The Resistance

By Stephanie Rios


Stripped of weapons, facing starvation and disease combined with the prospect of deportation, most Jews believed that they were being relocated to work. For virtually all, the reality that they faced immediate death did not occur until the doors of the gas chambers were sealed, the lights were turned off and the gas filled the rooms. But by then, it was too late.

Those who did resist - either by running from the trains or attacking their captors - faced certain death. Some took advantage of this option and were summarily executed on the spot. Others chose to take their own lives when faced with the hopelessness of the situation. It might be argued that suicide under these circumstances was itself resistance.

For others, deciding not to commit suicide but rather to make an attempt at survival amidst the hopelessness and despair of this situation was their resistance.

Jewish resistance

During the Holocaust, millions of Jews boarded rail cars and trains destined for the unknown. Thousands worked in forced labor and millions led a brutal existence in concentration camps, slowly wasting away. Nazi-sponsored persecution and mass murder fueled resistance to the Germans in the Third Reich itself and throughout occupied Europe. Although Jews were the Nazis' primary victims, they too resisted Nazi oppression in a variety of ways, both collectively and as individuals. Organized armed resistance was the most forceful form of Jewish opposition to Nazi policies in German-occupied Europe.

Resistance in the ghetto

Between April and May 1943, Jewish men and women of the Warsaw Ghetto took up arms and rebelled against the Nazis after it became clear that the Germans were deporting remaining Ghetto inhabitants to the Treblinka extermination camp. After fierce fighting, vastly superior German forces pacified the Warsaw Ghetto and either murdered or deported all of the remaining inhabitants to the Nazi killing centers.[4] The Germans claimed that they lost 18 dead and 85 wounded, though this figure has been disputed, with resistance leader Marek Edelman estimating 300 German casualties. Some 13,000 Jews were killed, and 56,885 were deported to concentration camps.

Resistance in concentration camps

Jewish prisoners rose against their guards at three killing centers. At Treblinka in August 1943 and Sobibor in October 1943, prisoners armed with stolen weapons attacked the SS staff and the Trawniki-trained auxiliary guards. The Germans and their auxiliaries killed most of the rebels, either during the uprising or later, after hunting down those who escaped. In October 1944, at Auschwitz-Birkenau, members of the Jewish Special Detachment (Sonderkommando) mutinied against the SS guards. Nearly 250 died during the fighting; the SS guards shot another 200 after the mutiny was suppressed. Several days later, the SS identified five women, four of them Jewish, who had been involved in supplying the members of the Sonderkommando with explosives to blow up a crematorium. All five women were killed.