Due to the organization and overwhelming military might of the Nazi German state and its supporters, few Jews and other Holocaust victims were able to resist the killings. There are, however, many cases of attempts at resistance in one form or another, and over a hundred armed Jewish uprisings.
The largest instance of organized Jewish resistance was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from April to May of 1943, as the final deportation from the Ghetto to the death camps was about to commence, the ZOB and ZZW fighters rose up against the Nazis. Most of the resistors were killed, but the few who did survive the war are currently residing in Israel. There were also other Ghetto Uprisings, though none were successful against the German military.
There were also major resistance efforts in three of the extermination camps. In August 1943, an uprising also took place at the Treblinka extermination camp. Many buildings were burnt to the ground, and seventy inmates escaped to freedom, but 1,500 were killed. Gassing operations were interrupted for a month. In October 1943, another uprising took place at Sobibór extermination camp. This uprising was more successful; 11 SS men and a number of Ukrainian guards were killed, and roughly 300 of the 600 inmates in the camp escaped, with about 50 surviving the war. The escape forced the Nazis to close the camp. On October 7, 1944, the Jewish Sonderkommandos (those prisoners kept separate from the main camp and involved in the operation of the gas chambers and crematoria) at Auschwitz staged an uprising. Female prisoners had smuggled in explosives from a weapons factory, and Crematorium IV was partly destroyed by an explosion. The prisoners then attempted a mass escape, but all 250 were killed soon after.
There were a number of Jewish partisan groups operating in many countries (see Eugenio Calò for the story of a Jewish Italian partisan). Also, Jewish volunteers from the Palestinian Mandate, most famously Hannah Szenes, parachuted into Europe in a failed attempt to organize resistance.
Resistance of Jehovah's Witnesses
Jehovah's Witnesses in Germany were persecuted between 1933 and 1945. They were scorned by the name Ernste Bibelforscher (Earnest Bible Students) at that time, because Jehovah's Witnesses would not give allegiance to the Nazi party, and refused to serve in the military, they were detained, put in concentration camps, or imprisoned during the Holocaust. Unlike Jews, homosexuals and Gypsies, who were persecuted for racial, political and social reasons, Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted on religious ideological grounds. The Nazi government gave detained Jehovah's Witnesses the option: if they were to renounce their faith, submit to the state authority, and support the German military, they would be free to leave prison or the camps. Approximately 12,000 Jehovah's Witnesses were sent to concentration camps where they were forced to wear a purple triangle that specifically identified them as Jehovah's Witnesses. In the end, about 2,000 of their members who were incarcerated perished under the Nazi system. All lost their employment. Dr. Detlef Garbe Historian and director at the Neuengamme (Hamburg) Memorial stated: “Taking everything into consideration, it has been established that no other religious movement resisted the pressure to conform to National Socialism with comparable unanimity and steadfastness.”
The February Strike
The 1941 February strike, also known as 'The Strike of February 1941', was a general strike organized during World War II in The Netherlands against the anti-Jewish measures and activities by the Nazis. Its direct causes were the razzias held by the Germans at the Jonas Daniël Meijerplein in Amsterdam. The strike started on 25 February and was largely struck down the next day. The February Strike was the first direct action undertaken against the anti-Jewish measures of the Nazis in occupied Europe, and performed by non-Jewish citizens.
In three cases, entire countries resisted the deportation of their Jewish population. King Christian X of Denmark and his subjects saved the lives of most of the 7,500 Danish Jews by spiriting them to safety in Sweden via fishing boats in October 1943. Moreover, the Danish government continued to work to protect the few Danish Jews captured by the Nazis. When the Jews returned home at war's end, they found their houses and possessions waiting for them, exactly as they left them. In the second case, the Nazi-allied government of Bulgaria, led by Bogdan Filov, did not deport its 50,000 Jewish citizens, after yielding to pressure from the parliament deputy speaker Dimitar Peshev and the Bulgarian Orthodox Church, saving them as well, though Bulgaria did not prevent Germany from deporting Jews to concentration camps from areas in occupied Greece and Macedonia. The government of Finland refused repeated requests from Germany to deport its Finnish Jews to Germany. German requirements for the deportation of Jewish refugees from Norway was largely refused. In Rome, some 4,000 Italian Jews and prisoners of war avoided deportation. Many of these were hidden in safe houses and evacuated from Italy by a resistance group that was organised by an Irish priest, Monsignor Hugh O'Flaherty of the Holy Office. Once a Vatican ambassador to Egypt, O' Flaherty used his political connections to great effect in helping to secure sanctuary for dispossessed Jews.
Another example of someone who assisted Jews during the Holocaust is Portuguese diplomat Aristides de Sousa Mendes. It was in clear disrespect of the Portuguese state hierarchy that Sousa Mendes issued about 30,000 visas to Jews and other persecuted minorities from Europe. He saved an enormous number of lives, but risked his career for it. In 1941, Portuguese dictator Salazar lost political trust in Sousa Mendes and forced the diplomat to quit his career. He died in poverty in 1954.
Some towns and churches also helped hide Jews and protect others from the Holocaust, such as the French town of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon which sheltered several thousand Jews. Similar individual and family acts of rescue were repeated throughout Europe, as illustrated in the famous cases of Anne Frank, often at great risk to the rescuers. In a few cases, individual diplomats and people of influence, such as Oskar Schindler or Nicholas Winton, protected large numbers of Jews. Swedish diplomat Raoul Wallenberg, the Italian Giorgio Perlasca, Chinese diplomat Ho Feng Shan and others saved tens of thousands of Jews with fake diplomatic passes. Chiune Sugihara saved several thousands of Jews by issuing them with Japanese visas against the will of his Nazi-aligned government.
There were also groups, like members of the Polish Żegota organization, that took drastic and dangerous steps to rescue Jews and other potential victims from the Nazis. Witold Pilecki, member of Armia Krajowa (the Polish Home Army), organized a resistance movement in the Auschwitz concentration camp from 1940, and Jan Karski tried to spread word of the Holocaust.
Since 1963, a commission headed by an Israeli Supreme Court justice has been charged with the duty of awarding such people the honorary title Righteous Among the Nations.