Resistance during Nazi occupation remembered

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By Judi Siegal

The world has seen the pictures. 

Juden Verboten signs in shop windows and in parks, public humiliation of Jewish citizens in the streets of European cities and towns, descecration of synagogues and Jewish institutions.

The world has seen the pictures.

“The Final Solution.”  Jews rounded up and forced into cattle cars for a trip into oblivion, the labor and extermination camps, the emaciated prisoners of the camps, more skeleton than human. 

The world has seen the pictures. 

The crematoriums, the gas chambers, the hideous inhumane medical experiments.

The world has seen the pictures.

The German round-up of the Warsaw ghetto, the little boy with his hands up, the Nazi soldier, gun pointed, the destruction of property, human life. 

The world has seen the pictures. 

The man in the glass booth, Adolph Eichmann, brought to justice by Israel, the Jewish State.

The graphic images of the Holocaust are many and disturbing and are a blot of savagery in the long history of prejudice and intolerance in the history of the world. And as one looks at the images so filled with despair, with the Jews seemingly being led like lambs to slaughter, the question arises: Why didn’t they fight back?

The truth is that there were many attempts at reprisal.

In fact, Jewish history -- going back to slavery in Egypt when the Jewish midwives refused to hand over the male children to Pharaoh to be murdered to Judah Maccabee’s  revolt against the Syrian Greeks to Bar Kochba’s last stand against the Romans -- shows Jewish resistance against forces greater than theirs.

The Nazi occupation presented an even more dauntless task. At first the Jews, who considered themselves to be more German than Jewish, could not believe that people of such culture and scientific knowledge could be engaging in such diabolical acts of murder.

Also, the Jewish populations were mostly lawyers, doctors and professors, not soldiers or military men, and were thus not trained in warfare. 

Another fact worth noting is that the Germans confiscated all weapons from the Jews. To hide any weapon courted certain death not only to the person but also to his family or village besides. And of course, the Jews did not have military machines or an army.

In spite of the odds against them, they fought back. Their non-armed resistance took the form of smuggling food, small arms and other supplies into the ghettos.  They organized underground newspapers, children’s activities, orchestras and schools. Whenever possible, they smuggled their children out of the occupied countries. They sent parachutists into occupied countries for rescue missions, most notably Hannah Szenes who landed in Hungary and Slovakia in 1944 only to be caught and tortured by the Nazis. She died at age 21, never revealing Jewish resistance plans.

In the ghettos and in the camps, Jewish holidays and rituals were observed in secret and at the peril of their lives. 

In spite of the Nazis’ attempts to dehumanize them, the Jews tried never to sink to their oppressors’ barbaric principles.

The Jews were determined to preserve their dignity and culture, a concept called Kiddush Ha Hayim or sanctification of life.

Despite their weakened physical state from the inhumane treatment in the camps and lack of food, Jews did revolt against their enemy. 

Many fought the Nazis from the Aryan side of the ghettoes or joined with the Partisans.  The most famous armed revolt was that of the Warsaw Ghetto which took place 66 years ago on April 19, 1943 on the eve of Passover.

For almost three months, the half-starved Jews staved off the mighty German war machine with Molotov cocktails, smuggled small arms, grenades and acts of sabotage. They knew that the battle was fruitless given the Nazi strength and war materiel, but the Jews wanted to show the world that they were a people entitled to the rights of all nations and that they would die with dignity and not led to be lined up and shot or sent to concentration camps.

Similar revolts also took place in Vilna and Bialystok. Again, these fighters knew they could not win, but there was the feeling that they could not simply let things happen without a struggle.

There were other reprisals in the extermination camps.  There were attacks on the crematorium where thousands of Jews and others were burned daily.

The disruption of the crematoria saved countless lives, if only for a short while.

In Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz, Jewish inmates killed their Nazi guards with stolen weapons.  Although many tried to escape, they were caught, though a fortunate few survived.

In retaliation, the Nazis shot non-collaborators and the revolt leaders, sending a clear message that resistance would be futile.

The world has seen the pictures, but now the world has heard the cry: “Never Again.”

Never again Auschwitz, Treblinka, Dachau.

Never again Night of Broken Glass. 

Never again “The Final Solution.”

Never again no Jewish homeland.

“Never again” echoes throughout the world, reminding us of the basic human rights we all deserve.

May its clarion call inspire us all to pursue justice, mercy and tolerance.

(Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, is observed this year on April 21.)

Judi Siegal is a retired teacher and Jewish educator. She lives in Sun Valley with her husband, Phil.