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Showing posts with label Upstanders. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Upstanders. Show all posts

Monday, September 26, 2016

Citizens of Denmark Foiled the Nazis' Deportation Plan on Rosh Hashana

Their mission was supposed to be easy – armed with a list of addresses, small teams (made up of men from the SS and one Danish guide) would fan out across Copenhagen and northern Zealand, and round up Denmark's 8,000 Jews who would be at home with their families observing Rosh Hashanah. They planned to send the entire population to Nazi extermination camps across Europe.

The second day of Rosh Hashana fell on October 1st, 1943, roughly a month after the resignation of the Danish government – the last political obstacle between the citizens of Denmark and Hitler’s plans to implement the “Final Solution” and eliminate all Danish Jews.

In most cases, however, the round-up teams found empty houses and apartments waiting for them. The entire Jewish population had been warned days in advance to go into hiding and to spread the word about the planned deportations. By the time the SS began knocking on doors, most of the country’s Jews were either in hiding, or on their way to the coast. Most eventually made it safely across the Øresund strait into neutral Sweden.

The majority of Denmark’s Jewish population escaped Nazi persecution, and their casualties were the lowest in all of occupied Europe. How were the Danes so successful in such a blatant act of resistance against the Nazis?

“A model protectorate”

Because of the tolerant and inclusive climate Jews have enjoyed in Denmark since the Napoleonic Wars, Danish society, by and large, considered Danish Jews to be Danes, first and foremost. Danish Jews were granted full citizenship rights almost a hundred years prior to World War II. The Danish monarch, King Christian X, defiantly insisted on visiting the central synagogue in Copenhagen even after Hitler came to power in Germany, becoming the first Nordic monarch to visit a synagogue. (However, the popular tale of the king wearing the yellow star in solidarity with Danish Jews is a myth1.) As a result of such a social climate, the people of Denmark, and the Danish Underground, naturally rallied together to hide and smuggle their fellow citizens without any friction. Many smugglers did not charge for passage, and even the Danish police helped in the rescue effort.

Germany was reluctant to pressure the Danes for several reasons. First, the Nazis hoped to promote occupied Denmark as an example of a “model protectorate” to the world. Second,Danish meat and dairy provided sustenance to over 3 million Germans. Upsetting this balance would have had negative political consequences for the Reich. Even ideologically-committed Nazis saw the need for moderation, although increased activity by the Danish Resistance, and the grim news from the Eastern Front, made moderation untenable to Hitler by mid-1943. Although the orders came from the very top, at first the Gestapo did not allocate enough manpower for the mission, and the unenthusiastic German army and navy units called in to support them often turned a blind eye to escapees.

The effort to rescue Denmark's Jews was successful, due in large part to the efforts of ordinary citizens, but prominent public figures also made significant contributions.Georg Ferdinand Duckwitz, a German maritime attaché and a secret moderate, had lived in Scandinavian countries for many years and enjoyed a warm relationship with Denmark’s elites. On September 28th, he leaked word of the planned deportations to the leader of the Social Democrats, and the news spread across all levels of civil society. Nobel physicist Niels Bohr played a part - he petitioned the king of Sweden to make public his offer of asylum to Danish Jews shortly after he himself was smuggled into Sweden en route to the US to work on the top-secret Manhattan Project. Though it is uncertain how this plea factored into the decision, Sweden announced its offer of asylum on the 2nd of October.

In the end, the Nazis managed to deport only around 450 Jews; most were sent to Theresienstadt, where they remained until the end of the war. Because of pressure from Danish authorities, and frequent visits from the Red Cross, the Nazis accepted packages of food and medicine for the prisoners. More importantly, they were persuaded not to deport the Danes to the Auschwitz extermination camp – a fate that would have meant certain death. An estimated 120 Danish Jews lost their lives in the Holocaust.

The entire Danish Underground was awarded the status of “Righteous Among The Nations”. In 1971, Yad Vashem honored Duckwitz with the same title.


1. The myth originates in pro-Danish PR campaigns of the time to counter criticism that Denmark did not adequately resist the occupation – even though to do so militarily would have been tantamount to national suicide. The effort enlisted the help of Edward L. Bernays, father of modern PR, godfather to the term "Banana Republic", and a highly controversial figure in his own right. (It is said that Nazi arch-propagandist Joseph Goebbles was an ardent student of Mr. Bernays and had memorized many of his books, despite the fact that Bernays himself was Jewish.)

Monday, May 18, 2015

People Who Resisted: Paul Rusesabagina, Rwandan Humanitarian

Paul Rusesabagina’s story was adapted in the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, along with the events of the 1994 Rwandan genocide. His humanitarian efforts during the 1994 Rwandan genocide preserved the lives of 1,268 refugees during the 100 days of mass killings that took 800,000 Rwandan lives.

In 1994, Rusesabagina was the general manager at a hotel in Kigali, the capital city of Rwanda, where he lived with his wife and children. He is of Hutu descent, his wife, Tutsi. The two major ethnic groups of Rwanda, Hutus are the largest group and Tutsis had been put in a place of power by the colonizing Belgians until 1959. On April 6, 1994, the Rwandan president, who was Hutu, was assassinated when his plane was shot down, setting spark to an ethnic tension that was already on edge.

Following the assassination, Hutu government officials collectively organized military squads to exterminate Tutsis, whom they maligned through propaganda claiming Tutsis were a plague to their nation and would cause its downfall. When Rusesabagina was unable to secure protection for himself and his family from the international peacekeepers, who completely underestimated the violence and terror involved, he moved them to the Hotel des Milles Collines, an international hotel that he hoped would provide a safe haven.

The hotel’s managers gradually evacuated as violence increased, leaving Rusesabagina to act as General Manager of the Milles Collines. With difficulty, he convinced staff to heed his authority as he took in refugees and orphans. He had no weapons, their only defense was the hotel’s international status and mattresses set against windows to protect from grenades and gunfire.

The Hutu militia announced an ensuing attack on the Milles Collines, a special target was Rusesabagina’s wife, Tatianna, who is Tutsi. She and their children were able to desperately steal away to the airport while Rusesabagina remained at the Hotel, a decision that came down to Rusesabagina’s belief that “so far I'm the only person who can negotiate with the killers.” To ward off the Hutu militia, Rusesabaginia frantically called upon figures abroad, who influenced the Rwandan National Police to call off the siege. Rusesabagina protected the hotel and its inhabitants until the Tutsi rebels forced Hutus out of Rwanda. He then transported Tutsi orphans to safety in Tanzania, away from the ethnic tension in Rwanda.

While other Hutus were killing neighbors, even spouses, Rusesabagina explains his resistance in true form with little pomp and due directness: “This is why I say that the individual's most potent weapon is a stubborn belief in the triumph of common decency.”

Copyright © 2006 Richard Lowkes under Creative Commons license

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

People who resisted - Sophie Schwartz

When the French police arrested more than 13,000 Parisian Jews at the behest of Germany during a massive raid on July 16, 1942, Sophie Schwartz-Micnic took action to protect as many children as possible. She and her fellow resistors provided hundreds of children with fake identities and hid them with host families, saving their lives.

René Goldman and
Sophie Schwartz in 1959

René Goldman, himself a rescued child currently living in Canada, is the author of a book on Sophie’s fascinating life story. In Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999, he tells the story of a woman who he considers to be his adoptive mother.

Sophie Schwartz was born in 1905, in an area of Poland belonging to the Russian Empire at the time. She grew up in a well-off, Orthodox Jewish family with her seven siblings. Horrified by the Great War, she became interested in politics at age 13 and joined the youth section of the Bund, a secular Jewish socialist party. When she turned 15, her parents could not afford to send her to school anymore, so Sophie started working in a curtain factory, where she joined a union. These were the beginnings of her involvement in activism, which would continue for most of her life.

At age 19, her father banned her from political activism after she was briefly arrested. She defied him and left the family house for an autonomous life, emigrating to western Europe, far away from her parents’ worries.

Sophie would never see her parents again; they perished with three of her siblings in 1942 after they were deported.

In 1927, after spending some time in Holland, Sophie emigrated to Belgium. At once, she got involved in both Jewish and communist organizations, including the Kultur-Liga, where she met the like-minded Leizer Micnik, her future husband. Leizer’s involvement in a trade union would later force them to leave Belgium and immigrate to France. He was arrested and handed off to the Germans by the French police in 1942, never to be seen again.

During her lifetime, Sophie was very devoted to the Jewish community, and to all deprived families in general. When World War II broke out, she immediately took part in the underground: she headed a committee to aid women whose husbands were taken by the police and ran an illegal printing shop producing Yiddish pamphlets and false identity cards. The soul of her work, however, became saving Jewish children, and she created several homes for those who had lost their families. After the aforementioned July raid – known as the infamous Vel' d'Hiv Roundup – she worked tirelessly to smuggle hundreds of children into hiding among the peasantry. The following year, she organized a daring operation to rescue children from the asylums set up by the UGIF1, escorting 63 of them out of the facilities by female underground members posing as relatives. She eventually became the head of the CCE (Central Commission for Children) that reportedly supported several hundreds of children – 450 of them in 1949 alone.


Children of deported Jews, in a UGIF facility

In several passages of the book, she argues that being Jewish pushed her into believing in communism; she actually saw this as a hope for equal rights and a better life, not only for the Jews, but for all mankind. Though she would become ideologically disillusioned following her awareness of Stalin’s crimes and her subsequent expulsion from Poland in 1968, it is obvious that the various organizations she took part in gave her an effective network and resources that she could rely on to assist the many operations she organized to save lives and, after the war, make this world a better place to live.

After being expelled from Poland, she spent the rest of her life back in France, surrounded by her old friends and fellow underground members. Because of her past with the resistance, she obtained a residence permit, and then French nationality. René Goldman, the author of her biography, kept in touch with her as she became older, up until her death in 1999 at age 93. He was called upon to read an eulogy at her funeral.

According to René Goldman, Sophie never gave up her optimism and her generosity, even after the many disillusions she went through. He states, “Throughout her life, she had not only the courage of her ideas, but the courage and intellectual probity to recognize that it was wrong to believe in an ideology that was a serious and sad mistake.” He adds: “Sophie was an example of unity of thought and action, which, according to the teaching of Judaism, is the essence of integrity.”

*“Tout au long de sa vie, elle avait eu non seulement le courage de ses idées, mais aussi ce même courage et la probité intellectuelle de reconnaître qu'elle avait eu tort de croire en une idéologie qui fut une grave et triste erreur.” L’auteur ajoute:“Sophie avait été un exemple d'unité de la pensée et de l'action, unité qui, au regard de l'enseignement du judaïsme, est l'essence même de l'intégrité.”


Sophie Schwartz-Micnic accompanying a group of children on a train in 1947.

Reference: “Une femme juive dans les tourmentes du siècle dernier: Sophie Schwartz-Micnic, 1905-1999”, AGP : Paris, 2006.

— Written By Isaline Jaccard


1. The UGIF – or L'Union générale des israélites de France – was an organization created by French law in 1941 at the behest of occupying Germany. Its main purpose was to take control of all other Jewish organizations, social agencies, philanthropies – including their assets – and to oversee the administration of Jewish affairs while taking their cues from the Vichy regime and the Nazis. In effect, they were France’s nationwide equivalent to the Judenrat councils set up in the ghettoes of eastern Europe.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

People Who Resisted – Dith Pran: photojournalist, refugee and survivor of the Cambodian Genocide

Dith Pran: Survivor, Advocate, Photojournalist

In the 1970s, Dith Pran was witnessing his country’s violent dissolution. Cambodia lapsed into civil war, stirred up by the struggles in Vietnam that spread over national borders. Pran sent his wife, Ser Moeun Dith, and four children to the United States, but he stayed to help report on Cambodia’s civil war, believing that in order to save lives, other nations had to understand Cambodia’s state of desperation. He worked as an essential guide, note-taker, and photographer for New York Times correspondent Sydney Schanberg, who explained in an interview, “[Pran’s] mission with me in Cambodia was to tell the world what suffering his people were going through in a war that was never necessary.” Schanberg later wrote an article about Cambodia and Pran, which was turned into the 1984 movie, The Killing Fields.

In 1975, Pran unwillingly became a pawn in the radical social engineering experiment of Pol Pot, who sought to turn Cambodia into a purely agrarian society devoid of Western influence. Pot’s trigger-happy followers, the Khmer Rouge, gained control of Phnom Penh, forcing all residents out of the capital city and into a collective farm. At the forced labor camp, Pran spent four and a half years harvesting twelve hours a day with a spoonful of rice for sustenance. He did all that he could to survive, while witnessing and enduring arbitrary brutality.

At this time Cambodians were murdered for minor infractions against the regime’s doctrinaire policies; the Khmer Rouge were responsible for an estimated 2 million Cambodian deaths. Pran deemed the mass graves of Cambodians, killed by starvation, disease, guns, and pick axes, as “The Killing Fields.”

A 1974 photo by Mr. Dith of shells being fired at a village northwest of Phnom Penh. Photo: Dith Pran/The New York Times

In 1979 the Khmer Rouge lost power and Pran escaped 60 miles past the killing fields — the overwhelming evidence of genocide — and through landmine-dotted terrain to the Thai border. Soon thereafter, he reunited with his family in San Francisco.

Having survived atrocity, Pran immediately began to devote his time to helping fellow Cambodians who had suffered under the Khmer Rouge. In New York City, he founded the Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project to educate people on the history of the Khmer Rouge regime. He spoke also of his efforts to aid Cambodia: “The Khmer Rouge has brought Cambodia back to year zero and that's why I'm trying to bring the Khmer Rouge leaders to the World Court. Like one of my heroes, Elie Wiesel, who alerts the world to the horrors of the Jewish Holocaust, I try to awaken the world to the Holocaust of Cambodia, for all tragedies have universal implications.”

Dith Pran died on March 30, 2008, having been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just three months earlier. Executive Editor of the New York Times, Bill Keller, explained after Mr. Dith’s death, “To all of us who have worked as foreign reporters in frightening places, Pran reminds us of a special category of journalistic heroism — the local partner, the stringer, the interpreter, the driver, the fixer, who knows the ropes, who makes your work possible, who often becomes your friend, who may save your life, who shares little of the glory, and who risks so much more than you do.”

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Happy Birthday, Resistance Fighter, Mira Shelub

Mira with Sheep Friend 
Mira after the war, 1947.
Mira with Norman's Photo
Mira on the set of a JPEF interview holding a
photo of her husband, Norman, 2002.
Last week, Jewish partisan Mira Shelub celebrated her birthday. Mira's partisan activity took place mainly in northeastern Poland (today's Belarus) where her all Jewish group engaged in sabotage against the Nazi's and their Polish collaborators. They blew up trains, attacked police stations, and stole food that had been provided for the Germans by peasants.

Mira met her husband, Norman, who was also a fighter in her group and was the leader of their group. She reminisces, "I was lucky enough that I loved my husband and he loved me, and it was like a love affair in the forest. Can you ask for a better place? So, we were lucky that we got together and we, and we promised each other that we'll be together forever."

They married after the war, had three children, and moved to San Francisco.

Read more about Mira here.

Mira Shelub is featured in multiple JPEF documentaries and study guides including the printed guide: "Women in the Partisans" and short film, "Everyday the Impossible: Jewish Women in the Partisans".
Mira talking about the decisions she faced as a resistance
fighter to youth at Fremont High School, 2008.

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Thursday, December 23, 2010

Two JPEF Jewish Partisan Birthdays in December

Blaichman in Polish partisan uniform, 1945
This month, Jewish partisan Frank Blaichman celebrated his 88th birthday. Frank was only 16 years old when the Germans invaded Poland. Month by month, life became harder until in 1942, the Jews of Frank's hometown of Kamionka, were to be resettled in a ghetto. Determined to keep his freedom, Frank left his family and eventually joined other Jews hiding in a nearby forest. When Frank was only 21 years old, he became the youngest platoon commander in a partisan unit. Frank met his wife, Cesia, while they were both in partisan units.

Frank has documented his stories and experiences from his life as a partisan in his book: Rather Die Fighting. Purchase this incredible resource here.

Frank has appeared in multiple JPEF documentaries including "Antisemitism in the Partisans" and "Introduction to the Partisans."

Eta Wrobel portrait, 1945
Polish Jewish partisan Eta Wrobel (z"l) was also born on December 28, 1918. She was the only child in a family of ten to survive the Holocaust. Eta described herself to be "born a fighter." In 1942 Eta's ghetto was forced into concentration camps, but Eta and her father escaped into the woods. Eta helped to organize an all Jewish partisan unit of about 80 people. At one point Eta was shot in the leg and dug the bullet out of her leg with a knife.

Because of her exceptional military skills, she was active on missions with men and made important strategic decisions.

Eta is featured in the JPEF film, "Women in the Partisans," and she also inspired the original JPEF poster and sticker images.


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