Women & Resistance
Women played an important role in various resistance activities. This was especially the case for women who were involved in Socialist, Communist, or Zionist youth movements. In Poland, women served as couriers who brought information to the ghettos. Many women escaped to the forests of eastern Poland and the Soviet Union and served in armed partisan units. Women even played an important role in the French (and French-Jewish) resistance. Some women survived the Holocaust to tell remarkable stories of heroism, determination, and courage. Most, however, were murdered by the Nazis; their stories of resistance have become their legacy.
Some women were leaders or members of ghetto resistance organizations, such as Haika Grosman in Bialystok. Others engaged in resistance inside the concentration camps. In Auschwitz I, five Jewish women deployed at the Vistula-Union-Metal Works detachment – Ala Gertner, Regina Safirsztajn (aka Safir), Ester Wajcblum, Roza Robota, and one unidentified woman, possibly Fejga Segal – had supplied the gunpowder that members of the Jewish Sonderkommando (Special Detachment) at Auschwitz-Birkenau used to blow up a gas chamber and kill several SS men during the uprising in October 1944.
Other women were active in the aid and rescue operations of the Jews in German-occupied Europe. Among them were Jewish parachutist Hannah Szenesh and Zionist activist Gisi Fleischmann. Szenesh parachuted into Hungary in 1944. Fleischmann, the leader of the Working Group (Pracovna Skupina) operating within the framework of the Jewish council in Bratislava, attempted to halt the deportations of Jews from Slovakia.
They strove to live despite the horrors they faced, and that choice is worth teaching and discussing. Furthermore, the non-Jews who risked their lives to defy the totalitarian dictatorship that occupied their countries are examples of extraordinarily brave moral behavior.
Women in Resistance
- Born July 17, 1921 in Budapest Hungary and died November 7, 1944.
- She kept a diary from age 13
- Family was assimilated, however anti-Semitic sentiment in Budapest led her to involvement in Zionist activities
- Studied at agricultural school first and then settled at Kibbutz Sdot Yam
- Wrote poetry on life in Kibbutz
- Sdot Yam is a kibbutz in the Haifa District of Israel. Located on the shore of the Mediterranean Sea
- In 1943 joined British Army and parachuted to Europe-Yugoslovia in March 1944
- The purpose of this operation to Europe was to help the Allied efforts in Europe and establish contact with partisan resistance fighters in an attempt to aid beleaguered Jewish communities.
- June 7, 1944- crossed the border into Hungary
- She was caught immediately by the Hungarian Police and was tortured cruelly and repeatedly over the several months following
- Despite the brutality, she never gave up information regarding her missions or any information for that matter
- She was executed at the age of 23
Poem written by Hannah and found in her cell after her execution:
One – two – three… eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark…
Life is a fleeting question mark
One – two – three… maybe another week.
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.
- Born February 15, 1910 in Poland
- World War II broke out, 29-year-old social worker, employed by the Welfare Department of the Warsaw municipality
- She obtained a permit from the municipality that enabled her to enter the ghetto to inspect the sanitary conditions. Once inside the ghetto, she established contact with activists of the Jewish welfare organization and began to help them.
- She helped smuggle Jews out of the ghetto to the Aryan side and helped set up hiding places for them.
- Main activist for the Council for Aid to Jews “Zegota”-Polish code name for the group established in 1942
- Council was created after the deportation of 280,000 Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka
- Purpose: rescue of a large number of Jews who had survived the massive deportations. The organization took care of thousands of Jews who were trying to survive in hiding, seeking hiding places, and paying for the upkeep and medical care.
- Director of Zegota’s Department for the Care of Jewish Children
- Sendler exploited her contacts with orphanages and institutes for abandoned children, to send Jewish children there. Many of the children were sent to the Rodzina Marii (Family of Mary) Orphanage in Warsaw, and to religious institutions run by nuns in nearby Chotomów, and in Turkowice, near Lublin.
- October 20, 1943- arrested and sentenced to death- with help of underground activists, she was released in February 1944 and continued her underground work
- Fearless, determined, heroic, righteous leader
On October 19, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Irena Sendler as Righteous Among the Nations. The tree planted in her honor stands at the entrance to the Avenue of the Righteous Among the Nations.
- Born November 9, 1914 in Byten, Poland and died in 1978
- Leader and founder of underground in Poland, Jewish Fighting Organization “Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, Zob” in Warsaw
- Member of the Dror Zionist Youth movement: First organization to set up in Warsaw ghetto whose purpose was armed resistance
- Trained, protected, and inspired the teenagers she took under her care
- She smuggled Jewish teenagers through Romania and Palestine (when she believed Germans intent to occupy Poland)
- She organized underground schools for youth (when Germans meant to dehumanize Jews)
- She organized work permits for youth and taught them to live communally (when she saw increase of scarcity of food)
- She put her charges to work in soup kitchens (when Germans intent was to starve the Jews)
- She armed her teens and fought alongside them (German deportation of Jews to death camps)
- Zivia and her friends agreed not to escape from the ghetto because they believed the ghetto needed every last pair of hands they could get and that children should escape before adults
- Escaped the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising through the sewers to the “Aryan” side of Warsaw
- She was 1/34 fighters to survive the war
- She founded a Kibbutz in Palestine after the war
Testimony at the Eichmann Trial, Jerusalem:
She began by saying, “It is difficult for me to speak. There must be some ultimate limit to the level of emotional experience and shock that a person can absorb. I didn’t believe that I would be able to bear it all and continue to live.”
She concludes her memoir by saying, “It would be wrong, painfully wrong, to assume that the resistance displayed by the youth during the stormy days of destruction was the response of a few individuals, of Yitzchak, or Zivia, or Mordechai, or Frumka. Our fate would have been very different had we not been members of the movement…We were able to endure the life in the ghetto because we knew that we were a collective, a movement. Each of us knew that he or she wasn’t alone…the feeling that there was a community people who cared about each other, who shared ideas and values in common, made it possible for each of us to do what he or she did. This was the source of our strength to live. It is the very same source which keeps the survivors alive even today. The Jewish people stood the test.”