Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Malka Zdrojewicz and Individual Acts of Resistance

I've been thinking a lot lately about individual stories that make up historic events. When we learn about these large uprisings or demonstrations, we often only learn about the collective story, without really understanding that its power comes from the synthesis of these thousands of smaller stories. While reading about Claudette Colvin and the Montgomery Bus Boycott, I learned about the different ways individuals participated, each to the extent that they could. Most people walked miles each way to work or school in all kinds of weather. Some banded together to form a community carpool. And still others donated money, food, or childcare to help their neighbors who were busy walking or driving rather than riding the bus.

This morning, I learned that today is the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the first uprising of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto (1943). I know a little about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising as a historic even, but I wanted to know about the individuals and how they participated. In my research, I found this photo. At first glance, I was emotionally struck by how defiant these women appear, even as they are also obviously terrified. I wanted to know: Who were they and what was happening?

From left to right, they are: sisters Rachela and Bluma Wyszogrodzki, and Malka Zdrojewicz. This photo was taken by the SS, as these three were arrested for having carried arms (guns and grenades, etc.) into the ghetto. After the war, Malka talked of her experience in the Warsaw Ghetto, and the circumstances behind this photo.
"We went to a neutral place in the ghetto area and climbed down into the underground sewers. Through them, we girls used to carry arms into the ghetto; we hid them in our boots. During the ghetto uprising, we hurled Molotov cocktails at the Germans.

"After the suppression of the uprising, we went into hiding, taking refuge in an underground shelter where a large quantity of arms was piled up. But the Germans detected us and forced us out. I happened to be there with Rachela and Bluma Wyszogrodzka (and that is how they took our picture) ...

"Rachela and I, together with the others, were driven to the Umschlagplatz. They later took us to Majdanek from there."
(source: Institute for Historical Review)
They had good reason to be terrified. By 1943, Jews throughout Europe were well aware of the incredible danger they faced. Everyone in the Warsaw Ghetto had been forcibly moved there -- often after they'd already escaped the Nazis as they passed through rural villages in eastern Poland on their way to the Russian front -- and they knew that it was only a temporary arrangement as the Nazis figured out what to do with them. They'd already seen large groups of their friends and family members taken away to Treblinka and Majdanek, two of the Nazi German Extermination camps in Poland.

When faced with such abject oppression and terror, these three young women (and countless others like them) refused to give up. They found ways to resist even amid the most horrific circumstances.

FYI: Malka was the only one of the three to survive Majdanek.

Image source: Wikipedia. Image info: Stroop Report original caption: "HeHalutz women captured with weapons." Jewish resistance women, among them Malka Zdrojewicz (right), who survived the Majdanek extermination camp.

You can read more about the women in the Warsaw Ghetto in this excellent World History Connected post.

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