Why are non-Jewish Holocaust victims ignored?


Andrea Loew

To person

Dr. phil., born 1973; Deputy Head of the Center for Holocaust Studies at the Institute for Contemporary History Munich, Leonrodstraße 46 b, 80636 Munich. [email protected]

The main thing that my dream is realized. I saw it, a resistance action in the Warsaw ghetto. In all its splendor and size. "[1] This is what Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization, wrote to a friend during the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto shortly before his death.

This uprising is the most famous act of Jewish resistance in Europe. In addition, other forms of rebellion and self-assertion by Jews faded during the Nazi era. For a long time it was countered by the narrative of the Jewish masses who remained passive and went "like sheep to the slaughter".

Apart from the fact that this assessment was only made with regard to the Jewish victims of the Nazi regime: The question of why more Jews had not defended themselves ignores the specific conditions under which the marginalized, isolated and weakened Jews acted. It is also based on a very narrow notion of resistance that discredits all those who did not fight with weapons.

In the past few years, the perception of Jewish reactions to persecution and extermination has clearly differentiated. The variety of actions that researchers now describe on the part of the persecuted Jews shows that there can be no talk of general passivity.

The forms that resistant behavior could take had a lot to do with the conditions in the respective country. Jewish traditions or the degree of assimilation played a role here, but above all the attitudes of the local population and the manner and speed with which the National Socialists implemented the anti-Jewish or extermination policy. Another central factor is the timing that determined what Jews revolted against: marginalization, persecution or mass murder.

In countries in which they were largely integrated into the majority society, Jews tended to join the respective national, mostly communist or social-democratic groups to which they were politically close even in the pre-war period. In contrast, there existed in East Central and Eastern Europe their own Jewish parties and organizations of all political directions, from which the resistance then formed, but which also organized self-help and various types of intellectual assertion.

There were various acts of resistance by Jews across Europe. In addition to armed actions in ghettos and even in extermination camps, the work of partisans in various countries, escapes into the forests and hiding on the "Aryan" side should be mentioned here. Underground organizations distributed leaflets and magazines, and some tried to sabotage work in the factories and workshops in the ghettos.

In Western Europe, including Germany, the focus was on saving human lives, primarily through organized help in escaping to safe countries or going into hiding in one's own country. Around 1,700 Jews survived in Berlin, for example, in hiding or assuming a false identity. Rescuing children in particular was the focus of many efforts. One of the tasks of the Jewish Defense Committee in Belgium was the organized rescue of children from deportation. In the course of time, there was an increasing number of escapes from the deportation trains in the direction of Auschwitz. In France, Jews were also involved in armed resistance, including in their own armed unit, the Armée Juive, which was founded in 1943 from various groups. Jews who had previously emigrated or who had fled also fought in the Allied armies against Nazi Germany. [2]

But it was not only after the beginning of the Second World War that Jews resisted. Under different circumstances - the regime persecuted the Jewish minority, but had not yet gone over to mass murder - Jews protested in the German Reich, refused to obey orders or were particularly active in left resistance organizations. Probably the best-known and largest Jewish resistance group in the German Reich was the Berlin group around Herbert Baum, which was already active earlier, but especially since the end of 1941 it appeared on a larger scale through combat pamphlets and calls and in May 1942 an arson attack on the Berlin exhibition " The Soviet Paradise "perpetrated. The Zionist Chaluz movement prepared young people for their emigration to Palestine and helped many to flee.

Konrad Kwiet and Helmut Eschwege, who examined the various types of "nonconformal behavior" of Jews in National Socialist Germany early on, differentiate between refusal (Escape, underground, help to escape and suicides) and Defense (Open protest, illegal writings, assassinations, sabotage, later the actions of individual deportees in the ghetto, in the camps and with the partisans). [3]

The situation of the Jewish activists was more complicated than that of the non-Jewish national groups, and at least in Eastern Europe the Jews, who were scattered over many ghettos and thus isolated from one another, organized their actions in the face of a comprehensive policy of extermination directed against them. They were dependent on outside help, but considerable sections of the local population were indifferent or even hostile to them. And for many who actually opted for armed resistance, this was associated with a dramatic moral dilemma, as will be shown below using the example of the ghettos in the formerly Polish areas.

A significant number of the Jews persecuted by the National Socialists and, in most cases, murdered, had the experience of having to live in a ghetto. Very few of them took up arms. But these people responded to the persecution and humiliation in a variety of ways. They reorganized their lives, many of them also fought a heroic struggle without weapons - they fought against hunger and disease, for the education of their children, for their cultural life and for their physical and mental self-assertion. In an even more direct sense, they opposed the National Socialists unarmed. They fought incredibly successfully against their goal of erasing not only the people but also the memory of them and the crimes committed against them: They wrote diaries and chronicles, collected documents and even smuggled them out of the occupied territories, some took photos or painted pictures .