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17.1 Resistance by Jews

Anti-Semitism was the central element of National Socialist ideology. For this reason, German Jews resisted the NSDAP even before 1933. The National Socialists called on the population to boycott Jewish businesses on April 1, 1933, and began excluding the Jews from economic life. Confronted by persecution and anti-Semitic propaganda, many of the more than 550,000 German Jews began to see themselves differently. The Jewish Communities, the Jewish Cultural Association, and Jewish sports associations and educational institutions became places of self-assertion and solidarity.

From the mid-1930s on, more and more German Jews deliberately prepared for emigration and life abroad through language courses and vocational training. More than 350,000 Jews were able to escape persecution by leaving Germany. Beginning in October 1941, over 165,000 German Jews were deported to the extermination camps and ghettos in the German-occupied territories in Poland and the Soviet Union. Some 10,000 to 12,000 of them tried to evade this deadly threat by going into hiding and thus resisting the dictatorship. In Germany, some 5,000 of these people survived, over 1,700 of them in Berlin.

Jews took a stand against the National Socialist crimes on many occasions—in Berlin, for instance, through the groups formed around Herbert Baum or the group Chug Chaluzi (Hebrew for “circle of pioneers”). There were escape attempts and uprisings in ghettos and camps, with the largest uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto in April of 1943.

Groups of Jewish resistance activists joined partisan organizations and fought the German occupying troops alongside them. Under very dangerous circumstances, the will for self-assertion thus grew into active armed struggle for their own dignity and against the genocide of the European Jews. The uprisings in the Treblinka, Sobibor, and Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camps were part of this resistance.