Resisters, Rescuers, and Bystanders

|| Return to The Holocaust–A Guide for Teachers ||



The “Jewish reaction patterns” to a threat have taken five forms: armed resistance, alleviation, evasion, paralysis, and compliance. During the Holocaust, all five were a response to various incidents at various times. Jews, under duress, assisted the Nazi terror by becoming Kapos or by serving on Judenrat. Many Jews did not resist the “Final Solution,” but many others did, and that resistance took many forms. There were many examples of armed and spiritual resistance in the death camps and ghettos which refute the myth that all the Jews walked to the gas chambers “like sheep to the slaughter.” Though the majority of European peoples and nations can be faulted with inactivity, and even at times collaboration with the Nazis, there are many documented reports of the efforts made by individual non-Jews and whole nations who took great risks to save Jewish lives.


Students will learn that:

1. There are various responses to dealing with a threat from an authority.

2. The Jews did resist the Holocaust, despite a common misconception that there was no resistance.

3. Resistance can take many forms, both passive and active.

4 The inaction and complicity of the world community reduced the extent to which the Jews could resist the Holocaust.

5. The Allies did not bomb the death camps despite full knowledge about what was going on.

6. There were many non-Jews, such as Raoul Wallenberg, who risked their lives to save Jews from destruction.

7. Though Jews faced repeated obstructions to their efforts to emigrate from Nazi-occupied countries, steps were taken by some nations to rescue Jews, Denmark being the archetypical example.

Historian Raoul Hilberg has stated that the “Jewish reaction pattern” to a threat has taken five forms:

1. Armed Resistance

: This includes violent, confrontational challenges to persecution.

2. Alleviation

: All those activities which are designed to avert danger, or, in the event that force has already been used, to diminish its effects. (Examples: petitions, protection payments, and ransom arrangements).

3. Evasion

: Jews have placed less hope, less expectation, less reliance, upon the devices of evasion flight, concealment, and hiding. The Jewish tendency has been not to run from, but to survive with, anti-Jewish regimes. Jews have rarely run from a pogrom. Jews have migrated chiefly for two reasons: expulsion and economic depression.

4. Paralysis

: This is the inability to respond at all. Paralysis occurs when the obstacles to resistance, to alleviation attempts, and to evasion are just as formidable as the difficulties of cooperation.

5. Compliance

: This is the acceptance of requirements of the authority in order to avoid sanctions or penalties. To the Jews, compliance with anti-Jewish laws or orders has always been equivalent to survival.

History is replete with examples of Jews resisting domination by other nations. The Bible details many of these examples. Jewish rebellions to the Roman Empire occurred frequently (See Chapter 3 about Masada and the Bar Kochba revolt, 132 C.E.).

During the Middle Ages, Jews resisted the persecutions against them in Spain, France, Germany and Russia. They organized self-defense units to fight off attacks of the Russian pogroms. The Jews of Palestine fought along with the British forces in World War I. Today, the Israeli army is perhaps the best-trained, most disciplined, and most highly-successful military force in history, for its size.

The Question of Jewish Complicity


As far back as 1933, Nazi policy makers had discussed establishing Jewish-led institutions to carry out anti-Jewish policies. The concept was based upon centuries-old practices which were instituted in Germany during the Middle Ages. As the German army swept through Poland and the Soviet Union, it carried out an order of S.S. leader Heydrich to require the local Jewish populace to form Jewish Councils as a liaison between the Jews and the Nazis. These councils of Jewish elders, (Judenrat; plural: Judenräte), were responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detailing the number and occupations of the Jews in the ghettos, for distributing food and medical supplies, and for communicating the orders of the ghetto Nazi masters. The Nazis enforced these orders on the Judenrat with threats of terror, which were given credence by beatings and executions. As ghetto life settled into a “routine,” the Judenrat took on the functions of local government, providing police and fire protection, postal services, sanitation, transportation, food and fuel distribution, and housing, for example.

The Judenrat raised funds to create hospitals, homes for orphans, disinfection stations, and to provide food and clothing to those without.

Jewish leaders were ambivalent about participating in these Judenröte. On the one hand, many viewed these councils as a form of collaboration with the enemy. Others saw these councils as a necessary evil, which would permit Jewish leadership a forum to negotiate for better treatment. In the many cases where Jewish leaders refused to volunteer to serve on the Judenrat, the Germans appointed Jews to serve on a random basis. Some Jews who had no prior history of leadership agreed to serve, hoping that it would improve their chances of survival. Many who served in the Judenrat were arrested, taken to labor camps, or hanged.

When the Nazis required a quota of Jews to participate in forced labor, the Judenrat had the responsibility to meet this demand. Sometimes Jews could avoid forced labor by making a payment to the Judenrat. These payments supplemented the taxes which the Judenrat levied to finance the services provided in the ghettos.

Underground Jewish organizations sprang up in the ghettos to serve as alternatives to the Judenrat, some of which were established with a military component to organize resistance to the Nazis.


The German concentration camps depended on the cooperation of trustee inmates who supervised the prisoners. Known as Kapos, these trustees carried out the will of the Nazi camp commandants and guards, and were often as brutal as their S.S. counterparts. Some of these Kapos were Jewish, and even they inflicted harsh treatment on their fellow prisoners. For many, failure to perform their duties would have resulted in severe punishment and even death, but many historians view their actions as a form of complicity. After the war, the prosecution of Kapos as war criminals, particularly those who were Jewish, created an ethical dilemma which continues to this day.

Jewish Resistance to the Nazi Genocide

Millions of Jews were ordered to board trains and were locked in until the trains arrived at an unknown destination. Thousands worked in forced labor. Millions of others led a brutal existence in concentration camps, slowly wasting away as musselmen until they died. Questions have been raised as to whether the Jews went like sheep to the slaughter, or whether there was resistance. Since the death camps required the work of Jews in order to make the camps function efficiently, the question has also been raised as to whether Jews share some of the responsibility for the horror of the Holocaust.

For most of the Jews who died in the gas chamber, the issue of resistance was not an issue at all. Until as late as mid-1942, the Jews were unaware that the Final Solution was being implemented. Stripped of weapons, facing starvation and disease, the prospect of deportation combined with offers of food was an incentive for Jews to board the trains which took them to their deaths. Most believed what they were told that they were going to be relocated to work. For virtually all, the reality that they faced immediate death did not occur until the doors of the gas chambers were sealed, the lights were turned off, and the smell of gas was perceived. By then, it was too late. Those who did resist, either by running from the trains, or attacking their captors, faced certain death. Some took advantage of this option and were summarily executed on the spot. Others chose to take their own lives when faced with the hopelessness of the situation. It might be argued that suicide under these circumstances was itself resistance.

For others, deciding not to commit suicide but rather to make an attempt at survival amidst the hopelessness and despair of this situation was their resistance. Those that resisted more actively found that any success resulted in unintended consequences. The Nazis practiced the doctrine of collective responsibility. Thus, if a Nazi soldier was murdered by a Jew, not only was that Jew executed, but also his family, and perhaps a hundred other Jews. As a result, few Jews even considered carrying out this active resistance for fear of reprisals.

Spiritual Resistance in the Ghettos

While there were examples of courageous armed uprisings in the ghettos, resistance also took forms without weapons. For many, attempting to carry on a semblance of “normal” life in the face of wretched conditions was resistance. David Altshuler writes in Hitler’s War Against the Jews about life in the ghettos, which sustained Jewish culture in the midst of hopelessness and despair.

“All forms of culture sustained life in the ghetto. Since curfew rules did not allow people on the street from 7 p.m. until 5 a.m. the next morning, socializing had to be among friends living [in] the same building or visitors who spent the night. Card playing was very popular, and actors, musicians, comics, singers, and dancers all entertained small groups who came together for a few hours to forget their daily terror and despair.”

Artists and poets as well entertained, and their works, many of which survive today, are poignant reminders of the horrors of the period (see Appendix II). Underground newspapers were printed and distributed at great risk to those who participated. Praying was against the rules, but synagogue services occurred with regularity. The education of Jewish children was forbidden, but the ghetto communities set up schools. The observance of many Jewish rituals, including dietary laws, was severely punished by the Nazis, and many Jews took great risks to resist the Nazi edicts against these activities. Committees were organized to meet the philanthropic, religious, educational, and cultural community needs. Many of these committees defied Nazi authority.

Some Jews escaped death by hiding in the attics and cellars and closets of non-Jews, who themselves risked certain death if their actions were discovered by the Nazis.

The writings and oral histories of survivors of the labor and concentration camps are filled with accounts of simple sabotage. Material for the German war effort, for example, might be mysteriously defective, the result of intentionally shoddy workmanship by Jewish slave labor.

Despite the myth to the contrary, Jewish armed resistance to the Holocaust did occur. This active resistance occurred in ghettos, concentration camps, and death camps. Many of those who participated in resistance of this type were caught and executed, and their stories will never be told. However, there are many verifiable accounts of major incidents of this resistance:

Armed Ghetto Resistance

1. Tuchin Ghetto: On September 3, 1942, seven hundred Jewish families escaped from this ghetto in the Ukraine. They were hunted down, and only 15 survived.

2. Warsaw Ghetto

: By 1943, the ghetto residents had organized an army of about 1,000 fighters, mostly unarmed and without equipment. They were joined by thousands of others, mostly the young and able-bodied, still needed for forced labor. By that time, the half-million original inhabitants had been depleted to about 60,000 as a result of starvation, disease, cold, and deportation.

In January 1943, the S.S. entered the ghetto to round up more Jews for shipment to the death camps. They were met by a volley of bombs, Molotov cocktails, and the bullets from a few firearms which had been smuggled into the ghettos. Twenty S.S. soldiers were killed. The action encouraged a few members of the Polish resistance to support the uprising, and a few machine guns, some hand grenades, and about a hundred rifles and revolvers were smuggled in.

Facing them were almost 3,000 crack German troops with 7,000 reinforcements available. Tanks and heavy artillery surrounded the ghetto. General Himmler promised Hitler that the uprising would be quelled in three days, and the ghetto would be destroyed. It took four weeks. The ghetto was reduced to rubble following bomber attacks, gas attacks, and burning of every structure by the Nazis. Fifteen thousand Jews died in the battle, and most of the survivors were shipped to the death camps. Scores of German soldiers were killed. Some historical accounts report that 300 Germans were killed and 1,000 wounded, although the actual figure is unknown.

3. Bialystok Ghetto

: Jewish paramilitary organizations formed within the ghetto attacked the German army when it was determined that the Nazis intended to liquidate it. The battle lasted just one day, until the resisters were killed or captured.

4. Vilna Ghetto

: Some inhabitants of the Vilna Ghetto began an uprising against their Nazi captors on September 1, 1943. Most participants were killed, although a few escaped successfully and joined partisan units.

Armed Resistance in the Death Camps

1. Treblinka: Seven hundred Jews were successful in blowing up the camp on August 2, 1943. All but 150-200 Jews perished, as well as over 20 Germans. Only 12 survived the war.

2. Sobibor

: Jewish and Russian prisoners mounted an escape attempt on October 14, 1943. About 60 of 600 prisoners involved in the escape survived to join Soviet partisans. Ten S.S. guards were killed and one wounded.

3. Auschwitz

: On October 7, 1944, one of the four crematoria at Auschwitz was blown up by Sonderkommandos. These were workers, mostly Jews, whose job it was to clear away the bodies of gas chamber victims. The workers were all caught and killed.

World Response to the Holocaust

In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the civilized world was shocked to see photographs of unimaginable horror; skeletons of victims stacked in piles of hundreds and thousands, living skeletons describing unspeakable brutality and atrocity, and searching for the truth as to what would permit this to occur without intervention. Could an event of this magnitude have occurred without the knowledge of the Allies? If the Allied governments knew this was taking place, why was nothing done? Why was there such deathly silence?

The American press had printed scores of articles detailing mistreatment of the Jews in Germany. By 1942, many of these newspapers were reporting details of the Holocaust, stories about the mass murder of Jews in the millions. For the most part, these articles were only a few inches long, and were buried deep in the newspaper. These reports were either denied or unconfirmed by the United States government. When the United States government did receive irrefutable evidence that the reports were true, U.S. government officials suppressed the information. U.S. reconnaissance photos of the Birkenau camp in 1943 showed the lines of victims moving into the gas chambers, confirming other reports. The War Department insisted that the information be kept classified.

Photographs of mass graves and mass murder, smuggled out under the most dangerous of circumstances, were also classified as secret. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called for the death camp at Auschwitz to be bombed. He was ignored. Hundreds of thousands of innocent Jews could have been saved had the Allies agreed to bomb the death camps or the rail lines which were feeding them.

Desperate for war material, the Nazis offered the British a million Jews in exchange for 10,000 trucks. When asked why he had refused to negotiate the deal, a British diplomat responded, “What would I do with one million Jews? Where would I put them?”

Escaped prisoners from the death camps filed reports on what was occurring. Again, many of these reports were suppressed.

Eventually, President Roosevelt, under pressure from the public, agreed to issue a statement condemning the German government for its genocidal policy against the Jews. Other support followed. The Pope requested that his diplomats help hide Hungarian Jews. In September 1944, the British bombed factories and the railroad lines of Auschwitz.

Could actions of the Allies have prevented the Holocaust or limited the destruction of six million Jews and five million other innocent civilians? There is no question that the silence and inaction of the world community in the face of irrefutable evidence resulted in the senseless loss of millions of lives.

World Response – Individual and Other Nations

Righteous Gentiles

Of the 8.86 million Jews who lived in Europe before the Holocaust, it is generally believed that six million perished as a result of Nazi genocide. Hundreds of thousands of others would have joined them were it not for the courageous intervention of a few world leaders and thousands of individuals who risked their lives in order to save Jews from the gas chambers. Many of these men and women paid for their heroic efforts with their lives.

The Gestapo routinely offered a bounty for those who turned in Jews who were hiding. This bounty consisted of a quart of liquor, four pounds of sugar, a carton of cigarettes, or, at times, small cash payments. For many civilians, these commodities were unobtainable through normal channels, and thus they were provided with a powerful incentive to cooperate with the Gestapo above and beyond any hatred they may have harbored against the Jews.

Those who resisted the Gestapo and hid Jews did so at grave personal peril. Any person caught hiding a Jew was immediately shot on the spot or taken out to be publicly hanged by the S.S. At a time when living space, food, sanitation facilities, and medicine were at a premium, those who hid Jews from the Nazis sacrificed a great deal, including the risk to their lives.

Those non-Jews who worked at great risk to their personal safety to save Jews became known as the “Righteous Gentiles.” There are thousands of stories of great valor which will never be told because the Nazis executed many of these Righteous Gentiles. Among those whose stories are the most celebrated are:

Raoul Wallenberg – He was a Swedish diplomat who made it a special, personal mission to help save the Jews of Hungary. More than 30,000 Jews received special Swedish passports from Wallenberg. He set up “safe houses,” distributed food and medical supplies, and virtually single-handedly set up a bureaucracy in Budapest, Hungary’s capital, designed to protect Jews. More than 90,000 Budapest Jews were deported to the death camps and murdered, and Wallenberg’s efforts may have reduced the number of those murdered by half. As a diplomat, he successfully confronted the Nazis at great risk to his own safety. Following the “liberation” of Budapest by the Soviets, he was arrested by them, thrown in prison, and never heard from again. Reports often surface, unconfirmed, that he is still alive, although the Soviets announced his death two years after his arrest.

Dr. Jan Karski

– He was the contact between the Polish resistance and the Polish government in exile. He was smuggled into the Warsaw ghetto to hear what was occurring there. Asked to tell the story to the rest of the world, he reported on his experience to other world leaders, including President Roosevelt.

Cardinal Archbishop of Lwow

(Count Andreas Szeptycki) – He was a member of the Polish Catholic hierarchy who ordered that the clergy reporting to him act to save Jews.

Wladyslaw Bartoszewski

– He was a founder of the Polish resistance who organized an underground organization, comprised mostly of Catholics, to save Jews. He worked to provide false documents to Jews living outside the Warsaw ghetto. In the fall of 1942, he helped found an organization (Council for Aid to Jews) which successfully saved many Jews from the gas chambers.

Pastor Andre Trocme and Daniel Trocme

– Pastor Trocm_ was the religious leader of the Huguenot village of LeChambon-sur-Lignon, France, which hid and saved 5,000 Jews. Teacher Daniel Trocm_ was deported with his students in the only successful Gestapo raid and died in Maidanek.

Why did Gentiles risk their lives to save the Jews?

  • religious beliefs and humanitarian concerns
  • resistance against the Nazis regardless of feelings about the Jews
  • payment provided by Jews who were hidden

Why did people not help the Jews?

  • anti-Semitism
  • fear of reprisals
  • didn’t want to get involved in the problems of others

Why governments got involved:

  • public pressure from the world community
  • humanitarian concerns

Why governments refused to get involved:

  • did not believe the Holocaust was occurring
  • had leaders which were anti-Semitic
  • did not feel saving Jews would have any benefit to the war effort
  • felt that all war efforts to defeat the Germans would be the best response to stopping German atrocities against the Jews


Yad Vashem

There is a museum in Israel, called Yad Vashem, devoted exclusively to the history of the Holocaust. The walkway which terminates at the museum entrance is lined with carob trees, each dedicated to the memory of a “Righteous Gentile.” There are more than 600 of these trees. A special committee considers cases of additions to this arbor, and there are more than 2,000 cases pending. Those who are added to the list receive a certificate and a medal (or the presentation is made to that person’s representative) with the Talmudic inscription “Whoever saves a single soul, it is as if he had saved the entire world.” A tree is then planted on the walkway, marked by a plaque bearing the name and nationality of the Righteous Gentile.

National Responses (Immigration Policies)

Deteriorating economic conditions contributed to the political and social climate which both launched World War II and fueled the anti-Semitism which encouraged the destruction of the Jews of Europe. These same economic conditions world-wide resulted in barriers placed against those potential Jewish immigrants who sought refuge from the Nazi terror. Anti-Jewish sentiment in France, England, and even the United States resulted in hundreds of thousands of European Jews being denied a safe haven, which meant virtually certain death. Simple indifference to the plight of Jews, according to many historians, also played a role in the events which led to the Holocaust.

Thousands of Jews in Germany were successful in fleeing before the onset of hostilities in 1939, especially in the early years of the Nazi period. Many of these refugees were able to find their way aboard ships headed for American ports. There are, however, tragic stories of these ships being turned away by immigration officials, and their occupants returned to Europe to face the gas chambers (see story about the St. Louis Voyage, Chapter 9). Each nation had its own story of how its government and citizens responded to the horrors of the Holocaust. The following are capsules of some of these stories.

United States

. Despite the fact that the U.S. received early reports about the desperate plight of European Jewry, procrastination and inaction marked its policies toward rescue. Immigration quotas were never increased for the emergency; the existing quotas, in fact, were never filled (see Evian Conference, Chapter 9).

(Wagner-Rogers legislation)

– Legislation was introduced in the United States Congress in 1939 by Rep. Robert Wagner to admit a total of 20,000 Jewish children over a two-year period above the refugee quota applicable at the time. The legislation was inspired by similar efforts by the Dutch and British government to save Jewish children from Nazi terror. The legislation was amended in committee to admit the 20,000 children only if the number of Jewish refugees admitted under the regular quota was reduced by 20,000. The bill died in the House after the sponsor withdrew his support for the bill in frustration.

(Bermuda Conference)

– As the Germans advanced through Europe, more Jews and others who were targets of Nazi racial policies came under Nazi control. By 1943 the war had created millions of refugees in Europe. The Bermuda Conference, jointly sponsored by the United States and Great Britain, was held in Bermuda in April 1943 to discuss solutions to the refugee problem. The conference failed. As Michael Marrus writes in The Holocaust in History,

“At the Bermuda Conference in April 1943…the British and Americans proved most adept at postponing serious efforts to change matters. By this point, opinion was mobilized on behalf of several schemes for rescue and refuge. Such views were deflected, however; the press was kept at arm’s length and little was achieved.”


(War Refugee Board)

– U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, presented a report to President Roosevelt in 1943 providing details about the Final Solution. It was not until January 1944, however, that the President responded by establishing the War Refugee Board as an independent agency to rescue the civilian victims of the Nazis. By then, most of these civilian victims had already been murdered. The Board joined a plea to the Hungarian Regent, Admiral from Great Britain, Sweden, the Pope, and the International Red Cross to stop the deportations of Hungarian Jews. While Admiral Horthy agreed on July 8, 1944 to discontinue the deportations, fewer than 200,000 Jews of the original number of more than 600,000 remained. Thousands of those permitted this reprieve from the death camps were eventually saved through the efforts of Wallenberg and other diplomats.

Spain and Portugal

. As many as 40,000 Jews who were able to make their way to Spain and Portugal were saved from the Nazi death camps. More than 20,000 Jews made their way into Switzerland, but many thousands were turned back, according to Michael Marrus’ Holocaust in History.


. The rescue of Denmark’s 8,000 Jews serves as an example of an entire nation mobilized to rescue humanity from the abyss of German terror. While the story may be apocryphal that King Christian X threatened to abdicate and to wear the Nazi yellow Star of David as a badge of honor, it symbolizes his opposition to all anti-Semitic legislation. Almost all of the Jews of Denmark survived the war, while those in almost every other nation occupied by the Nazis had their ranks decimated.

A September 1943 decision by the Nazi occupiers of Denmark to round up all Danish Jews for shipment to the death camps was thwarted. Courageously acting on a tip from a German shipping official, Danes from all walks of life mobilized whatever would float and ferried 5,900 Jews, 1,300 part-Jews, and 700 Christians married to Jews to safety in Sweden. Of the 500 or so Jews left in Denmark on October 1, 1943, all were deported by the Germans to Theresienstadt. Eighty-five percent survived the war.

Historians have pondered why the citizens of Denmark resisted the war against the Jews, unlike most of their European neighbors. One reason is that Denmark did not have a history of anti-Semitism. Another was that nearby was neutral Sweden, willing to accept the Jews that could be saved.


. Forty-eight thousand Jews in Bulgaria were also spared the horror of the gas chambers as a result of the courage of the Bulgarian people. A public outcry by Bulgarian church officials and others against a deportation order directed at all Jews forced the Bulgarian government to rescind its order. Jews who had been rounded up in Bulgarian-occupied Thrace and Macedonia were not as lucky; virtually all perished in the Holocaust.

Several other governments resisted Nazi deportation orders, including Finland, Hungary, and Italy.

Several embassies in Hungary acted in concert to issue passports to Jews at risk (see story about Raoul Wallenberg, above). Yet many other European governments not only complied with the demand of the Germans to deport Jews to the death camps but facilitated the deportations.


. Pre-war France had a Jewish population of over 300,000, out of a total population of 45 million. Many thousands of these were refugees, and only about 150,000 were native Frenchmen. In May 1940, the German army invaded France and occupied three-fifths of the country in accordance with an armistice signed on June 22nd.

A government was formed in unoccupied France at Vichy. The Vichy government was dominated by advocates for cooperation with the Germans. Many of the decrees of the Vichy government in 1940-41 paralleled the anti-Jewish edicts of Germany in the mid-1930s. Jewish property was expropriated, and Jews were stripped of their basic civil rights. Non-native French Jews were singled out in October 1940 for internment in labor camps, which resulted in a large number of deaths. In March 1942, the Germans began deporting Jews from the occupied zones in France to the death camps. In July of that same year, they demanded that all Jews be rounded up in unoccupied France for deportation. The Vichy government decided to protect French Jews, but handed over 15,000 foreign Jews from the internment camps for deportation to the death camps. Many hundreds of other Jews were executed, as described in Lucy Dawidowicz’s The War Against the Jews, in reprisal for partisan activities. By the time France was liberated, 90,000 of the pre-war Jewish population in France had been killed.


Bounty – A reward, premium or subsidy, especially when offered or given by a government. A payment for the capture of an “outlaw.” The Gestapo offered a bounty to those who turned in Jews in hiding.


– One who cooperates treasonably with the action of an enemy.

Collective responsibility

– The doctrine which asserts that a group is responsible for the actions of its individuals, and thus can be punished for those actions.


– The forced transport of people outside of the area where they live.


– Jewish councils established by the Nazis in occupied territories to represent Jewish interests.


– Prisoners, both Jewish and non-Jewish, who served in the camps as overseers of other prisoners, and who often inflicted beatings and other physical pain on prisoners.

Molotov cocktail

– A homemade grenade consisting of a flammable liquid encased in a bottle.

Musselmen (Muselmanner)

– “Walking dead,” a term referring to those in the concentration camps who were so totally physically and emotionally exhausted that they became completely passive and dependent, losing their individuality and self-esteem.


– Guerrilla fighters who resisted the Nazis after their countries were overrun and occupied.

Passive resistance

– Resistance which is other than through force, such as spiritual, religious, or cultural resistance.


– Acts, both passive and active, which are non-compliance to the demands of an authority.

Righteous Gentiles

– Non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from being murdered by the Nazis.


– Penalties levied by an authority for not complying with an order or law.


– The workers at the death camps whose job it was to clear away the bodies of those who were murdered in the gas chambers.


– A secret network which is organized to resist authority.

Wagner-Rogers Legislation

– Legislation introduced in the U.S. Congress in 1939 by Rep. Robert Wagner to admit a total of 20,000 Jewish children over a two-year period above the refugee quota applicable at the time.

War Refugee Board

– Established by President Roosevelt in January of 1944 after receiving a report by the U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, Henry Morgenthau, providing details about the “Final Solution.” The Board was to take whatever steps were necessary to rescue the civilian victims of the Holocaust.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

– The most serious armed resistance by the Jews to the Nazis, which resulted in the deaths of many German soldiers.


  • Pretend that the government has issued a decree that all people who are left-handed shall be put to death, and that anyone harboring a person who is left-handed who resists this decree shall also be put to death. Make up a discussion between a husband and wife on whether they should hide a child of a neighbor (who is left-handed) in their attic.
  • Prepare an underground newspaper with news and features that would have been appropriate inside the Warsaw Ghetto.
  • List incidents in your life in which you came to the aid of someone who was being treated unfairly. Next to each, write down the different emotions you felt (e.g., fear, pride, anxiety) when you helped that person.
  • Research the story of Raoul Wallenberg



  • You are faced with the school bully, who wants to take away your lunch. He outweighs you by 50 pounds. Do you fight? Fight back “dirty?” Run? Get help? Tell your parents?
  • The school principal has put a notice on the bulletin board that says that all students are required to participate in a pep rally and to wear the school colors. You do not want to go. What optionsdo you have? Which option would you choose?
  • Religious and ethical systems condemn murder. Under what circumstances do you feel taking a life can be justified when you are not threatened with harm yourself?
  • Discuss the statement by Edmund Burke: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”


1. Define the following:

  1. Molotov cocktail
  2. sanctions
  3. underground
  4. protection payments
  5. rensom
  6. paralisys
  7. Musselmen
  8. Wagner-Rogers Legislation
  9. War Refugee Board

2. Discuss the role of the Judenrat in carrying out the orders of the Nazis? How did one become a member of the Judenrat? What was the penalty for refusing to join?

3. Name five non-violent forms of resistance which occurred in the ghetto.

4. Describe two incidents of armed resistance in the ghettos.

5. Compare and contrast active resistance to passive resistance.

6. Who were the Kapos? Were they perpetrators, victims, or both?

7. What were the incentives for the German people to hand over Jews to the Gestapo?

8. Give two reasons non-Jews risked their lives to save Jews. Give two reasons why many did not.

9. Give two reasons why governments got involved to save Jews. Give two reasons why some governments did not.

10. List three possible reasons why the citizens of Denmark resisted the war against the Jews, unlike most of their European neighbors.


  • U.S. immigration policy, both toward political refugees and immigrants who are not threatened with persecution, is a perennial topic in national domestic policy. Have the students research what legislation is pending in the U.S. Congress on immigration policy, and have the students comment on what values are consistent with each bill.
  • If a community in which your school is located has new immigrant groups, let students discuss how such immigrant groups relate to established residents and what is being done to expand communication between the new arrivals and established residents.
  • Have the students discuss the activities of groups and individuals in the United States that provide sanctuary for illegal immigrants who were persecuted in El Salvador, and the efforts of the U.S. government to enforce immigration laws. Engage the students in a discussion of the concept of civil disobedience. What have been examples of civil disobedience in our own country? Under what circumstances do students feel that civil disobedience is justified?
  • Read excerpts from Lucy Dawidowicz’s War Against the Jews about resistance in the Jewish ghettos.
  • Show for the class the film The Partisans of Vilna and The Courage to Care.

Copyright 1990 Gary M. Grobman


|| Return to The Holocaust–A Guide for Teachers ||