Members of the family camp protected by the partisan detachment of Tuvia Bielski, who were hiding in the woods near the village of Naliboki, in Belarus (formerly Poland), until 1944. (Commander Yehuda Bielski, sitting second row right.)
This exercise contains examples of people who disagreed with, or even resisted, the Nazi regime. By the end of this activity you will have developed your understanding of empathy and the importance of making decisions and acting upon them; all necessary attributes in protecting and upholding democratic values and human rights.
Armed, Civil and Spiritual Resistance in the Ghettos During the Holocaust
Using the Snowball Technique, define the term resistance.
Snowball Techniquehole group sits in a circle. Working first in pairs, students define the term resistance. After completing this task, each pair joins up with another pair and together try to agree on their definition of the term. Then this new group of four joins up with another group of four where they again try to reach consensus on a definition.
This process is repeated until only two large groups remain. Their two definitions are then written on a flipchart or blackboard. At this point, the teacher comments on the definitions and formulates one final definition that will include the most important points from the two definitions proposed by the two large groups of students.
Read the definition of resistance formulated by Roman Kent, a survivor of the Lodz ghetto and Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.
After careful reading, try to specify what the different kinds of resistance are that Roman Kent mentioned, and list them in bullet points.
"[…] A kind of communist movement was created in the ghetto and some of the leaders of the movement were very good friends of mine - we went to school together. Where we had to work, they organised something that in the USA would have been called a 'slowdown strike'. When the management wanted us to produce ten backpacks a day for the German army, we only made two. And we realised that the management would be afraid to do anything to us because, if they had openly said 'hey, you are having a slowdown strike', they would have been punished by the Germans. So, in a way, we were playing them against the Germans and we were saving our own lives [by saving our strength] through very low production. I say this because in many instances I have so many times heard that the Jews did not do anything, that they went like sheep to the ovens. But it is not true since this was also a form of resistance. Resistance does not have to be with a gun and bullets. Although sometimes the easiest resistance is with a gun and bullets.
But, many times the consequences of taking up arms and shooting Germans would be that they would take another 1 200 people and kill them. So, that would not have accomplished much. But resistance like this is still resistance. Resistance, when the mother gives a piece of bread to her child so he'd survive – that is a form of resistance. In the Lodz Ghetto we had a symphony orchestra, this orchestra played even when it was cold but by playing in the ghetto they gave the people the will to live for another day and another day and another day. Yes, it was maybe not lethal, but it was a form of resistance. The teacher that was teaching the children in ghetto – it was resistance, it was illegal. So there were many forms of resistance, which were spiritual, moral and so on […]"
Read the explanation of the causes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising given by Noemi Szac-Wainkranc in her diary.
"[…] The battle continues. There is a change of fighters and a breather in the bunkers but everyone wants to fight; everyone glorifies the idea of death in battle against the enemy. What a joy it is to aim a gun at him, to feel that one can avenge one’s family, to feel that one is not a defenceless animal being led to the slaughter, but a human being who can fight, shoot, pour petrol over tanks, a person who can aim a gun at the Germans and have them killed. […] In the second week of the battle, we occupied the whole of Leszno Street, pushed the Germans away from the other bank of the river, and captured arms and uniforms. […] It was a sight. We seized all the warehouses in the ghetto containing spare parts, machines, and uniforms. More and more German divisions were sent to our front, but we were fortified by our strength, our doggedness, and a single thought: we have to take our revenge!
Admittedly, it seemed that everything was disintegrating into chaos, but that was only on the surface. Actually, everything was going according to plan, just as had been discussed when we sat around the table on those sad evenings. Could our plans to demolish the walls really come to fruition? Escape would have been a victory for us. But there was no escape. Wherever we went, failure would be certain, and victory – there could only be one victory: to hold out as long as possible and to kill the largest possible number of Germans… We were not unhappy: on the contrary, for us it was the greatest happiness. Neither fear nor pain existed for us. Can you compare such a death with death in a gas chamber? […] Die! For my mother, for my father, for my children, for our life! I am aiming at you! Oh God, please let the shot hit its target! […]"
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the first armed city resistance against Nazi Germany conducted on the territory of occupied Europe, but it wasn’t the only example of military action taken by Jews.
There were different actions organised by Jewish partisan groups all over Europe but their scale differed from place to place. However, the fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto had minimal military power and, although they had no real chance of winning, they chose to fight.
Based on the quotes from Noemi Szac-Wainkranc’s diary, list the reasons she mentioned that the fighters had for rebelling against the German army.
Search the Internet for other sites of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust and, on the map of Europe, place a pin with dates on the spots where acts of resistance against Nazis took place. Find at least five such places besides Warsaw, Poland. Remember to check your information from at least two different sources (websites).
Read the Proclamation of the Jewish Pioneer Youth Group In Vilna Calling For Resistance, 1 January 1942.
"They Shall Not Take Us Like Sheep to the Slaughter!
Jewish youth, do not be led astray. Of the 80 000 Jews in the 'Jerusalem of Lithuania' [Vilna] only 20 000 have remained. Before our eyes they tore from us our parents, our brothers and sisters. Where are the hundreds of men who were taken away for work by the Lithuanian 'snatchers'? Where are the naked women and children who were taken from us in the night of terror of the provokatzia ? Where are the Jews [who were taken away on] the Day of Atonement?
Where are our brothers from the second ghetto?
All those who were taken away from the ghetto never came back.
All the roads of the Gestapo lead to Ponary. And Ponary is death!
Doubters! Cast off all illusions. Your children, your husbands and your wives are no longer alive.
Ponary is not a camp—all are shot there.
Hitler aims to destroy all the Jews of Europe. The Jews of Lithuania are fated to be the first in line.
Let us not go as sheep to the slaughter!
It is true that we are weak and defenceless, but resistance is the only reply to the enemy! Brothers! It is better to fall as free fighters than to live by the grace of the murderers. Resist! To the last breath."
1 January 1942, Vilna Ghetto. Moreshet Archives, D. 1.4630.
Answer the following questions:
4.4-3b:1 What events in Lithuania directly influenced the manifesto encouraging the Jewish armed struggle in the Vilna ghetto?
4.4-3b:2 Search for information about Ponary. What was it? What happened there?
4.4-3b:3 Taking into account the information provided in the text about the civil resistance in the ghetto, do you think that the sentence "they shall not take us like sheep to the slaughter" reflected the reality of the ghettos?
4.4-3b:4 Afterwards, the manifesto was communicated to other groups of Jewish youth in ghettos in the occupied territories. What could have been the impact of its content on the Jewish organisations in the ghettos?
Answer the following questions:
4.4-3c:1 Look closely at the photo. Specify where and in what time of year it was taken.
4.4-3c:2 What kind of people are in the photo?
4.4-3c:3 Tuvia Bielski stands third from the left in the photo. He was the commander of the partisan detachment protecting the camp of Jewish families in Naliboki Forest. Taking into account the composition of the picture and the clothes of the people posing, what do you think about the nature of this photo? For what purpose was it taken?
Answer the following questions:
4.4-3d:1 Look closely at the photo. Specify where and in what time of year it was taken.
4.4-3d:2 Looking at the clothes of the people in the photo and their equipment, can you tell what occupations they had?
4.4-3d:3 Analyse the two photos. What are the essential differences between these two groups of people? What could these people have had in common and what sets them apart?
Additional questions and tasks:
4.4-3e:1 Use available resources to gather information about Jewish partisans in Belarus.
4.4-3e:2 Find out how the camps of Jewish families, who ran away from the liquidated ghettos, were created in the forests and how they functioned.
4.4-3e:3 Look for information about the Bielski brothers, the organisers of a Jewish partisan group in the Naliboki Forest in Belarus.
4.4-3e:4 Consider what the main tasks and goals of Jewish partisan groups operating in Eastern Europe were.
4.4-3e:5 By analysing the various attitudes of the Jewish population towards the Holocaust, how would you describe the attitude and actions of the Jewish partisans?
A common opinion is that Jews were passive and did not fight back. Elie Wiesel refers to that belief and suggests rethinking it: "The question is not why all the Jews did not fight, but how so many of them did. Tormented, beaten, starved, where did they find the strength—spiritual and physical—to resist?"
4.4-4a Reflect upon the statement and write one to two paragraphs explaining what might have made Jews work against the Nazi’s plan of extermination. What forms of resistance can you list? Try to give an answer to this question: what are the reasons for the misconception that Jews did not fight back?