How Jewish women fought back against the Nazis during an uprising in Poland in 1943

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When Montreal author Judy Batalion first heard about a group of Jewish women in Poland who rebelled against the Nazis during World War II, it was pure chance.

The granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Batalion had been researching intergenerational trauma at the British Library in London and spotted an unusual-looking book written in Yiddish – a language she understood.

“I started reading this, kind of just out of curiosity,” Batalion said. The flow Matt Galloway. “And what I found amazed me.”

Inside were nearly 200 pages of information about dozens of Jewish women who fought the Germans from inside the ghettos – separate districts that the German occupation authorities created during the Holocaust to isolate the Jews from non-Jewish communities. The book was published in 1946 to tell American Jews what Jewish women had accomplished during the resistance, and was filled with chapter headings like Weapons, Ammunition, and Partisan Combat.

“It just didn’t sound like any Holocaust story I had ever heard,” Batalion said.

Now she’s written about the often-forgotten stories of these women in her new book, The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos.

Batalion is the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors. She says she came across a book in Yiddish about Jewish women resistance fighters while researching another topic at the British Library in London. (Beowulf Sheehan)

Monday marked the 78th anniversary of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprisingwhen the Jews of the ghetto led a 27-day revolt against the Nazis who came to transport them to death camps.

While some people survived, the Germans eventually burned down the ghetto, killing thousands and sending others to concentration or death camps outside the city.

But the destruction of the ghetto did not come without a fight.

Mainly young Jews between the ages of 16 and 25 had banded together to form underground militias. Many of them had also been part of youth movements before the war, Batalion said.

Comrades from a pioneer training commune in Bialystok, Poland, in 1938. Many groups of fighters who took part in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943 were formed from youth movements that began before the war. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Photo Archive)

Of the approximately 750 young Jews who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, nearly 200 were women, she said. They often worked as “couriers”, smuggling explosives, ammunition and other weapons into the ghetto.

Batalion said they found stories of women “putting guns in pots of marmalade, sacks of potatoes, teddy bears, fashionable handbags that they often bought or borrowed, or just stuck them on their chests.

women of the resistance

Zivia Lubetkin was one of those women in the resistance movement.

Although she escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland in 1939, she later returned to Warsaw clandestinely out of a sense of responsibility to her people, Batalion said.

Having been a leader in youth movements before the war, Lubetkin became something of a natural leader in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Zivia Lubetkin after the war, in 1946. Lubetkin escaped from Nazi-occupied Poland, but later returned out of a sense of duty, says Batalion. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Photo Archive)

Among many exploits, she helped a group of resistance fighters escape the ghetto through sewer channels, where they waited two days for a rescue truck, Battalion said.

After the destruction of the ghetto, Lubetkin went into hiding. During that time, she helped orchestrate the rescue of more than 10,000 Jews, Batalion said.

A house in Warsaw where Lubetkin and his comrades hid after 1944. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Photo Archive)

Another woman named Masha Futermilch fought the Nazis using a Jewish guerrilla strategy, throwing explosives at her enemies from the rooftops of buildings.

In one account, Futermilch described her fingers shaking and barely being able to strike a match to set off her explosives because she was so nervous and excited, Battalion said.

His attack took the Germans by surprise.

“What she hears is the Nazis screaming… ‘Woman fight?'” the author said. “That’s what shocked them.”

Warsaw Ghetto veterans and their families in 1973. Masha Futermilch is seen in the top row, second from the right. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Photo Archive)

One of the most notorious fighters was Niuta Teitelbaum, a young woman in her twenties.

She was nicknamed “Little Braid Wanda” because she was known to braid her hair, dress up as a Polish peasant, and enter homes and offices in disguise to kill Nazis.

Teitelbaum also trained other women in the Warsaw ghetto in the use of weapons, in preparation for the uprising, Batalion said.

Niuta Teitelbaum as a schoolgirl in Lodz, Poland in 1936. During the war, she became known as “Little Braid Wanda”. (Courtesy of Ghetto Fighters House Museum, Photo Archive)

“She was on all the Gestapo’s most wanted lists,” the author said.

Teitelbaum was captured and killed in 1943.

Legacy of Resilience

In her book, Battalion writes that she spent a lot of time trying to get as far away from the Holocaust as possible.

She told Galloway it was because she believed the trauma her grandparents had suffered during the Holocaust had been passed on to her family. Batalion said she herself had become an anxious person and others close to her had suffered mental health issues.

However, researching the experiences of women resistance fighters also made her reflect on the strength that passed from generation to generation and helped her see the Holocaust in a different way, he said. she declared.

“I see it now as a story of constant resistance, resilience, struggle and combat,” Batalion said.

“And I’m really proud to come from that heritage.”

Written by Kirsten Fenn. Produced by Howard Goldenthal.

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