The widespread perception that the Jewish populations of Europe were led blindly and obediently like “sheep to the slaughter” to Hitler’s death camps does not accurately reflect historical reality.
The best proof that instead of submitting to the Nazis there was the option of going into battle were the estimated 30,000 Jews who fought in the partisan detachments of the Soviet Union, Belarus, Ukraine, Lithuania, Poland, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria and Greece. In Yugoslavia, about 5.000 Jewish men and women, representing seven percent of the prewar Jewish population, enlisted in Tito’s National Liberation Front and National Liberation Army (Partisans). In Bulgaria, 460 Jews were involved in the country’s communist resistance and an estimated 125 were killed in battle. In several cases, mainly in eastern Europe, Jewish partisansserved in independent, homogeneous units and groupsembedded in partisan armies. The most famous case is that of the Polish Jewish Bielski brothers – Tuvia, Alexander, Asael and Aron – in Belarus, who, as partisan leaders, organised an entire camp that accommodated 1,240 persecuted Jews, partisans and civilian families in the Naliboki forest in northwestern Belarus. In France, as early as autumn 1941, the Communist Party (PCF) recruited many young Jews to groups that carried out bombings of German targets and killings of German soldiers, in the ranksof the FTP–MOI (Francs tireurs et partisans–Main–d’Oeuvre Immigrée), a special organisation that coordinated armed units in occupied cities (Paris, Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse).
A distinct category of combatants involved those who took up arms at the very heart of the Nazi industrial extermination system. In the ghettos and camps, the very act of survival was deemed “resistance”. In eastern Europe, the ghettoisation and gradual mass extermination of populations triggered the resistance of the entrapped Jews. In eastern Poland, Lithuania and Belarus, the Jewish resistance organised riots in five large and 15 small ghettos, in five large camps and 18 forced labour camps. The vibrant Jewish resistance groups in Kovna(now Kaunas) in Lithuania, Białystok, Vilna (now Vilnius) and Minsk enabled the escape of thousands of their coreligionists to the forests.
The largest and most symbolic moment of the Jewish resistance in Nazi Europe is undoubtedly the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (19 April–16 May 1943). In January 1943, 750 young members of the Jewish Militant Organisation (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ZOB) and Jewish Military Union (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ZZW), revolted inside the Ghetto. About 13,000 Jews were killed in fierce battles, from 19th of April to 16th of May, in an unsurpassed example of valour and sacrifice.
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