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Partisans and Underground

Mirjam WatermanFanny Solomian

One may regard as active resistance anything that Jews did during the Holocaust to prolong their lives for another moment, since it disrupted the murderers’ main goal of exterminating the Jews. From the value standpoint, there is no difference between an action taken by a mother who after great effort obtained a few potatoes and made soup for her family and a girl who fled to the partisans. The mother, too, may have had an opportunity to escape to the partisans but passed it by because she had to look out for her family, her parents, and the children.

Almost anyone who engaged in actual warfare against the Nazis and their accomplices during the Holocaust was expressing a choice—accepting active death, in resistance against the oppressor, rather than passive death, e.g., in a gas chamber. Jews could neither ensure their survival nor win the war by fighting back. It was an act of pride, of the feeling that they had done something nevertheless, but not something of military significance. The threatening thing about these actions was that many people who were totally uninvolved in the decision to undertake them would pay for them with their lives, i.e., would be executed by the Nazis in revenge.

One may state that women avoided this option altogether as long as they remained in the family setting. They chose family responsibilities ab initio. The only women who could indulge in the extra privilege of fighting, attempting to fight, or going underground were young girls who had already grown up, relatively speaking, but were not yet responsible for others. Most such girls belonged to youth movements. Even there, they were not among the leaders except in a few unusual cases. Instead, they were ordinary soldiers—liaisons, smugglers, and the like. Often it was more a matter of companionship and planning, rather than real operations. Just the same, a few women did participate actively in warfare, as in the Warsaw ghetto or in a sabotage operation in Krakow. Women also fought actively in several partisan groups. As a rule, women were totally unwanted in non-Jewish partisan groups, which regarded them not as fighting forces but as nuisances. Insofar as women were admitted to such units, they served as cooks, cleaners, givers of medical care, and men’s partners. For the most part, they were treated very badly.

In the resistance, women had an important role to play mainly in rescue. They served as smugglers and caregivers for people who had gone into hiding, especially children whose parents had been taken away or murdered or had placed their children in hiding. Most such activities on the part of Jewish resistance groups, or groups in which Jews had been co-opted, took place in Western Europe.

In the camps, women’s active role in resistance was usually limited to sabotaging the armaments that they manufactured. Women did participate in various resistance groups in the camps and, on the few occasions where attempts to attack Nazis were made, they were co-opted as smugglers of explosives. When they were caught, they did not reveal the names of their comrades despite severe torture. Occasionally a woman attacked a guard and was immediately murdered. Escape attempts ended similarly. As stated, these actions were threatening in that the price for them would be paid not only by their instigators but also by many hostages who would be executed.

Deliberate active resistance was a feat of ascendancy over the Jews’ grim and hopeless reality in the Holocaust. This may be seen as the main uniqueness of these women fighters.