“You do not know the limits of my courage”. These words were uttered by Holocaust heroine Marianne Cohn, who spent the war years rescuing Jewish children before being murdered by the Gestapo in 1944. But they can serve as inspiration today for the defiant young women of Iran, who are at the heart of the protests that broke out this week in response to the death of twenty-two year old Mahsa Amini. Amini was arrested by the country’s “morality police” for dressing “immodestly”; three days later she was dead in police custody. Her death has sparked wide protest and riots, by men and women of all ages. But at the center of the protests are courageous young women, who are burning their headscarves and cutting their hair in public, risking arrest and death.
In their spirit of courage and bravery they form a human chain, not only with the Iranian women protestors before them, but with the thousands of women who risked, and often lost, their lives to fight the Nazi machinery of dehumanization and death. In forests, ghettos and camps, women acted in secret or rose up in defiance in acts of unfathomable courage. Some of their stories have been told in Judy Batalion’s best-selling book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighter’s in Hitler’s Ghettos (Harper Collins, 2020). In June of 2022, at the Wagner College Holocaust Center’s international symposium on Heroines of the Holocaust: New Frameworks of Resistance, Batalion came to campus to share their histories with scholars from eight countries. In their fight for human dignity and freedom, these young women of Iran also recall the women heroes of the Civil Rights Movement, like Diane Nash, who as a student played a crucial role in leading the Freedom Riders and the Selma Voting Rights movement, among other vital acts of resistance. "We will not stop. There is only one outcome," stated Nash. In their disobedience and solidarity, the women of Iran carry the torch of valor passed on to them by the often unsung heroines of the past. May the spirit of these women protect those fighting now in Iran, so that they may emerge from the darkness into their own light of days.