This blog post is part of a past series that highlighted stories of Jewish responses to the Holocaust as it unfolded. These stories are some of those told in the Museum’s past exhibition Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust.
Exhibition text edited for online use by Noa Gutow-Ellis, Collections and Exhibitions Assistant and Treva Walsh, Collections Project Manager
On February 28, 1933, one month after rising to power, Adolf Hitler suspended civil rights in Germany. By April, Jews were excluded from the civil service. In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws deprived them of Reich citizenship, and after Kristallnacht in 1938, Jews were barred from public schools and universities, cinemas, theaters, and sports facilities, and many were imprisoned in concentration camps. Similar fates awaited the Jews of Austria and the Sudentenland over the following year.
Germany invaded Poland on September 1, 1939. Anti-Jewish acts, including forced labor, physical abuse, and murder, began immediately and went unpunished. Forced ghettoization soon followed.
Between the springs of 1942 and 1943, the majority of the Nazis’ victims were systematically deported and murdered in death camps. It was because of this period that the name Auschwitz entered our language as a synonym for evil. After March 1943, Hungary was the only remaining major Jewish community in Europe. Beginning in May 1944, the Hungarian authorities and Adolf Eichmann oversaw the deportation of 440,000 Jews, mostly from places near Budapest and mostly to Auschwitz, in less than two months.
Given the kaleidoscopic rapidity with which these events unfolded – in a mere eleven years – and the unprecedented scope and nature of the assaults, it is astonishing that Jews were able to resist in any way. But they did, in many ways, and the 2008 exhibition Daring to Resist: Jewish Defiance in the Holocaust conveyed to visitors the breadth of these responses.
Before the Holocaust, Jews lived in many places in Eastern, Central, and Western Europe: in cities, small towns and rural communities, and in many different circumstances. They were wealthy or poor, religious or secular, culturally sophisticated or insular. These diverse contexts framed and molded the reactions of individual Jews and diverse communities throughout the Holocaust. But they were particularly important at the beginning of the Shoah, when past experience was the only guide people had for understanding the present or attempting to predict the future.
Over the next few weeks, this blog series will detail some of the Jewish responses to the Holocaust as it unfolded. These responses changed over the course of the Holocaust and ranged from efforts to maintain dignity in spite of Nazi affronts and strategies to save lives, to projects documenting Nazi crimes and the organization of armed resistance.