Too many have denied the Holocaust. Even more have perpetuated the myth of passivity, the fallacy that six million Jews went docilely to their deaths, like lambs to the slaughter. It is important that future generations should know this to be untrue. In reality, wherever there was the slightest opportunity, Jews fought back. The Jewish people did their utmost to survive under unfathomably difficult circumstances in the forests, in the ghettos, and in the camps. We all fought for our lives and for the lives of our loved ones. Many fought with weapons in hand in the ghettos, as underground fighters in occupied cities and villages, as partisans in the forests, and simply as individuals who resisted those who came to destroy them.
Faye Schulman, part of the Jewish armed resistance against the Nazis, in A Partisan’s Memoir: Woman of the Holocaust (via anti-faschismus)
more Faye Schulman
In 1917 the majority of Russia’s Jews lived in the cities and shtetlach (small Jewish towns or villages) of the former Pale of Settlement, and over 90 percent spoke Yiddish on a daily basis. In 1918, soon after the Bolsheviks came to power, organizations designed to “Sovietize” the Jews economically and culturally were established. These were the Jewish sections (Evsektsii) of the Communist Party, which functioned until 1930, and the more short-lived Jewish Commissariat (Evkom), which operated until 1924. Their leaders saw the Yiddish language as the only medium with which to reach out to the Jewish masses and encouraged Jewish intellectuals to compose popular works in Yiddish. The Yiddish language itself was reformed several times during the Soviet period, initially with the goal of systematizing the spelling, including phonetic spelling of words of Hebrew origin, and later of purging the language of Hebraic elements that were seen as “bourgeois and clerical.” Yiddish popular culture was used as a tool to manipulate Jewish public opinion. The values of Soviet ideology filled short stories, theatrical performances, Yiddish songs, and even new holidays. These cultural products were designed to speed up the modernization and Sovietization of the Jewish population.
Anna Shternshis, Soviet and Kosher: Jewish Popular Culture in the Soviet Union, 1923-1939
Footnote: Recent scholarship, namely, works by Jeffrey Veidlinger, Gennady Estraikh, Katerina Clark, and David Shneer, argues that these Jewish activists, including some members of the Evsektsii, took advantage of Soviet opportunities and intended to build a secular Yiddish culture with a distinct, albeit non-religious Jewish content. For example, Veidlinger argues that producers, actors, and directors of the Moscow State Yiddish Theater were able to incorporate hidden Zionist and religious messages into their plays.
Nesvizh Synagogue, date unknown
Nesvizh Ghetto Resistance, July 1942
After the German invasion in June 1941, an aktion was ordered on Nesvizh and thousands of Jews were executed all at once in the small city. By October 30, 1941, the Jewish population in Nesvizh had been reduced from between 4,500 to 5,000 to approximately 600 Jews. The remaining Jewish population was limited to a ghetto.
Anticipating a second aktion, an underground movement in the ghetto was formed to resist the community’s complete annihilation and to embody the mottos: “We shall not go like sleep to slaughter” and “Let me die with the Philistines”. Underground participants acquired arms by having weapons — including a machine gun — smuggled into the city from storehouses. Nine months later, in July of 1942, the Nesvizh ghetto began to hear of German liquidation engulfing nearby communities. They prepared for the imminent orders: digging bunkers, organizing into fighting units, and preparing additional homemade weapons like knives and hatchets. In the event of an occupation, they planned to set fire to the ghetto and break through to the forest.
On July 20th, a German commander stood outside the gates of the ghetto and announced the order to liquidate with the exception of thirty essential skilled workers. When the Germans and collaborating Belarusians infiltrated the ghetto, the Jewish resistance set their houses aflame and fought towards the gate. The Germans and Belarusians soon overpowered the resistance, killing most in the onslaught. Only twenty-five underground fighters succeeded in escaping to nearby forests.
Having endured one of the first ever ghetto uprisings, many of these survivors went on to join partisan units, including the Zhukov Otriad, and continued in the struggle to resist.
(via Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation)