Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust
Hannah Szenes, a young Jewish soldier in the British Army who parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe with the goal of assisting her fellow Jews, wrote right before crossing the border into Hungary, "Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame. Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart's secret places. Blessed is the heart that knows, for honors sake, to stop its beating. Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame."
While Szenes successfully fought with Tito's forces for three months, she would be captured upon crossing into Hungary, tortured cruelly by the Nazis and yet despite the knowledge that her own mother was at risk, she refused to give the Nazis any sort of information that could assist their war effort. Indeed, until her last breadth, when she was executed by a firing squad, Szenes demonstrated that she was nothing short of a flame shining during the Jewish peoples' darkest hours, fighting against the Nazis oppression until she was brutally murdered.
Hannah Szenes was not the only hero or heroine of the Jewish resistance fighting against the Nazis' genocidal plans, however. Indeed, the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto also stood up and fought against the Nazis, despite the fact that they knew that their chances of survival were very slim. The Jewish rebels in the Warsaw Ghetto understood that while maybe they did not have the choice regarding when they would die, at the very least they could chose how they would die. They preferred to die by fighting against the Nazis rather than surrendering passively to their horrible fates. As Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising proclaimed, "The main thing: the dream of my life was realized. Jewish self-defense in the Warsaw Ghetto became a fact. The armed Jewish struggle and the revenge became a reality. I am a witness to this grand, heroic battle of the Jewish fighters." Despite the fact that most of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto would perish the resistance fighters maintained themselves against Nazi forces longer than the entire country of France
Yet, Mordechai Anielewicz was not the only hero of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising for one brave Jewish woman, Zivia Lubetkin, was on the High Command of the Jewish underground resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto and was one of the first to engage in armed combat against the Nazis. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising itself, she served as a liaison between the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, thus preserving communication between the various fighters within the Warsaw Ghetto and the rebellions leadership. Towards the end of the rebellion, it was decided that she was to find a way out of the ghetto by smuggling herself through the sewers. She was part of the last group of fighters that was smuggled out of the ghetto. When the Poles rose up in rebellion, she participated in that fight against the Nazis as well.
The Jews from Israel who parachuted into Nazis occupied Europe, such as Hannah Szenes, and the Jewish heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion, were not the only Jews who resisted against the Nazis oppression. The Jews in the Bialystok Ghetto and the Vilna Ghetto also fought against the Nazis, even though their stories aren't as widely known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was. During the Bialystok Ghetto Rebellion, about 300 to 500 armed insurgents with limited arms attacked the Nazis. Many of these Jews also perished, although about 150 rebels did manage to make it to the forests, from where they continued to fight against the Nazis.
In Vilna, the SS and their Lithuanian collaborators murdered 30,000 Jews. In retaliation, on January 1, 1942, Abba Kovner urged his fellow Jews to rise up in rebellion. "Hitler," he declared, "plans to destroy all the Jews of Europe, and the Jews of Lithuania have been chosen as the first in line. We will not be led like sheep to the slaughter! True, we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to the murderer is revolt." Soon after that, the Vilna Ghetto fighters blew up a German military train, sabotaged German military equipment, and engaged in other resistance activities, until the Nazis succeeded to suppress them.
There was Jewish resistance within the Nazis death camps. In Treblinka, seven hundred Jews successfully blew up the camp. In Sobihor, Jewish and Russian prisoners managed to kill 10 SS guards and escape from the camp; where many of them went on to join Soviet partisans. Even in Auschwitz, one of the crematoriums was blown up by Jewish resistance forces. As Elie Wiesel once wrote, "There may be times when we are powerless to prevent injustice, but there must never be a time when we fail to protest." The Jewish resistance fighters, whether they fought in Allied armed forces, joined the partisans in the forests, or rose up in rebellion inside the ghettos and concentration camps, lived by these very principles.
In Israel, this year's Holocaust Rememberance theme is Jewish Resistance. Watch the video to see how Yad Vashem is preparing to mark the occasion:
By Rachel Avraham
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