Jewish fighters

“Heroic girls… Courageously they commute between the cities of Poland… Every day they are in mortal danger… Nothing can stop them. Nothing deters them…” wrote the Polish-Jewish historian and head of the underground archive in the Warsaw Ghetto, Emanuel Ringelblum, in his diary in May 1942.

Unfortunately, little is known about the fact that women actively and violently resisted National Socialist rule and it is apparently difficult to reconcile with classic role models (see the title story in DAMALS 1-2022). The fact that Jewish women also successfully joined the armed struggle is documented in a book by Canadian historian Judy Batalion. Based on extensive source research in archives and libraries as well as interviews with contemporary witnesses and their relatives, the author vividly tells of the impressive resistance of young Jewish women in Poland in particular against the brutal murder of their families and the destruction of their houses and villages.

Their impressive commitment was not limited to the all-important courier services with secret messages, they also organized food and counterfeit goods
papers, bribed Gestapo officials, smuggled weapons, built underground bunkers, bombed train lines, threw hand grenades, fought with guns – often losing their lives in the process.

Jewish women were less conspicuous and could not be unmasked as easily as the circumcised men. In addition, they often spoke Polish without an accent in addition to Yiddish. One of the few who survived was Renia Kukielka, who was able to work as a maid with a Catholic family. She transported weapons and hid Jews from the ghetto until the Gestapo arrested and tortured her. With the help of other women, she was able to break out and flee to Palestine. She wrote down her experiences, but did not talk about them with her family. She did not apply for financial compensation in Germany because she did not want to repeat her experiences.

Judy Batalion records the moving stories and deeds of women, but also describes the suffering in Gestapo interrogations, in prisons and concentration camps, which only a few survived. She addresses the long suppressed sexual violence against Jewish women and the difficult situation of the surviving resistance fighters after 1945. They too felt guilty because they survived and could not save everyone. They too could not talk about it with their children or were often not heard.

Batalion’s book is especially important because it gives a voice to these brave women. The easy-to-read presentation closes a serious gap in the history of National Socialism.

Review: Prof. Dr. dr Rainer Hering

Judy Battalion
Never say there is only death for us
The forgotten story of Jewish women freedom fighters
Piper Verlag, Munich 2021, 622 pages, € 25.00

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