• Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust

    The Wiener Holocaust Library’s exhibition and accompanying catalogue, Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust, examine the resistance efforts undertaken by Jews during the Holocaust, from armed uprisings, to rescue missions and the maintenance of covert religious practices. Jewish resistance was very diverse and was shaped by various factors. Political, geographical and individual circumstances all played a part.

    Jews resisted in every country in which they were persecuted. They were sometimes part of wider resistance networks and sometimes formed their own. Many Jews resisted whenever they had the opportunity, in dangerous and almost impossible circumstances.   

    Black and white image Abba Kovner and other Jewish Lithuanian partisans with guns
    Jewish Lithuanian partisans group ‘The Avengers’ on their return to Vilna at the time of the liberation of the city by the Red Army, July 1944. Between 350,000 and 500,000 Jews served in the Red Army during the Second World War.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections

    With thanks to Shoshanah Hoffman, Elena Mueller, Margaret Drummond, David Wirth and Karen Watkins.

    The Wiener Holocaust Library logo
    AJR logo
  • Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust

    A map depicting the German invasion of the Soviet Union, 1941 – 1942.
    Courtesy of Bivouac Designs.

    In June 1941, the German invasion of the Soviet Union saw the start of a campaign of mass murder against Jews and Roma. As German forces advanced through Soviet Belarus, Russia, Ukraine, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, SS special forces (Einsatzgruppen) and their collaborators carried out massive orchestrated shootings.

    In the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex in German-occupied Poland, experiments using gas to murder people started in August 1941. By 1942, large numbers of Jews were being killed at the camp. The Nazis established other extermination camps at Chełmno, Bełzec, Sobibor, Treblinka and Majdanek, and organised the transportation of Jews from ghettos, camps, towns and cities across Europe to these sites.

  • Resistance in Forests

    Partisans in the Soviet States

    A Jewish partisan group in German-occupied Soviet territories, c.1942-1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections

    From summer 1941, the German army advanced and the SS (Schutzstaffel, or Protection Squads) set up ghettos and launched genocidal attacks in Lithuania, Belarus and Ukraine. Some Jews fled and joined the partisans: armed groups fighting covertly against the German invaders and their collaborators.

    Partisans were often, but not always, Soviet, or affiliated with the Soviets. Partisans in Soviet territories based themselves in dense forests, particularly in western Belarus. They launched attacks on German forces, sabotage and sometimes rescue operations. Maintaining food supplies and adequate shelter were a constant difficulty for partisan groups.

    The first partisan groups were made up of Soviet troops dispersed by the German invasion of June 1941, escaped Soviet prisoners of war and Jews fleeing the German advance.

    Later, Jews who had escaped from ghettos such as Minsk joined their ranks, as did some other Soviet and Lithuanian citizens who faced being forced into labour service for the Germans.

    Some Jews joined Soviet partisan groups, or were Soviet soldiers in partisan groups. Some Jews formed their own partisan organisations.

    Up to 30,000 Jews served in Nazi-occupied Russia, Ukraine and the Baltic states as armed partisan fighters.

  • Resistance in Forests

    The Bielski Group

    “So few of us are left, we have to save lives. To save a Jew is much more important than to kill Germans.”

    Tuvia Bielski

    The Bielski brothers initially fled into the Belorussian forests to escape the German invasion in 1941. In the summer of 1942, they formed a partisan group of thirty people. 

    The group launched reprisals against local collaborators, but they mainly focussed on saving Jews. The Bielski Group located Jews trying to survive in the forests and sheltered them. It sent guides into ghettos to organise escapes. The group cooperated with, and eventually supplied Soviet partisans.

    By the end of the war, 1,200 Jews lived with the Bielski Group, who by this point had established various village communities and workshops in the forests.

    Members of the Bielski Group, c. 1943, Naliboki Forest, Belarus.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Israel/ The Photo Archive

    Partisan groups would often only accept those who could fight. The Bielski Group took all Jews, from children to the elderly.

    Another Jewish Soviet partisan group in Belarus, known as Zorin’s Brigade, was established as a family camp in 1943. The group consisted of 137 fighters and 421 unarmed civilians of all ages. Almost all survived the war.

    Partisan antisemitism

    Some Jews who joined Soviet partisan groups were welcomed, particularly if they had weapons or medical skills. Others concealed their Jewish identity; some encountered hostility and antisemitism and established their own groups. From mid-1943, the centralisation of the partisan movement under Soviet Red Army control reduced manifestations of antisemitism.

  • Resistance in Forests

    “The Avengers” (‘Ha Nokmim’)

    Two of the leaders of the ‘Avengers’, Rozka Korczak (left) and Abba Kovner (
    Two of the leaders of the ‘Avengers’, Rozka Korczak (left) and Abba Kovner (right).

    Following their escape into forests from the Vilna (Vilnius) ghetto after the resumption of mass killings of Jews there, Abba Kovner, Rozka Korczak and Vitka Kempner formed a Jewish partisan group nicknamed The Avengers. The group was affiliated with the Soviet partisan movement. They launched guerrilla attacks and sabotage missions against the Germans and collaborators.

    After the Red Army took control of Vilna in July 1944, Kovner, who had previously been involved in running the FPO resistance organisation inside the Vilna ghetto, founded an underground network to help Jews escape from eastern Europe. He was later involved in plans for revenge against Germany.

  • Resistance in Forests

    Partisans across Europe

    Jewish partisan and guerrilla groups operated across Europe during the Holocaust and particularly in Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, Greece and Belgium. Jews were also members of groups in France and Italy. In some places, however, such as Hungary, there was an absence of significant armed Jewish resistance.

    Whether Jewish partisan groups were able to form or launch successful attacks was dependent upon a number of factors. These included the availability of weapons (an obstacle in Hungary); the attitudes of local non-Jews; geographical and topographical factors (the forests in Belarus were particularly impenetrable and therefore safer), and the speed at which the genocide. In Ukraine, Jews had very little time to respond. The strength of German forces and the effectiveness of Jewish leadership also played a role.

    Bernard Musmand joined the Maquis in southern France in 1944. The Maquis were armed partisans based in the southern mountains of France. They organised rescues of Jewish children and contributed to Allied military efforts. The Maquis had many Jewish members, including Musmand.

    Two members of the French resistance during the Second World War
    Bernard Musmand and Simone, both members of the French resistance, photographed in Montpelier during the war.
    Courtesy of the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation
    An eyewitness testimony given to the Wiener Holocaust Library in the 1950s of experiences during the Holocaust
    The testimony of Mr Weichselbaum, c. 1955, given to The Wiener Library as part of its project to gather eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections

    This extensive testimony gives an account of Weichselbaum’s life and resistance activities in France, including his service as a leader of the Maquis. Weichselbaum, a Jew from Frankfurt living in France, engaged in various resistance activities, including organising the rescue of Jews.

  • Resistance in Ghettos

    After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, in places such as Vilna in Lithuania and Minsk in Belarus, Jews not murdered immediately in mass killings were forced into ghettos.

    Further west, in ghettos, established in 1939 in German-occupied Poland and Czechoslovakia, Jews set up underground networks, expanded cultural and social provision and created armed groups.

    Jews organised soup kitchens, social services, illegal schools, theatres and orchestras, and established resistance networks that passed information, arms and people between ghettos and the partisans.

    In 1943, there were two major uprisings in ghettos, in Warsaw and Białystok. Dozens of armed revolts occurred in other ghettos in occupied Poland and the Soviet Union, including in Krakow, Minsk, Vilna, Będzin, Częstochowa and Kovno. Jewish underground organisations operated in seven major and 45 small ghettos.

    There were also countless acts of minor rebellion and the resistance of the individuals who kept diaries and records of their experiences or continued to practice their religion covertly, in defiance of Nazi oppression.

    Scenes of an outdoor market in the Warsaw Ghetto
    A market in the Warsaw Ghetto, c. 1940s.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    Map of the Nazi established ghettos in Europe
    Map depicting the Nazi ghettos established across Europe.
    Courtesy of Bivouac Designs.

    On 16 August 1943, between 300 and 500 Polish Jewish resistance fighters launched an armed uprising in the Białystok Ghetto. The uprising was triggered by large-scale deportations. The fighters had amassed guns and also used improvised weapons such as Molotov cocktails. The uprising was quickly defeated and most of those who took part were killed or committed suicide. A few dozen resisters managed to escape the ghetto and reach the Polish partisans.

    Illegal schools flourished in the ghettos of Estonia, Poland, Lithuania and Latvia.  

    In Kovno (Kaunas) ghetto in Lithuania, an underground school was established. Kovno had been a centre of Jewish learning before the war.

    In this photograph, four boys pose on a snowy street in the Kovno ghetto with their school bags. They were students of the religious Tifferes Bachurim school

    Four schoolboys pictured in the snow within a Nazi ghetto
    George Kadish/Zvi Kadushin 1941-1943, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    In the Vilna (Vilnius) Ghetto, a theatre was established by the Judenrat (Jewish Council). It gave 111 performances. A music school and an orchestra were also set up and literary events were held. The ghetto also housed a large library.

    There was a conflict between the Judenrat in Vilna and the armed ghetto resistance, the United Partisan Organisation (FPO). The Judenrat criticised the FPO’s strategy of armed resistance, arguing that it placed the Jews in the ghetto at greater risk. The FPO questioned the promotion of cultural activities in the ghetto.

    “In a cemetery, no theatre ought to be performed.”

    Leaflet distributed by the Bund at the time of the opening of the theatre.

    Three people stand on a balcony in the Vilna ghetto
    Three members of the Paper Brigade on a balcony in the Vilna ghetto: the poets Shmerke Kaczerginski and Avraham Sutzkever (left and right) and the educator Rakhele Pupko-Krinsky (centre), July 1943. The Paper Brigade worked to safeguard documents about Yiddish culture from Nazi destruction.
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Hadass Kalderon.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    In Ukraine, the speed at which the Nazis and their collaborators annihilated the country’s 2.4 million-strong Jewish population hindered resistance, although some people, particularly in Kiev, managed to flee ahead of the German takeover. In a few small ghettos, Jews were sometimes able to mount resistance.

    There were isolated incidents of armed resistance in the Lvov Ghetto.

    Łódź Ghetto

    Crowd of people in the Lodz Ghetto
    A musical evening in the Łódź Ghetto, 1940-1943.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    The Łódź Ghetto in German-occupied Poland was the second largest, after Warsaw. Established in 1940, 210,000 Jews were held there. The ghetto became a large industrial centre.

    It was only finally liquidated in 1944. Tight control of the ghetto by the Judenrat (Jewish Council) in Łódź made armed resistance difficult. There was considerable political, spiritual and cultural resistance, however.

    Mendel Grossman was a photographer who took identity card photographs in the Łódź ghetto. He also covertly made other images of life in the ghetto as a form of record and resistance.

    Szmul Dawid Grossman died in the Łódź ghetto hospital on 3 July 1942. Mendel Grossman was shot on a death march at the end of the war.

    A man reads a book
    Szmul Dawid Grossman reading, photographed by his son Mendel Grossman in Łódź ghetto, c. 1940-42.
    Yad Vashem Photo Archives, Jerusalem, 4062/337.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    The Theresienstadt Ghetto

    Conditions in the Theresienstadt Ghetto, although appalling, were better than those in many ghettos. This allowed for the creation of extensive cultural and educational programmes. Over 500 lectures were held, organised in part by Philipp Manes. Children received art lessons and orchestras were established. Victor Ullmann and Peter Kien wrote a satirical opera, The Emperor of Atlantis, inside the ghetto.

    Stack of diaries and journals from the Theresienstadt Ghetto, 1940s
    A selection of the journals of Philipp Manes, produced in Theresienstadt, 1942-1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections

    Philipp Manes (1875-1944) was a German Jew and a prolific writer with a lifelong habit of keeping records of his experiences. In July 1942, the Nazis deported Manes and his wife to Theresienstadt ghetto. In the ghetto, Manes organised a cultural programme as head of the Orientation Service.

    This is a selection of the large collection of Manes’ journals held by the Library. They contain contributions from Manes and others.

    Philipp Manes and his wife were murdered in Auschwitz in late 1944. Manes’ journals survived and were sent to one of his friends after the war, and then to his family. Philipp Manes’ daughter Eve eventually deposited them with The Wiener Library.

    An illustration of the ghetto from journals that Manes kept in the ghetto, 1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
    A portrait of Philipp Manes, 1944
    A portrait of Philipp Manes, 1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    The Theresienstadt Ghetto

    Peter Kien (1919-1944), a Jew from Czechoslovakia, was training to be an artist at the time of the German takeover there. The Nazis deported Kien to Theresienstadt ghetto in December 1941. He worked there as the director of the Technical Drawing Office for the Jewish Administration.

    In Theresienstadt, Kien produced portraits of fellow inmates and other drawings and art works. He also wrote poetry and plays and produced this libretto for Viktor Ullman’s opera Der Kaiser von Atlantis der der Tod dankt ab – The Emperor of Atlantis or Death Abdicates. Ullman and Kien’s opera was an anti-Nazi satire, with the character of the Emperor based on Hitler. The Nazis did not allow the opera to be performed in Theresienstadt. Peter Kien was murdered with his wife and parents in Auschwitz in October 1944.

    A handwritten libretto produced in Theriesenstadt
    Peter Kien’s libretto for the opera The Emperor of Atlantis or Death Abdicates, composed in Theresienstadt (Teresin) ghetto 1943-1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    In 1999, The Wiener Holocaust Library received a collection of various writings produced by Kien in Theresienstadt, including his plays and this libretto.

  • Resistance in Ghettos

    A small ghetto – Shargorod, southern Ukraine

    In some small ghettos in southern Ukraine, the potential for Jewish survival and resistance was higher than elsewhere in the country. Romania forces were the occupiers and some Romanian officials assisted Jews, for a variety of reasons. The local population also provided aid at times.

    In the Shargorod Ghetto, community organisations, including health services and schools, were set up. Ghetto leaders established contact with partisans in forests nearby. By 1943, the ghetto was able to supply the partisans.

    Most of those who survived the first few months in the Shargorod Ghetto survived the Holocaust.

    Their situation was unusual, however. Of the 2.1 million Jews of Belarussia and Ukraine who came under the control of the Germans and their collaborators from 1941, only 40,000-45,000, around two per cent, survived the Holocaust.

  • Resistance in Ghettos

    Minsk Ghetto

    “There is only one way out – weapons and then the forest.”

    From the Journal of Pinchas Omland, 13 August 1942, as Omland contemplated escaping from the ghetto.

    The ghetto in Minsk was established in July 1941 with over 100,000 inhabitants. During the Ghetto’s existence, a communist underground inside united with the communist underground outside to carry out sabotage in German factories and mount a systematic effort to smuggle Jews out. The Jewish hospital in the Ghetto and some members of the Judenrat also assisted by forging death certificates for those who had escaped.

    Up to 10,000 people successfully escaped from the Minsk ghetto. Others were killed in the attempt. The majority of survivors went to join the Soviet partisan movement.

    A black and white photograph of a resistance fighter
    Michail Gebelev, one of the leaders of the Minsk ghetto resistance, c.1940-42.
    Yad Vashem Photo Archive, Jerusalem, 4214/30.

    Gebelev acted as a liaison between resisters inside and outside the ghetto. He organised mass escapes in 1942 but insisted that he would not escape himself. He was betrayed and murdered by German authorities in August 1942, aged 36.

    A black and white photograph of a resistance fighter
    Mira Ruderman, a member of the Minsk ghetto underground.
    The Minsk Ghetto 1941-1943 by Barbara Epstein(2008).

    Ruderman was a teenager when she escaped with her father and brother from the Minsk ghetto to a Soviet partisan group. All three survived the war. Her mother and baby sister remained behind and were murdered.

  • Resistance in Ghettos

    The role of the Judenräte (Jewish Councils)

    The Nazis cynically drew upon Jewish communal traditions in setting up Jewish Councils (Judenräte) to oversee aspects of the day-to-day internal administration of many ghettos.

    Judenräte established educational and cultural services and healthcare for inhabitants, and in some places secretly supported resistance efforts. Jewish ghetto police were also involved in resistance at times.

    The role of Judenräte and the Jewish ghetto police remains controversial, however. In Łódź ghetto, they maintained an oppressive regime that prevented armed opposition. The head of the Judenräte, Chaim Rumkowski, hoped that his cooperation with the Nazi authorities would save the inhabitants of the ghetto. Rumkowski was widely resented and he was likely killed by other prisoners on his arrival at Auschwitz.

    In the Minsk ghetto, successive heads of the Judenräte, Ilya Mishkin and Moshe Yaffe, worked with the resistance movement.

    Black and white photograph of a building in Warsaw during the Second World War
    In Warsaw, the Judenräte was based in this building.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April-May 1943

    The largest of the ghetto uprisings was organised by the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB) and the Jewish Military Union (ŻZW). ŻOB had been set up by the Zionist youth movement the previous year in response to mass deportations of inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto to death camps such as Treblinka. ŻZW was formed by Polish army officers shortly after the German invasion of Poland and it had connections to the Polish resistance movement.

    Map showing battles during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1943
    Map showing the battles during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 1943.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    This fighting force eventually united most factions of the Ghetto resistance movement, including left- and right-wing Zionists, the social democratic Bund and Communist groups. This relative unity helped the ghetto fighters obtain weapons from resistance networks outside the ghetto.

    In January 1943, the German authorities paused deportations to death camps from the Warsaw Ghetto because they faced armed resistance there. On April 19, an SS-led force re-entered to complete the deportations but came under violent attack from the resistance. The inhabitants of the Ghetto had gathered weapons and constructed bunkers to shelter in.

    SS forces initially retreated. It took them over a month to subdue the Ghetto. Those hiding in bunkers were removed by force and deported to death camps. Pockets of armed resistance continued until June 1943.

    A few dozen survivors managed to escape from the Ghetto through the sewers of Warsaw.  

    Black and white photograph of the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto, 1944
    The ruins of Warsaw ghetto at Lezsno 42 Street, photographed in July 1944 by Stefan Bałuk.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections
  • Resistance in Ghettos

    Tosia Altman

    Tosia Altman, date unknown. Altman was a member of the socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, who were instrumental in organising the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Courtesy of the Moreshet Archive – do not reproduce without permission.
    Tosia Altman, date unknown.
    Courtesy of the Moreshet Archive.

    Tosia Altman was a member of socialist Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, who were instrumental in organising the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Altman worked for the organisation as a courier: she travelled in and out of various ghettos in occupied Poland on false papers, passing information and raising awareness. She smuggled weapons into the Warsaw ghetto in preparation for the uprising. Altman also established a fighting force inside the Krakow ghetto.

    During the Warsaw Ghetto uprising Altman acted as a courier between the resisters’ command bunker and other bunkers. She escaped from the Ghetto but was ultimately captured.

    She died of injuries sustained on the run on 26 May 1943 aged just 24 years old.

  • Spiritual resistance – Kiddush Ha Hayyim

    Black and white photograph of three men up a ladder in the Warsaw Ghetto
    Jewish smugglers from the Warsaw Ghetto wait for a delivery from the ‘Aryan’ side, c.1940-1943.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Smuggling of food into ghettos such as Warsaw was a stand against persecution and genocide, and also often a necessity for survival.

    Trying to stay alive could be considered a kind of resistance in a context where the Nazis and their collaborators aimed to obliterate Jewish life in Europe and murder all Jews. Historian Yehuda Bauer’s concept of ‘Amidah’ – ‘standing up against’ defines as any act of self-care or religious observance by Jews as a form of resistance. Some historians prefer to define resistance as a conscious act of opposition.

    The organisation of artistic and educational activities and clandestine religious services in ghettos like Theresienstadt and Vilna were an effort to maintain culture and community in the face of Nazi dehumanization of Jews.  These kinds of spiritual resistance occurred in many ghettos and also some camps during the Holocaust.

  • The ‘Joy of Sabbath’ group

    In the Warsaw Ghetto, the Oyneg Shabes (Joy of Sabbath) organisation collected and preserved historical documents and testimonies.

    The group buried the material in milk cans and tin boxes once they realised that the ghetto was about to be destroyed and its inhabitants murdered. In this photograph, Auerbach and Wasser are seen uncovering one of the milk cans from the ruins of post-war Warsaw.

    Auerbach escaped from the Ghetto ahead of its destruction. Founder of the group Emmanuel Ringelblum and his family lived in hiding for a year but were uncovered and shot by German authorities in March 1940.

    Two people digging up buried archives
    Rachel Auerbach and Hersz Wasser, surviving members of the Joy of Sabbath organisation, Warsaw, 1946.
    Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum, Israel/ The Photo Archive.
  • Resistance in Camps

    Black and white photograph of Holocaust survivors
    Three survivors of the Treblinka uprising photographed in Warsaw in 1945: Abraham Kolski, Erich Lachmann and a man called Brenner.
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Sylvia Kramarski Kolski.

    The three hid with a non-Jewish Polish family after their escape from Treblinka.

    In autumn 1941, Chełmno and Bełzec and part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex were adapted to become death camps. In 1942, the Nazis built Sobibor and Treblinka death camps in remote areas of German-occupied Poland. At least two and a half million Jews were deported from across Europe to their deaths in these camps.

    In death camps, there were many obstacles to organised resistance. Deportees were disorientated and had almost no time to respond before being killed. For those kept alive to work as slave labourers in the camps, the struggle for day to day survival and the continuous brutality of life hindered their ability to resist. Escape was dangerous and difficult, particularly if prisoners did not know the local geography or language: they faced death if captured.

    Despite these constraints, Jews led six prisoner rebellions at concentration and death camps and there were also uprisings by Jews in slave labour camps. In Auschwitz, Treblinka and Sobibor, the Sonderkommando (Jewish labour detachments who were forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria) organised uprisings. In Auschwitz, they also managed to gather and smuggle out evidence of the crimes committed by the Nazis and their collaborators. In Auschwitz, Sobibor and other camps, Jews sometimes covertly practiced their religion.

  • Resistance in Camps

    Sobibor

    “We started organising and talking… it kept us alive… maybe we’ll be able to take revenge for all those who can’t.”

    Esther Raab, a survivor of the Sobibor camp uprising.

    Black and white photograph of Jewish resistance fighters
    Participants in the Sobibor uprising, in Lublin in Poland, August 1944.
    Courtesy of the Ghetto Fighters’ House Museum.

    Those photographed include, top furthest right, Leon (Lejb) Feldhendler, one of the leaders of the revolt; Esther Raab, seated second from the right, and Zelda Metz, seated third from left. Metz stole bullets from German guards in preparation for the uprising.

    Opened in 1942, the Sobibor camp was established by the Nazis in the forests near Lublin for the purpose of mass killing.

    Between late 1942 and summer 1943, Sonderkommando in the camp organised a number of escape attempts and acts of resistance. During Christmas in 1942, a number of Jewish prisoners escaped. In response, the Nazis executed a number of prisoners at random.

    As the cost of resistance was so high, Sonderkommando in Sobibor started to focus on a mass escape from the camp. Plans developed as news reached them about the destruction of the nearby Bełzec camp. Prisoners in Sobibor feared that the camp would shortly be closed and all prisoners murdered.

    Polish Jewish resisters working with Soviet Jewish prisoners of war organised the escape. On 14 October 1943, 365 of the 650 prisoners in Sobibor rebelled. Eleven SS officials and guards were killed in the uprising, including the deputy camp commandant Johann Niemann. 300 prisoners escaped, 100 of whom were captured shortly afterwards. 47 of those who took part in the Sobibor uprising survived the war.

  • Resistance in Camps

    The Treblinka Uprising

    An eyewitness testimony
    A summary of survivor of Treblinka Stanislav Kohn’s account of the Treblinka uprising, recorded in 1945.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    In early 1943, a resistance movement formed amongst the Sonderkommando at Treblinka death camp. They planned a violent uprising and a mass escape.

    On 2 August 1943, a group of German and Ukrainian guards left the camp for an excursion and the conspirators decided to act. Using a key that had been previously duplicated, they unlocked a weapons store and took guns and grenades. Over 700 Jewish prisoners then attacked the camp. Rebels set buildings alight, exploded a petrol tank and attacked guards. Several hundred managed to escape. Around a hundred of these were quickly chased down and killed.

    70 prisoners who took part in the Treblinka uprising survived the war. They were the only Jewish survivors of Treblinka death camp, where, between July 1942 and October 1943, the Nazis and their collaborators murdered between at least 750,000 people, mainly Jews, and some Roma and non-Jewish Poles.

    A photograph of smoke in the distance - Treblinka Uprising
    Smoke coming from burning buildings in Treblinka during the uprising, 2 August 1943, photographed by the station master of Treblinka, Franciszek Ząbecki.
    Yad Vashem Photo Archive, Jerusalem, 2B08.

    Ząbecki was a member of Polish resistance army, Armia Krajowa (AK). He passed the AK information about Treblinka and gathered evidence on the transports that arrived there. Ząbecki testified in the Treblinka war crimes trials in the 1960s and 1970s. The AK helped shelter some of those who escaped Treblinka during the uprising.

  • Religious practice as resistance

    Even in the extreme circumstances of the death camps, some observant Jews found ways to express and practice their faith.

    Jews said Kaddish, a prayer of mourning, for the dead, and managed to arrange for prayer books and ceremonial items such as tefillin, a small set of black leather boxes that contain verses from the Torah used for prayer, to be smuggled in to camps. Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel recounted multiple instances of prisoners rising early to pray and wear tefillin.

  • Resistance in Camps

    Resistance in Auschwitz-Birkenau

    The size of the Auschwitz-Birkenau camp complex and its forced labour operations, and the length of time that the camp existed – nearly four and a half years – allowed for the creation of complex networks of resistance by non-Jewish and Jewish prisoners.

    Jewish prisoners gathered evidence, produced personal accounts and responses to their experiences, and mounted escape attempts. In October 1944, the Sonderkommando blew up Crematorium IV.

    The first photograph was taken from inside Crematorium V and the second just outside. The photographer, Alberto Errera, a Greek Jew and a naval captain, shot quickly and from the hip. Other Sonderkommando kept watch. Errera managed to take four photographs.

    The film was passed to the Polish resistance in the camp who smuggled it out. It is not known where the camera was obtained from. Errera was shot shortly afterwards in an attempt to escape.

  • Resistance in Camps

    Escape from Auschwitz

    A portrait of Rudolf Vrba
    Rudolf Vrba.
    44070: The Conspiracy of the Twentieth Century by Rudolf Vrba and Alan Bestic (1964)

    Rudolf Vrba, born Walter Rosenberg in Slovakia, was deported to Auschwitz in 1942. There he was forced to work as a Sonderkommando. Vrba worked with others to collect evidence of Nazi atrocities in the camp. In April 1944, in a plan organised by members of the camp’s underground, Vrba and fellow prisoner, Alfred Wetzler, escaped. They hid for three days in a woodpile at the edge of the camp before departing for Slovakia after searches had been called off.

    Vrba and Wetzler were sheltered by the Jewish council in Slovakia. There they produced a report about conditions in Auschwitz including details of the layout of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the gas chambers, and information about transports and the numbers and nationalities of Jews murdered.

    In July 1944, the report reached the international press. It led to increasing pressure on the Hungarian head of state Miklós Horthy, who eventually decided to halt deportations to Auschwitz. Hungarian and German authorities resumed the deportations in November 1944, but around 250,000 Hungarian Jews or Jews living in Hungary survived the war, partly because of the impact of Wetzler and Vrba’s report.

    Vrba and Wetzler were two of 144 prisoners in Auschwitz who successfully escaped.

    A black and white typed report
    A Gestapo (Nazi Security Police) telegram about the escape of Vrba (here called Walter Rosenberg) and Alfred Wetzler, 9 April 1944.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
    A typed up testimony from a Jewish resistance
    Filip Müller’s testimony about Sonderkommando resistance in Auschwitz, recorded in 1957.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Resistance in Camps

    The Auschwitz Sonderkommando Uprising, October 1944

    Hazak V’Amatz” – “Be strong and courageous!”

    The words said to have been called out by resistance fighter Róza Robota at her execution in Auschwitz

    A black and white photograph of a female Jewish resistance fighter
    Róza Robota.
    Yad Vashem Photo Archive, Jerusalem, 3308/98.

    On 7 October 1944, Sonderkommando working at Crematorium IV in Auschwitz blew up the building and launched a mass mutiny. The start of the uprising was triggered by the Sonderkommandos’ realisation that they were about to be killed.

    A plan to destroy the gas chambers and crematoria had been developed over the previous eighteen months. Róza Robota, a Polish Jew who worked sorting the clothes of those murdered in the gas chambers, contacted a group of Jewish women working in a munitions factory in the Auschwitz complex. Through a network of smugglers, the women passed gunpowder out of the factory to Robota, who passed it on to Sonderkommando at the Crematoria.

    The rebellion was quickly crushed. Around 250 prisoners were killed in the fighting and a further 200 later. The role of Robota and three other women was discovered and they were executed on 5 January 1945.

    A black and white photograph of a female Jewish resistance fighter
    Ala Gertner, one of four women executed for their role in the uprising at Auschwitz, photograph taken in a studio in the Będzin ghetto in Poland, c.1943.
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

    Gertner was transported to Auschwitz in 1943. She first worked sorting the clothes of those murdered there with Róza Robota. Gertner was later transferred to a munitions factory where she organised for gunpowder to be smuggled to Robota.

  • Resistance in Camps

    The testimony of Rosa Criolnicki, née Slapak, a Jew from Białystok who survived Auschwitz, 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Criolnicki’s account includes a description of the Sonderkommando uprising in Auschwitz and the execution afterwards of the woman supplied the gunpowder.
    Eyewitness accounts of the Holocaust
    Extracts from reports about Mala Zimetbaum, collected and recoreded by The Wiener Library in 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    A number of eyewitness accounts by survivors of Auschwitz collected by The Wiener Library in the 1950s mentioned Mala Zimetbaum, a Jew from Antwerp. She was noted for her heroism and for the support she that she gave to other prisoners. In this report, references to Zimetbaum have been gathered together.

    Mala Zimetbaum is reported to have tried to escape Auschwitz, but was caught and executed.

  • Resistance in Camps

    The Auschwitz ‘Scrolls’

    Copy of the Auschwitz scroll
    A record of groups of Jews murdered in the gas chambers in Auschwitz, found buried post war near Crematorium III.
    Courtesy of the Archive of the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum.

    Since the war, a number of documents buried near the crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau have been uncovered.

    These were produced by Sonderkommando as records of Nazi persecution and genocide, and as reflections on their experiences. The fragile documents are sometimes damaged and partial. Some seem hastily written, others show signs of manuscripts that have been carefully considered and edited by the authors.

    In this document, Langfus, a rabbi and religious judge, described the circumstances of the deportation to Auschwitz of the Jews from the ghetto in his hometown, Maków Mazowiecki, in Poland. It has only recently become possible to decipher this text.

    Most of those transported, including Langfus’s wife and son, were murdered on arrival. Langfus was forced to work as a Sonderkommando. Langfus also buried a diary, which provides information about other transports and killings and the activities of the Sonderkommando. Leib Langfus participated in the uprising in Auschwitz in October 1944, and was likely executed by the Nazis around late November 1944.

    Handwritten pages buried in Auschwitz
    A page from the The Deportation by Leib Langfus, written and buried in Auschwitz-Birkenau and uncovered after the war.
    Auschwitz State Museum.
  • Resistance in Camps

    Resistance in other camps

    The Nazis established an extensive network of camps across Europe before and during the Holocaust. Camps had various functions: they incarcerated those the Nazis’ identified as enemies, provided slave labour for German industry and the German war effort, and housed prisoners in transit. During the Holocaust, Jews were sometimes held in concentration and transit camps, or forced to work as slave labourers.

    Jews in these camps sometimes resisted Nazi oppression. At least eighteen rebellions were launched by Jews in slave labour camps. Slave labourers carried out acts of sabotage. ‘Spiritual’ resistance was common.

    A handdrawn poem created in a Nazi concentration camp
    A poem written by a Hungarian Jewish slave labourer, Erzsébet Frank, and illustrated by other prisoners at the Markkleeberg Buchenwald subcamp in Germany.
    United State Holocaust Memorial Museum.

    The poem describes twelve women who worked together in a factory at the camp and passed information to each other through song. They were known as ‘The Welders’. The Nazis forced the group on a death march towards Theresienstadt at the end of the war. One of them kept this poem hidden on her person throughout the march.

  • Resistance in Camps

    The wife and three daughters of the founder of The Wiener Holocaust Library, Dr Alfred Wiener, were deported from Amsterdam to Westerbork transit camp in 1943 and then to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in 1944. Ruth, the oldest of Alfred and Margarethe Wiener’s daughters, kept a secret diary inside the camps recording her experiences and details of the camps.

    Esther Pauline Lloyd, née Silver, from London, moved to Jersey in 1939 and married. She registered as a Jews with the German occupying authorities, in accordance with regulations.

    Lloyd was deported in February 1943 to internment camps in France and Germany. She kept a diary of her experiences. Lloyd launched an extraordinary campaign against her deportation and incarceration, and wrote many letters of complaint protesting her treatment. Her husband lodged an appeal with the Military Command in Jersey for his wife’s repatriation.

    Esther Pauline Lloyd was repatriated to Jersey on 24 April 1944.

  • Urban Resistance in the German Reich and Western Europe

    In 1941, following the German invasion of the Soviet Union, Communist underground groups in the German Reich, France and Belgium launched resistance efforts. Many Jews were involved in these. In 1942, the start of mass deportations from German-occupied Belgium and France intensified actions by Jewish resisters.

    In cities such as Brussels, Antwerp, Paris and Lyon, urban guerrillas mounted sabotage, bombing and grenade attacks and assassinated collaborators. Resistance networks distributed information, published clandestine newspapers and mounted rescue missions. In Berlin and Vienna, Jewish resisters distributed illegal information and carried out acts of sabotage.

    Jews were not generally confined to ghettos in these countries, and resisters used false identities or lived in concealed locations in town and cities. Jews sometimes operated in their own organisations, as the Armée Juive (Jewish Army) in France. At other times they worked as part of national or international groups. Jews were overrepresented in resistance movements here.

  • Urban Resistance

    Urban guerrillas

    In 1942 in France and Belgium, urban partisan groups formed. Many Jews participated or established Jewish sections. Many Jewish resisters were immigrants, particularly in Belgium.

    Sharp Shooters – the FTP

    A poster in colour distributed by the Nazis in 1944
    A poster, known as ‘Affiche Rouge’ the ‘Red Poster’, distributed by the German authorities, 1944.
    © Musée de l’Armée/RMN-GP

    This poster was displayed widely throughout France following the execution of the Manouchian group. German occupying authorities intended to discredit the group by emphasising that it comprised Jews of foreign nationality who had carried out terrorist attacks. The poster achieved the opposite of its aim, however, in that it drew the public’s attention to the heroic acts of fighters against Nazism. In some places, the slogan ‘They died for France’ was scrawled onto the poster.

    Olga Bancic, a Romanian Jewish immigrant to France, was a courier for the Manouchian group. In 1944, as Bancic was transported to her execution, she wrote a letter to her young daughter and threw it out of a window. An attached note asked for it to be sent to her daughter after the war.

    Portrait of mother and daughter
    Olga (Golda) Bancic with her daughter, Delores, c.1941

    “My dear little daughter, my darling little love.

    Your mother is writing the last letter, my dear little daughter; tomorrow at 6:00, on May 10, I will be no more.

    Don’t cry, my love; your mother doesn’t cry any more either. I die with a peaceful conscience and with the firm conviction that tomorrow you will have a happier life and future than your mother’s. You will no longer have to suffer. Be proud of your mother, my little love…

    I kiss you with all my heart, a lot a lot.

    Farewell my love. Your Mother.”

    Extracts from Olga Bancic’s last letter

  • Urban Resistance

    Marc Bloch

    “I never stake a claim to my origins except in one situation: when I am facing an anti-Semite… France will… remain the homeland in which my heart is rooted. I was born here, I have drunk at the wellsprings of her culture, I have made her past mine… and I have… striven to defend her to the best of my ability.”

    Following the defeat of France by German forces, Bloch reflected upon his Jewish and his French identity in his book L’Étrange défaite (The Strange Defeat) (1940). Translations by Nathan Bracher.

    Black and white portrait
    Marc Bloch, date unknown.

    Historian Marc Bloch left Paris for Montpellier in 1940 to escape German occupation. When German forces took over southern unoccupied France in November 1942, Bloch immediately joined the resistance. In Lyon he volunteered as an active fighter in the FTP but was considered too old and worked for the group mainly as a courier and translator.

    Bloch was arrested and murdered in March 1944, aged 57.

  • Urban Resistance

    Urban resistance networks

    Jewish resistance networks formed in many urban areas in Western Europe and the German Reich.

    In Vienna, a resistance group was established in 1943 by those of part Jewish heritage: the MischlingsligaMischlings’ League. Mischling was the term the Nazis used to refer to people who had some Jewish ancestry. Some of those labelled Mischling had not previously considered themselves to be Jewish. The Mischlingsliga distributed anti-Nazi material and carried out some sabotage missions such as short circuiting trolley cars taking workers to a munitions factory.

    After the defeat of the German army at Stalingrad in early 1943, members of the organisation Travail Allemand (German Work), formed by Austrian Jews living in France and Belgium, started to return to Austria and organise anti-fascist activities. 

    In Holland, Jews were present in some resistance groups such as the illegal Communist Party of the Netherlands and worked on the resistance newspaper Het Parool.

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    The testimony of Dr St Kuttner from Vienna about his resistance activities in Vienna before the war and the Holocaust, 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Dr St Kuttner was a Protestant with some Jewish ancestry. As a Social Democrat, he was already active in opposition to the ‘Austro-Fascist’ regime before the German takeover of Austria in March 1938. At this point, St Kuttner joined a resistance group formed by Protestant minister Dr Forel. The group gathered intelligence and organised escapes. Following his arrest, Dr St Kuttner was able to come to Britain in 1939 on a visa obtained with help of the Bishop of Chichester, Bishop Bell.

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    The testimony of Otto Meyer about his resistance activities in Holland, recorded in 1958.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Otto Meyer was an art dealer in Berlin. Because he was Jewish, he lost his business after the Nazi came to power. In 1935, he emigrated Amsterdam. At the time of the German invasion of Holland, Meyer joined a resistance group formed by artists. The group forged documents assisted people in hiding underground.

    In 1943, the group managed to obtain Security Police uniforms. They gained entry to an office which held details of Jews in the area due to be called up for forced labour and blew the office up.

  • Urban Resistance

    Belgium

    94% of Belgian’s 60,000 Jewish population were immigrants. These Jews, who often came from the Russian Empire, the Soviet Union or Poland, established one of the largest resistance movements anywhere in Europe.

    Many of them were involved in the Partisan Army, an armed resistance group organised by the Communist Party, and the Front de l’Indépendance (FI), a Communist Party-affiliated group. The FI organised false papers and rescues, gathered intelligence and had armed sections. The FI aimed to unite disparate resistance groups and worked closely with and partially absorbed the Partisan Army. Most of the members of the FI’s Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée (Immigrant Labour – MOI) section were Jewish.

    The MOI, who operated mainly in 1942 and 1943, targeted collaborators and carried out sabotage missions in factories and on train lines.

    An interview with a Jewish resistance fighter
    An extract from a summary of an interview of Monsieur C given to The Wiener Library in 1956 as part of its project to gather eyewitness testimonies to the Holocaust.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Monsieur C. was a Jew from Bessarabia who emigrated to study in 1930. By 1942, he was working in the Jewish Company of the Partisan Army in Belgium, manufacturing bombs and weapons.
    An eyewitness report given by a Jewish resistance fighter
    The testimony of Rauchla Coperbac entitled ‘Work for the Belgium Resistance Movement’, 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Coperbac, a Jew from Kishnev, then part of Romania, emigrated to Belgium in 1928. She was a member of the Partisan Army. She worked for the PA as a courier. Women often worked as couriers in resistance organisations. Couriers liaised between different parts of underground organisations and passed on information. Women seen as less likely to be intercepted when undertaking this work.
    Coperbac had previously been involved in efforts to rescue Jewish children. Her testimony was collected in Brussels in 1956 for The Wiener Library.  
  • Urban Resistance

    Belgium

    In Belgium, Solidarité Juive (Jewish Solidarity) was initially formed in 1939 to offer support to Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi persecution. After the German invasion of Belgium, the organisation went underground and focussed on rescuing Jewish children and gathering arms and intelligence.

    Jews were members of a centre-right resistance network founded in Brussels in 1940, the Mouvement National Belge (Belgium National Movement). The movement worked in underground intelligence and mounted sabotage operations.

    An eyewitness account by a JEwish resistance fighter
    A sheet attached to start of the testimony given in 1956 to The Wiener Library by Alyne Biederman, a Polish Jew who emigrated to Belgium in 1936.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Alyne Biederman worked for Solidarité Juive and the Front de l’indépendance. She gathered arms and intelligence and warned Jewish artisans not to work with the Germans.

    Biederman gave birth to a child in difficult circumstances as she could not access proper medical facilities. Wanted by the Gestapo, she was forced to give her child up when she went into hiding.

    Alyne Biederman was arrested in 1944 and survived Auschwitz.

    Maxime Vanpraag was a Belgium lawyer of Jewish origin. In 1941, he joined the underground intelligence network Zero. He became its head in 1943. Zero passed information to the British Special Operations Executive. Zero was one of 37 underground intelligence networks that operated in Belgium during the war.

    Vanpraag was arrested by Nazi security police in 1944 and initially held and tortured in Belgium. His prisoner’s card shows that he was held as a political prisoner in Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps prior to being sent to Dora-Mittelbau. The text on top right of the card reading ‘Fluchtpunckt’ indicates that Vanpraag tried to escape at some point.

    Maxime Vanpraag died in German captivity on 7 April 1945.

    A report card from the International Tracing Service archive
    Maxime Vanpraag’s Prisoner Card for Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp near Nordhausen in Germany, 1945.
    ITS Digital Archive 6868378, Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Urban Resistance

    Belgium

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    Report by Victor Martin, The First Information On Auschwitz, 1957.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Victor Martin, a member of the Front d l’independence resistance movement in Belgium, was sent in 1942 to investigate what was happening to transports of Jews leaving Belgium for Germany and also, at the behest of the CDJ, what had happened in the town of Sosnowic, a nearly exclusively Jewish town on the Polish-German frontier. Martin managed to reach Sosnowic and he obtained information about Auschwitz. 

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    Interview with Mr B. Ciechanowsky, President of the Bund in Belgium, 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Founded in the Polish part of the Russian Empire, the Bund was a Jewish Social Democratic movement. Polish émigrés to Belgium formed a branch in Belgium, which during the war issued and distributed its own clandestine papers, organised resistance against German anti-Jewish decrees and offered financial and moral help to the needy.

    The Bund issued an underground Yiddish-language newspaper, Unzer Schtime (Our Voice) through which they warned Jews to have nothing to do with the Association of Jews in Belgium, which they characterised as a branch of the Gestapo. 

  • Urban Resistance

    The Baum Group

    Herbert Baum, Jewish resistance fighter
    Herbert Baum, leader of the Baum Group of resisters in Berlin, c.1935.
    © Privatbesitz / Reproduktion Gedenkstätte

    Herbert Baum, his wife and some of their friends formed an anti-Nazi resistance group in Berlin in the 1930s. Almost all members of the group were Jewish. Initially, the Baum Group were motivated primarily by their communist beliefs. From 1936, they also increasingly resisted because of their opposition to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

    In 1940, after Baum was forced to work at a Siemens plant in the city, he recruited other mainly young Jewish forced labourers to the group and it expanded to around 100 members.

    At the time of German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, the group distributed leaflets publicising the brutality and atrocities of the invasion. On 18 May 1942, they carried out an arson attack on an anti-Communist and antisemitic Nazi exhibition called Soviet Paradise.

    Most of those involved in the bombing were arrested and executed.

    Herbert Baum was probably murdered in Moabit Prison on 11 June 1942.

    An anti-Soviet Nazi propaganda poster
    Cover of a brochure, The Soviet Paradise exhibition of the Reich Propaganda Leadership of the Nazi Party – a report in word and image, 1942.

    The exhibition portrayed the Soviet Union as an impoverished country and depicted Soviet communism as degenerate and ‘Jewish’.

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    A report by Richard and Charlotte Holzer, surviving members of the Baum Group, about the group’s activities, 1957.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Charlotte Holzer, née Abraham, was sentenced to death in 1943 for her role in Baum group, but managed to escape from a prison hospital in 1944. Charlotte and Richard Holzer married after the war. Charlotte Hozler campaigned in East Germany for the memory of Baum Group. 
  • Urban Resistance

    Rescue in Western Europe

    A family photograph of a husband and wife
    Ghert and Yvonne Jospa (Hava Groisman), founders of the CDJ.
    Family photograph.

    In Belgium, the Comité des Défense Juifs (CDJ – Committee for the Defence of Jews) organised efforts to hide Jewish children. The CDJ saved approximately 2,400 children.

    In France, the Zionist Armée Juive in Toulouse mounted rescue missions of Jews across the border to Spain. Jewish leaders in the FTP-MOI set up the Union des Jeunesses Juive (Union of Jewish Youth) and the Union des Juifs pour la résistance et l’entraide (Union of Jews for Resistance and Mutual Aid) to aid the survival of Jews in France.

    These groups hide Jews, smuggled others to Spain and Switzerland, disrupted transports to camps in the east, gathered weapons and attacked collaborators.

    250,000 of the 330,000 Jews living in France at the time of the German invasion in 1940 survived the war – around 75%-  in part because of these efforts.  

    In September 1942, Groismann and her husband Ghert Jospa founded the Comité des Défense des Juifs (CDJ) under the auspices of the Front de l’indépendance. Eventually the CDJ represented most Jewish groups in Belgium.

    The CDJ created an extensive bureaucracy for forging papers and ration cards and a network of hiding places for Jewish children. The organisation also warned Jews about impending deportations. The CDJ had an underground press that urged the Jewish population not to cooperate with the directives of the collaborationist Association des Juifs en Belgique (Association of Jews in Belgium). The rescue efforts of the CDJ included an attack on a transportation train convoy, bound for Auschwitz, on 19 April 1943. Seventeen deportees were freed. 

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    Part of a testimony given by Hava Groismann (Yvonne Jospa) to The Wiener Library in 1956.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Urban Resistance

    Rescue in Western Europe

    Ida Sterno worked for the CDJ arranging the rescues of Jewish children. Her tasks included finding and inspecting hiding places and maintaining contact with parents.

    In her account for The Wiener Library, Sterno described how she arranged for thirteen Jewish girls to shelter in a convent in Anderlecht. The girls were denounced by the Jewish Gestapo informant ‘Jacques’ (Icek Glogowski). The head of the convent, Sister Marie-Aurélie, convinced the Gestapo to postpone the arrests of the girls for a day so that they could pack. Front de l’Indépendance partisans were informed and staged a fake armed raid on the convent with the support of the nuns. The partisans tied the nuns up to make the raid seem more convincing to the Gestapo. The CDJ quickly moved the girls to safe houses.

    The rescue from Anderlecht convent is an example of how the cooperation between different resistance groups, as well as support from some non-Jews, increased the effectiveness of Jewish resistance in Belgium.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    Across Europe, Jews concealed themselves in hidden spaces in an attempt to resist arrest or murder by the Nazis and their collaborators. Sheltered in others’ homes, or unseen in attics, cellars or even sewers, thousands of Jews managed to survive the Holocaust. In these places of hiding, some Jews in the most difficult of circumstances maintained private diaries, or tried to get word of the Holocaust to others. These efforts to preserve life and self can be seen as an attempt to resist the destruction of the Nazis.

    Hiding underground

    In some cities in eastern Europe, Jews tried to survive in the sewers, or used sewers to escape the cities. 

    In Odessa, where Romanian forces murdered around 200,000 Jews in 1941, around 500 Jews sheltered in the city’s sewers and in catacombs for a time. Some survived the war.

    In Lvov (now Lviv), Jews were confined to a small ghetto in late 1941 and deported to Bełzec death camp or murdered in successive mass shootings at nearby Janowska camp. Many Jews fled into the city’s sewers. One group of ten survived the war.

    A family photograph
    The Chiger family, who survived for fourteen months in the sewers of Lvov, in Krakow, c.1946.
    United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Marian and Kristine Keren.

    The Chiger family’s group was protected by three sewer workers who also brought them food. The Chigers were one of only three Jewish families in Lvov who survived the war.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    The testimony of Norbert Gottlieb, given via his brother Ludwig Henryk Gottlieb, 1958. Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    Norbert Gottlieb escaped from the ghetto in Przemyśl in German-occupied Poland as his mother was being arrested.

    A farmer nearby gave him shelter. Gottlieb survived with a friend and later a Jewish girl in a cavity dug under a pile of potatoes.

    After they were found by some Soviet soldiers, Gottlieb joined in the Russian-Polish Army.

    After the war, Norbert Gottlieb emigrated to Britain and managed to trace his surviving brother, Ludwig.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    ‘U-boote’

    “We laid mattresses on the floor behind the counter every evening. There was a toilet and washbasin in the basement. We weren’t allowed to turn the light on, in case someone thought there had been a break-in. The following morning, we were the first customers to leave the store, so to speak.”

    Inge Deutschkron recalls one of the places that she and her mother Ella hid during their survival in Berlin during the war in her memoir, We Survived: Berlin’s Jews Underground.

    In May 1943, Nazi propaganda chief Joseph Goebbels declared Berlin “Judenfrei’”– “Jew free”. Already by this point, around 7,000 of the remaining Jewish population of Berlin were in hiding, in resistance to the Nazis’ intention to deport them. Most were captured, but in May 1945, as the Red Army took control of Berlin, around 1,400 Jews who had survived in hiding emerged.

    In Austria, between 600 and 700 Jews survived in hiding, mainly in Vienna. In the city in 1943, 100 Jews in hiding were discovered: in 1944, a further 43 were captured.

    Those who lived these secret lives have been called ‘U-boote’ – submarines. They lived clandestinely, sleeping where they could, relying on their wits and on trusted friends and acquaintances. During the day, they continued to hide or took refuge in locations such as cinemas.

    Inge Deutschkron and her mother went into hiding in January 1943. They survived in a series of places. Deutschkron was able to work for a time during this period, using false papers. After the war Inge Deutschkron emigrated to Britain and then to Israel.

    Black and white portrait of a female resistance fighter
    Inge Deutschkron, c.1940.
    © Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand.

    Deutschkron gave an extensive account of her experiences during the war to The Wiener Library in 1955. She detailed the difficulties she and her mother faced in obtaining ration cards, food, shelter and protection from bombing.

    Eyewitness report of resistance activities during the Holocaust
    Inge Deutschkron’s account of her time in hiding in Berlin during the war, 1955.
    Wiener Library Collections.
    Black and white portrait of a female resistance fighter
    Edith Wolff in Aussersihl/Zürich, 1950.
    © Gedenkstätte Deutscher Widerstand.

    Edith Wolff formed a Zionist Youth organisation, Chug Chaluzi (Circle of Pioneers), which went into hiding in 1942. Around 40 members of the group moved from location to location in hiding, with the support of the Hechaluz organisation. During their time living underground, they organised educational and religious activities.

    Edith Wolff was arrested in 1943 and survived eighteen prisons and concentration camps.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    Front cover of Anne Frank's diary
    The first English-language edition of Anne Frank: the Diary of a Young Girl (1958).
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    After Anne Frank’s elder sister Margot received a summons for labour service in July 1942, the Frank family concealed themselves in the sealed off upper rooms of an annex of Otto Frank’s business. They were later joined in hiding by five others.

    Between 1942 and 1944 Anne Frank maintained a diary recording her experiences, memories and reflections. In 1944, she redrafted the document with a view to it forming an historical document.

    After the inhabitants of the attic were uncovered, arrested and deported, the loose pages of diary were found by friends of the family, who passed it to the sole survivor, Otto Frank, after the war. On publication, the first English-language version of the diary attracted considerable attention.

    Anne Frank died in late February or early March 1945 in Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, aged fifteen.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    “And so the spring slowly came, and finally that May, which brought us first food from the air, and then, a few days later, longed-for freedom. We will never forget seeing the big four-engine planes flying slowly over us and dumping packages on the airfields that piled up to mountains as high as the houses.”

    From Kurt Hausmann’s account of the first days of Liberation.

  • Attics, Cellars, Sewers

    A red cross letter
    Franz Kuhn, Red Cross telegram, 1943.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.

    In desperate circumstances, alone in his flat in Berlin, Franz Kuhn managed to get a message to his daughter Hannah’s (Hannele) foster mothers in London. Hannah Kuhn had come to Britain in 1939 on the Kindertransport rescue.

    Kuhn reported that his wife, Hannah’s mother, had been deported and gave details of the transport that she had been sent on. This telegram is a rare example of information about the Holocaust being transmitted in this way, as Red Cross messages sent between separated families during the war were censored in Germany and in Britain.

    Franz Kuhn was arrested and deported soon after he sent this message. He and his wife we murdered in the Holocaust.

    This pamphlet contains reports of Nazi atrocities. The author, Szmul Zygielbojm, was a Polish-Jewish politician and refugee living in London who sought to draw the world’s attention to the Holocaust.

    In 1943, Zygielbojm learned that his wife and son had been murdered following the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

    On 11 May 1943, Szmul Zygielbojm killed himself. In his suicide note he wrote that, although the Nazis were responsible for the mass murder of Jews, all of humanity was responsible in allowing the murders to happen.

    A resistance pamphlet
    Szmul Zygielbojm, Stop Them Now, September 1942.
    Wiener Holocaust Library Collections.
  • Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust

    Black and white image Abba Kovner and other Jewish Lithuanian partisans with guns

    The Wiener Holocaust Library’s exhibition and accompanying catalogue Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust, look at resistance by Jews to the persecution and genocide committed by the Nazis and their collaborators across Europe between 1941 and 1945.

    The exhibition defines Jewish resistance as all resistance by Jews, whether or not they were resisting as a result of their Jewish identity, and whether or not they were resisting as part of an explicitly ‘Jewish’ organisation. It explores armed resistance, underground intelligence networks, rescue efforts and ‘spiritual’ resistance, from orchestrated attempts to preserve historical documents or maintain religious practices, to individuals seeking to survive, or preserve an element of their humanity.

    The Wiener Holocaust Library logo