Accounts of Resistance

One question frequently asked by students studying the Holocaust is, "Why didn't the victims fight back?" The answer is, "Many did." There are thousands of unsung heroes of the Holocaust, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who resisted in ways big and small. During the Holocaust, Jews and other targeted groups had little access to military training or weapons and found themselves surrounded by professional soldiers armed with machine guns and armored tanks. Yet, even though the Nazis did succeed in killing millions of "undesirables" as part of Hitler's plan of bureaucratic genocide, those millions did not submit willingly. Resistance occurred in many forms, from the simple act of prayer; to the organization of armed partisans; to the smuggling of food, arms and people into and out of ghettos. These acts of resistance testify to the heroism of those who were faced with such evil. Unfortunately, countless dramatic tales were buried with the victims of the Holocaust that will never be told.

Martyrs and Fighters: The Epic of the Warsaw Ghetto
 by Philip Friedman

This gripping account deals primarily with the Warsaw ghetto and the armed uprising that took place there in April of 1943. Friedman's version of the historical event includes excerpts from German sources, along with the report of SS General Jürgen Stroop on the destruction of the ghetto, and poignant statements from survivors. Recommended for high school students.

They Fought Back
 edited by Yuri Suhl

Yuri Suhl's goal is to counter a prevailing Holocaust myth that Jews did not fight against their tormentors. His anthology is intended to inform readers of the truth. The editor gathers here a collection of more than thirty stories detailing instances of Jewish resistance to Nazism in occupied Europe. He has collected many interesting accounts of women involved in the resistance: young girls, teenagers, wives, and widows. One of the most exciting tales recounts the activities of the Baum-Gruppe, an illegal group composed of young Jewish men and women of various political persuasions who bravely conducted anti-Nazi operations in Berlin at the height of the war and under the very noses of the Gestapo. Recommended for junior high and high school students.

Anthology on Armed Jewish Resistance, 1939-1945
 by Isaac Kowalski

This repository of accounts of Jewish resistance by partisan and underground activities contains memoirs, letters, testimonies, biographies, and autobiographies of members of the resistance movement. Through these accounts, Kowalski attempts to portray the Jewish partisan as a courageous soldier engaged in a threefold battle: fighting the Nazi invaders, enduring the indigenous antisemitism of the population, and struggling to survive within the underground resistance movement. Recommended for high school students.

On Both Sides of the Wall
 by Vladka Meed

This excellent memoir tells the story of young Vladka Meed, the only Holocaust survivor of her family, most of whom perished in the gas chambers of the Treblinka death camp. Vladka relates the harrowing experiences she had while living in the Warsaw ghetto. Since she was fair-skinned, she managed to escape from the ghetto as an "Aryan" and began to work for the resistance as a liaison to people still in the ghetto. Vladka smuggled food, illegal literature, money, weapons and correspondence into the ghetto and was also sent to partisans in the woods to give reports. Whenever Vladka was asked by German soldiers for her identity papers, she relied on her wits and eluded capture by means of bribe or bluff. She was in the Warsaw ghetto just days before the rebellion, but then her resistance work as a contact person for nearby labor camps took her away from Warsaw. When she returned a few months later, she found nothing left of her past life, not even her father's grave remained, because the ghetto had been burned to the ground by the Nazis. Recommended for high school students. Introduction by Elie Wiesel.

The Musicians of Auschwitz
 by Fania Fenelon

This is a celebrated memoir describing the healing power of music as it was a part of Fania Fenelon's life. Her story has also been made into a television show, "Playing for Time," written by Arthur Miller and starring Vanessa Redgrave. Fania was one of the Jewish musicians who played in the orchestra at Birkenau-Auschwitz. Her specialty was "Madame Butterfly," and occasionally she would write music for the other players. She claims that her absorption in the creating of music cleared her mind, lifted her soul and gave her hope. Fania and the other musicians played for the SS, but their songs were secretly jubilant and hopeful without the German soldiers' knowledge. The players transformed traditional Jewish music and even dared to perform pieces that were banned by the Nazis. Recommended for high school students.

Hide and Seek
 by Ida Vos

In this award-winning novel, a work of historical fiction, young eight-year-old Rachel tells the story of her family's life as they evaded persecution from 1940-1945 during the German occupation of Holland. When circumstances become too dangerous, the family goes into hiding to survive. Rachel and her sister, Esther, eventually go by themselves to stay with a Christian farm couple to escape the Gestapo. The family is finally reunited when the war ends, but then they must adjust to the years of fear, hardship and deprivation they have spent in hiding from the Nazis. Recommended for junior high school and high school students.

The Last of the Just
 by Andre Schwarz-Bart

This is a critically acclaimed novel that examines the Legend of the Just Men. This legend holds that the world's existence depends on the fact that certain men of honor appear periodically throughout history, and their piety holds God's created earth together. Such men live quiet lives, unrecognized for their silent integrity and acts of heroism. One such man, Ernie Levy, lives during the Hitler era. As a Jew, he feels the sting of antisemitism and experiences pain, humiliation and loss. When he realizes he may be able to save the lives of certain loved ones, Ernie finally decides to fight back, in a sense, not with physical courage but with moral courage. He goes to Paris where he meets and falls in love with a young, handicapped Jewish girl. As he attempts to cultivate his love and to save others, Ernie's heroism stirs the human spirit, even as he is deported. His moral leadership in the gas chambers identifies him as a true martyr. Recommended for high school students.

The Man from the Other Side
 by Uri Orlev

This award-winning novel is based on the real life experiences of a Polish journalist, now dead, whom Uri Orlev met in Israel when both men were adults. The captivating story describes the adventures of young Marek, a fourteen-year-old Catholic boy who helps hide a Jewish man from the Warsaw ghetto. Marek returns with the man to the ghetto to fight in the April uprising of 1943. The complex story follows Marek through many revelations as he learns more and more about his heritage and his true self. The author himself is a Holocaust survivor who now resides in Israel. Recommended for junior high school and high school students.

We were still under Leszno Street when we heard the tramp of soldiers. They were singing as they marched, passing overhead with a single rhythmic tread. All at once there were two loud explosions. Pan Jozek was frightened for a moment, but then he began to laugh like a madman because right away we heard the curses and screams of the wounded. And shooting. The Germans had opened fire with machine guns and automatic rifles. Then it was quiet again and the marching resumed. This time, though, no one sang. Soon we heard the distant wails of ambulances.

It wasn't the first time that Jews had killed Germans. That had happened in Warsaw before, although not very often. Until the first day of the uprising such incidents were few and far between, however, whereas now a real war was being fought. The invincible, world-conquering German army was being driven back by the Jews! Of course, we all knew it couldn't last. No one had any illusions. But no one was thinking that far ahead. We had eyes only for the Germans crawling on the ground and hugging the walls of buildings, hysterically firing in all directions while their dead and wounded lay scattered about, bleeding and screaming. I couldn't believe it. Pan Jozek put an arm around me and said, "If I have to die, Marek, seeing this will make it easier."

Let the Children Come
 by Recha Freier

In her memoir, Recha Freier tells of her efforts to prepare Jewish children living in Germany for emigration to Palestine. She organized agriculture training sessions and did her best to ready these youngsters for a new life on their own. But her efforts to get the children out of Germany were repeatedly thwarted; at one point she was confronted by Adolf Eichmann himself. Recha persisted in her attempts to save the children from Nazi persecution and eventually succeeded in relocating 10,000 young Jews to Palestine between the years 1939 and 1941. She fled Germany in 1941. Recommended for high school students.

Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
 by Yisrael Gutman

This author survived the infamous uprising and also several concentration camps. Yisrael Gutman serves as director of the research center at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. His book thoroughly examines the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and includes photos, diary entries of survivors, letters and other correspondence, and excerpts from official documents. It makes an excellent resource guide for students interested in researching the uprising a little more in depth. Recommended for high school students.

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A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust
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