Friends  |  Press Room  |  Contact Us

The Holocaust

Combat and Resistance

The Human Spirit in the Shadow of Death

Kovno, Lithuania, A performance of the ghetto orchestra Kovno, Lithuania, A performance of the ghetto orchestra.
Photo Gallery

During the war, European Jewry was faced with a constant struggle for its very survival. Yet even under such terrible conditions there were those whose acted in ways that went beyond the necessities of human existence: they risked their lives - deliberately and intentionally - for high causes, including educating their children, maintaining religious values and traditions and sustaining centuries-old cultural activities. Unfortunately, not all those who succeeded survived the hell that was the Holocaust, but their deeds themselves bear witness to power of the human spirit.

One phenomenon that testifies to an impressive level of spiritual survival is the effort made by Jews to document their lives in the ghettos and the camps. Artists and intellectuals, children and ordinary people, wrote and drew in order to document the fear and crisis that pervaded Jewish society. These activities were not only helpful in allowing many to rise above the humiliations and injuries they suffered, but also sometimes alerted the free world to the reality of their lives. Even in the camps themselves, one finds evidence of activity through which the prisoners could - if only in their imagination - transcend the barriers of their status and of the surrounding camp environment. While only a few took part in these activities, their importance lies not in their quantity but in the strength of spirit needed for their realization within the reality of persecution and humiliation.

Despite the predatory reality endured by the Jews of Eastern and Western Europe, many people mobilized to assist those weaker than themselves, establishing mutual aid and welfare organizations. In the camps, helping others often became a matter of life and death, accompanied by difficult moral dilemmas. By helping another person - whether with food, clothing or work - the individual potentially jeopardized his own ability to survive. However, many Jews placed themselves in grave danger in order to save the lives of others.