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A new story of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust


In the last week or so, as I've been judging some of the entries in this year's White Rose Student Research Contest sponsored by the Midwest Center for Holocaust Education (on the board of which I serve), I've also been thinking about the focus of the contest theme several years ago.

It was resistance. Students (middle and high schoolers) were asked to research and write about the many ways in which the Jews of Europe in the 1930s and '40s fought against their own annihilation, which was the goal of Hitler's Nazi regime.

One reason to look at that aspect of the Holocaust is because one of the widespread mischaracterizations of Europe's Jews is that they went like quiet lambs to the slaughter. That idea is wrong on many counts. And this article from Commentary describes a new documentary ("Resistance: They Fought Back") about the many forms of Jewish resistance in World War II.

Seth Mandel writes this: "(T)he lesson of the film is that spiritual and intellectual resistance are prerequisites to effective armed rebellion — and that the Jews of Europe excelled across all three."

TWJP-coverSeveral years ago I co-authored (with Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn) a book about such resistance by Jews in Poland. In They Were Just People: Stories of Rescue in Poland During the Holocaust, we told various stories about how non-Jews participated in the Jewish resistance by hiding those Jews from the Nazis. We both were overwhelmed by what Mandel calls the "spiritual and intellectual resistance" of both Jews and the non-Jews (mostly Catholics in Poland) who helped them.

As Mandel writes about this new documentary, "Many Jewish ghettos revolted against the Nazis, but they were mostly cut off from the world, and certainly each other. Couriers, then, were the only way to communicate. The job required courage: They were spies, Jewish women living as Christians and moving weapons and contraband into Jewish towns under Nazi occupation and sometimes smuggling people out of the ghettos."

My guess is that similar -- if so far largely unreported -- acts are happening today in the Hamas-Israeli war. And on both sides, too. If and when this war somehow ends, it will be well worth the effort to collect the stories of resistance and rescue that today are mostly hidden from view. When the evil of Nazism or the evil of terrorism unleashes chaos and destruction, we should assume that some people are acting with heart and courage to resist.

And then, like this new documentary, we should tell those stories to remind ourselves and others what humanity, at its best, is capable of achieving when people do what they can to resist evil.

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Because of shrinkage in the number of Catholics there, the Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore plans to "consolidate the number of parishes from 61 to 21 and reduce the number of 'worship sites' from 59 to 26, affecting many of the city’s landmark churches," this RNS piece reports. Something like that is happening to many branches of Christianity in the U.S., requiring some difficult decisions about church infrastructure and organization. But those decisions need to be made not just by top denominational leaders but also by the people affected by those decisions. Will that happen? Doubtful, but stay tuned.


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