(January 28, 2021 / JNS) This week, leaders from around the world commemorated those who perished at the hands of the Nazis during International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This year, like most, there were statements recognizing and remembering those who were taken from us by people all over the globe. The recognition is critical and something appreciated by all from the Jewish community worldwide.
Much has been written about what needs to be done during the remaining days of the year to properly commemorate and educate the world about the horrors of the Holocaust, and what “never again” really means. A recent Pew Research poll proves that Americans’ Holocaust education is sorely lacking. For example, only 45 percent of Americans interviewed even knew that 6 million Jews were murdered during the Holocaust. Even fewer knew that Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany by a democratic political process.
Surely, what is far less known is how many Jews fought valiantly against the Nazis. But fight they did. Jews fought back alongside resistance groups around Europe, organized uprisings in the ghettos, created partisan units and even fought back in the concentration camps, attempting to bomb a crematorium in Auschwitz. To properly commemorate the Holocaust, these stories must be told as well.
To that end, I commemorate and honor the story of the following Jews who courageously fought back during World War II and the Holocaust. Their stories represent the thousands who fought to the end.
- Mordechai Anielewitz. The leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. In April 1943, he led 750 Jewish fighters armed with a handful of pistols, 17 rifles and Molotov cocktails—all smuggled into the ghetto—in a clash with more than 2,000 heavily armed and well-trained German troops. They held off the Germans for 27 days.
- Boris Lekach. This one is personal. My wife’s maternal grandfather. Lekach fought for the Russians against the Nazis. He enlisted at age 16 with doctored papers just so he could fight. He was also well-known to many in the Jewish community in Russia for helping Jews escape during and after the war.
- The Bielski Brothers. Made famous in a number of books and in the 2008 movie “Defiance,” the Bielski brothers—Tuvia, Asael and Zus—fled their city in Belarus after their parents and two other siblings were murdered. The brothers found shelter in the forest, where they created one of the largest and most effective partisan groups during the war, focusing on guerrilla attacks against the Nazis and their collaborators, as well as on preserving Jewish life even in their hideout. In a little more than two years, the Bielski group grew to about 1,200 people.
- Tosia Altman. A young woman who used fake papers to smuggle weapons and information in and out of Poland’s ghettos. She was an active member of the social Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair, active in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising alongside Anielewitz and the other brave fighters.
- Eta Wrobel. A young woman in her 20s who helped form an all-Jewish partisan unit in the Polish woods. Her unit attacked German troops as they traveled through the area and is credited for saving hundreds of Jews.
- Rudolph Masaryk. On Aug. 2, 1943, at the Treblinka extermination camp, Masaryk and other Jewish prisoners stole 20 grenades, 20 rifles and a few handguns. Together, they attacked the SS guards, while another doused a large part of the camp with gasoline and lit it on fire. Approximately 300 prisoners escaped and 40 Nazi guards were killed during the Treblinka uprising.
May their memories be a blessing.
While it’s critical for the world to remember on International Holocaust Remembrance Day and on every other day that the Nazis rose to destroy the Jewish people, it is equally important for all to remember that the Jewish people fought back, and ultimately, as a people, we survived.
Today, the Jewish people not only survive but thrive. Our communal sense of history and peoplehood, as well as our ties to our religion and traditions, will continue to give us the strength to continue being a light unto the nations while our enemies fall by the wayside, as did Hitler and all enemies before him.
Gabriel Groisman is the mayor of Bal Harbour, Fla., and an attorney at Meland Russin & Budwick, P.A., in Miami. He has been a leader in combating anti-Semitism and the BDS movement, having written and passed the first municipal anti-BDS ordinance, as well as the first codification of the IHRA definition of anti-Semitism. He is a co-founder of the Global Coalition of Mayors Against Hate and Discrimination.
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