewish resistance and it took it almost a month to deport the last inhabitants of the Warsaw ghetto.

That same year, residents of the Jewish ghettos in Vilna and Bialystok, as well as other major ghettos, mounted revolts against their German occupiers. The resistance fighters realized that in the end, they would not be successful in forcing the German army back and that they would probably die in the effort. Nevertheless, they fought gallantly and furiously until the bitter end. They fought to avenge the blood of their brothers who had been slaughtered, and to uphold the honor and glory of the Jewish nation.

Many Jews resisted by running and escaping into the nearby forests. There they joined existing partisan units or created their own. The goal of these units was mainly to harass the German army. Others Jews resisted the Nazis by disobeying orders. This was especially true for members of the various Jewish Councils, whose job it was to hand over the Jews of their respective ghetto for deportation. Very often, risking their own lives, they defiantly refused to hand Jews over to the Germans.

In some concentration camps, Jewish prisoners resisted and rose up against their guards. In Treblinka and Sobibor, Jewish prisoners stole weapons and mounted an attack against their SS guards, killing a number of them. Some prisoners were able to escape. Most of the resisters were eventually killed by the SS, either during the attack or after being recaptured. Some who escaped survived the war and were able to tell about their ordeal.

In Auschwitz-Birkenau, members of the Jewish Special Detachment, known as the Sonderkommando, mounted an uprising against the SS guard unit there, and succeeded in killing several guards before the revolt was suppressed. All 250 of those involved in the mutiny were killed, together with five women who helped supply their weapons.

Many Jews in ghettos and concentration camps stood up to Nazi aggression through spiritual resistance. They tried to preserve Jewish communal life as well as the rich Jewish heritage and history. This was done despite overwhelming Nazi efforts to totally eradicate and annihilate any memory of Jewish existence. Jews created cultural centers where they secretly observed Jewish rituals and holidays, published underground newspapers, fostered Jewish education and conducted Sabbath gatherings for youngsters. Most importantly, they collected and hid documents and artifacts providing evidence of the Nazi atrocities for later generations.

In countries that were occupied by the Germans or were allied with Germany, Jewish resistance took on the form of rescue and aid societies. Jewish groups in Palestine sent underground parachutists to help whomsoever they could and wherever they could. The most famous operation was the one undertaken in 1942 by Hannah Szenes in Hungary. In France, elements of the Jewish underground collaborated with other armed resistance groups. Similar groups were active in Belgium, Italy, France, Greece and Slovakia.

Selected full-text books and articles on this topic

The War of the Doomed: Jewish Armed Resistance in Poland, 1942-1944
Shmuel Krakowski; Orah Blaustein.
Holmes & Meier, 1984
Fighting Back: Lithuanian Jewry's Armed Resistance to the Nazis, 1941-1945
Dov Levin.
Holmes & Meier, 1985
Defiance: The Bielski Partisans
Nechama Tec.
Oxford University Press, 1994
Between Dignity and Despair: Jewish Life in Nazi Germany
Marion A. Kaplan.
Oxford University Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: "Jewish Resistance" begins on p. 212
Resistance and Conformity in the Third Reich
Martyn Housden.
Routledge, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 6 "Germany's Jewish Citizens"
Courage to Remember: Interviews on the Holocaust
Kinue Tokudome.
Paragon House, 1999
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 7 "Jews Did Fight Back"
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Although They Were Ultimately Overwhelmed, the Jews Involved in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Fought Valiantly to Regain Their Freedom and Escape Nazi Oppression. (in Light of the Past)
Bell, Y. E.
The New American, Vol. 18, No. 1, January 14, 2002
The Holocaust
Jack R. Fischel.
Greenwood Press, 1998
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 5 "Resistance"
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