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Armed Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust Jeremiah Tuchyner Period 6 CE English 1010 Mr. Lund

November 29, 2011

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Armed Jewish Resistance during the Holocaust

Your eyes flash open, the last thing you remember hearing was the shattering of glass coming from the streets below your home. You jump as more crashing sounds disrupt the quiet of the cold Berlin night. The angry shouts of soldiers begin to fill the air as you rush from your bed towards the window. You look out across the street and watch with horror as the soldiers heartlessly smash the windows of the homes and businesses beneath you. You catch sight of the synagogue across the street and freeze with fear as you see its walls begin to catch fire from the soldier s torches. You reach up and feel the yellow Star of David pinned to your chest and a sense of the danger you are in suddenly comes over you. What are you going to do? A loud crash accompanied with the sound of footsteps marching in comes from downstairs. What can you do? This is an example of what many German Jews experienced on the night of November 9, 1938. On this night many years of built up racism and hatred were unleashed upon Jewish communities throughout Germany. German soldiers were ordered to destroy Jewish synagogues, homes, and businesses and arrest the owners thereof. It is estimated that more than 7,500 Jewish homes and business were destroyed along with almost 300 Jewish synagogues. In addition Nearly 100 defenseless Jews were murdered and another 30,000 beaten, arrested, and taken away to concentration camps. (Bartel, 2005). This outpouring of brutal violence against the Jews was called Kristallnacht, or night of broken glass, and became a turning point for Jewish persecution in Germany, one that led to the biggest genocide in history, the Holocaust. Just five years before this terrible event Jews were very integrated into German society, they owned business, wrote books, worked in both law and medicine, and held the same rights as their German neighbors. Most of the persecution began when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.

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Hitler was the leader of a racist political party, called the Nazis, at the time and shared many of their racist beliefs. These beliefs led him and all of Germany to blame their problems on minority groups such as gypsies, homosexuals, those with disabilities, and especially Jews. Once the Nazis gained power the first thing they sought to do was to separate the Jews from all aspects of German Life. Jewish shops were boycotted, Jewish books were burned, Jewish teachers and civil servants were fired, and all Jews were required to wear the Star of David to distinguish themselves from Germans. The Jews remained silent as their discrimination became more and more extreme. Finally in 1935 new laws were passed that stripped all Jews of their German citizenship along with all of their rights as citizens, Jews were now subjects of the state with no rights or protection of the law (Downing, 2006a). After Kristallnacht many Jews knew that Germany was no longer safe and tried to flee to the safety of other countries. However, other countries did not want the Jewish immigrants and only let them enter in small numbers. A huge amount of Jews became stranded at the borders of Germany with no money and nowhere to go (Downing, 2006a) . In 1939 Germany invaded Poland and World War II began, halting all Jewish attempts to leave the country. The remaining Jews in Germany now laid at the mercy of Hitler. Those Jews still in Germany were forced to leave their homes and move into separate sections of cities called ghettos. The ghettos were usually the poorest parts of the city; they were overcrowded, dirty, and contained nearly no food. Disease and starvation were very common in the ghettos and many Jews died or became very sick.

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The Jews remained in this awful state until the year 1942, when high ranking Nazi officers created a plan to rid themselves of the Jew problem. They called this solution the Final solution , the decision to exterminate all the Jews of Europe (Bachrach, 1994). They first began implementing this plan by using mobile killing squads called Einsatzgruppen in Russia, whose sole purpose was to kill any Jews they could find. However they found that this method was rather slow and took great emotional l tolls on the shooters (Bartel, 2005). So the Nazis began the mass deportations of Jews to Death Camps, finding this the easiest and fastest way to solve their problem. The Nazis began by rounding up all Jews living in German territory, which by now included France, Greece, Poland, Norway and many other countries nearby. They would then march the Jews to nearby transit camps where they would wait until a train was available to take them to the concentration camps. The Nazis told the Jews that they were just going to be resettled, very few knew where they were truly going and what awaited them there. The journeys to the camps were nearly as bad as the death camps themselves. Jews were crammed into small box cars until there wasn t even enough room to sit down. There was no food, water, or even a toilet and the air ventilation was very bad. The journeys could take several days and many Jews died of dehydration, starvation or suffocation on the way (Downing, 2006b). Once at the camps the Jews were split into two different line, one of young healthy Jews to work as slaves, and another of mothers with children, the elderly, and the sick who were to be killed. Those who were to be killed were told that they were going to take a shower, and often didn t know they were going to be killed until the doors locked behind them and the poisonous gas began to come out of the vents.

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Using this process the Nazis murdered over 6 million of the 9 million Jews in Europe, well over half of the Jewish population. The murder of so many Jews causes many people to wonder why there was so little resistance from the Jews. Why did they give up so easily? Why didn t they fight back? The truth is that in the beginning the Jews simply didn t know the danger they were in, they were lied to all the way until their deaths. However the Nazis couldn t keep their true intentions secret forever. After discovering the Nazi s true intentions for their people, armed resistance was common among the Jews. Uprisings were organized in more than one fourth of all of the ghettos in addition to Jews forming partisan units, sabotaging German industries, and attempting armed escapes in the extermination camps. These Jews faced impossible odds but still fought for their lives, their families, and the honor of their people. Once news of the mass murders of Jews at concentration camp spread to the Jews not yet deported to the camps, it sparked Jewish uprisings in over 100 Jewish ghettos. The biggest and probably most well-known ghetto uprising was the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The Warsaw ghetto was the largest ghetto in Europe holding over 400,000 Jews. In the year 1942 300,000 of those Jews were deported or murdered; only 35,000 were permitted to stay and another 20,000 remained in the ghetto hiding. It was these murders and mass deportation that caused both 23 year old Mordecai Anielewicz, leader of the Jewish fighting organization, and the leaders of the Jewish Military Union to form an armed selfdefense unit. Together these organizations made up about 750 fighters and, with the help of undercover Jews outside of the ghetto, were able to smuggle weapons inside. On January 18th, 1943 a group of these fighters attacked German troops as they began rounding up more Jews for deportation, after a couple days of fighting the troops retreated to outside of the ghetto and suspended any further deportation. On April 19th the orders were given to the German soldiers to liquidate the ghetto and

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resume deportation of all of its inhabitants, this sparked the beginning of the uprising. The 750 Jewish men and women led by Mordecai Anielewicz attacked the Germans. In only a couple of days Mordecai was killed and the Uprising was crushed, however small groups of resisters held out and fought back until May 16th,the longest time that any Jews were able to hold out against the Nazis (USHHM, 2011a). These Jews knew that they were fighting against impossible odds and knew that they had no hope of winning against the well-armed and well trained German soldiers but they fought anyway. Their bravery inspired many other uprisings throughout Europe and gave many Jews the hope that they could defend themselves from the inevitable death that awaited them at the concentration camps. Many of the uprisings in Jewish ghettos were made in the hopes to escape to the forest and join Soviet Partisan units fighting against Germany or to form their own partisan units. Many of the Jews succeeded in doing this and actively fought back against the Nazis. Most of the partisan s resistance focused on rescue, escape, aid to those in hiding, and sabotage. One of the biggest partisan units began as a ghetto uprising in the Lithuanian city of Vilna. The uprising failed and most of the fighters escaped to the nearby forest where they found advancing Soviet forces. With the help from the Soviets, the Jews were able to derail hundreds of train tracks, kill over 3,000 German soldiers, and later were able to help the Soviets retake Vilna (Bachrach, 1994). Other Jewish fighting units, finding no help from the surrounding civilians, also found refuge in the forest. They supported themselves by forming family camps , in which Jewish civilians repaired weapons, made clothing, and cooked for the fighters. It is estimated that the refuge offered by the many family camps throughout Europe saved as many as 10,000 Jews. One famous example was the family camp set up by the Tuvia Bielsky partisan unit in Poland, which gave refuge to more than 1,200 Jews during the War (USHHM, 2011e).

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Groups of fighters in France and other western European countries also resisted the Nazi s and helped Jews. The Jewish Army in France helped many Jews by smuggling money to them from Switzerland and helping 500 escape to neutral Spain (USHMM, 2011e). They also took part in the 1944 uprising against the Germans in France. It was common for Jews to fight against the Nazis by joining national resistance movements. Many Jews joined these resistance movements in Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, Yugoslavia, Greece, and Slovakia. In an effort to aid these resistances, a group of Jewish men and women from Palestine volunteered to join the British army and parachute into German Occupied Europe. Their mission was to organize resistance to Germany and aid the Jews in their resistance. Originally 250 Jews volunteered for the mission, of those 110 underwent training and only 37 ended up parachuting in to Europe. Of the 37 parachutists, 12 were captured and seven executed (USHMM, 2011f). One of those executed was Hannah Szenes, probably one of the most well-known parachutists. She was captured on November 7, 1944 while attempting to sneak into Hungary from Yugoslavia, where she was involved with a resistance group. Her capturers tortured her for months until she was finally put in front of a firing squad. She refused to wear a blindfold and stared straight into the eyes of her killers. Hannah Szenes was a very gifted poet and many of her poems are well known songs in Israel. Her remains are buried on Mount Hersz, overlooking Jerusalem, along with the other executed parachutist (Bartel, 2005). These brave men and women chose to die fighting and have earned the honor of the Jewish people. Stories like that of Hannah Szenes and other resistance against the Nazis eventually reached the suffering Jews of the concentration camps. The news gave them hope that maybe they too could choose to die fighting. The Jews in the camps had seen enough to know that death was inevitable, and knew that revolting could offer a chance of escape or at least give them the chance to die fighting. The first

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major revolt was in the death camp of Treblinka. Only about 1,000 prisoners remained at the camp and they knew it would soon be their turn to enter the gas chambers. So on August 2nd, 1943, armed with shovels, picks, and any weapons they could get their hands on the prisoners attacked. They managed to set fire to the camp and broke a hole in the barbed wire fence, 200 were able to escape and about half of those succeeded in avoiding the Nazis attempt to recapture them (USHMM, 2011b). A more successful revolt took place in the camp of Sobibor on October 14th 1943, when 300 prisoners escaped after killing eleven guards. However many of those that escaped, were killed as they were chased down by the Nazis. A not so successful revolt took place in Auschwitz, one of the largest concentration camps in occupied- Germany. It began when prisoners smuggled gunpowder into the camp and blew up the crematorium, killing three guards in the process. Not many escaped and all of the prisoners involved were killed (Bartel, 2005). The Jews who revolted against the Nazis faced more than impossible odds, but the bravery that they showed and the spirit of their efforts transcends their failure to make an impact against the Nazi s military might. Most of the Jews who resisted and fought against the evil that was seeking to destroy their people, knew that they would fail. They were facing one of largest and strongest military forces in the world with very little weapons or resources. They did not make a very big impact against the Nazi s might; however, they made a huge impact on the world, showing through their bravery just how strong the human spirit is. The men and women who fought against the Nazi s were truly some of the bravest people in history. Some people compare the murder of the Jews during the Holocaust to lambs at the slaughter, but the truth is that once they knew the danger that their people were in, they fought like lions.

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Works Cited United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2011a). Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005188. Accessed on 11/27/11

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2011b). Jewish Uprisings in Ghettos and Camps, 19411944. Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005407. Accessed on 11/27/11

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2011c). Jewish Resistance. Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005213. Accessed on 11/27/11

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (2011e). Armed Jewish resistance: Partisans Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005441. Accessed on 12/1/11

United States Holocaust Memorial (2011f). Jewish Parachutists from Palestine Holocaust Encyclopedia. http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005440. Accessed on 12/1/11

Bartel, J. (2005). The Holocaust: A Primary Source History (In Their Own Words). Gareth Stevens Publishing.

Downing, D. (2006a). World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: Persecution and Emigration. World Almanac Library.

Bachrach, S. (1994). Tell Them We Remember: The Story of the Holocaust. Little, Brown and Company.

Downing, D. (2006b). World Almanac Library of the Holocaust: The Nazi Death Camps. World Almanac Library.

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