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Yom HaShoah: Learning from Jewish resistance

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Generally we associate resistance to armed struggles or physical resistance. Yom HaShoah allows us not only to think about the history of the Jewish people, but of its heroes. Some anonymous, others more recognized, but they all have a general condition: their strength and resistance.

That armed resistance that was questioned so many times during the Holocaust, creating moral judgments that made the survivors afraid and even ashamed to tell what happened during the War World II. Today we must understand -and think about it- from a different point of view.

We can resist in various ways: from the political world, the education or the spiritual path. Resistance, in truth, is about standing firm in relation to one’s beliefs in a world that becomes elusive, hostile or difficult. Resistance is the essence of minorities. In a world of majorities that try to impose their ways of thinking to the detriment of ideas, ways of expressing or living, minorities have to make their voices heard.

On this new anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, I think it is important to rescue the place of three women -belonging to a double minority, not only because they were women, but also because they were Jews during the Second World War- to commemorate such an important day and highlight the various ways in which we can -and must- resist the imposition of majority ideas or those that violate the human rights of minorities.

The first case is Haika Grosman. She was born in Bialystok -Poland- in 1919. She was the third child of a wealthy family in a Yiddish speaking city. She joined HaShomer HaZair when she was 11 and was educated towards socialist Zionism. Later, she was admitted to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, but she was needed in the movement and postponed her plans to emigrate to Israel. After the outbreak of the War, she was notified in Warsaw she had been elected member of the leadership of the movement. She traveled to different places underground such as Vilna and Kovno. She adopted a false identity -avoiding her deportation to Ponary- and moved outside the Ghetto working with Abba Kovner on the armed resistance serving as a contact person between Bialystok and Vilna. After the War -in 1948- she finally arrived in Israel for the War of Independence. She had a prominent political career in Israel and showed how her commitment to the Jewish people and her compromise to her people were an essential example of resistance.

Another important example was Maria Falkowska -née Miriam Fajngold-. She was born in 1906 and was a prominent Jewish educator, student of the great Janusz Korczak. They worked together until Dr. Korczak was deported, but after the War, Maria directed Jewish orphanages in Poland being specialized in the history of education. Finally, she died in Warsaw, the same city where the Ghetto uprising happened many years before. Her example, as a woman and educator, allows us to think about the importance of the commitment with the Jewish principles even during the worst times, resisting the worst conditions.

Finally, I want to speak about the great Regina Jonas. Born in Berlin in 1902 into a religious family, she tried to be a teacher. She graduated at the local Schule and enrolled in the Higher Institute for Jewish Studies after being disappointed with her career as educator. She studied more than 5 years being the first woman attending the institution with a main goal: become a rabbi. Her thesis was “Can a woman be a rabbi according to the halachic sources?” related to her own condition, resisting the ideas of her time. She graduated in 1930 and applied to study with Leo Baeck, one of the main spiritual leaders from Germany, who refused to convert her title into an official ordination as a rabbi. Even so, she taught religious studies and performed unofficial sermons. Finally, and thanks to her commitment and resistance, was ordained rabbi. She wanted to emigrate to Israel and wrote a letter to Martin Buber for her rabbinical opportunities with the Jewish people, but this wasn’t possible because Nazi persecution that sent her to Theresienstadt -where she worked intensely with Viktor Frankl- and was finally deported to Auschwitz in 1944. She is the first German Rabbi -and probably European- in the Jewish history.

These three women are the perfect example of resistance: even during the worst times, like what happened during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, our commitment with life, Judaism and our people are the goals that can give us the tools for surviving. May these lives -and examples- show the path of cultural, educational and spiritual resistance the Jewish people led for centuries. Today and ever.

About the Author
Tomas is a lawyer specialized in constitutional law and a professor specialized in human rights and Holocaust studies. He is a member of the Jewish Diplomatic Corps (World Jewish Congress) and Nuevas Generaciones (Latin American Jewish Congress).
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