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Holocaust Heroes: Resistance to Hitler's 'Final Solution'

Holocaust Heroes: Resistance to Hitler's 'Final Solution'

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Holocaust Heroes: Resistance to Hitler's 'Final Solution'

286 pagine
3 ore
Sep 19, 2016


This inspiring book examines the often incredible and nearly always tragic examples of Jewish resistance in ghettos and concentration camps during the Nazis ‘Final Solution. It shows that the Warsaw Uprising in Poland during April to May 1944 was not the only occasion of defiant opposition. Throughout the Nazis extermination programme Jews and other prisoners fought back against their murderers, often with stunning results. The Germans were nearly always taken by surprise by the sudden emergence of armed Jewish resistance and often paid dearly. This happened in ghettos and concentration campos (including Treblinka, Auschwitz, Syrels and Sobibor) throughout Poland and the Ukraine. Some Jews tried to stop the machinery of the Holocaust by rising up and destroying the gas chambers while others bravely tried to take over an extermination camp and escape en masse. In virtually every case the brave men and women who volunteered to fight back paid with their lives. Importantly these men and women are not just portrayed as victims but also as brave and resourceful fighters and resisters against their tragic fate. These are stories that are uplifting, inspiring and often profoundly moving.
Sep 19, 2016

Informazioni sull'autore

Mark Felton has written over a dozen books on prisoners of war, Japanese war crimes and Nazi war criminals, and writes regularly for magazines such as Military History Monthly and World War II including China Station: The British Military in the Middle Kingdom, 1839-1997. After almost a decade teaching in Shanghai he has returned to Colechester, England where he lives with his wife and son.

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Holocaust Heroes - Mark Felton


First published in Great Britain in 2016 by


an imprint of

Pen & Sword Books Ltd

47 Church Street


South Yorkshire

S70 2AS

Copyright © Mark Felton, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78340-057-7

PDF ISBN: 978-1-47388-185-3

EPUB ISBN: 978-1-47388-184-6

PRC ISBN: 978-1-47388-183-9

The right of Mark Felton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library.

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission from the Publisher in writing.

Typeset by Concept, Huddersfield HD4 5JL.

Printed and bound in England by CPI Group (UK) Ltd, Croydon CR0 4YY.

Pen & Sword Books Ltd incorporates the imprints of Pen & Sword Archaeology, Atlas, Aviation, Battleground, Discovery, Family History, History, Maritime, Military, Naval, Politics, Railways, Select, Social History, Transport, True Crime, and Claymore Press, Frontline Books, Leo Cooper, Praetorian Press, Remember When, Seaforth Publishing and Wharncliffe.

For a complete list of Pen & Sword titles please contact


47 Church Street, Barnsley, South Yorkshire, S70 2AS, England



To Fang Fang,

with love as always


List of Plates

SS-Obersturmbannführer Adolf Eichmann, Reinhard Heydrich’s deputy and one of the principal architects of the Holocaust.

Mark Edelman, one of the leaders of Jewish resistance during the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, 1943.

SS-Hauptsturmführer Franz Stangl, Commandant of Treblinka II.

Leon Feldhendler, co-leader of the Sonderkommando uprising at Sobibor Extermination Camp, 1943.

SS-Oberscharführer Karl Frenzel, Commandant of Camp 1, Sobibor Extermination Camp.

SS-Oberscharführer Erich Muhsfeldt, who was brought in to help organise the liquidation of Poniatowa Concentration Camp as part of Aktion Erntefest, 1943.

Jews being loaded aboard trains in Warsaw for shipment to Treblinka Extermination Camp, 1942.

SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, ordered by Heinrich Himmler to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto, 1943.

Jews being rounded up during the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, 1943.

The Jewish Ghetto in Warsaw ablaze, 1943.

SS-TV corporals at Treblinka II Extermination Camp in 1943. SS-Unterscharführers Paul Bredow, Willi Mentz, Max Möller and Josef Hirtreiter.

Treblinka II on fire during the prisoner uprising, 2 August 1943.

Bialystok Ghetto in ruins following the Jewish uprising, 1943.

An Aktion Erntefest mass grave.

Jews arriving at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 1944.

Hungarian Jews undergoing selection on the ramp at Auschwitz-Birkenau, May 1944.

A clandestinely taken photograph of Jewish Sonderkommandos burning corpses at Auschwitz-Birkenau, August 1944.

Another clandestinely taken photograph showing naked Jewish women being herded to their deaths, Auschwitz-Birkenau, 1 August 1944.

US troops executing surrendered SS in the rail yard at Dachau Concentration Camp, 29 April 1945.

Dead SS guards who were shot outside a guard tower by US troops, Dachau, 29 April 1945.


The author would like to acknowledge the very kind assistance of staff at the following institutions: The National Archives (Public Record Office), Kew; Yad Vashem Archives, Jerusalem; New Jersey Jewish News; Imperial War Museum, London; The Times of Israel; Jewish Virtual Library; The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington DC; The British Library, London; Cambridge University Library; and The University of Essex Library. Many thanks as always to my wonderfully talented wife Fang Fang for her advice and practical assistance during the research and writing of this book.


The force that has overcome Europe and destroyed entire states within days could cope with us, a handful of youngsters. It was an act of desperation … We aspired to only one thing: to sell our lives for the highest possible price.’

Mordechai Tenenbaum

Ghetto Resistance Fighter

Hände hoch!’ yelled angry-looking SS troopers at the bedraggled Jewish fighters who slowly and awkwardly emerged from a hole beneath the shattered remains of a tall apartment block in Warsaw. ‘Schnell!’ screamed the Germans, as MP40 machine pistols and Mauser rifles were levelled menacingly at the men and women who stumbled into the dirty, smoke-obscured sunlight on the shattered street. The Jews’ lean faces were blackened from the smoky fires that ravaged the streets, their clothes torn and dishevelled. Many threw down their pitifully small number of weapons at the feet of the SS; a few old pistols, the occasional bolt-action rifle, as well as knives and other home-made devices. The SS corralled the Jews against the wall of the apartment block. All around could be heard the rough clunk of pistol or rifle shots as resistance continued elsewhere in the ghetto, and often the reply of German automatic weapons. Fires burned everywhere, columns of black smoke rising high into the sky. The SS troopers were almost as dirty as the Jews they hunted, their haggard expressions and sweat-stained uniforms evidence of the terrific level of resistance that they had unexpectedly encountered. They were also in no mood to take prisoners, particularly ‘sub-human’ Jews.

‘Line up!’ demanded an SS sergeant, MP40 machine pistol in his hands. The Jews were pushed roughly back against the wall. Their eyes betrayed no emotion, except perhaps a grim recognition of what was to follow. They had never been under any illusions – it had always been a fight to the death. Either resist the planned deportations to the terrible camps that everyone in the Ghetto had heard about, or fight back and take a few of the Nazi bastards with them. Exhausted, malnourished, half-deaf from constant combat and with many among them wounded, the Jewish ghetto fighters showed no fear. The SS sergeant took a few paces back from the line of Jews and turned to his squad. He said nothing, just nodded curtly. The German weapons barked out, the Jews falling back against the wall under a hail of bullets. Then the sergeant went among them, checking for anyone still alive. Spotting movement, he quickly drew his Luger pistol and fired a single shot into the man’s head. ‘Right, move out,’ the sergeant said to his men, wearily. Another Jewish position had been eliminated. But to many in the SS, it seemed as though the job of rooting out the Jewish ‘terrorists’ would last forever. Didn’t these people realize that they were already dead?

Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s Final Solution occurred throughout Europe many times and it was to take many different forms. As the Jews were progressively relieved of their human rights and property, and herded into walled sections of cities, resistance organizations began to be created from among the imprisoned ghetto populations. Mostly young idealists, they were in the main not trained soldiers but ordinary citizens who were outraged by what was being done to their communities by the German invaders, and who felt that they had to prepare to defend themselves and their loved ones from an increasingly homicidal Nazi racial policy. Some managed to leave the towns and cities and take to the forests to form Jewish partisan groups, striking at the Germans whenever they could and trying to save as many of their own people from destruction as possible. The Germans encountered the most well-organised and ferocious resistance when they began to liquidate the many ghettos that they had created to house the Jews. Most famous is the Warsaw Uprising in 1943, but what occurred in the Polish capital was repeated on a smaller, but no less vicious and lethal scale in ghettos throughout Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, as Jews, weakened by hunger, disease and privation, decided to fight rather than submit themselves to transportation to the death camps. It was not a decision that was entered into lightly. Resistance was almost guaranteed to earn a death sentence from the Germans, but what were the alternatives?

It is now clear that many thousands of primarily young Jews, both men and women, decided that the only course of action was to stand up to the Nazis. In doing so, the resisters faced almost insuperable obstacles. They lacked proper weapons, and were forced to engage in combat with extremely well-armed German units. The Jews were armed only with a few pistols and rifles, home-made Molotov cocktails and whatever weapons they could take from German dead. The Nazis also had tanks, artillery and aircraft, and had no hesitation in deploying these weapons against civilians. Tens of thousands perished as the Nazis ruthlessly crushed Jewish rebellions with the utmost ferocity and violence, but the desperate ghetto fighters also killed many Germans.

Judged against what happened to Jewish ghetto populations after they were transported to the camps, it is clear that though this resistance may appear unwise, even foolish, it was not entered into with any hope of victory, rather of showing the Germans that they couldn’t kill Jews with impunity.

Later, in the concentration camps, many Jews still refused to submit to the Nazis, and in several famous incidents they rose up and attempted to escape in large numbers or to destroy the apparatus that was responsible for eliminating them as a people. The German response was predictably barbaric and coldly ruthless.

The story of Jewish resistance is of a people driven to the very edge of destruction, but who somehow managed to find the will to fight back, even though they knew that they could make only symbolic acts in the face of German military might. As Jewish partisan leader Tuvia Bielski said: ‘We may be hunted like animals, but we will not become animals … Every day of freedom is an act of faith.’ When the Jews rose up in ghettos and camps across Nazi-occupied Europe, they were, for a few days at least, free. But not only the Jews fought back during the Final Solution. Other ‘out’ groups whom the Nazis imprisoned made their own bids for freedom, some in company with Jewish prisoners, others on their own. The story of Soviet prisoner-of-war uprisings and gypsy resistance has its place in the wider story of the Holocaust. All who rose and resisted were free to choose the manner of their deaths rather than submit to one chosen for them by the Nazis. The hope was always present that some would survive the firestorm to bear witness, and without such acts of defiance we might never have known the full story of the Holocaust.

Chapter 1

The Road to Auschwitz

There can be no compromise – there are only two possibilities: either victory of the Aryan or annihilation of the Aryan and the victory of the Jew.’

Adolf Hitler, 1922

Nazi anti-Semitism had deep roots that by the mid-nineteenth century had become well entrenched throughout Germany and in many other parts of Europe. The Jews had suffered varying levels of violence and persecution for centuries. The great German philosopher Martin Luther had desired that the Jews be driven from Europe, and expulsion or confinement to ghettos had been the fate of many Jewish communities down the centuries. But by the nineteenth century the Jews were beginning to be assimilated into a handful of Western nations, Britain and the United States in particular, whilst remaining outcasts in Poland and the Russian Empire.

Anti-Semitism in Germany had emerged hand-in-hand with the growing popularity of German nationalism. One of its first proponents was the Völkisch movement, developed from the books of popular anti-Semites like the English writer Houston Stewart Chamberlain, which presented the theory that the Jews were locked in a mortal battle with the Aryans for world domination. As the Jews further assimilated into German and other Western cultures, the idea emerged that the Jew was assimilating only to secretly control the levers of political and economic power. Such ideas found a receptive audience among the membership of such organizations as the Völkisch Movement and other extreme nationalist groups.

Instead of viewing Judaism as a religion, the followers of the Völkisch movement and other anti-Semitic ideologies classified the Jews as a race, and therefore as ‘outsiders’ to the mainstream population. A German Jew, in their eyes, was not really a ‘German’, but a kind of national imposter. As early as 1895, prominent public figures in Germany were calling for the Jews to be ‘exterminated’ for the common good.

‘The signer hereby swears to the best of his knowledge and belief that no Jewish or coloured blood flows in either his or in his wife’s veins, and that among their ancestors are no members of the coloured races.’¹ This oath was taken by members of another German ultranationalist group, the Order of the Teutons, founded in 1912, and indicates how entrenched racism and religious intolerance was.

The Germans already had a dark heritage of ethnic cleansing, stemming from their ill-fated attempts at creating an African empire. In German South-West Africa, now Namibia, the Imperial German Army committed genocide against the Herero and Namaqua peoples, including the creation of early concentration camps. By the outbreak of the First World War, German anti-Semitism and its handmaiden pseudoscientific racism were widely accepted throughout the nation, and what had started as fringe beliefs had moved into the mainstream political world.

The Nazi Party, founded in 1920, was a natural if extreme offshoot of the new German worldview, having its roots firmly in the Völkisch and Teutonic movements, as well as being avid supporters of Social Darwinism and eugenics. Charles Darwin’s idea of the survival of the fittest was particularly popular in defeated Germany, where the Great Depression had followed hard on the heels of the humiliating Treaty of Versailles, events that caused widespread poverty and economic hardship among all classes of Germans and led many to seek outlets for their frustrations in extremist politics of both the Left and the Right. Many Germans, among them the fledgling Nazi Party, at this time even advocated state-sponsored euthanasia to remove the mentally retarded and physically disabled in order to save the nation money.

Even some sections of German society that were against euthanasia on moral grounds, for example the Catholic Church, contained many anti-Semites. Hatred and distrust of the Jews was much wider than those who were supporters of the Nazi Party, but once Hitler swept to power in January 1933, anti-Semitism was given free rein, alongside the propagation of the ideas of Aryan supremacy that were central to National Socialist thought.

The Nazis divided German society, known as ‘Völksgemeinschaft’ (People’s Community), into two distinct halves. Citizens were categorized as either ‘Völksgenossen’ (National Comrades) or ‘Gemeinschaftsfremde’ (Community Aliens). The second category included the Jews, gypsies, communists, liberals and even some Christians. Some groups due for persecution fell into the first category and were labelled as ‘wayward’ National Comrades. These included homosexuals, the permanently unemployed and habitual criminals. These groups could be ‘re-educated’ with a stint inside one of Germany’s new concentration camps, such as that established in 1933 at Dachau outside Munich.

The Jews and the Bolsheviks could not be ‘re-educated’ or rehabilitated – to the Nazis, they were simply race enemies. It was the intention early on in Hitler’s dictatorship to completely remove Jews from German society. Hitler had made no secret of his desire to rid Germany of its Jews, as any perusal of his political manifesto, Mein Kampf, starkly demonstrates.

From the moment Hitler became Chancellor on 30 January 1933, life for Germany’s Jews began to deteriorate rapidly. On 1 April, the Nazis organized a boycott of Jewish-owned businesses, following this with new racial laws that barred Jews from various professions. Jews were thrown out of the civil service, banned from practising medicine and even banned from farming. Jews were also barred from being lawyers and judges, and this was often violently enforced, with Jewish judges being beaten and thrown out of their own courts in one dreadful incident. Later, the Jews were excluded from schools and universities, from the media and from owning or editing newspapers. The idea was to make life so economically and socially difficult for Jews that they would rather leave Germany than remain voluntarily and ride out the storm. But before they did, the Nazis enforced a sterilization programme to prevent the Jews from procreating. Compulsory sterilization of Jews judged by Nazi doctors to be ‘hereditarily diseased’ began in 1935, resulting in over 400,000 people losing their human right to a family.

At the same time, the institution of marriage came under attack from the Nazis. From 1935, Aryans were prohibited from marrying or having sexual relations with Jews, blacks, gypsies or ‘their bastard offspring’. Those Germans who were already in mixed-religion or mixed-race marriages faced the prospect of their family unit coming under direct assault from their own government.

Unsurprisingly, a great many Jews chose to leave Germany for good, including some of its greatest minds. Albert Einstein fled in 1933, and Dr Sigmund Freud moved to Britain after Germany’s annexation of Austria in 1938. Writers, artists, musicians, composers, actors and many other creative and talented Jews moved to other European countries or the United States.

The one event that hastened the pace of Jewish emigration was a carefully orchestrated orgy of violence against them in 1938 that came to be called Kristallnacht, due to the amount of broken glass left in Germany’s streets afterwards. The pretext for the ‘Night of Broken Glass’ pogrom was the assassination in Paris of a senior German diplomat, Ernst von Rath, by an idealistic Jewish teenager named Herschel Grimspan, who was appalled and angered by the Nazis’ treatment of his fellow Jews. The Nazis exploited this event to the maximum and used it to whip up racist violence against German, Austrian and Sudeten (an area of Czechoslovakia ceded to Germany by that year’s Munich Agreement) Jews. The Nazis’ private army, the Sturmabteilung or ‘Brownshirts’, caused most of the damage as they rampaged through German cities and towns, hunting for Jews and smashing up their businesses. Jews were badly beaten, and their businesses and places of worship vandalized. The official Jewish death toll, as admitted to by the Nazis, was ninety-one, although many more than this undoubtedly perished. In addition, over 7,000 Jewish shops and 1,200 synagogues were damaged or destroyed. Some 30,000 Jews were arrested and sent to Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald or Oranienburg concentration camps, and only released weeks later if they agreed to sign over their assets to the Nazis and leave the Third Reich. In addition, the Jews were forced to pay the Nazis a so-called ‘atonement tax’ for the damage caused to Jewish property, in the region of a billion Reichsmarks. Kristallnacht convinced many Jews that emigration was really their only remaining option if they wished to have any meaningful existence as human beings.

The man who was charged by the Nazis with removing the Jews from the Third Reich was a tall, blond, horse-faced former naval officer. Reinhard Heydrich had been appointed head of the Sicherheitsdienst (SD), the Nazi security service, in 1932 at the age of 28. In June 1936, Heydrich had also been appointed to command the Sicherheitspolizei or SiPo, the Nazi security police, while another senior Nazi, Heinrich Müller, retained control of the dreaded Gestapo. Heydrich, as Heinrich Himmler’s deputy in the SS, rapidly became one of the most powerful leaders in the Nazi state, and one of its most feared. He was able to exercise his awesome power to deadly effect in late 1940 following the so-called Nacht und Nebel (‘Night and Fog’) Decree, where his security forces effected the ‘disappearance’ of over 7,000 enemies of the state, a figure that included a high proportion of Jews.

Regarding the so-called ‘Jewish Question’, the Nazis initially viewed emigration as the solution to the problem of removing them from the Third Reich. The problem was: where

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