The Unconventional resistance
The establishment of the ghettos in spring 1940 is viewed by numerous scholars as the beginning of the Final Solution and the Holocaust. The Nazi regime sought to uproot the Jews from German life in accordance to racist principles and shut them behind the walls of the ghettos. Concurrently, Jews became the primary source of forced labour for the war economy. During this dark period in Jewish history, the oppressed sought to defend themselves, even at great risk, through different methods. While organized armed resistance was the most forceful form of Jewish opposition to Nazi policies, it was not the most successful. Jewish civilians offered armed resistance in over 100 ghettos in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union. However, the vastly superior German forces were almost always able to completely pacify the ghetto and deport virtually all of the remaining inhabitants to concentration camps. In contrast; it was the unarmed and spiritual resistance in the ghetto that proved to be the most successful against Nazi oppression.
The deprivations of living in the ghettos and under the constant fear of Nazi terror made resistance difficult and dangerous but not impossible. Acts of unarmed resistance in the ghettos predominated, as Jewish underground activists did not usually take the risk of armed resistance against overpowering military force until the final period before the destruction of the ghetto. Much of the underground work was concentrated mainly within prewar political parties and youth movements such as Hehalutz and its branches, Dror, Ha-Shomer, Akiva and Ha-Za’ir. A very important act of unarmed resistance by the political groups was the publishing of underground newspapers. These illegal newspapers and bulletins were meant to inform the Jewish ghetto population of events and uphold Jewish morale. To illustrate: Appeal Not To Go To Labour Camps was an article that appeared in the Ha-Za’ir publication Iton Ha-Tenuea (“Newspaper of the Movement”) that sought to bolster the Jewish morale by vehemently declaring that the Jews would not be deported to labour camps by the Judenrat. Call To Armed Self-Defense was published in the Ha-Za’ir newspaper Jutrznia (“Dawn”) that glorified Jewish heroism and struggle and was worded to sway the Jewish youth.
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Despite the enormous risks, underground political groups and youth organizations also engaged in many acts of sabotage that signified unarmed resistance. Jews working as forced labourers in the ghettos undertook various efforts to damage and undermine the Nazi war efforts. These saboteurs stole important documents, produced damaged weapons, slowed down assembly lines, tampered with important machinery, and set fires in factories.
Perhaps the most daring act of unarmed resistance by the Jewish underground political organizations was the establishment of an underground communication network that spanned occupied Poland and the Soviet Union and helped connect isolated ghettos. Traveling under false German identities, couriers’ smuggled weapons into ghettos, carried banned documents, underground newspapers, medical supplies, forged identity cards, money and news of German activities. Unlike a circumcised male Jew, a physical check by a Nazi officer could not divulge the identity of a Jewish woman; it was for this reason that women were a key part of the underground political organizations and played a particularly important role as couriers. The kashariyot (women couriers) were a lifeline – they were important sources for news and information and trusted contacts for supplies and resources. The kashariyot were also symbolically important as they embodied Jewish resilience. Due to the widespread knowledge of their heroic escapades, many had acquired a legendary status among the Jewish masses. Emmanuel Ringelblum, the pre-war historian and organizer of the underground archive in the Warsaw ghetto, honoured the women couriers his diary entry of May 19, 1942: “These heroic girls, Haika and Frumka, are a theme that calls for the pen of a great writer. Boldly they travel back and forth through the cities and towns of Poland…They are in mortal danger every day…Without a murmur, without a moment of hesitation, they accept and carry out the most dangerous missions…How many times have they looked death in the eyes? How many times have they been arrested and searched?”
... Michael Marrus compiled a study of underground ghetto organisations and finds that actual resistance took place after the first deportations, ... with effective results and constrained Jewish resistance, by operating a zero tolerance policy. Jewish resistance has been considered minor within ... adopted by the German army. Figure 1: Jewish Armed Resistance in Ghettos and Camps 1941-1944. The map above ...
It is important to note that concurrently with the unarmed resistance focused on opposing the plans of the authorities, spiritual resistance was also prevalent. The Jewish attitude of spiritual resistance is accurately captured in this excerpt from the Warsaw ghetto diary of Chaim A. Kaplan: “According to the laws of nature, our end is destruction and total annihilation…But even this time we did not comply with the laws of nature. There is within us some hidden power, mysterious and secret, which keeps us going, keeps us alive, despite the natural law…Say what you like, the will to live amidst terrible suffering is the manifestation of some hidden power who nature we do not yet know.” Spiritual resistances in this context refers to the attempts by individuals to maintain dignity, humanity and personal integrity in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize, degrade and oppress the Jewish population.
Education was a cornerstone of Jewish life. With the establishment of the ghettos, schools were outlawed and Jewish learning, specifically that of children, was threatened with death. However, this didn’t deter the political organizations from establishing a network of underground schools and libraries. In the Vilna ghetto, for instance, the Jews established a regular school system. Extracts from the diary of a Jewish youth on education sheds light on the education system: “…I read a book, wrote the diary, and off to class…We listen to lectures about the great French Revolution, about its periods…ghetto history is also busy. We are investigating the history of courtyard Shavli 4…” The yeshivot (religious schools) in the ghettos were particularly comprehensive in that the curriculum included attention to subjects such as mathematics as well as study of ancient Hebrew texts. Commuting from home to class, the students hid their books under their coats or in their trousers. The danger of being caught was omnipresent, but the secret learning continued. Jews also smuggled books and manuscripts into the ghettos for safekeeping, and opened underground libraries to collect these intellectual works. From a youth diary on the Vilna ghetto library: “Today the ghetto celebrated the circulation of the 100,000th book in the ghetto library. The festival was held in the auditorium of the theatre. We came from our lessons. Various speeches were made and there was also an artistic program.” Similarly, Jewish activists started a 60,000-volume library in the Theresienstadt ghetto, near Prague.
... the Lower East Side of New York and the Jewish ghettos of Chicago and Philadelphia were abysmal. They had nearly ... college graduation. Reflecting their high levels of education recent Jewish immigrants experience rapid economic mobility. According to the 1990 ... Contemporary Analysis of Immigration Waves. Boston, 2000. Weibner, Joseph. Jewish Diaspora in the United States of America. New York: Random ...
Spiritual resistance also took the form of cultural activities, such as the creation of works of art, songs, theatrical productions, concerts, cabarets, dances, and lectures. For instance, children at the Theresienstadt ghetto painted pictures and wrote poems in classes organized by adults to help alleviate their trauma. Friedrich Schlaefrig, a survivor of Theresienstadt: “We had…During the early period there were no (musical) instruments whatsoever, and the cultural life came to develop itself only when the…when the whole management of Theresienstadt was steered into an organized course.”
To many Jews, prayers and religious observances were their most important weapons against Nazi authority. Because religious services were banned in most ghettos, many Jews prayed in secret; they silently prayed in cellars, attics, and back rooms as others stood watch. From the diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, 1940: “We have no public prayer even on the High Holy Days…permission was not received for public prayers…everything is forbidden to us; and yet we do everything!” From such diary extracts and various others, it is known that hundreds and thousands of secret minyanim (the group of ten adults making a quorum for Jewish community prayers) held prayers all over the Warsaw ghetto. Such communal prayers helped build morale, reaffirmed a cultural and religious identity, and provided spiritual comfort.
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Arguably, the single most significant form of spiritual resistance was documenting the Holocaust. As the Nazis looked to wipe out the European Jewish population, many of the victims engaged in gathering evidence about what was happening to and around them. Groups in many ghettos established secret archives and systematically wrote, collected, and stored reports, diaries, and documents about daily life in the ghetto. The most well known of these archives is that of the Warsaw ghetto, codenamed Oneg Shabbat (Sabbeth gathering) founded by Emanuel Ringelblum, a well-known pre-war historian. In his own words: “I began to collect material on current events in October, 1939…Whatever I heard in the course of the day, I wrote down in the evening, and added my observations. In time these daily records made a good size book of some hundreds of closely written pages, a mirror of that time…I did this at a time when the number of colleagues working for Oneg Shabbat had already become larger…” Similarly, in the Bialystok ghetto, underground activist Mordechai Tenenbaum established ghetto archives modeled after Oneg Shabbat. These underground archives made a very important contribution to documenting the plights of the Jews during the Holocaust.
The subjugation of Europe’s Jews under the Nazi rule is one of the darkest chapters in human history. Despite enormous risks and overwhelming circumstances, many resisted to the tyrannical rule of the Nazis. However, from a modern perspective the resistance of the Jews was unconventional in many ways. Though they did eventually raise arms, most of their resistance was of the unarmed and spiritual type. They made conscious attempts to undermine Nazi authority and preserve the history and communal life of the Jewish people despite their enemy’s efforts to eradicate them from human history. These efforts included: establishment of underground newspapers and communication networks, acts of sabotage, creation of Jewish cultural institutions, providing clandestine education and prayer services, and recording documentation through archives. Their resilience in times of great hardships lends to the power of the human spirit.
... identity papers and found hiding places for Jewish children. Instead of going underground or to Switzerland as friends advised, Rapaport ... Orleans: Grammation Press, 2000. Rothchild, Sylvia. Voices from the Holocaust.New York: New American Library, 1981. Tschuy, Theo. Dangerous ... the war. Many uprisings occurred in extermination camps and ghettoes. Most of the uprisings were small (less than 25 ...
[ 1 ]. “Introduction: Poland”, 19 June 1934, in Yitzhak Arad, et al. Documents on the Holocaust (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999), p. 168.
[ 2 ]. “From notes by Hersh Berlinski on the aims of the Jewish Fighting Organization”, 1942, in Arad, p.294-295.
[ 3 ]. “Appeal not to go to labour camps from an underground publication”, 1942, in Arad, p.231.
[ 4 ]. “Call to armed self-defense, from an underground publication”, March 28 1942, in Arad, p.276-77.
[ 5 ]. “The girl couriers of the underground movement”, May 19 1942, in Arad, p.239-40.
[ 6 ]. “The girl couriers of the underground movement”, May 19 1942, in Arad, p.239-40.
[ 7 ]. “Extracts from the Warsaw ghetto diary of Chaim A. Kaplan”, March 10 1940, in Arad, p. 201-02.
[ 8 ]. “From the diary of a Jewish youth on education and culture in the Vilna ghetto”, October 22 1942, in Arad, p.448
[ 9 ]. //www.faqs.org/childhood/Gr-Im/Holocaust-Jewish-Ghetto-Education-and-the.html
[ 10 ]. “From the diary of a Jewish youth on education and culture in the Vilna ghetto”, October 22 1942, in Arad, p.448
[ 11 ]. //en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theresienstadt
[ 12 ]. “David P. Boder Interviews Friedrich Schlaefrig”, Voices of the Holocaust Project (Paris, France: voices.iit.edu), August 23, 1946, //voices.iit.edu/interview?doc=schlaefrigF&display=schlaefrigF_en,
[ 13 ]. “Extracts from the Warsaw ghetto diary of Chaim A. Kaplan”, October 2 1940, in Arad, p. 203-04.
[ 14 ]. “Oneg Shabbat, the Jewish underground archives in the warsaw ghetto”, in Arad, p.235-36
[ 15 ]. //de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mordechai_Tenenbaum