During World War II many European Jews defied their Nazi oppressors by actively taking part in an underground war of resistance. For these fighters, cultural expression played a vital role in establishing feelings of comradeship and giving strength to individuals who were coping with homesickness, thoughts of families killed or left behind, and feelings of desire for revenge. Set to the melody of a traditional Soviet song, Hirsh Glik’s ‘Zog nit keyn mol’ (Never say), also known as ‘The Partisans' Song’, was adopted as the partisans’ official anthem. Inspired by the story of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the song remains a powerful tribute to the commitment of the Jewish people to fighting for their survival.
Between 20 and 30 thousand Jews escaped from Nazi ghettos and camps to join organized resistance groups and hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish partisans also fought the Nazis They had no arms or ammunition but were successful because they knew the lay of the land and how to use the terrain to their own advantage. Partisans lived in the forests under harsh conditions and faced vicious antisemitism among locals, making it more difficult for the Jewish partisans. Most successful partisan activities took place at night with the help of the local population - For more about Jewish partisans, including testimonies, maps and films see www.jewishpartisans.org
Jews held in eastern European ghettos organized resistance against the Nazis with smuggled and homemade weapons. A famous attempt to resist occurred in the Warsaw ghetto in July 1942. Deportations from the ghetto to the death camp Treblinka began and within seven weeks 300,000 people were sent to their deaths. Reports of this mass murder leaked back to the Warsaw ghetto where a surviving group of mostly young people formed an organization called the Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) The ZOB was led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz, calling for the Jewish people to resist going to the railroad cars. In January of 1943, Warsaw ghetto fighters fired upon Nazi troops as they tried to round up another group of ghetto inhabitants. Fighters used a small supply of weapons that had been smuggled into the ghetto. After a few days, the troops retreated. This small victory inspired the ghetto fighters to prepare for future resistance. On 19th April 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after Nazi troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Nazis. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month the revolt ended 16 May 1943 more than 56,000 Jews captured, most deported to camps A few of the resistance fighters managed to escape from the ghetto and join partisan groups in the forests around Warsaw.
In 1939, Warsaw’s Jewish population was the largest and most socially diverse in Europe and Jews comprised over a third of the city population. When the Ghetto was established in November 1940 there were over 400,000 Jews living in Warsaw. Crammed into a fraction of the city space, in unbearable living conditions, the Jewish community org-anised and sustained a rich and diverse cultural life. It had a symphony orchestra, five theatres, chamber groups, choirs and cafes concerts and informal musical events were held Many new songs were composed in the ghetto providing hope to the ghetto inmates and tributes to the heroism of certain ghetto characters while others criticised the Jewish authorities. However a theme of loss was most prevalent with tales of sadness, despair, and cynicism.