Resisting the Nazis: Unknown Stories
A London exhibit highlights little known stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
A major new exhibit in London is shedding light on Jewish resistance to Nazi tyranny, exposing some stories of ordinary people’s acts of resistance for the first time. “Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is being displayed at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London through January 2021. “We want people to understand the scale and variety and range of Jewish resistance across Europe during the Holocaust," explained Dr. Barbara Warnock, Senior Curator at the Library, in a recent Aish.com interview. “Some of the individual stories are so incredible.”
The exhibit, which Dr. Warnock and her team painstakingly put together while working from home during Britain’s total lockdowns in the spring, draws on eyewitness accounts collected by the library in the months and years following the Holocaust. Here are four Jews highlighted in the exhibit.
Have Groisman – Saving Children in Belgium
One incredibly brave Jewish woman highlighted in the exhibit is Have Groisman. Born in Bessarabia, in present day Moldova, in 1910, Have came to Belgium for college and stayed, became a social worker, and married fellow Bessarabian Jew Hertz Jospa in 1933. Together, Have and Hertz helped support the anti-Fascist fighters in the Spanish Civil War, housing refugee children and shielding international anti-Fascist fighters from the authorities.
Hertz and Have Jospa
When Nazi Germany invaded Belgium in 1940, Have and Hertz joined the Belgian underground resistance; Have was given the nom de guerre Yvonne. She helped found the top secret Comite de Defense des Juifs, or Committee for Jewish Defense, dedicated to hiding Jewish children in convents, orphanages, and with sympathetic Belgian families. Have manufactured counterfeit food ration books and identity papers for Jewish children and adults, and kept detailed records of the exact location of each and every Jewish child, so that one day their families might be able to reclaim them – even if the children no longer remembered their biological parents and Jewish relatives.
Have described the vastness of her project to the Wiener Library: “Each child was provided with a false name,” she recalled. “It was vital that we should be able to identify actually each child hiding under a borrowed name, for certain very young children knew only their alias. Equally, our service needed to know exactly where the children were lodged. In order to meet these important requirements, I set up an office with coded documents bringing together all the necessary information…I thought that whilst we the physical safety of the children was our prime concern, we should also as far as possible ensure their peace of mind and mental stability, and meet their need for affection by maintaining contacts with their parents…"
Danger was a constant companion; the Committee’s hiding places were often raided, and the underground Committee members faced certain arrest if they were ever found out. In 1943, Hertz was arrested and sent to Buchenwald. For two long years, Have believed he’d been murdered; he miraculously survived and was liberated in 1945.
A photo taken at the liberation of the Buchenwald concentration camp. Hertz Jospa is in the top row in the center. (Courtesy of the Jospa family)
Have is credited with saving 2,400 children. She continued to lead former resistance members until her death in 2000. Documents she and her husband wrote describing their wartime activities are held by the Wiener Library and tell her remarkable story in her own words.
Tosia Altman – Organizing Secret Jewish Resistance in Poland’s Ghettos
Born into a Zionist Jewish family in Poland in 1918, Tosia Altman joined the Hashomer Hatzair (“The Young Guard”) Zionist youth movement as a teen. In 1935 she began to prepare to make aliyah, moving to the Land of Israel. Tosia was enthusiastic and popular, and in 1938 the youth group asked her to delay her plans to move to Israel and travel to Warsaw instead, where she’d be in charge of youth education. The assignment ultimately cost Tosia her life – she became one of Poland’s greatest Jewish leaders, continually risking her life to help her fellow Jews.
Tosia was blond and fluent in Polish; at first, her “Aryan” appearance allowed her to move among Jewish communities. Hashomer Hatzair asked her to smuggle information, papers and weapons, and to organize armed resistance groups. From 1939 to 1940, Tosia and other Hashomer Hatzair members travelled around Poland and Lithuania strengthening Jewish morale and resistance. In 1940, the Nazis began moving Polish Jews to heavily fortified ghettos.
Tosia Altman (Courtesy Moreshet Archive)
Defying nearly impossible odds, Tosia managed to smuggle herself into and out of several ghettos, bringing weapons and plans to help foment Jewish resistance. She was part of the planning committee organizing a revolt in the Vilna Ghetto, and subsequently spread that message of armed resistance to the Jewish ghettos in Grodno and Warsaw in Poland.
In 1943, Tosia aided Hashomer Hatzair and other Zionist groups in organizing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a major act of resistance in which Jews fought the Nazis for nearly a month in April and May 1943. Tosia made secret contacts with non-Jewish Communist resistance groups outside the ghetto, and managed to smuggle precious grenades into the ghetto. She fought in the uprising and had made it out of the ghetto alive, when a fire broke out in the factory attic she was using as a hiding place. Tosia jumped out of the burning building and she was arrested by Polish police, who promptly turned her over to the Nazis. Tosia died of the injuries she sustained in the fire, as was likely tortured at the hands of the Nazis, on May 26, 1943.
In her final letter to her comrades in Israel, Tosia recalled the enormity of the tragedy that was befalling the Jewish people: “Jews are dying before my eyes and I am powerless to help. Did you ever try to shatter a wall with your head?”
The Baum Group – Resisting Nazis in Berlin
When the Nazis seized power in Germany in 1933 Herbert and Marianne Baum, a young Jewish couple living in Berlin, began organizing secret meetings to strategize how to oppose the new regime and counter its propaganda. Soon, scores of young Jews were attending the gatherings, and the group started calling itself the Baum Gruppe – the Baum Group. They wrote, printed and distributed anti-fascist literature.
Herbert Baum c. 1935. Baum was probably murdered by the Nazis in prison in 1942.(Weiner Holocaust Library Collection)
When World War II broke out, they continued and tried to organize resistance among Berlin’s Jews. In 1940, Herbert Baum was arrested and forced to work for the Berlin-based engineering company Siemens as a slave laborer. Even there, under the most dire circumstances, he organized a group of Jews who resisted Nazism and facilitated some workers’ escape so they could join the Berlin resistance.
In 1942, Baum Gruppe members set fire to a Nazi art exhibit in Berlin. In retaliation, the Nazis went on a major manhunt, uncovering the identities of the group and arresting them, as well as hundreds of other Berlin Jews. Some were executed immediately, and the others were sent to concentration camps and killed later on. Herbert Baum was tortured to death.
“With the Baum Gruppe, we have some accounts that haven’t been shown before,” explains Dr. Warnock. “There weren’t that many survivors of the group," she notes. One member did manage to escape. She was very ill when she was arrested and the Nazis transferred her to a hospital from which she managed to escape. Later, she was able to give eyewitness testimony to Wiener Library researchers.
“At that time (1942) it was especially difficult for Jewish anti-fascists to live clandestinely,” the survivor described. “The Gestapo was gradually able to arrest the whole group. There were three trials in which 22 death sentences by hanging were delivered. These executions took place and the other members of the group who had been arrested were murdered in various concentration camps. Not one of the victims in the Baum group lived to see thirty. The youngest among them were not even eighteen years old.”
Philipp Manes – Resisting Despair Through Culture in Theresienstadt
The Wiener Library is home to the extraordinary diary of Philipp Manes (1875-1944), a Jewish writer and businessman who resisted the Nazis, not through taking up arms but by buoying the spirits of imprisoned Jews and asserting the ability of Jewish prisoners to think freely and creatively.
In 1942, Philipp and his wife Gertrude were arrested in Germany and sent to the notorious “model” concentration camp Theresienstadt in Czechoslovakia. In Theresienstadt, Jews were given slightly more freedom and better treatment than in other concentration camps: Theresienstadt was run as a “model” concentration camp and used for Nazi propaganda to show the world and international visitors that the Nazis were supposedly treating Jews well.
Portrait of Philipp Manes drawn by fellow prisoner Arthur Goldschmidt in 1944. (Courtesy Wiener Holocaust Library Collection)
At Theresienstadt and in other camps, Jews resisted Nazi degradations in myriad ways: artistically, culturally, and spiritually. By maintaining an intense private life, Jews were able to continue Jewish life, despite their dismal surroundings. Many Jews continued to pray and even hold religious services in secret. Jews continued to create music and art and to hold on to their Jewish identity even under the noses of the Nazi guards.
When Philipp Manes found himself in Theresienstadt, he asserted his resistance to Nazism, rebelling where he could. He ran the concentration camp’s “Orientation Service,” which helped new Jewish prisoners settle into the camp. Soon, Manes began organizing regular cultural events. He invited well known prisoners to deliver lectures, organized concerts, and arranged dramatic readings. In all, he organized over 500 of these cultural events which allowed prisoners to feel free, if only for a moment, as they were distracted from their horrific reality, escaping into art and culture. The prisoners who attended these events called themselves the “Manes Group.”
Philipp Manes kept copious diaries that eventually filled nine journals. In addition to recording his own thoughts and experiences, he included interviews with other prisoners. He also recorded factual testimony of regular deportations from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz. His final entry stops mid-sentence: on October 28, 1944, Philipp and Gertrude Manes were sent on one of the last transports from Theresienstadt to Auschwitz, where they were murdered upon arrival. His diaries survived him and were eventually sent to his daughter Eva, who donated them to the Wiener Library, which is now displaying these precious works in its exhibit.
Understanding Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust
For Dr. Barbara Warnock, “Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is crucial to our understanding of the Holocaust, and the myriad ways Jews resisted. “We want people to understand the scale and variety of Jewish resistance across Europe,” Dr. Warnock explains, noting that people don’t always think of Jews when they envision resistance during World War II. Despite popular misconceptions, Jews were at the vanguard of resisting Nazi tyranny. Jews resisted in any way they could: some fought Nazis physically in pitched battles, while others resisted spiritually, insisting on reciting Jewish prayers in secret when they could.
“What struck me in researching the exhibition is the sheer range and quality (of the Library’s holdings), and diversity of Jewish resistance across the continent. There are so many stories,” Dr. Warnock observes.
“Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust” is currently scheduled to run at the Wiener Holocaust Library in London through January 2021. For more information, and to see some of the Library’s extensive holdings online, visit https://www.wienerlibrary.co.uk/.