Beyond Survival: Jewish Day-To-Day Resistance in the Nazi-Occupied East, 1939-1944
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“Beyond Survival: Jewish Day-To-Day Resistance in the Nazi-Occupied East, 1939-1944” examines everyday resistance to Nazi persecution by persons classified as Jews under Nazi law. Forced into ghettos after the Nazi occupation of western Poland in September 1939, ordinary Jewish inhabitants, members of Jewish self-administrative bodies, and couriers of the Jewish underground movement produced diaries, letters, periodicals, interviews, reports, and speeches that documented everyday experience and the development of resistance strategies. I broaden the usual definition of Jewish resistance to include unarmed, day-to-day acts, in a challenge to a once prevalent argument that restricts the meaning of resistance to armed opposition and considers it scarce and insignificant during the Holocaust. Rooted in Nazi anti-Jewish policy and victim testimonies, each of three chapters demonstrates the asymmetry of power between Nazis and Jews, which makes the broader definition of resistance necessary. Between 1939 and late 1941, when the Nazis had no concrete plan to murder all Jews in Europe, the Jewish Council of the Warsaw ghetto sustained the lives of thousands of people, especially children, through social welfare. Inadequacies of the welfare system contributed to the rise of smuggling, an activity that many ghetto residents relied on to survive. The Jewish Councils, archival organizations, and individual ghetto inhabitants engaged in spiritual resistance such as organizing cultural activities, promoting education and religious faith, and recording history. These acts created a narrative of Jewish experience during the Second World War written not by the Nazis but by Jews themselves. After determining in 1942 that the Nazi regime was carrying out genocide, underground Jewish leaders in Poland made great efforts to inform the Jewish community, Polish society, and the Allied governments. Incentives to organize armed revolt intensified in late 1942, after letters and appeals to anti-fascist groups had met with little response.