Jewish resistance during the Holocaust was rarely acknowledged until the 1970s/1980s, and even today Jews are still often depicted as passive, submissive victims of an 'inevitable' fate. This digital exhibition will challenge that understanding of the Holocaust through investigation of the resistance exhibited at one of the Operation Reinhard death camps of Eastern Poland: Sobibór. However, this was not the only site of resistance during the tragedy. The ghettoes of Poland were also the location of Jewish activism, bravery, and revolt, the site of Jewish resistance in a time of horror, fear, and pain.
Different types of resistance
Physical and Armed Resistance:
Throughout the Second World War, both Jews and non-Jews fought back against their oppressors, and in many cases were able to acquire weapons. Partisan groups, for instance, lived in the forests across Europe and attacked German military and SS groups. Groups were also formed in some of the concentration camps as well.
The ruins of buildings destroyed by the SS during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising (Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park ©).
Oneg Shabbat was one of the biggest underground Jewish resistance networks during the Holocaust. They collected thousands of documents, which were hidden and dug up after the war (Photo in the public domain).
In ghettoes and occupied cities, many Jews developed secret, ‘underground’ resistance networks, whose members risked their lives to document the murder, living conditions and atrocities taking place. They also managed to publish Jewish newspapers, fake documents, make contact with the allied countries, and helped others to escape - particularly children.
Jews in Hiding:
As the Nazis began to occupy different countries, many Jews went into hiding in order to survive the war. Often hidden by non-Jewish friends or volunteers, these Jews resisted being sent to work in camps or being round up to be killed. Usually, these hiding places were small with no light, and resulted in terrible living conditions.
A child's dress embroidered with red and blue flowers with small green leaves (Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Lola and Walter Kaufman ©).
Group portrait of members of a theater group, some in costume, in the Lodz ghetto (Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Judith M. Shaar ©).
Spiritual resistance was an important part of staying alive, a means for those who suffered to retain their individuality and humanity. Even though Jews were banned from most everyday activities, in camps, ghettoes and hiding they found a way to practise Jewish religious traditions, provide education for children and young people, create art and theatre performances, and write diaries.
For an example, here is a poem, “Homesick”, written by a prisoner at Theresienstadt:
“People walk along the street,
You see at once on each you meet
That there’s ghetto here.
A place of evil and of fear.
There’s little to eat and much to want,
Where bit by bit, it’s horror to live.
But no one must give up!
The world turns and times change.
Yet we all hope the time will come
When we’ll go home again.
Now I know how dear it is
And often I remember it.”