Teacher Resource Guide HomeAnti-Semitism  Hitler's Rise — Prewar Nazi Germany

The HolocaustResistors BystandersRemembering

When the horrors of the Holocaust were revealed, many people wondered how it was possible for the Nazis to kill so many people without meeting overwhelming resistance.

Jewish resistance to Nazi persecution was limited by circumstances in occupied Europe. With the carefully worked out plans for the Final Solution, Jews had few chances for massive resistance. Under the Nazi policy of collective responsibility , anyone working against the Germans faced brutal punishment. Entire communities and families were held responsible for individual acts of resistance or sabotage. Poland, for example, lived under a virtual state of terror throughout the occupation. Any con-tact between Poles and Jews was punishable by death. Despite this, resistance to Nazi persecution took several forms—armed re-sistance outside the ghet-tos and camps, resistance within the ghettos that led to uprisings, and the spiri-tual resistance of indivi-duals who showed their opposition by continuing to practice their religion.

Armed resistance came from those who managed to escape capture. Organizing them-selves into small resistance groups in the eastern European countryside, these people—with few arms, inadequate food, and little help from native citizens, fought against the Nazis on several fronts. Known as partisans , such groups attacked German supply depots, captured weapons, and served as links between the ghettos and the outside world. In both eastern Europe and the Soviet Union, Jewish partisans fought against the Nazis in the forests and countryside. On April 19, 1943, members of the National Committee for the Defense of Jews, in cooperation with Christian railroad workers and members of the Belgium underground, attacked a train going to Auschwitz from the Belgian transit camp of Malines. Working together, Jewish and Christian partisans helped several hundred Jewish deportees escape.

When the ghettos were being evacuated and destroyed, Jewish resisters led a number of uprisings. There were few arms available to Jews or to civilians in general. Despite this, armed resistance took place in many ghettos. One of the most famous uprisings occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto in April-May, 1943. With few arms and almost no outside help, a group of young ghetto residents held out for several weeks against overwhelming German superiority. The Warsaw Ghetto was destroyed soon after the uprising. Only a handful of the ghetto fighters survived. Yet, this uprising was not unique. In September 1942, in the Tulchin ghetto in the Ukraine, 700 Jewish families escaped. Almost all were caught and only fifteen survived.   Similar uprisings took place at the Bialystok and Vilna ghettos in Poland. In both cases most participants were killed.

The strongest armed resis-tance took place in the ghettos, but almost every concentration camp also had a resistance movement. In Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Sobibor, Jews formed active resistance groups that helped prisoners get food from the outside, bribed camp guards, sabotaged installations, and even led armed uprisings. Jewish workers in the Auschwitz crematoriums revolted in 1943, destroying one of the crematory facilities and killing a number of SS soldiers. In Treblinka, prisoners spent a year organizing a full-scale revolt that took place in the summer of 1943. A number of prisoners escaped. In Sobibor, nearly 700 Jews rebelled and, although most were caught and killed, some 300 got away. These uprisings so enraged Hitler that both camps were destroyed.
OTHER FORMS OF RESISTANCE                    
In the ghettos and slave labor camps, concentration camps and death camps, Jews rebelled through daily acts of spiritual resistance. They participated in worship services at great risk to themselves and their families and in the ghettos secretly continued the education of their children by organizing schools and holding classes. Strictly observant Jews also defied the Nazis by continuing to practice Jewish dietary laws. Others resisted by creating art or music, keeping diaries, or by stealing out of the ghetto to obtain food. Many continued to practice their religion. praying silently or aloud in camp barracks so that others could be comforted. They shared food, helped the weak stand through roll call, or intentionally produced defective war materials in slave labor factories. All were extraordinary acts of courage and resistance.  

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Lesson 5

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