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New exhibition to spotlight stories of Jewish Resistance in the Holocaust

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The Wiener Holocaust Library will highlight these acts of bravery, big and small in a new exhibition opening this week


The stories of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust are ones often overlooked.

But this week, The Wiener Holocaust Library will highlight these acts of bravery, big and small in a new exhibition opening this week.

The exhibition, ‘Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust,’ opens on August 6 and will highlight stories of incredible endurance and bravery, including that of Tosia Altman in German-occupied Poland, who moved in and out of ghettos distributing information and organizing armed revolt; the Jewish slave workers at Auschwitz who worked secretly to smuggle evidence out of the death camp, and the famed story of the Bielski brothers in the forests of Belorussia, whose partisan groups rescued 1200 men, women and children.

Asked what inspired the Library to put together this exhibition, Dr Barbara Warnock, Senior Curator and Head of Education, told IsraelNewsStand that they felt that the story of specifically Jewish resistance to the Holocaust “is not much known, certainly in this country. 

“We wanted to showcase the unique archival collections that we hold relating to this subject,” she explained. “We also wanted to emphasize the range and variety of Jewish resistance to the Holocaust that occurred right across Europe during the Holocaust.”

During the Holocaust, Jewish partisan groups and underground resistance networks launched attacks, sabotage operations and rescue missions. 

“Resistance groups in ghettos organised social, religious, cultural and educational activities and armed uprisings in defiance of their oppressors,” the Weiner Holocaust Library said in a press release. “In death camps, in the most extreme circumstances, resisters gathered evidence of Nazi atrocities and even mounted armed rebellions.”

Philipp Manes, a German Jew and prolific writer, was deported to Theresienstadt in July 1942. Manes was key to the cultural life in the ghetto and he documented his experiences in great detail.
(Credit: Wiener Holocaust Library Collection)

According to Warnock, the exhibition will also focus on many of the lesser known stories of heroism and resistance during the Holocaust.

“For example the story of Tosia Altman, who moved from ghetto to ghetto in occupied Poland using false papers: she brought information and arms to the ghettos and was involved in the Warsaw ghetto uprising,” Warnock said.

Other stories, she pointed out, include that of Michail Gebelev, who liaised between resistors inside and outside of the Minsk ghetto and organised mass escapes. 

“He refused to escape himself,” Warnock added.

“We also highlight the Baum Group, who distributed leaflets publicizing the brutality and atrocities of the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 and launched an arson attack on a Nazi exhibition in 1942, and Rauchla Coperbac who was a member of the Partisan Army in Belgium,” she described. “Coperbac’s story is one of a number of stories of Jewish resistance featured in the Library’s eyewitness accounts to the Holocaust that have never been on display before this exhibition.”

During the Holocaust, there were also instances of cultural resistance “like that of Philipp Manes, but also, very personal to the Library, our founder’s eldest daughter, Ruth Wiener, kept a diary whilst imprisoned in both Westerbork and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, and we have this diary.”

The Wiener Holocaust Library’s new exhibition also looks at the Library’s “unique archival collections to tell the story of the Jewish men and women who, as the Holocaust unfolded around them and at great risk to themselves, resisted the Nazis and their collaborators.”

The Library said that the exhibition also explores individual, acts of resistance like Anne Frank in hiding in Amsterdam, “the clandestine religious worship practiced in ghettos, and the testimonies buried in Auschwitz by victims of Nazi persecution.

“Jews resisted whenever they had the opportunity, in dangerous and even impossible circumstances,” the Library stressed.

Addressing why it’s important to tell these stories to the next generation, Warnock told IsraelNewsStand that “the story of Jewish resistance in the Holocaust is sometimes overlooked and we believe it should be a central part of teaching about the Holocaust. 

“It is important to highlight the stories of the Jewish men and women who, as the Holocaust unfolded around them and at great risk to themselves, resisted the Nazis and their collaborators,” she concluded.

*Featured Image: Jewish Lithuanian partisans’ group ‘The Avengers’ on their return to Vilna at the time of the liberation of the city by the Red Army, July 1944. (Credit: Wiener Holocaust Library Collections)

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