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Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust

It is impossible to put into words what we
have been through. I feel that great things are happening and
what we dared do is of great, enormous importance. The dream of my life has come true. Self-defense in the ghetto will have been
a reality. I have been a witness to the magnificent,
heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle. A common question when we’re studying about the Holocaust is, “Why didn’t the Jews resist?” But they did. The real question must be “How was it possible
for them to resist?” Where did the Jews – starved and beaten
down – find the strength and the courage, both physical and spiritual, to resist? As educators, we always ask how we can make
the Holocaust more relevant to our students. The story of resistance is a very human story,
and that is its relevance. Resistance empowers students by showing them
the heights that human beings can reach even in the depths of despair. Nazi Germany invaded Poland on September 1,
1939. The Germans immediately subjected two million
Polish Jews to violence, humiliation and arbitrary kidnappings for forced labor. The Nazis concentrated the Jews into larger
cities. What followed was the establishment of ghettos. Jews were trapped inside and kept under guard. They were usually forced into areas that were
much too small, causing catastrophic overcrowding. They were systematically starved. Disease was rife. Poverty was crushing. The unbearable living conditions were intended
to dehumanize the Jews and break their spirit. Escalating chaos caused many to sink into
hopelessness. In this daily battle to survive, we might
expect that people would worry only about themselves. Yet, some were able to rise above their circumstances
and assist others. They drew on prewar social, religious and
communal traditions by establishing hospitals, soup kitchens and orphanages. Against Nazi prohibitions, they created schools. My younger sister was very young, and I knew
that she needed education. So I established a clandestine school. And the girls would come, and I would conduct
classes with them, and I would spill out of my head whatever I remembered having learned in my school, and the most incongruous subject matters. When the girls came and they were so solemn
and they were so sorrowful and they would say, “Please, please, tell us a story!” I would say, “OK, today I am going to take
you to an altogether different world.” And I took them away to a southern plantation
in Georgia, and I was talking to them about Tara and about Melanie and about Scarlett
and Rhett Butler, and their eyes would open and they would dream about it. It took a great deal of strength to preserve
their previous way of life and identity, but Jews in many ghettos even managed to organize
cultural, religious and educational activities. This sometimes raised moral dilemmas: amidst
so much death was there room for culture? Was it frivolous, or was it a much-needed
escape, if not physical, then spiritual? Not everyone in the ghettos was able to resist,
but those who tried, even in some small way, maintained their humanity in the face of unprecedented
inhumanity. Resistance does not have to be with a gun
and a bullet. As a matter of fact, sometimes the easiest
resistance is with a gun and a bullet. Resistance when the mother gave a piece of
bread to the child so that he would survive, it is resistance. Resistance was in the Lodz ghetto, that we
had a symphony orchestra, and this orchestra played and it was cold, but by playing in
ghetto they gave the people the will to live another day and another day and another day. Yes, it was maybe not legal, but it was resistance. What is spiritual resistance? It’s not just the struggle against, it’s
also the struggle for dignity, for humanity and for moral values. When the German army invaded the Soviet Union
and the Nazis began to systematically murder the Jews, youth movement couriers risked their lives to reach the isolated ghettos with this information. Most Jews did not believe the rumors; it was
difficult to imagine such brutality. Yet, the leader of one of the youth groups
in Vilna, Abba Kovner, instinctively understood that the Nazis intended to ruthlessly murder
all the Jews of Europe. He called on the youth to take responsibility. Jewish youth, do not trust those who are trying
to deceive you. In front of our very eyes, they tore our parents,
our brothers, our sisters from us. Hitler is plotting to annihilate all the Jews
of Europe. Let us not go like sheep to the slaughter! The only response to the enemy is resistance! Brothers! It is better to die as free fighters than
to live at the mercy of murderers. Resist! To our last breath. Why did Kovner turn specifically to the youth? The young men and women in the youth movements
were teenagers. Like all teenagers, they believed that they
could change the world. Before the war, they saw themselves as educators
and leaders, taking responsibility for the future. In the ghettos this idealism continued. They organized meetings, keeping up morale
despite the grim reality of ghetto life. They assisted the community by caring for
the children and creating soup kitchens. They also organized illegal activities, such
as educational seminars and importantly, underground newspapers They believed in mankind. They still believed they could fight the Germans
and shape the future through education, morality and spiritual weapons. Now, faced with mass murder that made the
future an illusion, they understood that they would need more than spiritual weapons to
fight the Germans. They were ready to die fighting for their
ideals. Kovner’s pronouncement reached the Warsaw
ghetto, hundreds of miles to the east. Warsaw was the largest ghetto in Europe: at
its height over 450,000 Jews were trapped inside, desperately struggling to survive. Youth movements there hesitated at first,
but as reports of extermination filtered in they began to realize that it was only a matter
of time before mass murder reached Warsaw. And then, on July 22, 1942, the Jews of the
Warsaw ghetto were ordered to report for “resettlement in the east”, a disguise for deportation
and slaughter. The Germans blockaded houses, brutally hunting
the Jews down in the ghetto streets. Within weeks, about 265,000 Jews were deported
and murdered in gas chambers in Treblinka, while thousands were killed in the bloody
violence of the deportations. Afterwards, only some 60,000 Jews remained. Many were broken. They had lost families and friends. The deportations were a turning point. Those who had managed to survive them had
experienced a shattering trauma. Most gradually understood that no one was
safe. Two underground organizations were formed
to fight the Germans. Ultimately, they fought side by side. Then I met this guy in the street. I say, “Fiefke, what is it all about, this…?” He says, “We have an underground and we’re
gonna fight the Germans. I know we’re not gonna win, but we’re
not gonna go anymore.” He said, “Would you like to join?” I say, “If you’ll explain to me, I will
join.” But he said, “Don’t tell your sisters. This has to be a secret. Because if people know, you know what’s
gonna happen.” There were those in the ghetto who feared
that having fighters among them would bring on collective punishment. Did the youth movements have the right to
decide their fates? It was not easy for youth who saw themselves
as educators to become fighters. Their choiceless choice was between death
and death – to be murdered at the hands of the Nazis or to die fighting them, with
their human dignity intact. But how? Most of them were in terrible physical condition
and they had no weapons. They were forced to train with sticks and
imaginary arms. In time, they managed to smuggle a small amount
of weapons into the ghetto. But their arsenal consisted in great part
of primitive, homemade Molotov cocktails. When the Germans returned to the ghetto on
January 18, 1943 to capture more Jews for deportation, a small group fought back. The Germans retreated, but many fighters were
lost in the short street battle. Yet, for the first time in Warsaw, Germans
had been killed! The battle ignited morale. Now the fighters won broad support. In the wake of the battle, the Jews in the
ghetto worked feverishly to build underground bunkers to resist German commands to surrender
and to force the Germans to find them. On April 19, 1943, the Jewish holiday of Passover,
thousands of German armed forces penetrated the ghetto with tanks, light cannons and armored
vehicles. Confronting them were a few hundred youths
with mainly improvised weapons. Most of the commanders were in their teens
and early twenties, with no military training. They understood very well that they could
not defeat the German army. Yet, they fought for their honor as human
beings. The Jewish boys knew that every bullet has
to kill! I had a girl, Tzipora Szepszyk. She was sitting on the rooftop and was throwing
one grenade, one Molotov bottle. That girl was fantastic! Pitched battles occurred throughout the ghetto. A group of fighters managed to hoist the Polish
flag as well as the blue-and-white flag of the Jews at the top of a high building where they could be seen from outside the ghetto walls. The Germans understood the tremendous impact
these flags would have, and they became a primary target. They waved over the ghetto until the Germans
brought them down. Ultimately, the Germans went from house to
house with flamethrowers, setting fire to the ghetto and turning it into a sea of flames. Jews hiding in underground bunkers were forced
to surrender for lack of air. People were burned alive. On May 16, 1943 the Germans destroyed the
Great Synagogue of Warsaw, declaring the end of the uprising. Hundreds of years of Jewish life in Warsaw
had come to an end. The Warsaw ghetto uprising was the very first
civilian uprising in occupied Europe, and the largest act of Jewish resistance during
the Holocaust. There were attempts at armed resistance in
at least 100 other ghettos, and among Jewish partisans, who engaged in sabotage and guerilla
warfare. The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto inspired
other Jewish and civilian revolts, even in the extermination camps. Its echoes were heard throughout the world. As educators, why is it important to discuss both spiritual and armed resistance when we teach this subject? The uprising in the Warsaw ghetto has become
a symbol of heroism. But it could never have happened without the
human dignity, the strength of spirit and the readiness to take responsibility that
laid the groundwork. This was a war of less than a thousand people
against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn’t a subject for study in a military
school. If there’s a school to study the human spirit,
there it should be a major subject.

Reader Comments

  1. But if you know you're going to lose, why kill more people over pride? Yes, those who you're killing are murderers, but we aren't their judges. God is. I guess the only decent reason to try to murder the murderers is that Perhaps you can prevent them from committing a miniscule amount more heinous acts. But even with that philosophy, the odds are SO much better that engaging in conflict will only spark the enemy to commit More heinous acts in return!

  2. Regretable errors on the film presented here . At 13:55 minuts the pictures is taken from the film made by Poles WARSAW uprising in 1944, are not the Jewish uprising in 1943.
    You can see the Polish underground Home Army (AK) two color band on the right arm of the man.
    Please compare with the pierre zwolinski Tele Polonica Warszaw Uprising on YOU TUBE.

    Elimination of the THOSE sequences is ABSOLUTLY necessaire.

  3. I have never thought about spiritual resistance before but now I realise that perhaps, it's more important than physical. Such brief enlightenment in what must have seen a sea of dispair.

  4. Amidah: This was the prayer of Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust.

    The Amidah (Hebrew: תפילת העמידה‎, Tefilat HaAmidah, "The Standing Prayer"), also called the Shmoneh Esreh (שמנה עשרה‎, "The Eighteen", in reference to the original number of constituent blessings: there are now nineteen), is the central prayer of the Jewish liturgy.

  5. I fucking hate you for what you did to the brother's & sister's of Israel (Jews). My heart ache's with tears seeing this with Truth. Anger & hate to the Germans killing the innocents. Babies, children, young boys & girl's,mother & farther, sister's, brothers,grandparents. I'm from New Zealand & I can't control the animal which is caged inside me. Like a Lion ready to tear apart those Germans. My love to all my brother's & sister's who died in the Holocaust by the hand of the Nazi. I'm so sorry, I love you all with all my heart. Bless those resistance who stood against the Germans. And to you..ADOLF HITLER, you mother fucking Cunt, I fucking hate you & your bloodline. Enjoy (HELL)…you fucking Cunt. For those who passed away families & friends . you will meet again with your love one's in heaven.. Amen

  6. Thank you for mentioning the hoisting of the Polish and Jewish flags above the Warsaw ghetto (I feel this is a little known fact that needs to be shared more) HOWEVER you did make some rather basic mistakes in other parts of the video. For example, at 7:57 that is not where Warsaw is on the map. Also, the narrator incorrectly states that Warsaw is east of Vilnius while in fact it is (south) west of it. Please try to avoid making such rudimentary mistakes, because it puts into question the validity of the other information you share, something that shouldn't be happening.

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