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Section: Resistance, Responses and Collaboration

Opposition

Within the Warsaw Ghetto, the historian Emanuel Ringelblum opposed Nazi rule by creating an archive of evidence of Nazi crimes. Facing the threat of deportation to Treblinka extermination camp, the organisers of the Oyneg Shabes archive buried their extensive collection in milk cans, such as the one pictured here, and metal boxes. After the war, some of this record was dug up and rediscovered.

Within the Warsaw Ghetto, the historian Emanuel Ringelblum opposed Nazi rule by creating an archive of evidence of Nazi crimes. Facing the threat of deportation to Treblinka extermination camp, the organisers of the Oyneg Shabes archive buried their extensive collection in milk cans, such as the one pictured here, and metal boxes. After the war, some of this record was dug up and rediscovered.

Courtesy of The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Opposition to the Nazi regime manifested in different ways from different groups throughout occupied Europe – from sabotage, to collecting evidence, to the decimating secret writings.

This section will explore examples of how different people and groups opposed the Nazis.

Sabotage

Many people and groups opposed Nazi rule by sabotaging the machinery, buildings or equipment being used for the war effort.

Partisans

Various groups of partisans across occupied Europe undertook efforts to oppose the Nazis through extensive sabotage. These efforts ranged from destroying railway lines, to cutting signalling cables, to setting factories on fire and stealing equipment. The efforts of these groups caused severe damage to infrastructure and considerable delays in production.

Low productivity

Some workers attempted to sabotage the Nazis’ aims by being purposefully unproductive.

Across the Third Reich, many non-Jewish workers were forced to work long hours for little extra pay as Germany sought to expand its territory and, eventually, war production. These conditions, and the repressive nature of the Nazi state, generated resentment from workers. Many purposefully maintained low productivity to undermine the Nazis’ efforts. This type of action had little risk attached to it (as retribution for actions such as riots was severe), but successfully expressed workers’ discontent with the regime and the war.

Forced and slave labourers across Europe were also unproductive due to their anti-Nazi beliefs and awful working conditions. In the camps, many workers tampered with equipment and maintained as low productivity as possible (even though this often resulted in punishment).

Collecting evidence: Oneg Shabbat

Within the Warsaw Ghetto, the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, in collaboration with others such as Rachel Auerbach, opposed Nazi rule by creating an archive of evidence of Nazi crimes.

Ringelblum initially started the project by himself in October 1939, but it soon grew into a group endeavour known as Oyneg Shabes, a Yiddish term which refers to traditional community meetings on Sabbath.

The archivists collected testimonies, reports about daily life in the ghetto, data on forced labour, details of the Jüdenrat policy, drawings, rations cards, theatre posters, poems, posters announcing Jewish deportations and more.

Facing the threat of deportation to Treblinka extermination camp, Oyneg Shabes buried their extensive collection in milk cans and metal boxes to prevent the archive from falling into the hands of the Nazis. After the war, some of this record was recovered by the handful of survivors of the group.

Tarnschriften

Tarnschriften is a German word meaning secret or hidden writings.

In Nazi Germany, Tarnschriften referred to anti-Nazi or illegal leaflets and pamphlets camouflaged as everyday publications. Groups such as the communists used Tarnschriften to spread their message and oppose the Nazis. They hoped that the writings would inspire dissent against Nazi rule.

Typically, the front and back pages of Tarnschriften were disguised with non-political content, such as advertisements for tea or shampoo, which concealed the anti-Nazi messages inside.

In total, more than a thousand Tarnschriften were published on a variety of topics, with many thousands of copies per title. Most were published before the war, between 1933 and 1939, although some were published later.

Religion in camps and ghettos

In a totalitarian state, where the Nazis aimed to control every aspect of everyday life, many Jews opposed Nazi rule by continuing to take part in religious activities within the camps and ghettos, despite these often being explicitly banned.

Examples of these activities include praying, attending secret ceremonies, studying religious texts, celebrating Jewish holidays, and carrying out birth rituals. This type of Jewish opposition was relatively common: in the Warsaw Ghetto alone, over 600 prayer groups existed and gathered in secret to practice Judaism.

The punishments for continuing this form of opposition were harsh.

DID YOU KNOW...

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel (30 September 1928 – 2 July 2016) was a Romanian Holocaust survivor, academic, political activist and author. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. Wiesel was also instrumental in the creation of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

In his account of his time in Auschwitz entitled ‘Night’, Wiesel discusses how, as some people continued to pray and partake in religious activities to oppose the Nazis, his imprisonment made him question his Jewish faith and the existence of god.

On evening activities in the camp Wiesel wrote: ‘Some talked of God, of his mysterious ways, of the sins of the Jewish people, and of their future deliverance. But I had ceased to pray. How I sympathised with Job! I did not deny God’s existence, but I doubted His absolute justice’ [Elie Wiesel, Night, translated by Stella Rodway (London: Penguin, 1981), p.53].

Whilst many continued to oppose the Nazis through on-going religious practice, some, like Wiesel, questioned their faith. Each person reacted differently to their circumstances of persecution.

After the war, Wiesel referred to himself as an agnostic.

Elie Wiesel

Elie Wiesel, aged fifteen.

[Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.]

Public condemnation: the T4 programme and the Bishop of Münster

Clements August Count von Galen (1878-1946) was a Catholic Bishop in Munster. Whilst he expressed strong nationalist views, he was a critic of the Nazi regime from 1934. He is most well-known for his sermons condemning the T-4 programme in 1941. He died in 1946.

Clements August Count von Galen (1878-1946) was a Catholic Bishop in Munster. Whilst he expressed strong nationalist views, he was a critic of the Nazi regime from 1934. He is most well-known for his sermons condemning the T-4 programme in 1941. He died in 1946.

Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain.

Some people publically opposed the Nazis or specific Nazi policies. Due to the Nazis’ extreme punishment methods, this type of opposition was rare. One prominent example was the Bishop of Munster’s public opposition to the T-4 euthanasia programme.

T-4 was the code name for the Nazis’ euthanasia programme which murdered disabled people. Starting in 1939, the Nazis killed disabled adults and children living in state-run nursing homes or hospitals, in line with their views on racial superiority. Whilst the programme was carried out in secret, the scale of the operation meant it soon became hard to conceal. On 13 August 1941, the Bishop of Münster, Clements August Count von Galen, gave a sermon condemning the programme.

Hitler and the Nazis were, especially at this stage of the war, very conscious of public opinion – especially from an institution as historic and large as the Catholic Church. As a result, Hitler publicly stopped the programme on 24 August 1941.

However, although von Galen’s public opposition to the Nazis programme resulted in its official closure, T-4 carried on in a decentralised form.

By 1945, a total of approximately 70,000 disabled people were murdered through the programme.

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Religion in camps and ghettos

Religion in camps and ghettos

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