We went to the Yom Hashoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) commemoration at Temple Israel in Netanya, where Rabbi Birnbaum, himself a survivor, always organizes a memorable service. This year he focused on Jewish resistance to the Nazis, to oppose the prevalent view that “the Jews went like lambs to the slaughter.”
There are many instances of Jewish resistance that have been documented. Perhaps the most famous was the Warsaw Ghetto uprising in April, 1943 (for a detailed analysis see “Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto” by Moshe Arens, 2013). It took the German Army (Wehrmacht) 4 weeks to defeat the Polish Army and capture half of Poland (the other half was occupied by the Soviets under the Nazi-Soviet pact, until Operation Barbarossa when the Germans attacked the Soviets). It took the German Army 6 weeks to defeat the French Army and capture most of France (except for the southern Vichy region that was a German proxy). Yet it took the Germans 7 weeks to crush the resistance of a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, with ca. 10,000 German troops.
In Germany itself, under the most adverse of conditions there were two mainly Jewish resistance groups, the Baum Group, that consisted of ca. 100 members. They set fire to an anti-Semitic German exhibit organized by Goebbels in 1940 in Berlin. Most of them were caught and tortured and murdered, some of them by decapitation. There was also the “White Rose” group, mainly students at Munich University who distributed anti-Nazi pamphlets and posters. They were captured by the Gestapo in 1943 and executed.
There were many uprisings in Ghettos and concentration camps. In Sobibor the organized uprising killed most of the German staff and set the camp on fire. Although ca. 300 hundred prisoners got away, ca. 100 were eventually captured and killed. But, this break-out caused the Germans to close the camp and destroy it. There were uprisings in many other camps, such as Treblinka where 1,000 prisoners took part, and Auschwitz-Birkenau (see for example “Jewish Uprisings in Ghettos and Camps 1941-44” of the Holocaust Museum in Washington DC at https://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005407 ).
However, one must admit that given the huge numbers of Jews involved (ca. 6 million), the amount to actual resistance was small. Nevertheless there are many reasons for this: 1. The Germans arrested most of the able-bodied men first; 2. The Jews were civilians without military training; 3. The Jews were with their families and tried to save them first; 4. It was almost impossible to obtain any form of arms (the Polish underground refused to sell guns to the Jews even at exorbitant prices); 5. The Germans carried out a ruthless policy of revenge killings, for the murder one SS officer ca. 120 Jews were killed, so that resistance was suppressed.
But, there is another reason. Some time ago a German acquaintance of mine told me that the reason why so many Jews were killed was because “when you live among wolves you must behave as a wolf.” Perhaps this was the basis of the Jewish malaise, a passivity in the face of hatred and death, due to hundreds of years of conditioning. The Jews, having experienced so much hatred and so many attacks and killings and murders, did not recognize that this time it was even more serious, that caught behind enemy lines without any means of protection they were defenceless, which only whetted the murderers’ appetite.
The Germans, in order to carry out “the Final Solution to the Jewish Problem,” as decided at the Wannsee Conference in 1941, committed huge resources to the task. Thousands of trains had to be organized, roundups of Jews in every city and village, the use of thousands of guards on the trains and in the camps. Then there were the SS and the cadre of murderers, including the infamous Latvian, Estonian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian guards, whose bloodthirsty hatred of Jews knew no bounds (even the SS complained at the horrific “games” they played with prisoners at Auschwitz). Suppose the Germans had not carried out this plan then, but had waited until after the War (that they expected to win), and had put all these resources into actually fighting the armed enemy, would that have tipped the outcome into the German’s favor. It was very close, but we shall never know. At the very least the obsession of the Germans with murdering all of European Jewry added to their vulnerability in prosecuting the War.
In another respect, the Jews were deficient, after the War, there were very few Jewish attacks of revenge. We should have revenged ourselves on the majority of Europeans (only in Denmark, Bulgaria and Albania were the Jews saved). So finally we must admit that the European Jews did have a kind of malaise, but it was to have been too civilized and too humane to ever believe that such a plan as “the Final Solution” could ever be hatched and then executed by human beings in the 20th century. Those of us Jews who were lucky enough to have survived this terrible onslaught will make sure not only that it never happens again, but that we will retain our sovereignty in our own State of Israel against all comers and at all costs. Let our enemies today know this, tell it to the BDS activists and the “Jews for Palestine,” you are fightng a losing battle.