Facing overwhelming odds, many Jews courageously defied the Nazis while significant numbers actively fought against them. Jewish resistance to the Nazis indeed took many different forms.
For many Jews, "spiritual resistance" was often their only means of defiance within the ghettos and camps of Eastern Europe. Jews cherished any means through which self-dignity and cultural heritage could be saved. They stubbornly resisted the Nazis' dehumanizing policies by performing illegal religious ceremonies, orchestra concerts, or theater productions. They conducted Hebrew language classes, published newspapers, and documented life in ghettos and camps by producing pictorial records and maintaining diaries and archives.
Jews established active underground networks that smuggled food, clothing, and medicine, thereby allowing those who had been trapped to prolong their existences. By not succumbing to the Nazis, but instead intensely clinging to life under the most extreme conditions, Jews demonstrated their "sanctification of life," their will to survive. In some camps, Jews initiated work slowdowns and other overt acts of nonviolent noncompliance. Jewish leaders and council elders who refused to follow Nazi directives paid with their lives for their defiance.
Against overwhelming odds and in extremely difficult circumstances, Jews also took up armed resistance in ghettos and camps, and fought the Nazis as members of partisan units. Revolts occurred in more than 40 ghettos. The Warsaw uprising of 1943, although crushed by the Germans, had symbolic importance. It inflicted considerable casualties on the Germans, proved that Jews were not passive victims, and inspired underground organizations and individuals in other ghettos and camps.
Despite the possibility of severe retribution--and in spite of fences, guard towers, machine guns, search lights, and vicious dogs--uprisings broke out in four death camps and several concentration camps. Highly symbolic inmate destruction of crematoria at Auschwitz was a brave and desperate act that, unfortunately, did not save many lives. Most rebels were killed.
Tens of thousands of Jews fought the Nazis in partisan actions. As urban guerrillas and saboteurs--or wilderness assassins hiding in mountains, woods, and marshes--they inflicted considerable damage on German operations. In Eastern Poland and Western Russia, Soviet soldiers parachuting into the region commanded units of Jewish volunteers. A Lithuanian Jewish brigade operated in the dense forests near Vilna. In Belorussia, the Bielski brothers led a Jewish combat group roaming the Naliboki Forest. The men pictured operated in Belorussia's Rudninkai Forest.
In Yugoslavia, Tito's national liberation army included 4000 Jews. Almost all members of the Jewish Rab battalion died in battle in the Balkans. More than 1500 Jewish fighters joined the ill-fated rising in Slovakia in 1944. In France, the amalgamated Jewish Fighting Organization aided the Normandy invasion by undertaking 1900 armed actions and numerous sabotage attacks on railroads, factories, and bridges. Half of its 2000 members perished. A Jewish Maquis unit, however, reputedly killed over 1000 Nazis.