Faces of Resistance: Women in the Holocaust

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Dr. Adélaïde Hautval (1906 – 1988)

Dr. Hautval, a French psychiatrist, lived in the Vichy controlled area of southern France after the fall of the country. In April 1942, while trying to cross the border between Vichy France and the area of German occupation to attend her mother's funeral, she was captured by the Germans and incarcerated in the German prison at Bourges. When she dared to voice protest regarding the treatment of Jewish prisoners, she was told: "Since you are defending them, you can share their fate." From that point on, she wore a yellow Star of David bearing the words "friend of the Jews." In January 1943, she was one of a group of 230 French women who were sent to Birkenau. There, she employed her medical knowledge to treat prisoners who had contracted typhus, and, although she was employed as a physician by the camp commander, she refrained from reporting their illness. Women who survived the ordeal remember her words: "Here, we have all been sentenced to death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive." Ultimately, Dr. Hautval was sent to Block 10 of Auschwitz, where "medical experiments" were performed on inmates by a team of doctors led by Dr. Eduard Wirths. She refused to take part in the experiments (as she would later refuse to participate in Dr. Mengele's experiments on Jewish twins) and was only willing to help the unfortunate victims after the operations. As a result, she was sent back to Birkenau and subsequently transferred to Ravensbrück, where she survived until liberation.

on a visit to Israel in 1966. after being honored the previous year with the title of Righteous Among the Nations at Yad-Vashem, she stated: "The return of the people of Israel to their own country is an accomplishment concerning not only itself but world at large [...] Israel has always played a gestative, fermentative role, due to which it was hated or respected. It's mission in the world continues. may Israel remain faithful to it" 

About her time in Auschwitz Adélaïde once said:

 "Here, we are all under the sentence of death. Let us behave like human beings as long as we are alive."

 

Irena Sendler (1910 – 2008)

Irena Sendler, a Righteous among the Nations, was born in Otwock, Poland. Her father was a physician with a socialist worldview whose patients came primarily from the town's Jewish population. Immediately following the invasion of Poland, Irena joined the Jewish relief effort, distributing food, caring for orphans, and providing financial aid to Jews whose property the Nazis had confiscated. During the occupation, Irena worked in the Social Department of the City of Warsaw and in this capacity was issued a special permit to visit the ghetto, ostensibly to prevent the spread of infectious illnesses. During her visits to the ghetto, she wore a Star of David on her arm as a sign of solidarity and supplied many Jews with clothes, medicine, and money. Irena succeeded in recruiting other Poles for her aid efforts in the ghetto, particularly women.

 When Zegota, the Council for Aid to Jews in Poland (an underground Polish group that operated during the Holocaust-era in coordination with the Polish Government in Exile in London), was first established, it was only natural for her to join the organization.

Irena specialized in smuggling children out of the ghetto and finding them safe refuge with non-Jewish families in the area. Each of her workers was charged with responsibility for a number of blocks of buildings in which Jewish children had been placed. Irena herself was responsible for approximately ten apartments in which Jews were hidden. In order to locate them after the war, she recorded the names of all the children she smuggled out of the ghetto and the location of their hiding place, and hid the list in her garden.

 In October 1943, Irena was arrested by the Gestapo. Despite being subject to torture, she refused to provide her interrogators with the information they sought and was sentenced to death. In exchange for a bribe that her friends paid to the Gestapo, she was released on the day she was supposed to be executed. However, according to the public bulletin boards, she had indeed been executed.             

Irena now resumed her work underground, as she could no longer be seen in public. In 1991, Irena was named an honorary citizen of the State of Israel. She died in Poland in 2008.

 

 

Charlotte Salomon (1917 – 1943)

Born in Berlin, Charlotte was a promising artist, Mostly known as the creator of an autobiographical series of paintings  consisting of 769 individual works painted between 1941 and 1943 in the south of France, while Salomon was in hiding from the Nazis. In October 1943 she was captured and deported to Auschwitz  , where she and her unborn child were gassed to death by the Nazis soon after her arrival.

All of Salomon's known artistic work was produced during her time in Southern France. Emotionally speaking, it was an especially difficult period for her, and her paintings indicate that she was considering whether to take her own life (as her mother and grandmother had) or to paint and to continue living, particularly in light of the strength and optimism with which she had been infused by her romantic relationship. She gave her wondrous work the title: "Leben? oder Theater?  ein Singspiel"  (Life? or Theater?: A Song-play).

    In addition to its complex and multifaceted visual dimension, her work integrated texts and instructions for listening to specific musical pieces. One unique aspect of her work was the transparencies on which she wrote the texts of her works and which she affixed with tape to one side of her paintings. Viewers were free to look at the painting through the transparent pages of text. However, they could also lift the sheets to view the paintings, like a curtain at the theatre that is lifted to view a play. In this way, Charlotte can also be considered a multimedia artist who was well ahead of her time.

    "This is my entire life," Salomon announced to the doctor of the village in Southern France as she handed him three boxes containing more than one thousand paintings produced in an outburst of feverish creativity over the course of one year. "Please take care of them." Today, her paintings are exhibited at the museum of Jewish history in Amsterdam, where they were brought by her parents who survived the Holocaust and bequeathed them to the museum's collection.

 

 

 

 

Regina Jonas (1902 – 1944)

Although she was not the only woman studying in the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies, the academic institution of liberal Judaism in Berlin,  she was the only one who sought to be ordained as a rabbi, which was still regarded as unprecedented at the time.

. In July 1930, after twelve semesters of study, she passed her oral exams. Her two examining rabbis were Dr. Leo Baeck and Talmud professor Eduard Baneth, who also supervised the writing of her final thesis on the question of whether a woman was permitted to hold rabbinical office.

On December 27, 1935, Regina Jonas was awarded semicha (rabbinical ordination) by Rabbi Dr. Dienemann of Offenbach, the head of the Liberal Rabbis Association of Germany. 0n November 1942 Regina and her mother were sent to Theresienstadt. There, she continued serving as a spiritual guide. After two years of intensive work at Theresienstadt, she was sent to Auschwitz where she was killed at the age of 42.

 

 

 

Stefania (Stefa) Wilczyńska (1886 – 1942)

 She studied natural science at the University of Liège in Belgium and entered the field of education. While in Switzerland attending an advanced training program in the educational methods of Maria Montessori she met Dr. Henryk Goldszmit, the distinguished physician and educator better known by his pen-name Janusz Korczak, who acceded to her request that he serve as a pediatrician for the orphanage in Warsaw. The two would subsequently become the closest of associates ." In 1938, Stefa returned to Palestine for a second visit, this time with the intention of settling on Kibbutz Ein Harod. The frequent reports of impending war in Europe troubled her in both mind and spirit, and she resolved to leave everything and return to Poland to be with "her children" and with Korczak during the difficult times ahead. Throughout the war, Stefa and Korczak tried to provide for the needs of the children and to preserve their childhood as much as possible. During the great Aktion conducted in the Warsaw ghetto in early August 1942, Stefa and Korczak walked at the head of their group of 200 children to the train station, whence they were sent to their deaths at Treblinka extermination camp.       

In April 1939 Stefa wrote in a postcard to her friend Yocheved Tzuk from Kibbutz Ein Harod, just before she sailed to Poland in April 1939:

 "I am convinced that, in the current situation, my place is with them. For this reason, I am setting out. If the situation allows me to return to be with you […] I will do so."

 

 

 

 

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis (1898 – 1944)

Friedl Dicker was a gifted painter. She found her artistic calling at the Bauhaus School of Usable Art in Weimar, Germany, whose doctrine she implemented in the interior design of public buildings and the design of theatre sets and textiles. During the same period, she began teaching art to children and preschool teachers, which highlighted her pedagogical talents. On December 16, 1942, she and her husband Pavel Brandeis were sent to Theresienstadt, where Friedl lived in Girls' Home L 410. There, she left her mark on the educational work of this girls' home and on other children's homes in the ghetto. Her aim was to ease the emotional hardship faced by children in the camp. In her free expression art classes, she encouraged children to express their inner worlds which had been undermined in the ghetto and taught them to pursue cooperation and mutual assistance instead of competition. On October 6, 1944, just days after her husband was sent to Auschwitz, Friedl volunteered for a transport to the same destination which also contained thirty of her students. After liberation, in the attic of the girls' home, one of Friedl's former students found two suitcases containing 5,000 drawings of children which Friedl had hidden before leaving for the transport.

 In one of her speeches, friedl said: "The drawing must arouse a fantasy and strengthen our natural ability to understand it in reality. The drawing is a means of individual expression that suits the experience."

 

 

 

Anna Braude-Heller (1888 – 1943)

 Dr. Anna Braude-Hellerowa was A pediatrician and director of the Children's Hospital bershon-baumann in Warsaw. In the ghetto,  Despite the difficulties, Braude-Heller insisted on providing proper medical care to those children  who came to her. She also participated in editing the hunger research in the Warsaw ghetto and headed a team that examined the impact of starvation on children. During the ghetto uprising, She refused to plead with her Polish friends to flee the ghetto, to the Aryan side of Warsaw, because she wanted to stay with the children she was caring for

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Auerbach (1903 – 1976)

Rachel Auerbach was a Holocaust survivor, writer, and historian. She studied philosophy and psychology in Lviv in the 1920s, and then moved to Warsaw where she worked as a journalist. Following the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939, Auerbach was imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto. Here, she ran a soup kitchen and worked for Emanuel Ringelblum’s underground archive Oyneg Shabes. Auerbach managed to escape from the ghetto in 1943 and survived the war in hiding.

After the war, she continued the work of Oneg Shabes at the Central Jewish Historical Commission in Poland by ensuring that parts of the archive were retrieved from its hiding places. In 1947, she published a comprehensive account of the extermination camp at Treblinka entitled In the Fields of Treblinka.

In 1950, Auerbach emigrated to Israel, where she headed the Yad Vashem Eyewitness Accounts Department. She fought tirelessly to secure a place for victims’ survival experiences in the history of the Holocaust. In 1960-61, she also supported the preparations for the trial against Adolf Eichmann and testified in court.

(Rachel Auerbach testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann in the District Court of Jerusalem, where she said the following :

April 16th, 1942. On its first day of existence, our kitchen prepared fifty portions. Later on, we provided 2,000 meals a day. Help developed rapidly in a state of chaos, such that the number of those seeking help reached 40,000 by December 1939. […] Unfortunately, we reached the conclusion that we were really only able to help those who had another source of income. No soup could have saved the neediest. The only outcome of our work was possibly this preventing the whole ghetto from dying at once, regulating death.

 

Tosia Altman (1918 – 1943)

 At age 11, Tosia Altman joined the local chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, which soon became the center of her life, and at the age of 14 she was selected to serve as a counselor in the movement. Later, she underwent agricultural training in Częstochowa and impatiently awaited the day she would fulfill her goal of emigrating to Palestine. But her move to Palestine was delayed by the exigencies of the movement, which needed her to continue her work in Poland. On the eve of the war, Tosia was selected to head up a secondary movement leadership that was meant to begin operating in the event of a state of emergency.

Immediately after the fall of Poland in September 1939, Tosia joined the concentration of Hashomer Hatzair members in Vilna. When the troubling reports regarding the fate of the Jews of Poland, the paralysis of movement chapters in the country, and their young members left without leadership and guidance in face of the new realities of German occupation, she was one of the first to return to occupied Warsaw. Tosia was a talented and sensitive young woman, and, in addition to her efforts to reorganize movement work for underground conditions, she published articles in the underground movement press and became one of the movement's most important emissaries to ghettos throughout occupied Poland. Her travels, which were all undertaken using falsified documents, were filled with anxiety and fear. Only upon reaching Jewish surroundings and feeling the breath of fellow Jews around her did Tosia's familiar smile return to her face, once again radiating warmth and comfort.

After the establishment of the Jewish Fighting Organization, the ŻOB, Tosia was sent to the Aryan side of the city to carry out the dangerous and sensitive mission of acquiring weapons and smuggling them into the ghetto. With every rumor of an impending action, Tosia would return to the ghetto, as she did on the eve of the Passover holiday in 1943. At this point, Tosia was integrated into the ŻOB command and was responsible for communications with Antek Zuckerman, the ŻOB's representative outside the ghetto. After the Germans started burning down the houses in the ghetto, Tosia, accompanied by Mordechai Anielewicz, visited wounded comrades in the bunker at 30 Franciszkanska Street.

Tosia was injured during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943. She was among the few fighters who managed to escape the ghetto via the sewer system after the discovery of the bunker at 18 Mila Street in which the last remaining ŻOB fighters had taken refuge. On May 24, 1943, a fire broke out in the fighters' hiding place, and some were killed in the raging inferno. Others were captured by the policemen and firefighters who arrived on the scene. Tosia and a friend named Shifra were taken into custody and handed over to the Germans, who brought them to the hospital. After a few days of being tortured, both died of their injuries.

In An excerpt from Tosia's final coded letter to a friend in Palestine, April 7, 1942, she wrote : “The Jewish People are dying before my eyes, and I wring my hands, unable to help it."

 

 

Irena Adamowicz (1910 – 1973)

Irena Adamowicz held a senior position in the Polish Scouts movement. She was born in Warsaw to a devout Catholic family and was trained in social work at the University of Warsaw. In the 1930s she developed a close relationship with Hashomer Hatzair and took part in some of the movement's educational and social activities. During the war, Irena also developed a close relationship with Hechalutz and undertook work on its behalf. She served as a liaison for the Jewish youth movements between the ghettos of Warsaw, Bialystok, Vilnius, Kovno, and Šiauliai. In addition to the important information, she carried with her, her visits to the isolated ghettos brought moral encouragement to those imprisoned within them. She was one of the first people to disseminate information regarding the systematic murders that had begun in the East, which played an important role in hitting home the understanding that this was actually a new phase of the Germans' anti-Jewish policy. With the establishment of the ŻOB, Irena served as a liaison between the Jewish underground and the Polish national underground Armia Krajowa. She was also involved in efforts to acquire weapons for the Jewish underground and in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to mobilize assistance for the ghetto fighters in the battles of April 1943.

After the war, Adamowicz maintained her relationship with the remnants of the Zionist pioneering youth movements in Poland, which were preparing Jews to immigrate to Israel, and with her friends in the movements. In 1958, Adamowicz came to Israel for an extended visit as the guest of the Hakibbutz Ha’artzi movement. On January 14, 1985, Yad Vashem recognized Irena Adamowicz as Righteous Among the Nations

on her memoir she wrote:

"My connections with the movement during the war were a natural continuation of the relationship I maintained for many years before the war…I undertook no heroic deeds, and it was not a sacrifice. Just as they needed me, I needed them. They were my friends, and by no means was I willing to cut off all contact with them.

…I had another meeting in a room at the home of one of the members. We sat on beds. I remember that they sang Techezakna (תחזקנה). They asked about Warsaw and wanted to know about Palestine. I would tell them about it, as I was taught by the leadership in Vilnius.

 

 

 

Zivia Lubetkin (1914- 1976)

 

Zivia's character was shaped by the tension between her father, who maintained a religious home, and his sons, who were attracted to the secular Jewish movements of the time. her brothers favored the Revisionist movement, and she herself was a member of the Freiheit movement which later came to be known as Dror. She would later emerge as a central figure in the senior movement leadership and the coordinator of the agricultural training programs of Hechalutz. In 1940, she returned from Lithuania to occupied Warsaw and became the moving force behind the movement in the ghetto. While rehabilitating the local chapter, she attained resources to fund movement work, aid for the young movement members, and diverse educational activities, including, among other things, the establishment of an underground school (gymnasium).

Zivia was among the founders of the Anti-Fascist Bloc (the first combat organization established in the Warsaw ghetto in the spring of 1942) and the Jewish Fighting Organization, the ŻOB, in whose ranks she fought in the battles in the ghetto in the spring of 1943.     

Zivia was one of the fighters who succeeded in escaping the ghetto through the sewer system. When the Polish Warsaw Uprising broke out on August 1, 1944, she joined a unit of surviving Jewish fighters of the ŻOB who took part in the fighting during the 63 days of the bloody Polish uprising. After the war, she helped organize the Habricha movement in Poland. Zivia and her comrade and husband Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman were among the founders of Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot, where they built their home. Zivia was one of first in Palestine to tell the story of the Holocaust and the uprising. She testified at the Eichmann trial. 

Her name has become a symbol of the heroism of the ghetto fighters.                      

Zivia wrote in her book about forming the Jewish fighting Organization: "we deliberated about the name of the organization. We wanted it to reflect the essence of our aims – to be a name that would become a symbol. There were various proposals: the "Zionist Fighting Organization," the "Pioneering Fighting Organization," and so forth. We eventually decided on the Jewish Fighting Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa) – the ŻOB." 

 

 

 

Haika Grossman (1919-1996)

Haika was born in Białystok, Poland. As a teenager she joined the HaShomer HaTzair youth movement. As a leader of the movement in Poland, she was sent to the town of Brześć Litewski to organize the movement’s activities there and in the surrounding region.

When World War II erupted, she moved to Vilna (now Vilnius, Lithuania), where she was active in the emergency underground leadership of HaShomer HaTzair. Upon the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, she returned to Bialystok, where she helped organize the underground movement in the Białystok Ghetto. She served as a courier between that ghetto and those of Vilna, Lublin, Warsaw and others. Using forged papers, she managed to pass as a Polish. Her Polish identity enabled her to assist the underground movements in numerous towns and ghettos, as well as the emerging partisan units being formed in the nearby forests of Poland and Lithuania. At the same time, she also purchased arms and helped smuggle them into the ghettoes. In 1943, she took part in the Białystok Ghetto Uprising, and helped to establish an underground unit of anti-Nazi Germans.

After the war, she served on the Central Committee of the Jews of Poland, and was awarded Poland’s highest medal for heroism. She emigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1948 and joined Kibbutz Evron in the Western Galilee. She also served in various capacities in the Mapam Party. From 1969 to 1988 Grossman was a member of Knesset for Mapam and the Alignment (an alliance which Mapam was part of). As a parliamentarian, she focused on social issues and the status of women. Among the laws she helped pass were the right to abortions, laws relating to at-risk youth, and the law against beating children.

She died in Kibbutz Evron, in 1996.

     

 

 

 

Rozka Korchak 1(921 – 1988)

 

Rozka Korchak, the eldest of three daughters, was born into a downtrodden, traditional Jewish Zionist family. Her father enrolled her in a Polish school and also sent her to a Jewish Cheder to learn Yiddish, where she was the only female student. Her family's economic hardships prevented her from continuing her studies in a structured framework. She found employment selling and distributing rolls baked in the home of a Jewish widow in nearby Plock and quenched her great thirst for knowledge in the local library. Rozka joined the Plock chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, where she became a member of the local leadership and a counselor, which was work she would continue after joining the Hashomer Hatzair group in Vilnius. She also emerged as a major figure in the underground organization for armed struggle in the ghetto, " the United Partisans organization"  (Fareynegte Partizaner Organizatye), or the F.P.O. During the liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943, Rozka and several fellow F.P.O. members managed to escape to the Rudniki Forest near Vilnius, where they operated in the ranks of the partisans in the forest until the end of the war.

When Rozka immigrated to Palestine toward the end of 1944, she was the first to deliver first-hand testimony regarding the Holocaust of the Jews of Vilnius and the story of the Jewish resistance movement. She made her home on Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and was one of the founders of Moreshet, the Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Studies and Research Center. Until her death in 1988, she devoted all her energy to commemorating the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance.

While being in Rudniki forest, rozka wrote:

 [...]  no one knew how to get to…And what did we find in Rudnicki? Here, everyone was tested as individuals. It depended on how you were able to manage and to cross the swamp when necessary, or if you got lost in the forest. Those are forests with no end, not like the ones we know in Israel…In the Rudniki region, everything was ostensibly Lithuanian. The brigade was Lithuanian, the special staff was Lithuanian, and we too were appended to the Lithuanian forces. The fact that our unit was ninety-five percent Jewish did nothing to change the fact that the name of the unit was Lithuanian. In actuality, we began establishing the basis for autonomous Jewish partisan units. We were Jews, our command was Jewish, our spoken language was Jewish – daily orders were issued in Yiddish. There,  in that forest, we had special roles, because we were both partisans and Jews. The idea of establishing a separate independent Jewish partisan unit capable of solving the painful problems captured the hearts of many fighters and cried out for fulfillment. The idea of the Jewish unit was cultivated during discussions among the partisans and incidental encounters and became an aspiration of many." 

 

 

Vitka Kempner-Kovner (1920 – 2012)

 

Vitka grew up in a Revisionist home and was the first girl to be accepted in the Beitar youth movement in Kalish. After graduating from high school, she moved to study at the Institute of Jewish Studies at Warsaw University, joined the Hashomer Hatzair student organization, and was a member of the "Avuka" student organization. In September 1939, she arrived in Vilnius. After the establishment of the ghetto, she served as the liaison between the ghetto and the rest of the city. At the beginning of 1942, she took part in blowing up a German train, the first operation of its kind in the area. In the Rudniki forest, she was the commander of the reconnaissance units and took part in the dangerous sabotage operation against the transformers on Mickiewicz Street, the main street in Vilnius. After immigrating to Palestine, she was trained as a clinical psychologist and built her home with Abba Kovner (the commander of the Jewish partisan unit in the Rudniki forests) on Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh, alongside her friend Rozka Korchak.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Esther (Etty) Hillesum (1914 – 1943)

Etty Hillesum began writing her diary in March 1941, possibly at the suggestion of her analyst Julius Spier, whom she had been attending to for a month. Although his patient, Etty also became his secretary and friend and eventually his lover. His influence on her spiritual development is apparent in her diaries; Her diaries record the increasing anti-Jewish measures in holland and the growing uncertainty about the fate of fellow Jews who had been deported.  in July 1942 etty Volunteered to work in the "Social Welfare for People in Transit" at Westerbork transit camp. She had refused offers to go into hiding due to her belief that her duty was to support others scheduled to be transported from Westerbork to the concentration camps in Poland and Germany. On 5 July 1943, her personal status was suddenly revoked and she became a camp intern along with her parents and one brother. On 7 September 1943, the family was deported from Westerbork to Auschwitz. Etty died in Auschwitz on 30 November 1943.

 

In an Excerpt from Etty's letters from Westerbork transit camp, on December 1942, she wrote:

All of Europe would be full of bitter experiences of the same kind. The story we tell each other about the truth in its nakedness, the separated families, the lost property and liberties, would be a monotonous tale. It is impossible to tell colorful stories to those who were outside. I wonder if many will be left out if history goes on for a long time on the path she started to walk [...]If we save from the camps, wherever they are, only our bodies, we have saved too little because the problem is not whether the person saves his life at any cost, but how he will save them [...]Indeed, things are not at all simple, and perhaps for us, the Jews, they are still less simple than others. And yet, if we can not offer the impoverished world after the war anything but our own surviving bodies - at any price - and not a new meaning stemming from the depth of our distress and despair, it is too little [...], A new understanding must shed new light at our barbed wire and merge with the new ideas that must be acquired by those who are left out.

 

 

Roza Robota (1921 – 1945)

 

Roza Robota was a survivor of the transport of Jews from Ciechanow where she had been a member of HaShomer Hatza'ir. She was the only member of her family not to have been gassed upon arrival at Auschwitz in November of 1942. Forced to labor in the Bekleidungskommando unit where confiscated clothing and personal possessions of prisoners were sorted, she organized a resistance group that distributed news obtained by the camp underground organization from radio broadcasts.

Roza made the initial contact with several women in the Schwartzpulver factory, who were also native to Ciechanow. Despite the dangers and difficulties, the women agreed to steal the gunpowder.

Once it was smuggled outside the Union Werke the women passed the explosive material to Roza and Hadassa Zlotnicka who gave it to Asir-Godel Zilber, another native of Ciechanow. Zilber passed the contraband on to a member of the Sonderkommando and then the material finally reached the Russian "Sondermen," who fashioned the gunpowder into grenades and bombs. It took the women over a year to smuggle enough gunpowder to realize the conspiracy's goal: to destroy one of the crematoria. The finished explosives were buried near the crematoria until the proper time. On October 7, 1944, the Sondermen recovered the explosives and detonated Crematorium Number IV, putting it permanently out of commission.

Initially, the possibility that women could be involved in transferring explosives was inconceivable to the Gestapo, but eventually, their investigation led to Alla Gaertner, Roza Robota, and the Pulverraum plant. Four women in the conspiracy were tortured and murdered: Robota, Gaertner, Regina Saperstein and Estusia. None of them betrayed their fellow conspirators. One of the leaders of the plot, Noah Zabladowicz, a member of the Jewish underground in the camp, stole a brief visit with Robota in punishment Block 11 before her death. She had endured torture, mutilation and lay dying on the floor of her cell. Roza urged Zabladowicz to encourage the members of the Auschwitz underground to continue their work. Her last message was a note scratched on a piece of paper smuggled from her cell: "Hazak V'Amatz: Be Strong and Brave. Roza Robota was twenty-three years old.

The remaining heroines who smuggled the gunpowder were forced to watch the hangings of their co-conspirators who all yelled: "Zemsta!" (Revenge!) before their execution. That was the last execution in Auschwitz camp

 

Gisela (Gisi ) Fleischmann (1894- 1944) 

As an adult, Gisi devoted much time to public work in W.I.Z.O. and the local branch of the America Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and Zionist work among the Jews of Slovakia. From the moment the Nazis rose to power in Germany and following the annexation of Austria, Gisi devoted herself completely to caring for refugees and arranging the emigration of refugee children to Palestine, including her two young daughters.

Until the onset of the expulsion of Slovak Jewry, Gisi Fleischmann achieved a number of significant accomplishments by finding safe havens for refugees and arranging emigration from Slovakia to relatively peaceful Hungary. When it became clear in the spring of 1942 that the Nazis were about to deport the Jews of Slovakia to Poland, Gisi became the social leader of the Bratislava Working Group, an unofficial organization of Jewish leadership, which became a major force in the rescue efforts. At the initiative of members of the group (and through heavy bribery), work camps were established on Slovakian soil to prevent the deportations to Poland.

The cessation of deportations encouraged members of the Working Group to formulate the bold "Europa Plan," which was thought up by Rabbi Michael Weissmandel.  According to the plan, in exchange for payment of a ransom of 2-3 million dollars, the Deportation of the Jews to the camps would cease.

Gisi was charged with the critical task of mobilizing financial resources during the prescribed period. To this end, she made effective use of the connections she had forged during her previous public work.

For various reasons, the plan was never implemented. When the Slovakian Uprising broke out, the S.S. hunted down, arrested, and imprisoned almost all the members of the Working Group. But even then, Gisi refused proposals and attempts to rescue her. On October 17, 1944, Gisi was sent to Auschwitz where she was immediately murdered.

In  a letter to her daughter Alice in Palestine, Gisi wrote:

As fate would have it, we cannot be together…You must bear the parting in this spirit because the Jewish People is above all personal suffering…In the past few years, I have witnessed endless suffering. I had to watch how they brought our beautiful youth to Poland, the land of horrors, your entire age group included. I thank God that my children are in the Land of Israel…When I consider all this my daughter, it is easier for me to contend with all the turmoil I am experiencing, and it should be for you too… 

 

 

 

Marianne Cohn (1922-1944)

 Marianne's family fled the terrors of Nazi rule by escaping to the French city of Moissac, where a Jewish children's home was established during the war. Marianne decided to leave her high school studies and join the staff of the children's home and at the same time joined the Jewish scouts' movement. In 1942, Marianne joined the union of Zionist youth movements. In October 1943, the children of the home were distributed around Moissac to prevent their capture by the Gestapo, and Marianne and a group of friends moved to Grenoble. There, she joined the Sixième, a division of the General Union of Jews in France (U.G.I.F.)–the official Jewish leadership framework introduced in France and the French equivalent of the Judenrat–which was established after the banning of the activities of the scouts. Marianne and her comrades operated as part of the effort to rescue children in France, which was organized by several Jewish organizations with the support of left-wing and Communist underground groups.

Until the summer of 1942, and before the concentration of Jews in detention camps before their expulsion to the East, the group's work focused on providing aid to children living in difficult conditions, setting up child care facilities and providing education especially for children without parents and the children of refugees, and integrating them into agricultural farms. From the summer of 1942 onward, its intensive work focused on finding hiding places for children in special child care facilities, in monasteries, or with French families. Simultaneously, a wide-scale campaign for smuggling children into Switzerland and Spain, the neutral countries bordering France, got underway.

On Wednesday May 31, 1944, Marianne Cohn arrived in Leon at the head of a group of twenty-eight fourteen and fifteen-year-old children. The next day, just after setting out to cross the Swiss border hidden in a small truck, they were stopped by a German patrol just 200 meters from the border crossing near the city of Annemasse. Marianne and the driver presented their forged documents to the patrol and were subsequently arrested, interrogated, and beaten. The group was moved to the jail in Annemasse. But Marianne's suffering had just begun. Each morning, she was taken from the jail that had been established next to the German headquarters for interrogation. When she returned in the evening she was hardly recognizable due to the injuries and blows she had sustained. Jean Deffaugt, the mayor of Annemasse who helped the predominantly Jewish prisoners of the jail, organized a daring operation to rescue Marianne. But Marianne refused out of concern for the fate of the children.

In the middle of the night on July 3, Gestapo forces from Leon arrived at the jail and took three women with them, including Marianne Cohn. After the liberation of Annemasse on August 21, 1944, the bodies of the three women were found in a shed in Ville la Grand. Marianne was murdered by the blows of a shovel inflicted by members of the French militia who raided the jail.    

Jean Deffaugt succeeded in saving the lives of the twenty-eight children, who were still carrying a poem that Marianne had written while in jail:

 

I shall betray tomorrow, not today

Today, pull out my fingernails,

I shall not betray.

You do not know the limits of my courage,

I do.

 

Haviva Reik (1914-1944)

Haviva was born into a poor family in the Banská Bystrica Region of Slovakia, and from a young age played a role in supporting the family. In 1932, she joined the Hashomer Hatzair youth movement, was a member of its leadership, and was active in the Zionist movement.

At the outbreak of the war, she was called upon to return from the agricultural training program in Bratislava to lend her hand to the Zionist work underway for the Jewish refugees in Slovakia and to raise funds for aid and organize the illegal immigration to Palestine.

In 1939, she immigrated to Palestine, where she made her way to Karkur to meet up with her fellow settlement group members who would subsequently establish Kibbutz Ma`anit. It was then that she changed her name to Haviva. Upon her arrival in Palestine, Haviva, an energetic young woman, requested and was assigned the most physically difficult jobs of all – in the quarry, the citrus orchards, the vineyards at harvest time, and the banana groves of the kibbutzim in the area. It was there that she met and fell in love with Zvi Arison, who asked her to marry him.

The love for and devotion to other human beings that was such an integral part of Haviva's character found expression in her public work in Karkur, where she coordinated the women workers and was active in a group for working mothers that sent her as its delegate to the conference of women workers. In 1942, Haviva volunteered for the Palmach, and, while her fellow settlement group members moved to the permanent settlement site of Kibbutz Ma`anit, Haviva took part in Palmach exercises and marches throughout Palestine. Two years later, she enlisted in the British air force and was sent to Cairo for training. There, she learned how to parachute, operate radio transmitters, and execute espionage and commando operations. The paratroopers of the Jewish Yishuv in Palestine were charged with penetrating their home countries, where they could easily blend in with the local population. The Slovakian group of paratroopers, which included Haviva, Rafael Weiss, and Zvi Ben-Yaakov, was the last to depart Egypt for Slovakia. On August 27, 1944, the four were transported by plane to Bari, Italy. This was just two days before the outbreak of the Slovak National Uprising, which threw their entire mission into doubt.

But Haviva did not give up. At the synagogue in Bari, she met Jewish soldiers from the United States army from whom she learned that a U.S. military delegation was about to be dispatched to the liberated territory. With the help of a Jewish officer whom she convinced of her potential value to the delegation as a native of the region who could serve as a guide, a translator, and a liaison, she was added to the delegation. When packing her bag, she made sure to rid her belongings of all signs that she had been sent from Palestine, but could not bring herself to part with her copy of the Hebrew book Women Members of Kibbutz, a collection of articles, stories, and other writings by female kibbutz members.

On September 21, 1944, an American plane carrying Haviva and other members of the U.S. detachment touched down in Banská Bystrica.

Haviva and her comrades immediately began working to support the flow of Jews who had been released from the forced labor camps in the region. Within a short time, they assembled a group of Jews and began to make their way to the mountains to join the rebel headquarters there. During their trek, they suddenly heard voices speaking in Russian and were certain they had managed to join up with the Soviet partisans who had already been sent to the area. But the voices belonged to soldiers of the Ukrainian Galicia Division of the Waffen-S.S., and the three paratroopers were taken prisoner and handed over to the Germans.

Aviva and Rafi were taken into custody and jailed in the Banská Bystrica prison. On November 20, 1944, they were executed with another 200 Jews, partisans, and Roma in the town of Kremnizka.

After the war, the bodies of the Jewish paratroopers from Palestine were exhumed from their temporary grave and reinterred in the British military cemetery in Prague. On October 10, 1952, her body was brought to Israel and buried in Jerusalem. 

During her military training at a British training camp in Egypt, Haviva wrote a letter to a friend, on June 22, 1944:

"There is much I still wish to achieve in this short life. I hope it is not too late…I do not feel I have been idle in life. I regret only one thing: that I robbed myself of the joy of motherhood." 

 

Aliza Zarfati-Baruch (1927 – 1993)

ALiza  Zarfati was born in Saloniki in 1927. She was deported with her family to Auschwitz in 1943, where she underwent x-ray experiments for sterilization purposes over two years. She was one of the very few who managed to survive these inhuman experiments. She worked for a year in Birkenau, where she met Ovadia Baruch, who also came originally from Saloniki and the 2 became lovers. Aliza managed to survive the death march and several more camps in Germany, but the two departed. After the war, she surprisingly meets Ovadia back in Saloniki. He then asked her hand in marriage. Aliza insisted that Ovadia would find another wife, for she was convinced the experiments made her infertile. However, Ovadia does not change his mind, and the two are married.  On their marriage rings, they engraved their Auschwitz numbers, tattooed by the Nazis.  After their marriage, they came to Israel. One day in 1946, Aliza felt bad and went to a hospital for a check-up. Surprisingly, the doctors told her she's pregnant! She gave birth to a healthy son. Only then she understood the experiments somehow failed. Later, she learned what happened during her operation. During Aliza's surgery, carried out by Dr. Dring, A Polish doctor, an alarm was sounded due to an Allied aerial bombardment of the Buna-Monowitz factory. All the doctors in Block 10 went down to the shelter except for dr.  Maximilian Samuels, a Jewish Doctor who worked as a prisoner in the block Dr. Samuels was ordered by Dr. Dring to continue the surgery anyways. Until this point, Dr. Dring had already removed one of Aliza's ovaries. Professor Samuels took advantage of the fact that he was left alone in the operating room and avoided removing the second ovary. In 1944, the Germans discovered that Dr. Samuel sabotaged many of the doctors' experiments in the block, performing false surgeries on 3 more women, saving them from infertility.  He was executed at Auschwitz.

After her firstborn, Aliza gives birth to a second child. Aliza and Ovadia live a long life together with their 2 sons. She passed away in 1993.

 

 

Esteria Ovadia (Mara) (1923 – 1944)

Esteria Ovadia was born to a struggling family in the city of Betula southern Macedonia in December 1923. Her family lived in one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Jewish part of the city, where she studied in the Jewish school and was a member of Hashomer Hatzair youth movement. After her father died she quit school and helped her family earn money. With two of her friends she was sent to Belgrade to gain knowledge and work as an apprentice in a local textile factory when she moved to Belgrade she joined the communist political party. When the Germans invaded Yugoslavia in 1941 she came back to her home in Betula not before she understood very well:  "All of us Jews, no matter where we will be, we will always be the first target of fascism."

After Yugoslavia was dismantled by the Nazis the city of Bitula was handed out as part of Macedonia to the control of the Bulgarian Kingdom as a reward for joining the Axis powers in World War II. As a result of the conquest, an underground was formed in which Jews had a major central role. Esther Ovadia was one of the first to join the underground like many of her friends from Hashomer Hatzair. she distributed the underground pamphlets and helped to gather people for partisan units that started emerging in the near surroundings.

In the middle of 1942 following a snitch, the Bulgarian authorities arrested a large group of Jewish underground activists in the city. The imprisonment of the operatives was a major blow to the underground organization and the members moved into covered activity.

In early 1943, the Macedonian Jews were deported to Treblinka, a move that rushed the young people to join the partisans. Members of the resistance were found hiding in The Little Shop, and hid there for five weeks, waiting for their contact. When he arrived, he led them to the partisan unit established on Mount Bear ("Machka-Planina"). The Young Jewish women received a rifle stolen from enemy soldiers, and each received an underground nickname. Esther Ovadia became Mara.

About two weeks after their arrival, on April 25, 1943, they participated in the partisan attack on the Bulgarian police station in the village of Buff. Eight station officers were captured and disarmed. This is where Esteria got her first gun, taken from the cops.

During 1943, its partisan unit conducted a series of operations and battles against the Bulgarian army and even against the Italians, in the rural areas of southern Macedonia and on the Albanian border. Following Italy's surrender her Partisan Battalion, where she served as a political commissar in one of the sub-units, succeeded in disarming the Italian Army battalion. Large Spoils of war fell into the hands of the partisans. About 60 Italian soldiers joined the partisans and formed the Garibaldi unit.

In November 1943, the partisan unit became a battalion. The confrontation was directed at the Nazi Wehrmacht units that had arrived in the area. The Macedonian partisans succeeded in these battles in inflicting heavy losses on the German enemy, some 250 casualties. In one of the ambushes of a German convoy, in which she participated, the partisans managed to kill 15 Germans and capture 13.

In this battle, Esteria stood out for her bravery, having eliminated an enemy squad with a heavy machine gun.

On August 25, 1944, her battalion set out to attack the Bulgarian Border Police headquarters, in a fortified outpost on the mountain chain on the border with Greece. The next day, when she stormed the head of a partisan squad on one of the bunkers, she was hit in her head by a bullet and died.

In November 1944, the 7th Macedonian Partisan Brigade had liberated Macedonia. About 3,000 Jews from Betula were murdered in the Holocaust. 66 joined Macedonia's resistance movement, of whom 56 fell in battle.

On October 11, 1953, Yugoslav President Josip Bruz Tito presented her with the "Heroine of Yugoslavia" medal.

One of Macedonia's writers wrote: "Esther Ovadia- Mara is a symbol of the humanity and heroism of the Jews of Betula. She's our pride..."

Esther Ovadia's memory was also immortalized in a Macedonian folk song "Remember her, brothers, Esteria Mara, Estria Mara, fell for the people, for the people she fell, for Macedonia."

 

 Frida Belifante (1904-1995)

Frieda Belinfante was born in Amsterdam in 1904, and from an early age showed musical talent. At the age of 17, she became a professional cellist, and in 1937 she was appointed as the conductor of Concertgebouw, becoming the first woman in the world to lead an orchestra. She married in 1931 but divorced a short time later when she came out to her husband. After the divorce, she had relationships exclusively with women. Her longest prewar relationship was with composer Henriëtte Bosmans.

But then her musical career ended when the Nazis conquered the Netherlands. Belinfante, whose status as a famous musician gave her some protection, chose not to flee the Netherlands to safety. Instead, she decided to join the Dutch resistance. She joined the cell of Willem Arondeus, who was himself openly homosexual. Their cell role focused on forging documents to smuggle Jews out of the Netherlands. Arondeus did not survive the war, but after his death, he was recognized by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations.

In 1943, the Nazis' suspicions arose, and the rope began to tighten around the necks of the cell members.  Frieda came up with an ingenious plan to prevent the Nazis from discovering which documents were forged and which were not by blowing up the Nazi population registry headquarters in Amsterdam.

She planned the operation, but as a woman was not allowed to join the executive team. Either way, the operation was a partial success and the explosion of the headquarters led to the destruction of 800,000 Jewish ID cards (about 15% of the records that were there). Unfortunately, shortly after the operation, following a snitch, the squad members were captured. Arondeus' diary was found, and he was executed in early July 1943. His last words before he was shot were: "Tell the people that homosexuals are not by definition weak!"

After Arondeus was captured, Belinfante went underground. She cut her hair short, and for the next three months lived under the false identity of a man. Frida one said she was so persuasive in this new image that one day she passed in front of her mother on the street, and even she did not recognize her. She then fled to Switzerland, took refuge in a Swiss refugee camp where she remained until the end of the war. In the camp, too, she did not rest on her laurels and immediately began giving free cello lessons to the residents.

When the war ended, she returned to Amsterdam only to discover that of all her underground cell fellows, only herself and another member remained. At the end of her life, her tremendous contribution to the Dutch resistance and her musical endowments began to be recognized but are not yet well known enough. 15 years after she was voted out of the orchestra, Orange County established a day of memorial for her name and over the years both the American Holocaust Museum and the Dutch government have noted her achievements. In 1995 at the age of 91, she passed away.

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Aliza, Ovadia and their child

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Vitka and Rozka with Aba Kovner In Vilnus

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Tosia's letter to the movement in palestine

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Frieda Belinfante, left, and Henriëtte Hilda Bosmans