Living With Dignity In A World Gone Insane - לחיות בכבוד בעולם משוגע

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Resource Goal


1. You will learn that resistance during the Holocaust took many forms.

2. You will develop an awareness of conditions under which resistance is feasible.

3. You will study what types of resistance took place and where.

4. You will learn of the conditions under which survivors lived, and how incredible any resistance at all might have been.

5. You will understand the obstacles to Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.

6. You will be able to use your March experience, to cite specific instances of heroic resistance by Jews during the Holocaust despite incredible odds.

7. You will be able to respond appropriately to the accusation that Jews went to their death like "sheep to the slaughter."

8. You will understand and be able to support the position of "Survival as Resistance."

9. You may redefine what the word "resistance" means to you now.

Resource Contents

IX. Living With Dignity in a World Gone Insane

This Chapter And You...

What's the first word or thought that comes to mind when you hear the word "Resistance?" Perhaps the word was friction as in the study of science, magnetism or electricity. Perhaps the words "fight back" as one might do when facing a bully. When we answer questions we most often look for "a right answer" or a single "best choice." Maybe the word "refusal" occurred to you or perhaps "confrontation," "rebellion," or even "revolution?" All of these relate to resistance in different contexts and in different ways.

In the Holocaust too, RESISTANCE had many meanings. If you want to understand what caused people to make these impossible choices you might read #1, for it was the motivation which forced people to make their choice. There was ACTIVE RESISTANCE; fighting back - in the ghettoes, camps in the forests, guerrilla warfare - usually resulting in many casualties and few survivors. (Read about examples of these in Readings #2, 3, 4 and 5). There was PASSIVE RESISTANCE - almost everywhere - through which people maintained their dignity and chose for themselves rather than the enemy, their time and often the means of death . For these, survival was in itself a form of resistance. It said to the enemy, "Your might may overwhelm and kill me but if I die it will be on my terms." (Readings 6 and 7 clarify this area)

Other forms included DECEPTION AS RESISTANCE. This included sabotage (you can read about that in Readings 8 and 9). Then there were also those special cases which are impossible to define or categorize. Such a sample can be found in Reading # 10. The key factor is that resistance did happen. Only the methods varied.

If you now go to the two activities, A and B, you will get a sense of making choiceless choices - those decisions where you decide what you might do - but the outcomes are predetermined. You will get your chance to evaluate your own "resistance" choices and those choices others were forced to make.

On the "March of the Living" you will stand where they stood at Mila 18, Umschlagplatz, the Warsaw Ghetto and more, see some of the things they saw at Auschwitz, Birkenau and Majdanek, and sense some of the feelings that they must have felt. You will have a chance to feel what the likelihood/futility of the success of any resistance might have been. And then realize that resistance happened any way.

Perhaps the most significant lesson you will learn in this chapter is that at a time of such hopelessness, when it would have been easy to write off God completely and just give up hope and faith, that most Jews clung to life and retained their religiosity despite all that was happening.

Finally, you will leave this chapter with a new and different understanding of what RESISTANCE in its many forms means and what it means to DIE AND STILL RETAIN ONE'S DIGNITY.


The Myth Of Cowardice

"Our martyrs do not owe anybody an answer as to why and how they died, nor does their agony require any defense. Their death in itself is the most grievous accusation against the entire civilized world. The defamation of the memory of six million martyrs whose voices have been silenced forever is the gravest moral wrong and an unparalleled falsification of history.

...first in a series of documents we intend to publish to discredit the myth of Jewish cowardice and make known the truth: that many, if not most, of those six million went to their death, not like sheep to the slaughter, but with a genuine heroism, a determined awareness of their fate, and a loyalty to one another which make them the unsung heroes of the greatest atrocity that man has committed against man."

World Federation of the Bergen-Belsen Survivors Association

As Sheep To The Slaughter, by K. Shabbetai


Kiddush Ha Shem (Sanctification of God's Name)


"Do Not Kneel" 

As soon as the Germans reached Kubilnik (Friday, June 27, 1941) there appeared some hoodlums who began anti-Jewish agitation. That very day they burst into the synagogue and beat the worshipers. They opened the Holy Ark, and commanded the old men who had not managed to escape to take the Torah scrolls outside. The hoodlums tore the Torahs yelling, "Look how strong the parchment is - just like the Jews."

The next day they called the rabbi of the town, Hirsch Makowsky, and ordered him to burn the Torah scrolls. He responded "You can burn me, but this I will not do!"

On Sukkot, 1942 twelve of us were taken about a mile out of town and ordered to dig two ditches. The troop of gestapo stood over us and pushed us on in our work. After we had finished digging we were ordered to stand aside. Suddenly we saw our whole community being driven toward the ditches. The men were told to undress and kneel at the ditches. The rabbi instructed them not to kneel, but to bend over on the tips of their toes and fingers. In the few minutes allowed to them before they were shot, the rabbi spoke again, "All will be well brothers. Recite the Sh'ma Yisroel." Not one of them wept.


"Honor Your Father" 

After the last deportation on August 2, 1943, there remained in Buchnia legally only about 300 Jews as a cleanup detail. Among them was the Jewish baker, Herschel Zimet and his son, who used to bake bread for the Jews of the ghetto when it was still in existence. There were also about a hundred Jews hidden in the bunkers. In the dead of night Herschel and his son used to sneak bread and water into the bunkers, and thus kept alive a few dozen men.

One night the gestapo men discovered the baker and his son carrying empty baskets and pitchers on the way back from the bunkers. The murderers led them to the yard of City Hall to be shot. In an attempt to discover the secret hiding place, they separated the boy from his father and promised to spare his life if he would disclose the secret. The father who was afraid that the boy would not be able to resist the pressure shouted, "I command you in the name of the Lord God of Israel and in the name of the commandment, `Thou shalt honor your father and your mother' - not to tell anything to these murderers! In either case, all Jews will be slaughtered!"

The boy approached his father and as the Nazis aimed their guns, he shouted "Murderers shoot for I will tell you nothing." Both of them were shot as they stood in the last embrace sanctifying God's name.


From The Book of the Ghetto Battles,

edited by Yitzhak Zuckerman and Moshe Basuck,

The Kibbutz Meuchad, Ein Harod.


"Not By Arms" 

The absence of armed revolt during the early war years does not mean that the Jews everywhere unquestioningly accepted the fate decreed for them by the Nazis. It means that until the truth about the death camps leaked out in 1942, resistance was non-violent, designed to conserve lives and make them as meaningful as possible.

"This is a time for kiddush ha-hayyim, the sanctification of life, and not kiddush ha-shem, the holiness of martyrdom," wrote Warsaw Rabbi, Isaac Nissenbaum. "Previously, the Jew's enemy sought his soul and the Jew sacrificed his body in martyrdom: now the oppressor demands the Jew's body and the Jew is obliged therefore to defend it to preserve his life.

Thus when rabbis and other leaders in those days counseled against taking up arms, they did not advocate giving in to the forces of evil, they meant that the struggle should be carried on as long as possible by other life-affirming means. It was a strategy that seemed well-suited to the circumstances in 1940-41, when no one could yet know how totally different Nazi persecution could be from any sufferings experienced before.


Hitler's War Against the Jews

by Altshuller & Dawidowicz

Reading #1 

This reading tries to explain the title of this chapter. You will learn a lot about dignity on the March.

Never To Forget: The Jews of the Holocaust - Milton Meltzer 


To Die with Dignity 

One of the most dangerous myths to emerge from the Holocaust was the view that Jews were killed without resisting the Nazis. Such a charge implies that Jews were cowards who went "like sheep to the slaughter." In the minds of some people Jews were partly responsible for their own deaths; for, according to the myth, had they resisted violently, more Jews would have been saved.

First, let us look at other examples of oppression. Is a woman who has been raped a coward if she submitted to an attacker who held a knife at her throat? How do we react to the Christian martyrs who, without resistance, were slaughtered in the gladiator ring? Even if no victim of the Nazis had resisted, would we charge them with responsibility for their own murder? The issue of resistance by the oppressed is tinged with political overtones.

In this selection, originally from Never to Forget, Milton Meltzer discusses the general issue of resistance, and compares Jewish and non-Jewish resistance. The author tries to explain that resistance was not easy for Jews or for citizens in the occupied countries. Are we to condemn the French for not rising to overthrow their oppressors? As Elie Wiesel has stated, "The question to be asked should not be why there was so little resistance, but how there was so much"?

Meltzer also indicates that open, armed conflict was not the only form of resistance. Young people today often think of resistance as the violent battle between two well-armed opponents. In reality, there are a variety of types of resistance, and open conflict is not always the wisest alternative.

What was the degree of resistance among non-Jews? Hitler's armies swept over most of Europe with incredible speed. Everyone attributed it to the superior power of the German military forces. The vanquished nations, all of them, had trained and equipped armies. The Jews had nothing. The Nazis killed myriads of people in the parts of Russia they occupied, a territory whose population greatly outnumbered the German troops. How much resistance did Hitler encounter there?

Millions of Russian captives were transported to German prisons and labor camps and treated so brutally that 5 million of them died. How many riots or acts of resistance took place among them? Yet no one accuses them of going "like sheep to slaughter." No, the vast majority in the prisoner-of-war camps behaved much as did the civilians in the occupied countries.

The purpose here is not to criticize or demean others, only to indicate how hard it is for anyone to resist a ruthless totalitarian power which commands modern weapons and employs elaborate means to crush opposition.

The essential fact is that one can resist in a great many ways, by acting and yes, sometimes, by refusing to act.



1. What point does the author make about resistance in the occupied countries?

2. Can you think of an example in your own life when you performed an act of resistance? What kind of resistance was it?


Reading #2 

The next four readings deal with different types of resistance. In Reading #5, we read, "Jewish self-defense has become a fact."

Life Unworthy of Life - Albert Post (A Curriculum)



Tuchin (too-chin) Ghetto:

On September 3, 1942, the Jewish community burned its homes and fled to the woods. The local Ukrainian populations hunted down all but 15 survivors of the 700 Jewish families and delivered them to the Germans.

Warsaw Ghetto: 

On April 19, 1943, German troops surrounded the ghetto in order to begin the final deportations. Over 310,000 Jews had already been deported since June 1942. Almost all had been sent directly to the gas chambers at Treblinka. The Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), led by 23-year old Mordechai Anielewicz (ann-nee-lev-itch), consisted of about 1,500 young men and women. These young resistance fighters had lived in the ghetto for over two years and were nearly starved, suffering from disease and the sadness of having lost families and friends. In addition to these terrible conditions, they had managed to get only three light machine guns, about 100 rifles, a few dozen pistols, some hand grenades and explosives. When the resistors opened fire, the surprised German troops fled from the ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion had begun. It would last about one month.

The ZOB faced 3,000 German troops who were equipped with armored trucks, artillery, flame throwers, heavy machine guns and heavy explosives. The ZOB resisted until May 16, when the Great Synagogue was blown up and the ghetto, already in flames, was burned to the ground. Along with a few Polish non-Jews who had helped in the battle, 56,065 Jews surrendered. The prisoners were either shot, sent to Treblinka or Majdanek death camps or to labor camps where almost all died. Sixteen Germans had been killed. The Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion against the Germans was an utter failure from a military point of view. But word of it spread across Europe as a symbolic sign of hope for all those resisting the Nazis.


Bialystok (bee-al-eh-shtok) Ghetto: 

On August 16, 1943, realizing the Nazis were going to destroy Bialystok, the ZOB attacked the Nazi forces. The battle lasted one day on the outskirts of the city. The resistors ran out of ammunition and were captured or killed. One group of young women carried on the struggle from within the ghetto and were eventually killed. Several other people escaped and joined partisans in the nearby forests.


Vilna Ghetto: 

On September 1, 1943, largely because of increasing activity around the city, the Nazis moved to liquidate, that is, destroy, the ghetto. The United Partisan Organization (FPO), active for months, attempted an uprising within the ghetto. Poorly armed, they were hunted down and killed. Some escaped to the forests where they joined partisans until the liberation of Lithuania in July 1944.



On August 2, 1943, after the camp had existed for one year, the 600 remaining Jews (800,000 had died there) blew it up and escaped to the nearby woods. Forty survived.



On October 14, 1943, armed with hatchets, Jewish prisoners and some Russian prisoners of war killed about a dozen Nazi officers. Four hundred prisoners, almost all who remained in the camp, rushed to the woods. Half died in a mine field surrounding the camp, and more were killed by Nazi and Polish Nazi groups. About sixty survived and joined Soviet partisans. Two days later, Himmler ordered Sobibor dismantled. The camp had been the site of the murder of over 250,000 Jews.



On October 7, 1944, one of the Sonderkommando units, the special groups of prisoners used to clear gas chambers of bodies, blew up one of the crematoria and attempted an armed escape. The members of this Sonderkommando were all killed.



1. Why do you think so few examples of revolts are recorded in texts?

2. Why do you suppose the "military success" (number of people killed or wounded) was so limited?

3. Do you feel "military success" is the only gauge of success? What are some of the other criteria by which we might gauge the success of military struggle beside the casualties inflicted on the enemy?


Reading #2a 

Atlas of the Holocaust - Martin Gilbert

Reading #2b 

Atlas of the Holocaust - Martin Gilbert

Reading #3 

Lest We Forget - Leivy Smolar

The myth of Jewish non-resistance is exploded.

The Holocaust must be viewed as an unparalleled catastrophe in human history. Since then, the world has witnessed other acts of mass destruction, even at close hand over television. Yet, the willful planned murder of eleven million members of a single, civilian people is a unique event in human history.

The Holocaust is unique also because it describes an act of unparalleled human dignity - the heroic resistance of the Jewish people. Never had a Jewish community confronted an enemy so relentless and determined. Rather than fall into despair in the years before World War II, German Jews turned this period into a time of cultural revival.



Also unique was the daily war in the ghetto to retain human dignity. The Jews resisted every attempt to turn them into automatons. They celebrated their festivals of national liberation, Pesach and Hanukkah. They sang the songs of their people. They educated their children. They fed the hungry, clothed the poor, and helped widows and orphans sustain themselves.



Jews fled from the ghettos and had to be hunted down. They fought. They escaped to the forests. They organized without arms or food or proper clothing for whatever resistance they could offer. Above all, Jews in the ghettos organized for resistance.

Often, when the time came and Jews were rounded up for transport, they would refuse to leave their families, even if it meant a chance to save themselves.

And many endured the worst days and nights of destruction. They held on to every spark of hope. They attempted every means of escape.

And many surrendered their lives willingly to save others. These were acts of Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name). The underground newspaper of the Dror (Freedom) Movement in the Warsaw Ghetto reported the story of the Rabbi of Radzyn.

There is a report about an act of Kiddush Hashem. A young Jew was interrogated by the murderers as to the Rabbi's whereabouts. He pointed to himself in order to save the Rabbi. He was shot on the spot.

Jews secretly managed to bake matzoth in the death camps. One survivor described Pesach:

"Actually we were more hungry than usual these eight days, but how wonderful a feeling it was to eat matzo in a German concentration camp. We had a feeling of being part of something and as one of us put it: `Matzohs are now being eaten by millions of Jews in New York, Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. Hitler did not conquer the world - and he will not - and one day we will also be free.'"

There were acts of individual heroism, choices that were made to enhance the dignity of life. The case of Wanda, her underground name. She was 24. She had long braids, wore a flowered kerchief. She was slight, looked 16 years old, and there was a price on her head of 150,000 zlotys. She would dazzle German officers with her gentle loveliness and when they lowered their guard, she would shoot them. Wanda is known to have said, "I am a Jew...My place is among the most active fighters against fascism in the struggle for the honor of my people for an independent Poland, for the freedom of humanity."

In time, Wanda was found, tortured and executed.

At least 34 rebellions flared up in Poland. Lithuania and the western regions of the Soviet Union. Jews played a dominant role in some of the national resistance units such as the famous French Maquis. In southern France, the L'Armie Juive, consisting of two large units, fought in the hills and later joined the Allies. In Holland, Belgium, Italy, Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia, there were Jewish resistance units. An estimated 10,000 Jews fought in the Soviet Resistance. Two Jewish resistance units operated in Germany until the Gestapo caught them.

In the following ghettos, uprising against the Germans took place:

Niewicz Bialystok Kobryn Tarnow

Lachwa Minsk Warsaw Bedzin

Tuchin Lvov Krynk Czestochowa

Lida Cracow Bandzin

Slonim Braslaw Sosnowiec

Vilna Adamov Kopyl

and there were others...



1. What are some of the different types of resistance listed in this article?

2. Given this information, how do you think the myth of Jewish non-resistance got started?

3. Compose the response you would give if faced with the allegations in this Reading.

4. Why do you think passive resistance is suspect in the eyes of some people?

5. Do you agree/disagree? Why?


HIDDEN CHILDREN by: Margo Averbook

During the war children were hidden in two different ways. Some were in hiding and hidden, meaning that they could not be visible, and others were hiding and visible. Both steps were physically and psychologically difficult for the children.

To go into hiding meant to sever all ties from society. The children were cut off from the community, their friends, and had no access to goods or services. Each child's experience was unique, but there were some aspects of being hidden that they all shared. For younger children, the main question was why? Why did they have to leave their families, friends and homes behind? Judith Ehrmann-Denes was three years old when she, her 18-month old brother and her mother went into hiding in Budapest. "We lived with my father's gentile friend... I remember being there and not understanding. I remember anxiety all the time, and I thought life was like that. What does a three year old know? This is the way life is. You just have anxiety all the time, and fear."

When children were hidden and could not be seen, several problems occurred. They could leave no evidence or sign of one's presence, they had to live without trace of their existence. This was accomplished through concealment and dissimulation. Herta Monstrose-Heymans was 15 when she went into hiding with her family. "Nobody was supposed to know that we were there; we couldn't hang two shirts out when there was only one man living there." Children like Herta were not supposed to exist and, therefore, could not be seen, go near windows and when visitors came they were restricted to a confined space and had to maintain complete silence. As children could not be seen, they could not be heard either. Nothing could be done to reveal their presence. Activities had to be done that could be attributed to those who were known to be present in the house.

The children passed their time in several ways. Philip Maas and his parents were hidden by a working class family, and their activity was "to think about food. From the moment we got to that hiding place food was a big problem and we talked about it all the time." Other children, who were old enough, took up hobbies. Anne Frank wrote short stories, as well as her diary. Freida Menco-Brommet crocheted. "I made curtains, and I made tablecloths too." Most children were expected to continue with their schoolwork, therefore reading and studying were common activities.

The most important factor in determining what a child did was the culture of the host with whom she hid. Sara Spier was hidden by farm laborers, who did not believe in reading. "I felt the difference very forcefully but of course I didn't say anything. They accepted that I had my schoolbooks, but when I would ask for some book to read, they said you can do something more useful."

Children, like Sara Spier, were forced to adapt to the customs and manners of the family that hid them. Realizing that their hosts risked a great deal on their behalf, many did all they could to please them. These differences between the host and the children proved to be emotionally oppressive for the children. Many of the difficulties arose from the host family's lack of affection. Max Gosschalk, who had been hidden from his youth felt estranged from his foster parents. "They were hiding not a Jew, but a human being, a child at that time, and that they did not recognize. You were never welcomed; you were tolerated."

To be hiding and hidden was a difficult step for a child. They were stripped of a normal childhood, robbed of education, development of abilities and a normal socialization process. Many suffered from depression and deprivation.

Children who were hiding and visible, experienced similar problems to children who were hiding and hidden. Children "hid" their lives as a Jew, and were fortunate to live life as a normal child, but many suffered from anxiety that they would be revealed and deported. Eugenie Lee-Poretzky was sent to a convent when she was nine years old. "The convent episode was the worst for me. I had to participate in all the goings-on, I had to go and take confession. I didn't know all these rites, and I thought I would be found out any minute." Children like Eugenie always had anxiety in their lives.

To live as a gentile among gentiles and to give up their past proved to be problems for children. Many children had false names and histories, and one slip of the tongue could betray the child. With time, many questions arose about the value of their Jewish identity. Children felt shame about being a Jew, either from hearing an anti-Semitic remark, or shame at lying. Isabelle Silberg Riff experienced this shame.

"I was walking with this strange woman. She was protecting me... She said, 'You mustn't say that you are Jewish. You don't look Jewish so don't say that you are Jewish. You can say even that you are Protestant or Catholic, anything but that you are Jewish' and that feeling, that because you are Jewish you should feel guilty about it. This is a terrible feeling to be aware that what you are is a reason that you have to hide it. This is to feel ashamed for what you are."

These feelings intensified in the case of children who had to lie within their foster homes, to keep their Jewish identity to themselves. It was easier to forget the past and remember their new histories. To hide their Jewish identity not only from the Germans, the host families, the outside world but from themselves was a way to ease their fears and tensions. Jana Levi hid as a child and had to remember only her new gentile name. "I didn't remember anymore what my real name was. I knew that I had a different name, but it was so important to me to forget it that I actually did completely forget it... I had completely become someone else and the real person, no one would know who it was. I mean, nobody knew."

Some children even adopted the Christian faith. This depended on the child's age and religious factor before hiding and the environment where the child was hiding. Children who hid alone were more inclined to adapt to the foster family's religion. The most common instance is when a young child who lived in a religious home or pious institution, adopted the Christian faith. The foster parents did not need to tell the child that he was Jewish, it would only make the risk greater that the child would betray himself.

Although the hidden children were not deported and did not live in concentration camps, their lives were just as frightening and hard. Many children were belittled to the point where they had to vanish and disappear. Their old lives ceased to exist. They were lonely and withdrawn. These experiences left permanent scars on the lives of the hidden children.


Reading #5 

The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience- Harry Furman (A Curriculum)


Hirsch Glick, a Polish Jew in the Vilna Ghetto, wrote the "Song of the Partisans" in Yiddish in 1943 after the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It spread to all concentration camps. By the war's end, it was sung by Jews the world over.

O never say that you have come to your journey's end. When days turn black, and clouds upon our world descend. Believe the dark will lift, and freedom yet appear. Our marching feet will tell the world that we are here.

The dawn will break, our world will yet emerge in light. Our agony will pass and vanish as the night. But if our hoped for rescue should arrive too late. These lines will tell the world the drama that was played.

No poet's playful muse has turned my pen to write. I wrote this song amidst the anguish of our plight. We sang it as we watched the flames destroy our world. Our song is a banner of defiance we unfurled.

O never say that you have come to your journey's end. When days turn black, and clouds upon our world descend. Believe the dark will lift, and freedom yet appear. Our marching feet will tell the world that we are here.

(Translated by Ben Zion Bokser)



1. How do you respond to revenge as a motive for survival?

2. Inspirational songs written by oppressed people have been common in history. What does this tell us about the will of the oppressed? Can you think of other songs that have encouraged the oppressed to overcome their plight?

3. What do you think motivated Glick to write this song?

4. Can you think of any contemporary songs with messages which might have been motivated by similar thoughts? If so, bring one to class (or share with a friend) and explain to a listener how you think they are similar? (If the song is one of resistance, what is it resisting?)


Reading #6 

Mordecai Anielewicz's Last Letter 

The Last Wish of My Life Has Been Fulfilled

It is now clear to me that what took place exceeded all expectations. In our opposition to the Germans we did more than our strength allowed - but now our forces are waning. We are on the brink of extinction. We forced the Germans to retreat twice -but they returned stronger than before.

One of our groups held out for forty minutes; and another fought for about six hours. The mine which was laid in the area of the brush factory exploded as planned. Then we attacked the Germans and they suffered heavy casualties. Our losses were generally low. That is an accomplishment too. Z. fell, next to his machine gun.

I feel that great things are happening and that his action which we have dared to take is of enormous value.

We have no choice but to go over to partisan methods of fighting as of today. Tonight, six fighting-groups are going out. They have two tasks - to reconnoiter the area and to capture weapons. Remember, "short-range weapons" are of no use to us. We employ them very rarely. We need many rifles, hand-grenades, machine-guns and explosives.

I cannot describe the conditions in which the Jews of the ghetto are now "living." Only a few exceptional individuals will be able to survive such suffering. The others will sooner or later die. Their fate is certain, even though thousands are trying to hide in cracks and rat holes. It is impossible to light a candle, for lack of air. Greetings to you who are outside. Perhaps a miracle will occur and we shall see each other again one of these days. It is extremely doubtful.

The last wish of my life has been fulfilled. Jewish self-defense has become a fact. Jewish resistance and revenge have become actualities. I am happy to have been one of the first Jewish fighters in the ghetto.

Where will rescue come from?

Mordecai Anielewicz, During the Revolt, 1943, Warsaw



1. Who was Mordecai Anielewicz? Why is a letter from him so important?

2. In the letter he mentions "revenge." Are there times when revenge is a worthwhile and proper response or motivation?

3. You will visit Mila 18. Remember the contents of the letter and see how you feel when standing on the ground and experiencing the surroundings of the headquarters of the Warsaw Ghetto.


Reading #7 

Resistance implies fighting back. The March will teach you that there are many ways to show your feelings. Sometimes, the "action" is very subtle.

Life Unworthy of Life - Albert Post (A Curriculum)


Under unique circumstances like those of the Holocaust, "resistance" has to be redefined. Armed resistance was almost impossible - yet, it did occur. But another type of resistance became a way of life for Jews: to defeat death, from moment to moment and hour to hour. Even if survival was a result of what some survivors say was "pure luck," it represented resistance. Each day of survival meant successfully resisting the Nazi plan of genocide. To survive, to live, meant resistance.

It was apparent from "A Normal Day in Auschwitz," that prisoners lost the freedom to make choices. To make choices was to act like a human being. One scholar has noted that committing suicide was one of the first signs of resistance by prisoners. They chose to die when they could make no choices about anything else. Some chose to attempt escape, although few succeeded. Survivors described small acts of "sabotage." Some at Auschwitz tore clothing apart as they sorted clothes in the Brezhinka (where personal belongings were taken). Others reported pouring sand into machinery they were forced to build in slave labor camps. People learned how to use bribery, smuggling, forgery, theft, spying, violence. They saw these as weapons of defense against a power committed to their destruction. They bribed the enemy; they smuggled food and people; they stole bread and guns; they forged papers - birth and baptismal certificates, residence cards, ration cards, work cards, registration forms, passports. They planted spies in the enemy's ranks.

One prisoner of Auschwitz washed his hands in extremely filthy water each day. When another prisoner asked him why he bothered to "wash" in such water, he replied: "To prove to myself that I still a human being." As he stood on the Appelplatz on his first full day in Auschwitz, a fourteen-year-old boy, alone after being separated from his family the day before, met an old man standing next to him. "What portion of the Bible were you studying at home?" the old man asked him. The boy told him. "We will begin reciting at that place today and go further each day," the old man whispered. "Why?" asked the boy. "To continue." Simple, routine or ritual acts become choices that allowed people to maintain links with their former lives.

Praying, one of the most serious "crimes" in any of the concentration, labor or death camps, was an act of resistance. Several survivors recall conducting secret religious services in the barracks. They risked their lives with this action but maintained their identity as Jews. This, to them, was resistance. One survivor of a labor camp recalled that on the Jewish Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, she and many other prisoners chose to observe the religious tradition of fasting. When the SS guards discovered that these Jews were not eating, they forced them to do hours of punishing exercise. Then, those prisoners were not given rations for two days.

Many expressed that resistance by carrying on their traditional life - praying, singing, studying the Talmud, observing the Holy Days - and their cultural activities in the ghettos. Others hid from the enemy as long as they could. Some bore children as if to say, No matter what you do, the generations will go on.

Those who survived have spoken of these acts as resistance - defeating the Nazi insistence that they become less than human.

The Nazis forced their victims to give up part of what it meant to be human: the freedom of choice. They tried to rob Jews of their human status.



1. Survival as resistance affirms the self even while submitting to force.

2. Only each prisoner knew he or she was resisting because a more public display would have meant death.

3. Antagonism to authority automatically rejects all authority.



How is "survival as resistance" different from automatic antagonism toward authority?


Reading #8 

Pathways Through the Holocaust - Clara Isaacman


The historian Josephus tells us that Eliezer ben Yair led the Jews on Masada, at the end of the great Jewish rebellion of the first century of the common era, to take their own lives rather than be captured and made slaves by the Romans.

Modern rabbinic authorities differ on whether a person must sacrifice himself. Rabbi A.I. Kook said, yes, martyrdom is obligatory if it saves the community. Other rabbis have taught that although martyrdom is laudatory and meritorious, it is not mandatory.

When Akiba was being tortured, the hour for saying the Shema arrived. He said it and smiled. The Roman officer called out, "Old man, you are a sorcerer, or do you mock your sufferings, that you smile in the midst of your pain?" "Neither," replied Akiba, "but all my life, when I said the words, `Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and might,' I was saddened, for I thought, when shall I be able to fulfill the command? I have loved God with all my heart and with all my possessions (might), but how to love God with all my soul (i.e. my life) was not assured to me. Now that I am giving my life, and that the hour for saying the Shema has come, and my resolution remains firm, should I not laugh?" And as he spoke, his soul departed.

Jerusalem Talmud (Berachot 9:7)



The two situations described above both involve martyrdom. Tradition understands both, but would seem to approve only of the latter as a role model for Jews.

1. Why do you think this is so? (consider the aftermath)

2. What is the major difference between the two?

3. Do you agree with the traditional position?

4. What does each story tell us of the nature of tradition?


Reading #9 

Holocaust Kingdom - Alexander Donat (a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto)

Never was so unique...a smuggling system put into operation as that devised by the Ghetto Jews in their struggle to survive. The official food ration barely sustained life for two or three days a month, and smugglers...became the Ghetto's most important citizens, its heroes...Hearses served to transport foodstuffs. Garbage collectors and Poles were employed..."

Perhaps the most dramatic part in keeping the Ghetto supplied...was played by hundreds of poor children between the ages of four and fourteen, who clustered at the gates looking for a chance to slip out...On their small legs, and with their bulging middles, they looked like sparrows. Occasionally a guard would look the other way...Often, however, they opened fire on them; children, too, were enemies of the Third Reich."

- Ira Zornberg, "Classroom Strategies for Teaching About the Holocaust"

People often ask, "Why did the Jews go like sheep to the slaughter?" Sheep to the slaughter? How can they know what it was like, crowded together in a way that even animals are not treated -weakened by months of hardship and hunger, locked up in sealed wagons, without food, weapons, without friends - knowing that even if one escaped the Nazis, who was there that would welcome them, who cared! Who would lift a finger?...Sheep to the slaughter? What do those who use the phrase know about honor, about the thousands of parents who would not desert their little ones, who stayed behind to embrace them, cuddle them, to exchange glances with them just one more time? What do they know about reverence, about those who gave up their daily ration of food so that a father, a grandmother, a rabbi might live another day? What do they know of a people who refused to believe in the death of mankind, who in forsaken places called hell organized schools, prayed and studied Talmud, wrote poems, composed lyrics, sang songs of today, of eternity, of tomorrow, even when there was to be no tomorrow?..."



1. Read the quotations on this page. Both refer to issues of survival. In what way do they also address the issue of resistance?

2. In what ways might you use these quotations to refute the claim that Jews went to their deaths "like sheep to the slaughter?"

3. Do you feel that these quotes are representative or isolated cases of what happened? Explain!


Reading #10 

There are four quotes in this reading. All are different and very provocative.


"Hazak V'Amatz" - "Be Strong and Brave," Genocide - Grobman & Landes

Some mistakenly think only of men when talking of heroism. Read Rosa's story and note that like Rosa, heroism was not the distinction of any one group. Women, children were all equally valiant in resistance.


Rosa Robota from Ciechanow was twenty-one as she watched her family taken to the gas chambers in a selection at Birkenau in November, 1942. Her opportunity to avenge came two years later. Able to make contact with some of the slave laborers, she and a group of girls working with her at the Krupp munitions plant at Auschwitz arranged to smuggle out dynamite to the resistance organization in the camp. Hiding the little wheels of explosives in their bosoms or in special packets they had sewn into the hems of their dresses, the material was passed to a Russian prisoner of war, Borodin, who converted them into bombs. Some of the girls were caught and hanged. But the smuggling went on. Then, on October 7, 1944, everyone at Auschwitz heard and saw something unbelievable - one of the crematoria, in which the bodies of so many mothers, fathers, and young had been burned, was blown to pieces. Five SS men were killed. As the flames burst forth, more than 600 people escaped - most were hunted down and shot in a few days. In an investigation that led to the arrest of Rosa, the SS used all their sadistic methods of torture on her. She betrayed no one. Her last words scribbled on a piece of paper just before she was hanged in front of the assembled inmates at Auschwitz were "Hazak V'Amatz" - "Be Strong and Brave."



Can you think of other unlikely heroes from your Holocaust studies?


Inscription on the walls of a cellar in Cologne, Germany, where Jews hid from Nazis 

I Believe 

I believe in the sun even when it is not shining. I believe in love even when feeling it not. I believe in God even when He is silent." 



1. Try to understand and explain the part that faith played in resistance. How does this oft used quote support/deny your feelings and your experience?

2. Write a description of the person who might have written these words. Explain why you described him/her as such.

When There is Nothing Left to Lose

In 1961, the Israeli daily newspaper, Davar, published some comments relevant to this subject by a very talented writer, Louis M. Shifier, a gentile who was himself an inmate of a concentration camp. His opinion was that one can write about war, even if one has not participated in it, but that it is impossible to write about concentration camps unless one has lived in one. One of the most devastating things about such camps is the special kind of terror they create, and this is an emotion which cannot be imagined by anyone who has not felt it personally."

About The Holocaust - Dorothy Rabinowitz


1. Do you agree with the author about his contention that, unless one was there one cannot write about the camps?

2. Why do you think he feels this way? Does this help explain why our camp information has been so limited (most died, few wanted to reexperience the pain by telling of it) until now?


"The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will always serve as an inspiration to the free world."

John F. Kennedy



President Kennedy called the Warsaw Ghetto an inspiration. Do you agree? In what way was it an "inspiration?" An "inspiration" to whom?


Reading #11 

The Little Boy - turn the page first. Most of you have seen the picture. Imagine yourself in that picture. Imagine taking that photograph.

When God and Man Failed - Harry James Cargas, Ed.


How Old Is The Little Boy In The Photograph? Perhaps seven. But his eyes contain centuries. What a pitiful incongruity. Innocence, by its very nature, does not encompass experience. But then this photograph is of a situation that is not consistent with nature. The Holocaust was, by every civilized measure, anti-natural. The boy intuits this. Something is horribly topsy-turvy, terribly frightening. A man is holding a weapon on him, during the roundup of the Jews in Warsaw. For what reason? No reason could ever be invented to justify what is happening in this scene, and the real cause is ludicrous in the root sense of the word. This boy is being taken to his death because he has been judged a danger to European equilibrium. He is a Jew. That is crime enough in some people's minds. And while we could focus our attention exclusively on him in this picture, there are others who need to be considered. For instance, the child with his hands raised isn't even the youngest in the group. Just above his right shoulder we see another who is about four or five years old.

A second boy to the left of center, looking off to his right, also exhibits in his eyes a terror no child should know. Eyes, in fact, can be considered a theme, if we dare to be academic about this setting. The camera's eye must be considered . It must be. Who has dared to take this photograph? For what purpose? Why memorialize this sin? What is the intended audience? Who will enjoy viewing this? Clearly this picture could not have been made without official permission. The victims were not snapping shutters. No the persecutors were. Note that no eyes of prisoners are looking at the camera. Those eyes are concentrated on something other than publicity. There is one, however, who is looking directly into the lens: the guard who has his gun directed at the little boy up front. We may take it that he is posing for this photographer. Why? Is he proud of what he is doing? Is he pleased to be carrying out his government's policy concerning Jews? Did he request a copy of the photo to show his friends and family? I have heard that after this photograph became famous, this guard was found as a civilian. I do not know the accuracy of this, but if true, he really has seen himself in this situation. How does he feel about it? Does he ever wonder if G-d's eye has recorded the same event? Does he have some thoughts about Judgment Day? What else did he do in the war that is memorable?



1. The comments on the previous page were composed by a non-Jew. Imagine yourself interviewing both the officer and the photographer. How might each respond to the questions in bold print?

2. Do you agree with the assessment of the person asking these questions?

3. The Germans used the title "Bandits" to describe women and children who were rounded up and considered threats to Germany. How do you feel about that label?

4. Have you any other questions for the officers?


Reading #12 

There are real people, facing real-life decisions. Many times we think that Jews had no choices during the Shoah. They had choices, but most of them were "life and death" decisions.

Single Acts Of Resistance 

In the book Atlas of the Holocaust by Martin Gilbert, there are depicted 100's of acts of resistance. These are not the famous ones, such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, or the Lodz Ghetto Revolt or even the break-out at Sobibor. These are everyday acts of courage and martyrdom which combine to tell a more accurate story of the daily lives of the Jews on their inexorable journey towards the Nazi death machine. Allow us to share just a few with you.

At Treblinka on August 26th, 1942, a young deportee from the town of Kielce (name unknown), having been forbidden by one of the Ukrainian guards to say farewell to his mother, attacked the guard with a knife. The guard survived, but the entire trainload of Jewish deportees was machine-gunned to death.

In August, 1942, 87,000 Jews from Volhynia were killed by the Einsatzgruppe D. As the Germans approached, 15,000 others escaped, but were tracked down. About 1,000 survived.

At Treblinka on September 11, 1942, a young Jew from Argentina, Meir Berliner, who had been trapped in Warsaw at the outbreak of the War, stabbed an SS man to death with a penknife. There were no repercussions.

In January, 1943, a group of Jewish partisans killed 25 German soldiers. As a reprisal, the SS shot 250 old people and children.

At Treblinka on September 2nd, 1943, an 18-year-old Polish Jew, Seweryn Klajman, attacked a Ukrainian guard with a crowbar, put on the dead guard's uniform and marched out of the camp with 12 fellow inmates, yelling at and hitting his 'prisoners'. They all escaped unharmed and survived.



1. In the first example above, if you knew the reprisals which would come, would you still have killed the guard? Explain.

2. Is there anything or any principle which you would die for? Explain.


Activity A 

The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience , Harry Furman (A Curriculum)


You may feel uncomfortable responding to each of these situations; they all actually happened.

In each of the following situations, indicate with either a Yes or No how you would answer the question.

Yes No 

____ ____1. A chance for escape from Auschwitz appears for one inmate, but he must accept leaving his younger son who is simply too weak to travel. The father and son have shielded each other during their camp experience.

Knowing this, should the father attempt the escape?

____ ____ 2. A young man breaks down when told of the death of his family. He decides that in the morning he will commit suicide by attacking an SS officer. Because of the Nazi practice of mass reprisal, his act will cost the lives of all 400 men in the barracks.

If the young man cannot be convinced to change his mind, should he be killed by the underground to protect the interest of the larger group?

____ ____ 3. An inmate desperately needs certain medicines to survive. Medicines can be obtained by giving in to the sexual desires of a particular SS officer who has access to medicines. Should a friend of the man try to obtain the medicines if this is the only way he can get them?

____ ____ 4. An inmate in the barracks has been found to be an in- former for the SS. He acts the role of a cooperative katzetnik, but several inmates know he is a spy for the Germans. Should the informer be killed?

________ 5. A number of inmates have been placed on the death list for the coming week. These individuals are essential to maintaining the underground. Several katzetniks have the power to replace their numbers on the death list with others who are already very sick. Should this switch be made?

____ ____ 6.In many camps, women who gave birth were automatically sent with their newborn children to the ovens. A decision can be made to save the mothers by making the newborn infants "stillborn." Should the decision to kill the children to save the mother be made?


Activity B 

The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience - Harry Furman (A Curriculum)


1. Fill in the chart below.

2. Get a partner who has done the same. In the order of ( + - 0 - * ) see how your evaluations compare.

3. Debate your choices on those where you disagree. See if you can come to a consensus after presenting both arguments.

4. Where no agreement can be reached, consider asking a teacher or better yet a survivor to serve as the final arbitrator.

Given your own judgment about what is success or failure and your goals of resistance, which of the following are the best forms of resistance for the katzetniks, the camp inmates?

Indicate your viewpoint with the following symbols:

+ Best form of resistance

0 Minimal resistance or little effect

* Very unwise resistance

1. Refuse to leave the trains upon arrival at the camp.

2. Attempt individual escape from the camp ground.

3. Organize an armed revolt against the SS.

4. Observe religious rituals.

5. Kill vicious kapos under cover of night and throw them in the latrines.

6. Take the pistol of an SS officer while in the courtyard for roll call and shoot as many as possible.

7. Organize foodstuffs, clothing, and drugs for collective use in the barracks.

8. Survive as best as possible until rescue by the Allied soldiers and partisans.

9. Sabotage Nazi efforts by performing shoddy work.

10. Become a kapo to shield katzetniks from harsher kapos and other SS.

11. Smuggle sick inmates into Canada for period of recuperation.

12. Organize political network to secretly coordinate katzetnik activities in the camp.

13. Convince SS by bribery, if necessary, that incoming groups of children should be allowed to live because they would make excellent workers.

14. Organize a study group.

15. Refuse to participate in revolting acts demanded by SS even if suicide is required.

16. Imitate identification with SS, attempt to find a place with the SS and even do favors for them in an attempt to obtain secret information that could warn katzetniks of impending Nazi action.

17. Go to one's death in the gas chambers while praising the name of God.

Bibliography of Suggested Additional Readings 


Barkai, Meyer, Fighting Back (Fighting Ghettos)

Bauer, Yehuda, They Chose Life

Dawidowicz, Lucy, A Holocaust Reader, Pages 329-380

Des Pres, Terrence, The Survivor

Drobman, Alex and Landes, Daniel, Genocide: Critical Issues of the Holocaust, Chapt. 6 & 7

Furman, Harry, The Holocaust and Genocide: A Search for Conscience, Unit V

Gottlieb, Roger S. (edited), Thinking the Unthinkable, Pages 180-198, 315-327, 434-446

Glatstein, Jacob et al (ed.), Anthology of the Holocaust, Pages 43-114, 275-360

Gutmann, Yisroel, Fighters Among the Ruins

Isaacman, Clara, Pathways Thru the Holocaust, Pages 76-84

Meltzer, Milton, Never To Forget, Pages 151-210

Post, Albert, The Holocaust: Case Study of Genocide

Post, Albert, The Holocaust: Life Unworthy of Life, Lesson 15

Rabbinowitz, Dorothy, About the Holocaust, Pages 34-36

Shabbetai, K., As Sheep to the Slaughter

Strom, Margot and Parson, William, Facing History and Ourselves, Chapters II, VII and VIII

Smolar, Leivy, Lest We Forget, Pages 29-41

Sohl, Yuri, They Fought Back

Silverman, Harry J., From Darkness to Light

University of New York (Bureau of Curriculum Development), Teaching About the Holocaust and Genocide, Chapters D, E and F

Zornberg, Ira, Classroom


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