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Jewish and Non-Jewish
Resistance to the Holocaust
What is Resistance?
In World War II this took many forms:
Protesting the Nazi Regime
Violent uprisings in and out of concentration
and death camps
Forgery of documents
Seizing and smuggling weapons
Assisting in escape
Strategically disrupting Nazi activities
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto, the largest ghetto in Poland,
concentrated 300,000-400,000 Jews and others. 30% of
Warsaw’s population was now effectively sequestered in
2.4% of Warsaw’s total area.
In the densely packed ghetto quarters, diseases like
typhus spread rapidly and kept the ghetto population
from expanding.
Food rations were meager, sanitation was poor, and
space was limited.
Before deportations even began, 100,000 ghetto
residents died from disease, starvation and Nazi
Map of the Warsaw Ghetto
Life in the Ghetto
Deportation Begins
Deportations began from July-September 1942.
Adam Czerniakow, head of the Jewish Council in the
ghetto, was order to provide lists of Jews and maps of their
residences. After the Nazis refused to grant exemption
from deportation for the children of an orphanage,
Czerniakow committed suicide on July 23, 1942 by
swallowing a cyanide capsule: “They demand me to kill
children of my nation with my own hands. I have nothing to
do but to die.”
Anywhere from 254,000-300,000 Jews were killed at the
Treblinka concentration camp as a result of the Warsaw
Ghetto mass deportation.
Jewish resistance leaders at first did not resist, believing
that Jews were being sent to work camps. However, by the
end of that year it became apparent that deportees were
being sent to their deaths.
Adam Czerniakow
Resistance Begins
• Members of the Jewish Military League, joined
by the Jewish Combat Organization, engaged
the Nazis in direct combat in January 1943.
Despite attacks, the Nazis still managed to carry
out deportations, but at a significantly reduced
The JML and JCO began constructing fighting
posts and executing Nazi collaborators
By January, the ghetto fighters numbered around
400. Their numbers swelled to 1,000 fighters by
April of 1943.
Resources of the Resistance
Jewish insurgents typically fought with pistols and
revolvers, which were ineffective in combat and
virtually useless at long range.
Rifles and automatic weapons were sometimes
smuggled into the ghetto by members of the Polish
Resistance, but in small quantities.
Ammunition and weapons were a constant scarcity.
Insurgents relied heavily on improvised explosive
devices and “incendiary bottles”, i.e. Molotov cocktails
(bottles filled with gasoline and then lit on fire).
Resources of the Nazis
The Nazis committed an average daily force of 2,090
well-armed soldiers to oppose the Uprising. This
included 363 Polish policemen who were stationed
around the perimeter the ghetto.
The German force includes army battalions, the
Warsaw Gestapo, anti-aircraft artillery, a Ukrainian
battalion from Trawinki camp, and a group of
criminals and executioners from a nearby prison who
volunteered to “hunt the Jews”.
Jewish policemen working under the Gestapo
were either executed outright, or used in the
offensive and then subsequently executed.
April 19, 1943, Nazi forces entered the ghetto with the
intention of crushing the uprising within three days.
However, Jewish resistance fighters managed to ambush
Nazi forces, launch Molotov cocktails against advancing
troops, and curtail the offensive. This led to the replacement
of the SS police commander of Warsaw and the
appointment of Jurgen Stroop.
From April 19th to end of April, Jewish fighters defended a
stronghold against aggressive Nazi retribution.
In a famous incident, two boys climbed to the roof of the
headquarters of the Jewish Resistance and raised two flags
- a Polish flag and the blue and white banner of the Jewish
Military League.
The Ghetto in the midst of combat
The Burning of the Warsaw Ghetto
After Jewish resistance fighters destroyed a German
armored vehicle in a counterattack and rejected an
ultimatum to surrender, the Nazis embarked on a plan to
systematically burn the ghetto to the ground using flamethrowers and explosives.
The Jewish military league lost all of its leaders, and some
of its remaining members escaped through a sewage
tunnel into a forest outside of Warsaw.
Others in the ghetto, resistance fighters and civilians alike,
hid in bunker dugouts amidst the ruins of the ghetto. Nazi
troops used dogs to seek out these hideouts. Smoke
grenades, tear gas and poison gas forced them out from
The Ghetto in Ruins
End of the Uprising
On May 8, 1943, Nazi troops discovered the
last remaining resistance command post. All
remaining leaders and a few dozen
remaining fighters were killed. Others,
refusing to be killed or captured by the Nazis,
committed suicide by taking cyanide.
The Uprising officially ended on May 16,
The Human Toll
Approximately 13,000 Jews were killed in the
ghetto during the uprising.
6,000 Jews were burnt alive or died from
smoke inhalation during the burning of the
The remaining 50,000 residents were
captured and shipped to concentration camps.
Most were sent to Treblinka.
Anywhere from 100 to 300 Nazi soldiers were
said to have been killed in combat.
Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, Warsaw
Jewish Partisans
Eastern Europe
In Lithuania and Belorussia in particular, heavily
forested areas became places of refuge for Jews
fleeing the Einsatzgruppen and Wehrmacht
Jewish partisans focused on doing whatever they
could to disrupt the activities of the Nazis and
their allies, including rupturing communication and
transport lines
The most dangerous missions, however, were
missions for obtaining weapons and food from
local farmers, since this brought the partisans out
of hiding and within range of their enemies
How many partisans were there?
An estimated 20,000-30,000 partisans
operated throughout Eastern Europe from
There were an estimated 30 fully Jewish
partisan groups and another 21 non-Jewish
groups in which Jews fought
One of the most famous was the Bielski
Otriad (Defiance Film)
The Bielski Otriad
The Bielski Otriad performed such successful
sabotage against the Nazis that the regime
offered a reward of 100,000 Reichmarks for
assistance in the capture of Tuvia Bielski, and in
1943 led major clearing operations against all
partisan groups in the area.
The Soviet partisan leaders split the group into
two units, named Ordzhonikidze, led by Zus, and
Kalinin, led by Tuvia.
According to partisan documentation, Bielski
fighters from both units killed a total of 381 enemy
fighters, sometimes during joint actions with
Soviet groups.
Treblinka Uprising
The original plan of the resistance group was to
set fire to the whole camp and destroy the
engines which powered the gas chambers. They
intended to sacrifice their lives to accomplish this
goal. The plan:
1. Seize arms from the camp's arsenal
2. Set fire to the camp
There was a Jew whose sole job was to walk around the
camp all day and spray disinfectant. In order to set fire to
the camp, the resistance switched out the disinfectant with
gasoline and had the Jew spray every possible building in
the camp.
3. Escape in the ensuing chaos
This is by far the roughest part of the plan. Most accounts
do not give any more information on the plan of escape
other than to escape through the gates by killing the
guards once the fires are set.
The revolt happened August 2, 1943. The signal to begin the
revolt was a rifle shot which killed the chief of guards, Kittner.
The 20 stolen rifles, revolvers, and grenades were then put to use,
the grenades tossed at the "disinfected" areas in order to start the
"At 3:45 p.m. we heard the signal -- a rifle-shot near the gates
of the Jewish barracks. This shot was followed by the
detonations of hand grenades hurled at previously
"disinfected" objects. An enormous fire broke out in the whole
camp. The arsenal exploded and everything was burned,
except the "bath" cabins, because it proved absolutely
impossible to get near them. The victim of the first shot was
Obersharführer Kittner, the chief of the guards and the
leading camp spy. The flames devoured all the storerooms
for clothes and shoes. Of the 700 workers on the camp
grounds, only 150 to 200 succeeded in escaping; the others
perished in the camp as well as over 20 Germans. Of the 150
to 200 who managed to escape, only 12 are still alive; the
others were later murdered by the German
hangmen."(Rajzman 132).
12th Sonderkommando Uprising
The Sonderkommando were responsible for doing
the “dirty work” of the Holocaust: stripping bodies,
pulling teeth, removing hair and valuables,
burning the remains, and spreading the ashes of
the victims
These Jews were only kept alive about 3 months
at a time, and then were sent to the gas chambers
In October 1944, a group of Sonderkommando
who noted the end of the war was nearing,
decided to fight back rather than be gassed
Planning the Attack
Smuggled gunpowder was packed into empty sardine
tins to make grenades; Much of the gunpowder was
used in creating demolition charges.
Small arms were smuggled into the camp through the
barbed wire by local partisans
Knives and axes were made and hidden by the
Sonderkommando in strategic locations
The plan was for a general uprising timed with the
arrival of the Red Army, but some Sonderkommando
were certain that they would not live until that day.
The Attack
On October 7, 1944, at about 3 in the afternoon, the Poles in
Crematorium 1 begin the revolt.
Hungarians in Crematoria 3 and 4 joined in while the
Sonderkommando of Crematorium 2 broke through the wires
of the camp.
An especially sadistic Nazi guard in Crematorium 1 was
disarmed and stuffed into an oven to be burned alive
Several hundred guards counterattacked and penetrated the
buildings, indiscriminately shooting at all prisoners they
In a defiant suicide, the Sonderkommando in Crematorium 4
dragged their demolition charges into the oven rooms and
detonated them.
The revolt was quickly suppressed and the escaped men
recaptured with the help of local citizens.
Approximately 200 Sonderkommando are forced to lie
face down outside the crematoria where they are
executed with single shots to the back of the head.
Some of the men are spared for interrogation, but the
bodies of the 12th Sonderkommando are soon disposed
of by the 13th Sonderkommando.
The men give up names, including those of some
women who were engaged in smuggling gunpowder.
Despite months of beatings and rape and electric
shocks to their genitals, the only names given up by the
women are those of already dead Sonderkommando.
On January 5, 1945, the four women were hanged in
front of the assembled women's camp. Roza Robota
shouted, "Be strong and be brave" as the trapdoor
Crematorium 4 was damaged beyond repair and never
used again.
On November 7th, 1944, the Nazis destroyed the gas
chambers to hide their crimes.
Twelve days after the hanging of the four women, the
camp personnel forced 56,000 prisoners on a Death
March into what remained of the Third Reich; 7500
prisoners left behind were liberated by advancing Soviet
armies on January 27th.