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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."[1]

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.


Resistance in the ghettos

Between April and May 1943, Jewish men and women of the Warsaw ghetto took up arms and revolted against the Nazis after it became clear that the Germans were deporting remaining Ghetto inhabitants to the Treblinka extermination camp. Warsaw Jews of the Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, and the Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa attacked the Germans and their Polish collaborators with a handful of small arms and Molotov cocktails. 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. [2]

Resistance in the 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. Many buildings were burnt to the ground, and 70 inmates escaped to freedom, but 1,500 were killed. Gassing operations were interrupted for a month.
  • In October 1943, another uprising took place at Sobibór extermination camp. This uprising was more successful; 11 German SS commanding officers, including the deputy commander, were killed, and roughly 300 of the 600 inmates in the camp escaped, with about 50 to 70 surviving the war. 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 almost all of 250 were killed soon after. 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.

Partisan groups

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. Jewish volunteers from Mandate Palestine, most famously Hannah Szenes, parachuted into Europe in an attempt to organize resistance.

Resistanct in Germany

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.[3] 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, German 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.[4]

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 nonconfrontational with the hopes of maximizing survival.[5]

Resistance in the 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 organisation- much bigger than all other organisations 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. 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 in Brazil and participation in the Spanish civil war. This organisation was formed in first instance in The Hague but became mainly located in Rotterdam. It counted more about 200 mainly Jewish participants. They made several bomb attacks on German trains with troops and arson attacks on cinemas, which all were forbidden for Jews. Sally Dormits was caught after stealing a handbag of a woman in order to obtain an identification card for his Jewish girl friend, 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 could find the hiding place of Dormits and the police discovered bombs, arson material, illegal papers, reports about resistance actions and a list of participants. The Gestapo was warned immediately and the day two hundred people were arrested and in the following months many more connected people of the communist resistance in Rotterdam, The Hague and Amsterdam were arrested. The Dutch police participated in torturing the Jewish communists. After a trial more than 20 were shot to death, the most 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.[citation needed]


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 terrorism 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 Jewish 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.


Jewish resistance fighters

Belorussia, 1943. A Jewish partisan group of the brigade named after Chkalov. ([1])

See also

External links

Notes and references

  1. ^ Gilbert, Martin. The Holocaust: The Jewish Tragedy. London: St Edmundsbury Press 1986
  2. ^ (English) David Wdowiński (1963). And we are not saved. New York: Philosophical Library. pp. 222. ISBN 0802224865.  Note: Chariton and Lazar were never co-authors of Wdowiński's memoir. Wdowiński is considered the "single author."
  3. ^ Ruby Rohrlich, ed. Resisting the Holocaust. Oxford and New York: Berg Publishers, 1998.
  4. ^ Theodore S. Hamerow. On the Road to the Wolfs Lair: German Resistance to Hitler. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1997
  5. ^ See, e.g., Herbert Lindenberger. Heroic Or Foolish? The 1942 Bombing of a Nazi Anti-Soviet Exhibit. Telos. 135 (Summer 2006):127–154.


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