On 20 January 1942 top-ranking members of the SS and Hitler’s government met in a Wannsee villa. They came to the Berlin suburb to discuss the destruction of European Jewry. The conference turned Jewish resistance into a fight for life.
The Nazis had already massacred Jews in occupied eastern Europe and the Balkans. But now SS General Reinhard Heydrich, chief of the Reich Security Main Office and deputy of Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, stated that about 11 million Jews across Europe were to be annihilated. The figure included Jews in the Reich, occupied countries, other Axis and satellite states, neutral countries and the United Kingdom.
Heydrich said these Jews were to be deported to eastern Europe and submitted to forced labour. He omitted detailing the planned extermination but added:
a large number will doubtlessly be lost through natural reduction. Any final remnant that survives will clearly consist of the elements most capable of resistance. They must be dealt with appropriately, since, representing the fruit of natural selection, they are to be regarded as the core of a new Jewish revival.
This determination to destroy Jewry altered the nature of Jewish resistance.
So far, Jews had reacted in various ways to Nazi persecution. They upheld their religion and culture. They refused to be terrorised. They fought back. They protested loudly and publicly. They produced clandestine publications and helped distribute them, often with great risk to their own safety. They co-founded or joined general, that is not specifically Jewish resistance groups. Compared to non-Jews, a relatively large number of Jews joined these groups. They provided shelter, false documents and food for resistance groups. Jews were also forerunners of armed resistance.
All this activity continued, but now Jewish resistance became a desperate fight for life.
How Jewish resistance to the Holocaust developed and saved lives is described in a series of posts, to be published on this website over the next few months.
My new book, Individuals and Small Groups in Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust. A Case Study of a Young Couple and their Friends, is published by Anthem Press.