Updated: Aug 13
What is Resistance? What is it to resist? What kinds of resistances are there? How can it be applied in the Jewish case regarding the Nazis?
The Jewish people were not in a position where resisting the German officers was easy. To
(even accidentally) a German soldier was to sentence to death tens of Jewish families – as retribution. Since the beginning of the war the Jews had been put through so much pain - physical as well as psychological – that, maybe, they feared the repercussions of their resistant acts.
After listening to Professor’s Kenez and Murray points of view about the subject, it seems to me that in this case, at least, we can divide the Jewish resistance into two major groups: Passive Resistance and Active Resistance.
Active Resistance would be, as Professor Kenez described, having a gun and shooting with it. Or in simpler terms: actively and physically opposing the German soldiers.
Passive Resistance would be subtler, more psychological. It would comprise minor acts of defiance like smuggling food or hiding a Jew in your basement.
Professor Baumgarten says: “I Like to think of resistance along a Spectrum.” I agree with this opinion. One could define this spectrum according to one’s beliefs regarding the subject. To me this spectrum would be like a ruler - going from 0 to 10: On zero there would be no Resistance at all, on five acts of defiance and escalating until you reach number 10, where we would find Active resistance.
There are many examples of both types, but I leave you with two:
The Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto had around 300.000 people, but in 1942 people were taken out of the Ghetto every day. Every day people died. By that, it was understood that the ghetto would be eliminated. By the time the rising (of the Resistance) took place, there were only 70.000 Jews left in the Ghetto.
The resistance had formed in the second half of 1942 and it was organized by political parties: mostly Zionists and communists, as the orthodox party was less willing. Weapons were smuggled into the ghetto with the help of the Home Army - constituted by anti-Nazi Poles.
When the rising occurred, the Jews were led by Mordechai Anielewicz. Their first target was the Judenrat (the ghetto police). 5.000 Jews were able to escape this Ghetto, and the resistance killed sixteen Germans and wounded around 80.
In the movie “Schindler’s List” - a drama that tells the story of how Oskar Schindler saved over a thousand Jews - we have two main resistors: Oskar himself: an ethnic German, and Itzhak Stern: a Jewish accountant. But there are also some small, seemingly unnoticed, events that also fall on the resistance spectrum.
Oskar Schindler was a gallant bon vivant, part of the Nazi party, who sees the opportunity for profit in times of war. In the beginning he shows himself
indifferent to the plight of the Jews. He resists the Nazi’s first by not denunciating Stern to the proper authorities, then by helping him and finally by saving the lives 1100 Jews. One of the most resistant acts depicted in the movie is when he forbids German soldiers from entering his factory and tells the Rabbi to perform his religious rites. His act of resistance goes so far that he pursued “His” Jews on many occasions going so far as to bribe German Officers.
Itzhak Stern was first Schindler’s accountant, manager and, much later, friend. In the beginning Stern seems to loath Schindler and his ways, still, he uses his position in the factory to help as many Jews as he can. He resists at first by giving Jews fake papers so they won’t be sent to the camps, then - when working for Schindler - he gives them essential worker papers. Once in the camps, under Goth’s very nose, he does it again, sending old men and children to the factory to save them from the German mercy. But his greater act of defiance is the compilation of a list with over 1000 names. Those are the Jews sent to Schindler’s factory instead of Auschwitz.
Poldek Pfefferberg is Schindler’s black market contact. His acts of resistance consist mainly of smuggling.
Menasha Lewartow is a Rabbi whose act of resistance is to perform religious rites at the factory under Schindler’s allowance and where the German soldiers can hear.
Regina Perlman is a young Jewish girl, passing as a gentil to avoid capture. She reaches out to Schindler regarding her parents, who are in a camp.
The rescue of the girl’s parents from a prisoner camp is Schindler’s first active act of resistance.
The acts of resistance known to us are many. Many more are untold. Each surviving Jew is a story of resistance but we mustn’t forget that the billions who died had resistance stories as well, only theirs died with them.