March 31, 2017

2017 Days of Remembrance - "Choosing to Act: Resistance During the Holocaust"

This year, Days of Remembrance in Georgia is April 24-30, 2017. The 2017 theme is "Choosing to Act: Resistance During the Holocaust."

Between 1933 and 1945, people witnessed Nazi brutality all across Europe. Some chose to cooperate. Some chose to do nothing. And a courageous few chose to act – they chose to resist.

Resistance during the Holocaust came in many forms. Some people took up weapons or engaged in sabotage. Some people resisted spiritually by continuing to follow religious laws and traditions. Some participated in non-violent resistance by preserving art and culture. Some documented the crimes of the Nazis by keeping diaries or taking photographs. Other resisters provided aid and rescue at great risk to themselves and their loved ones.

Resisting the Nazis and their collaborators was fraught with challenges and danger. Most civilians did not have access to weapons and ammunition. They faced the heavily armed and wellorganized German military.

As German forces conquered Europe, Jews in occupied territories were forcibly isolated from their communities. This made it almost impossible for them to secure outside help, get weapons, or find a place to go into hiding. It was even more difficult for Jews living in ghettos and camps to resist. They faced horrific living conditions -- starvation, disease, and forced labor.

Despite these obstacles, resistance movements were organized throughout Europe. One of the most well-known instances of organized resistance was in the Warsaw ghetto. Ghetto inhabitants resisted deportations by the Nazis for weeks. They fought the Nazis using smuggled and homemade weapons. More than 56,000 Jews were captured during the revolt. About 7,000 of them were shot and the rest were deported to camps.

Members of other targeted groups resisted the Nazis. In May 1944, Roma prisoners at the Gypsy family camp in Auschwitz refused an SS order to leave their barracks. They armed themselves with knives and axes until the SS men retreated.

Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany refused to serve in the German army. They were unwilling to give the Nazi salute or adorn their homes with Nazi flags. They did not join party organizations or let their children join the Hitler Youth. Even as prisoners in concentration camps, some continued to meet, pray, and organize illegal religious study groups.

Rescue was also a form a resistance. Acts of rescue occurred in every European county. People from all religions backgrounds chose to resist and save their Jewish neighbors. Rescuers acted as individuals or organized into groups. They provided transportation, shelter, false IDs, or food even though resources were limited.

One of the most well-known stories of rescue took place in Denmark. In 1943, almost all the country's Jewish population was rescued in a collective, nationwide mission. When the Danish government learned of the Nazis' plans to deport Danish Jews, a rescue operation was quickly planned. Over 7,200 Danish Jews were taken by fishing boats to safety in Sweden.

In the United States, the American Friends Service Committee, the Unitarian Church, and other American groups, also provided rescue and assistance during the Holocaust. Between 1934 and 1942, these groups welcomed 1,000 Jewish children to the United States. Their parents remained in Europe.

These and other acts of conscience and courage saved only a tiny percentage of those targeted for destruction. Those resisting the Nazis and their collaborators faced great danger if caught. The policy of collective punishment held whole families or communities responsible for the acts of a few individuals.

All rescuers faced severe punishment if caught helping Jews. In some places, it was punishable by death.

With this year's Days of Remembrance theme, we honor those who chose to act.

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