Resistance against the Nazis--planned and spontaneous, armed and unarmed--took many forms throughout WWII and the Holocaust. For many, the resistance was a struggle for physical existence. Some escaped through legal or illegal emigration. Others hid. Those who remained, struggled to obtain life's essentials by smuggling the food, clothing, and medicine necessary to survive.
Resistance was very hazardous. In addition to the direct threat to those engaged in resistance, there was a great risk of immediate retaliation by the Nazis to the larger population after an insurrection.
As the war continued and conditions for Jews throughout Europe worsened, their resistance intensified. With a growing awareness of the "Final Solution," resistance turned to forms of guerrilla warfare . In addition to widespread partisan movements across Europe, armed rebellions occurred in Jewish ghettos and concentration camps. It was clear that the insurgents did not have a real chance to stop the Nazis, but their efforts were an affirmation of the determination to prevail. Secretly participating in Jewish rituals was also a form of spiritual resistance, which helped to sustain a sense of dignity and heritage for Jews in ghettos and camps. Printing underground newspapers, hiding written accounts of daily life, and holding concerts or plays in the ghettos were other ways that some defied the Nazi authorities. A few Jews were able to escape the ghettos and join existing partisan forces.
Eastern Europe, especially Belorussia, the western Ukraine, and Lithuania, had wide expanses of forests and swamps which were ideal for guerrilla warfare. Joseph Stalin called for the establishment of an underground movement in the occupied territories to fight the enemy, and in June 1942, central headquarters were established for the entire partisan movement.
With the influx of Jews into the partisan movement, family camps evolved, especially in Belorussia. These camps ranged from a few families to several hundreds of families. The families took refuge in forests primarily in an effort to save their lives, and secondarily to fight the enemy.
In western Europe, large scale guerrilla movement was impossible due to the more open topography. However, there were acts of organized armed resistance.
In total, partisans were relatively few in number, but because of their ability to move within enemy territory they could disrupt Nazi activity. Partisans interfered with enemy communication by cutting telephone, telegraph, and electrical lines and by destroying power stations. They sabotaged transportation links by blowing up bridges, roads, and railway equipment, and they sabotaged factories that produced materials for the Axis war effort.
Nine photographs of resistance groups in the forest, in the ghetto, and even in death camps.
April 19, 1943 marked the beginning of an armed revolt by a courageous and determined group of Warsaw ghetto dwellers. The Jewish Fighter Organization (ZOB) led the insurgency and battled for a month, using weapons smuggled into the ghetto. The Nazis responded by bringing in tanks and machine guns, burning blocks of buildings, destroying the ghetto, and ultimately killing many of the last 60,000 Jewish ghetto residents. The
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the first large uprising by an urban population in German-occupied territory. |
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising gallery 1.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising gallery 2.
Excerpts from General Stroop's report on the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto.
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising article from the Encyclopedia of the Holocaust.
An extensive Warsaw Ghetto Uprising bibliography is available at the Wiesenthal Center site.
Vladka Meed tells of how she watched the burning of the Warsaw ghetto from a building outside the ghetto.
Late summer of 1943 saw armed uprisings at several ghettos and camps. On August 2, seven hundred Jews torched parts of the Treblinka death camp. Most of the rebels were killed within the compound and of the 150-200 who escaped, only a dozen survived. Two weeks later, Jewish paramilitary organizations within the Bialystok ghetto attacked the German army. The revolt ended the same day with the death or capture of all the resisters. Later, on September 1, inhabitants of the Vilna ghetto revolted. Most of the participants were killed, but some managed to escape and joined partisan units.
The following month, 600 Jewish and Russian prisoners attempted an escape at the Sobibór death camp. About 60 survived and joined the Soviet partisans. An embarrassed Heinrich Himmler ordered the gas chambers closed down and the camp leveled.
Esther Raab, one of the few who escaped Sobibór, describes the preparations for the uprising.
Read about the Rosenstrasse Protest staged by women in Berlin.
| On October 7, the sonderkommando (prisoners forced to handle the bodies of gas chamber victims) succeeded in blowing up one of the four crematoria at Auschwitz . All of the saboteurs were captured and killed.
Resistance continued until the end of the war.
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum publication, Resistance during the Holocaust, describes examples of armed and unarmed resistance by Jewish and non-Jewish Holocaust victims. This 56 page PDF booklet requires Adobe Acrobat for viewing.
Resisters, Rescuers, and Bystanders page at the Cybrary.
"Encyclopedia of the Holocaust" article on the Partisans.
Visit the Resisters page of the People section for more information about resisters.
Visit the Resistance Literature page of the Arts section for an annotated bibliography of recommended works.
Interactive quiz on resistance.
Lesson plans, discussion questions, term paper topics, reproducible handouts, and other resources for teaching about resistance are available here.
A Teacher's Guide to the Holocaust