As numbers dwindle, Jews who fought Nazis recall struggle

While most of his fellow Jews were being killed or brutalized in Nazi death camps and ghettos, Baruch Shub and his friends were hiding in the forests of the former Soviet Union, trying to undermine the Nazis by derailing develops, burning bridges, sabotaging communication lines and killing the occasional collaborator.

“You couldn’t really fight the German army, devoted our entails, but we did our best to disrupt them, ” recalled the 94 -year-old Shub at his retirement home in central Israel. “Whether or not it made a difference, I don’t know. But it gave me a great sense of exhilaration that at least I was doing something to get even with them.”

As Israel marks its annual Holocaust memorial day, those aging survivors who actively resisted and helped shape the country’s fighting spirit are quickly disappearing. Shub is among perhaps merely a handful of remaining Soviet partisan fighters. Only two remain from the greatest symbol of resistance of all — the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Israel will come to a standstill Thursday for its annual recollection of the Holocaust’s 6 million victims. It falls on the same date on the Hebrew calendar as the Warsaw uprising — the ultimately doomed uprising that played such an important role in defining the country’s psyche.

Even the day’s official name — “Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day” — alludes to the image of the Jewish warrior upon which the state was founded.

The conditions for resistance were limited, he told, given the all-encompassing scope of the Nazi genocide, but those who could fight back did so. With their actions, he said they continued a tradition dating back to biblical times.

“Jews always fought for their survival and national honor, ” he told. “I want history to remember that Jews did not walking like kine to their slaughter.”

Shub’s mother and three siblings were murdered by Nazis and their local collaborators in his native Lithuania. After a failed uprising in the Vilna ghetto, he escaped to the woods to join the underground network led by famed resistance fighter Abba Kovner. Four brigades of Jewish fighters raided villages for food and supplies and hacked away at communication and electricity lines used by German forces-out, he said.

After the Red Army liberated the ghetto in what is now called Vilnius in 1944, Shub returned to find all its Jews killed by Nazi SS troops. Among the bodies strew on the street is the question of his father. A blood-soaked note in his hand, written in Yiddish, told, “If anyone assures my son, tell him to take revenge.”

Israel’s identity is defined by the axiom that never again will Jews be helpless in the face of extermination. But Shub were afraid that message is being lost. He is angered that a planned museum to honor Jewish fighters, along with the 1.5 million Jewish World War II veterans, has been bogged down in bureaucratic delays for more than a decade.

Dina Porat, chief historian at Israel’s Yad Vashem memorial, said that thanks to the many volumes, movies and gathered evidence, there is little danger of their legacy being erased. Still, the live witness accounts pose a powerful rebuke to the current wave of historical revisionism in several eastern European countries to play down their own wartime complicity.

Survivors have been outraged by a Polish statute criminalizing the blaming of Poland for crimes perpetrated by Germany during the Holocaust. Lithuania also has recently pushed for legislation to prohibit the sale of books that “distort Lithuanian history” by mentioning its complicity. Lithuanian authorities have launched investigations into the partisans’ wartime activities and accused Yitzhak Arad, a former chairman of Yad Vashem, of killing Nazi collaborators who are regarded today as Lithuanian heroes for resisting communism. The charges were later dropped.

“There is a process of rewriting history in these places, ” said Arad, 91, who blew up 16 German supplying develops as a teen. “We are fading away, so it will be up to the next generation to continue this battle with appropriate tools at their disposal.”

There are even fewer who remain from the single greatest act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, which wiped out a third of world Jewry. Though guaranteed to fail, the Warsaw ghetto uprising symbolled a refusal to succumb to Nazi inhumanities, and inspired other mutinies and underground resistance by Jews and non-Jews alike.

Three-quarters of a century later, only 89 -year-old Aliza Vitis-Shomron is left in Israel to tell the story. The only other known surviving fighter, Simcha Rotem, is in ill health.

Vitis-Shomron said the hardest moment was fleeing just before the Nazis defeated her comrades. They had few weapons and it seemed pointless to maintain around a teenage girl who could escape and tell the world what had happened.

“They told I was too young to die, ” said Vitis-Shomron, who has three children, seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. “I still feel guilty that I get out and they stayed.”

Along with her mom and younger sister, she found a cellar to hide in outside the ghetto. She vividly recollects poking a hole in the curtain and watching the red skies above the burning ghetto where her friends were waging war.

The resistance movement began to grow after the deportation of July 22, 1942, when 265,000 men, women and children were rounded up and later killed at the Treblinka death camp. As term of the Nazi genocide spread, a small group of rebels began spreading calls for resistance, carrying out isolated assaults and sabotage.

The Nazis entered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover holiday. Three weeks later, they set the ghetto ablaze, but the Jewish fighters kept up their struggle for nearly a month, fortifying themselves in bunkers and managing to kill 16 Nazis and wound virtually 100.

Vitis-Shomron used to say Mordechai Anielewicz and other fair-looking leaders of the revolt had ample opportunities to escape.

“They are the real heroes, the ones who bided knowing they would die, ” she told. “They had daring and a will to avenge the Nazis and prove that the Jewish people did not resignation. There were those who fought back.”


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