An Inquiry into the General Lack of Violent Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust

I’ve often wondered about and even done some research into why the targets of the Nazi genocide didn’t put up more resistance.  I forget the exact numbers and my book (I think the title is Hitlers Willing Executioners) that has it is still packed away with my other stuff from PNNL but one group of about 500 “policemen” went through Eastern Europe rounding up Jews, forcing them to dig trenches, strip, and then shooting them.  They murdered something like 16,000 Jews in six months before suffering their first two casualties.  And those were from non-Jewish Polish partisans!  What in the world was going on in the minds of the victims?  Couldn’t they find any type of weapon?  Okay, access to firearms was difficult, we learned a lesson there and it won’t happen here, but weren’t there any axes, pitchforks, gasoline, matches, or table legs?  These thugs killed every Jew in the next town over, they were going to kill every Jew in this and the next 20 towns.  So why didn’t they at least slow them down, make them find replacements, and increase the resource costs to implement their evil?  Even if the kill ratio was 1:100 thousands of lives would have been saved.

This article give the best explanation I have come across.  There was some violent resistance and the article examines what the necessary conditions were such that resistance occurred:

For a Jew caught up in the Holocaust, there were many factors to consider when deciding on a course of action. For an individual considering armed, violent resistance, these included:

  • Concern for family members and dependants: all those close to a fighter would be put at risk by his (or her) actions.
  • Access to arms­: how is one to fight the Germans? Some sort of weapon is necessary, and would have to be acquired.
  • Hope for an easy solution: many believed that their situation would be resolved by itself, and thus to risks one’s life fighting was needless.
  • Respected leadership: ­from both a practical and psychological view, fighting back required leaders to organize and encourage individuals.
  • Motivation: be it survival, revenge, or informing the world of the Nazi actions, a goal was essential for a would-be fighter.

By investigating the relative importance of these factors in several instances of armed Jewish resistance, it should become clearer what was required for the average victim to resort to violence.

The article does a good job of briefly exploring these factors and gives examples of Jewish resistance I was previoiusly unaware of (one example I was aware of isn’t mentioned but the conditions there were somewhat unique).

Another factor, which a reader emailed me years ago and I can’t find right now, was that the mindset of people in Germany and Europe in general is much different than that in American and extremely different from that of the gun owners here.  “Authority” was (and probably still is) respected far, far more there than it is here.  If someone in a uniform, carrying a gun or not, gives you an order then you obey.  The concept of an illegal order was out of intellectual and cultural reach.

The article concludes with content which, to me, seems incomprehensible that it needs to be said.  But for someone with a totally alien mindset from mine I suppose it needs to be articulated:

The Holocaust provides several compelling examples of such salvation through violence. The death camp of Belzec operated without significant hindrance until it was closed for a lack of victims to burn after engulfing an estimated 600,000 victims.  After its final trainload of deportees was gassed and cremated, the Jewish staff laborers were shot dead.  To this day, only a handful of prisoners are known to have escaped Belzec alive. One significant difference between Belzec and its sister death camp, Treblinka, is that the killing at Treblinka ceased long before it ran out of victims. The prisoners of Treblinka rose up with arms and were able to escape and burn most of the camp to the ground. Not only were several score of prisoners able to survive to fight on as partisans and bear witness of their tribulations, but they ended the murders at Treblinka. The camp was never rebuilt in the wake of their revolt. The same is true for the extermination camp of Sobibor after the prisoners broke out of the camp, it was shut down. The revolts of the prisoners in both camps were the direct cause of their closure. It is clear that without these rebellions, Jews, Gypsies, and other German “undesirables” would have continued to be executed for weeks to come in these places.

A final, and oft overlooked outcome of the revolts was the reclamation of simple human dignity by the fighters. The individuals incarcerated in the camps of the German extermination system died deliberately starved, beaten, helpless and dehumanized. They were subjected to the most brutal of tortures and the most degrading of conditions. No human being deserves to die in such a state. To fight back gave them the opportunity to have a hand in their fate; it gave them back the dignity that is the essence of being human.

See also my posting “Why Boomershoot?

This is the second posting with a Jewish theme in as many days.  Some of it is coincidence but also I’m reading Harry Turtledove’s book In the Presence of Mine Enemies.  This is an alternate history where the Nazis won WW II and exterminated all but a few Jews who are “hiding” in plain sight.  The book is a bit slow and there are too many bridge games but because this has been a long term topic of interest for me I am enjoying the book.