Jewish resistance under Nazi rule
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Jewish resistance leading up to and lasting throughout the Holocaust included a multitude of different social responses by those oppressed. Due to the careful organization and overwhelming military might of the Nazi German State and its supporters, many Jews were unable to resist the killings. There were, however, many cases of attempts at resistance in one form or another, and over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings.
Types of resistance
In his book The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy, Martin Gilbert describes the types of resistance:
"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."
This view is supported by Yehuda Bauer who wrote that resistance of the Nazis comprised not only physical opposition, but any activity that gave the Jewish people dignity and humanity in the most humiliating and inhumane conditions. Bauer disputes the popular view that most Jews went to their deaths passively. He argues that, given the conditions in which the Jews of Eastern Europe had to live under and endure, what is surprising is not how little resistance there was, but rather how much.
Between April and May 1943, Jewish men and women of the Warsaw Ghetto took up arms and rebelled against the Nazis after it became clear that the Germans were deporting remaining Ghetto inhabitants to the Treblinka extermination camp. Warsaw Jews of the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union fought the Germans with a handful of small arms and Molotov cocktails, as Polish resistance attacked from the outside in support. After fierce fighting, vastly superior German forces pacified the Warsaw Ghetto and either murdered or deported all of the remaining inhabitants to the Nazi killing centers.  The Germans claimed that they lost 18 dead and 85 wounded, though this figure has been disputed, with resistance leader Marek Edelman estimating 300 German casualties. Some 13,000 Jews were killed, and 56,885 were deported to concentration camps.
There were a total of seven more major ghetto uprisings, as well as armed struggles during the final liquidations of seven more ghettos.
In concentration camps
There were also major resistance efforts in three of the extermination camps.
- In August 1943, an uprising took place at the Treblinka extermination camp. The participants obtained guns and grenades after two young men used forged keys and snuck into the weapons store. The weapons were then distributed around the camp in garbage bins. However, during the distribution of arms, a Nazi guard stopped a prisoner and found contraband money on him. Fearing that the prisoner would be tortured and give away the plan, the organizers decided to launch the revolt ahead of schedule without completing the distribution of weapons, and set off a single grenade - the agreed-upon signal for the uprising. The prisoners then attacked the Nazi guards with guns and grenades. Several German and Ukrainian guards were killed, a fuel tank was set on fire, barracks and warehouses were set burned, military vehicles were disabled, and grenades were thrown at the SS headquarters. The guards replied with machine-gun fire, and 1,500 inmates were killed, though 70 inmates escaped to freedom. The guards chased those who had escaped on horseback and in cars, but some of those who escaped were armed, and returned the guards' fire. Gassing operations at the camp were interrupted for a month.
- In October 1943, an uprising took place at Sobibór extermination camp, led by Polish-Jewish prisoner Leon Feldhendler and Soviet-Jewish POW Alexander Pechersky. The inmates covertly killed 11 German SS officers, including the deputy commander, and a number of guards. Although the plan was to kill all of SS members and walk out of the main gate of the camp, the guards discovered the killings and opened fire. The inmates then had to then run for freedom under fire, with roughly 300 of the 600 inmates in the camp escaping alive. All but 50-70 of the inmates were killed in the surrounding minefields or recaptured and executed by the Germans. The escape forced the Nazis to close the camp.
- On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those inmates kept separate from the main camp and put to work in the gas chambers and crematoria) at Auschwitz staged an uprising. Female inmates had smuggled in explosives from a weapons factory, and Crematorium IV was partly destroyed by an explosion. At this stage they were joined by the Birkenau One Kommando, which also overpowered their guards and broke out of the compound. The inmates then attempted a mass escape, but were stopped by heavy fire. Three SS guards were killed in the uprising, including one who was pushed alive into an oven. Almost all of the 250 escapees were killed. There were also international plans for a general uprising in Auschwitz, coordinated with an Allied air raid and a Polish resistance attack from the outside.
There were a number of Jewish partisan groups operating in many countries. Jewish partisans were most numerous in Eastern Europe. See Eugenio Calò for the story of a Jewish Italian partisan.
The British government formed in July 1944 the Jewish Brigade, which comprised more than 5,000 Jewish volunteers from Palestine, organized into three infantry regiment, an artillery regiment, and supporting units. They were attached to the British Eight Army in Italy from November 1944, taking part to the spring 1945 "final offensive" on that front. After the end of the war in Europe the Brigade was moved to Belgium and the Netherlands in July 1945. As well as participating in combat operations against German forces, the brigade assisted and protected Holocaust survivors.
The Special Interrogation Group was a British Army commando unit comprising German-speaking Jewish volunteers from Palestine. It carried out commando and sabotage raids behind Axis lines during the Western Desert Campaign, and gathered military intelligence by stopping and questioning German transports while dressed as German military police. They also assisted other British forces. Following the disastrous failure of Operation Agreement, the survivors were transferred to the Royal Pioneer Corps.
Jewish resistance within Germany itself during the Nazi era took a variety of forms, from sabotage and disruptions to providing intelligence to Allied forces, distributing anti-Nazi propaganda, as well as participating in attempts to assist Jewish emigration out of Nazi-controlled territories. It has been argued that, for Jews during the Holocaust, given the intent of the Nazi regime to exterminate Jews, survival itself constituted an act considered a form of resistance. Jewish participation in the German resistance was largely confined to the underground activities of left-wing Zionist groups such as Werkleute, Hashomer Hatzair and Ha-bonim, and the German Social Democrats, Communists, and independent left-wing groups such as New Beginning. Much of the non-left wing and non-Jewish opposition to Hitler in Germany (i.e., conservative and religious forces), although often opposed to the Nazi plans for extermination of German and European Jewry, in many instances itself harbored anti-Jewish sentiments.
A celebrated case involved the arrest and execution of Helmut Hirsch, a Jewish architectural student originally from Stuttgart, in connection with a plot to bomb Nazi Party headquarters in Nuremberg. Hirsch became involved in the Black Front, a breakaway faction from the Nazi Party led by Otto Strasser. After being captured by the Gestapo in December 1936, Hirsch confessed to planning to murder Julius Streicher, a leading Nazi official and editor of the virulently anti-Semitic Der Stürmer newspaper, on behalf of Strasser and the Black Front. Hirsch was sentenced to death on March 8, 1937, and on June 4 was beheaded with an axe.
Perhaps the most significant Jewish resistance group within Germany for which records survive was the Berlin-based Baum Group (Baum-Gruppe), which was active from 1937 to 1942. Largely young Jewish women and men, the group disseminated anti-Nazi leaflets, and organized semi-public demonstrations. Its most notable action was the bombing of an anti-Soviet exhibit organized by Joseph Goebbels in Berlin's Lustgarten. The action resulted in mass arrests, executions, and reprisals against German Jews. Because of the reprisals it provoked, the bombing led to debate within opposition circles similar to those that took place elsewhere where the Jewish resistance was active—taking action and risking murderous reprisals vs. being non-confrontational with the hopes of maximizing survival.
In occupied countries
In the Netherlands, the only pre-war group that immediately started resistance against the German occupation was the communist party. During the first two war years, it was by far the biggest resistance organization, much bigger than all other organizations put together. A major act of resistance was the organisation of the February strike in 1941, in protest against anti-Jewish measures. In this resistance, many Jews participated. About 1,000 Dutch Jews took part in resisting the Germans, and of those, 500 perished in doing so. In 1988, a monument to their memory was unveiled by the then mayor of Amsterdam, Ed van Thijn.
Among the first Jewish resisters was the German fugitive Ernst Cahn, owner of an ice cream parlor. Together with his partner, Kohn, he had an ammonia gas cylinder installed in the parlor to stave off attacks from the militant arm of the fascist NSB, the so-called "Weerafdeling"("WA"). One day in February 1941 the German police forced their entrance into the parlor, and were gassed. Later, Cahn was caught and on March 3, 1941 he became the first civilian to be executed by a Nazi firing squad in the Netherlands.
Benny Bluhm, a boxer, organized Jewish fighting parties consisting of members of his boxing school to resist attacks. One of these brawls led to the death of a WA-member, H. Koot, and subsequently the Germans ordered the first Dutch razzia of Jews as a reprisal. That in turn led to the Februaristaking, the February Strike. Bluhm's group was the only Jewish group resisting the Germans in Holland and the first active group of resistance fighters in Holland. Bluhm survived the war, and strove for a monument for the Jewish resisters that came about two years after his death in 1986.
Numerous Jews participated in resisting the Germans. The Jewish director of the assembly center in the "Hollandsche Schouwburg", a former theatre, Walter Susskind, was instrumental in smuggling children out of his centre. He was aided by his assistant Jacques van de Kar and the director of the nearby crèche, Mrs Pimentel.
Within the underground communist party, a militant group was formed: de Nederlandse Volksmilitie (NVM, Dutch Peoples Militia). The leader was the Jewish Sally (Samuel) Dormits, who had military experience from guerrilla warfare in Brazil and participation in the Spanish Civil War. This organisation was formed in The Hague but became mainly located in Rotterdam. It counted about 200 (mainly Jewish) participants. They made several bomb attacks on German troop trains and arson attacks on cinemas, which were forbidden for Jews. Dormits was caught after stealing a handbag off a woman in order to obtain an identification card for his Jewish girlfriend, who also participated in the resistance. Dormits committed suicide in the police station by shooting himself through the head. From a cash ticket of a shop the police found the hiding place of Dormits and discovered bombs, arson material, illegal papers, reports about resistance actions and a list of participants. The Gestapo was warned immediately and that day two hundred people were arrested, followed by many more connected people in Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam. The Dutch police participated in torturing the Jewish communists. After a trial more than 20 were shot to death; most of the others died in concentration camps or were gassed in Auschwitz. Only a few survived. The war grave of Dormits has recently been destroyed by municipal authorities in Rotterdam.
In Belgium, Jewish resistance started in early 1941 when Jewish communists committed many actions against Belgian collaborators. After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941 actions of sabotage and urban warfare was initiated against German troops. The "military" branch of the main Belgian resistance movement, the "Front de l'Interieur" (F.I.) were the "Partisans Armes" (P.A.-M.O.I) build around a large nucleus of Jewish foreigners, so were 3 companies (together around 100 men) active in the larger Brussels area. They shot the Jew responsible for the transportation lists to the east, Holtzinger, and destroyed documents in the head branch of the A.J.B., the local "Judenrat" which was created on German order. On April 19, 1943, an attack was perpetrated against the 20th Transport train from Mechelen to Auschwitz, a unique feat in the Holocaust in Europe. George (Yura) Lifshitz, a young Jewish doctor with two brave Belgian students, Robert Maistriau and Jean Franklemon, acted on their own initiative, in spite the fact all three of them were members of resistance groups. 17 Jews escaped from the train, another 115 escaped due to their own efforts before the attack. The C.D.J. or "Comite de Defence des Juifs", was created in the summer of 1942 by Gert (Hertz) Jospa, a Jewish communist together with Chaim Perelman, professor at the Free University of Brussels, and Abush Verber leader of a left Zionist organization. Their objective was to help and find hiding places for as many Jews as possible. Obtaining the assistance of Yvonne Nevejean, head of the O.N.E. (Office National de l'Enfance) more than 3000 Jewish children were hidden in orphanages, private homes and Catholic institutions, as well as many adults. Some 40,000 Jews survived the war in Belgium. 28,900 were deported to Auschwitz (nearly 26,000 from Belgian territory together with 350 Roma), of these only 1200 survived the death camps.
The Algerian Resistance was led by José Aboulker and Roger Carcassonne. On October 23, 1942, Aboulker was among the Algerian resistance leaders who met with General Mark Clark in Morocco. The Americans agreed to supply weapons and radios, which were landed on November 5. On the night of the Allied landings in North Africa, November 8, 1942, Aboulker led the occupation of the main strategic points in Algiers by 377 members of the Resistance (315 of them were Jewish), seizing the central police station, with his deputy Bernard Karsenty and the help of Guy Calvet and Superintendent Achiary. Led by their group leaders, all of the Resistance fighters, with the exception of the reserve officers, neutralized the command centers, occupied strategic positions, and stopped the military officials and civilian supporters of the Vichy government, starting with General Alphonse Juin, the Commander-in-chief, and Admiral François Darlan. In the morning, when the XIXth Army Corps of the Vichy Government tried to mobilize to oppose the Allied landings, it had to concentrate its efforts on the Resistance fighters rather than Allied forces. With the landings around Algiers having been completed, Aboulker—anxious not to spill French blood—asked the group leaders to evacuate their positions. Using Resistance fighters from the evacuated positions, he organized with the group leader Captain Pillafort barricades to hinder the mobilization of the Vichy military. As a result, the forces of the Vichy government did not attack by that evening the central police station, the last place with insurgents. The confusion created by the so-called “putsch” of 8 November 1942 helped the Allies land almost without opposition and then encircle Algiers. Admiral Darlan surrendered Algiers that afternoon, and Allied troops entered the city at 8 pm. On December 24, 1942, Darlan, who had named himself High Commissioner and maintained Vichy policies with the support of General Henri Giraud, was killed by a 20-year-old monarchist, Fernand Bonnier de La Chapelle, who was executed on December 26. Giraud succeeded Darlan and ordered the arrest of Aboulker and 26 other Resistance leaders for complicity in Darlan's assassination, and they were immediately deported to prison camps in southern Algeria.
Despite amounting to only 1% of the French population, Jews comprised about 15-20% of the French Resistance. Some of the Jewish resistance members were Hungarian-Jewish refugees.
French Jews set up their own armed resistance movement: the Armee Juive (Jewish Army), a Zionist, which at its height, numbered some 2,000 fighters. Operating throughout France, it smuggled hundreds of Jews to Spain and Switzerland, launched attacks against occupying German forces, and targeted Nazi informants and Gestapo agents. Armee Juive participated in the general French uprising of August 1944, fighting in Paris, Lyon, and Toulouse.
In the aftermath of the war, Holocaust survivors led by former members of Jewish resistance groups, banded together. Calling themselves Nokmim (Hebrew for "avengers"), they tracked down and executed former Nazis who took part in the Holocaust. They killed an unknown number of Nazis, and their efforts are believed to have progressed into the 1950s. The Nazis were often kidnapped and killed by hanging or strangulation, others were killed by hit-and-run attacks, and a former high-ranking Gestapo officer died when kerosene was injected into his bloodstream while he was in hospital awaiting an operation. It is possible that some of the most successful Nokmim were veterans of the Jewish Brigade, who had access to military intelligence, transport, and the right to freely travel across Europe.
Nokmim also traveled to places such as Latin America, Canada, and Spain. to track down and kill Nazis who had settled there. In one instance, they are believed to have confronted Aleksander Laak, responsible for killing 8,500 Jews at Jägala concentration camp, at his suburban Winnipeg home, and after telling him that they intended to kill him, allowed him to commit suicide.
In 1946, the Nokmim carried out a mass poisoning attack against former SS members imprisoned at Stalag 13, lacing their bread rations with arsenic at the bakery which supplied it. Some 1,900 inmates fell ill, and it is thought that several hundred to a thousand died.
- American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
- Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa
- Fareinigte Partizaner Organizacje
- HaShomer HaTzair
- Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee
- Zionist youth movement
- Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa
- Zydowski Zwiazek Walki
Jewish resistance fighters
- Mordechaj Anielewicz
- Dawid Apfelbaum
- Paweł Frenkiel
- Yitzhak Arad
- Herbert Baum
- Bielski partisans
- Masha Bruskina
- Eugenio Calò
- Franco Cesana
- Icchak Cukierman
- Szymon Datner
- Sally Dormits
- Marek Edelman
- Abba Kovner
- Zivia Lubetkin
- Dov Lopatyn
- Moše Pijade
- Haviva Reik
- Hannah Szenes
- Lelio Vittorio Valobra
- Dawid Wdowiński
- Yitzhak Wittenberg
- Shalom Yoran
- Simcha Zorin
- History of the Jews during World War II
- Ilse Stanley
- Inglourious Basterds
- Jewish Brigade
- Jewish Military Organization
- Palestinian Jewish Parachutists
- Resistance during World War II
- Rosenstrasse protest
- Special Interrogation Group (SIG)
- Tilhas Tizig Gesheften
- Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Notes and references
- Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy. London: St Edmundsbury Press 1986
- (English) David Wdowiński (1963). And we are not saved. New York: Philosophical Library. p. 222. ISBN 0-8022-2486-5. Note: Chariton and Lazar were never co-authors of Wdowiński's memoir. Wdowiński is considered the "single author."
- Beckman, Morris: The Jewish Brigade
- Ruby Rohrlich, ed. Resisting the Holocaust. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 1998.
- Theodore S. Hamerow. On the Road to the Wolf's Lair: German Resistance to Hitler. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997
- See, e.g., Herbert Lindenberger. Heroic Or Foolish? The 1942 Bombing of a Nazi Anti-Soviet Exhibit. Telos. 135 (Summer 2006):127–154.
- Dr. L. de Jong, Het Koninkrijk, Amsterdam, RIOD/Staatsuitgeverij 1975
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Jewish resistance to Holocaust|
- Jewish Armed Resistance and Rebellions on the Yad Vashem website
- “Jewish Resistance: A Working Bibliography.” The Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance. Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Washington, DC. PDF version available here
- Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust from Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project
- About the Holocaust
- Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
- Jewish Partisan Group Near Vilna
- Partisan Rachel Rudnitzky After Liberation
- Partisans in Vilna
- Partisans of Vilna
- Rozka Korczak & Abba Kovner with members of the United Partisan Organization (FPO)
- Vilna Partisans
- Interviews from the Underground: Eyewitness accounts of Russia's Jewish resistance during World War II documentary film and website (www.jewishpartisans.net)
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum - Armed Jewish Resistance: Partisans