Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Badass Women Who Fought Nazis

The mission of the Self-Rescuing Princess Society is, as I'm sure you have already figured out, to share stories of women and girls who have done or are doing good things in the world. Obviously, what constitutes "good things" is completely subjective, and this seems like an excellent time to make it absolutely clear what that means for this blog. Doing good things includes, but is not limited to: promoting fairness and equality for marginalized groups, using one's talents to improve the world, protecting herself and others against harm, challenging the institutions that support racism, misogyny, colonialism, etc., and pretty much anything else that would get someone labeled as a "social justice warrior."

This includes fighting Nazis. In fact, over the last few years, I've written several posts about women who bravely fought against the original Nazis during World War II. For them, it wasn't simply a matter of going to a protest on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Fighting Nazis was a day-in-day-out, life or death struggle, and some of them gave their lives for the cause.

Below is a list of these brave Nazi-fighting women, with a link to the posts where you can read more about them, their lives, and their bravery. You can be sure I will continue to write about other women who fought alongside them, as well as women from other parts of the world, and other eras, who have shown the same kind of strength and resolve in the face of tyranny and oppression. By reading their stories, we can find inspiration to continue our own mission for social justice for all.

Regina Jonas - the first woman rabbi
In 1935, Regina Jonas became the first woman to be ordained as a rabbi. She had been orphaned as a young girl in Berlin, and originally pursued a career as a teacher. But wanted more for her life, so she enrolled in seminary classes, with the intention of becoming a rabbi, even though no other woman before her had been ordained. On December 27, 1935, liberal Rabbi Max Dienemann, granted her ordination, just as the Nazis were beginning their rise to power.

She was never able to serve as a the rabbi in a synagogue, sadly. Before she could find a congregation, she was sent to a concentration camp with other Jews. Even there, she continued her work as a rabbi, ministering to the other prisoners, helping them cope with shock and disorientation. She worked there until mid-October of 1944, when she was deported to Auschwitz, where she was murdered two months later. She was 42 years old.

Sigrid Schultz - the dragon from Chicago
Sigrid Schultz was an American war correspondent for the Chicago Tribune whose European upbringing enabled her to mingle with high-ranking German officials without attracting attention, giving her plenty of opportunity share the truth of what was happening in Germany during the 1930s with the rest of the world. This put her at considerable risk and she often had to resort to writing under a pseudonym and filing her reports under false datelines out of other European offices.

She stayed in Germany for as long as she could, filing reports about concentration camps, government assaults on churches and other institutions, telling the truth about increasing persecution of Germany's Jews, warning about dangerous alliances with other countries, and otherwise trying to convince the world of the atrocities she was witnessing.

Malka Zdrojewicz - Jewish resistance fighter
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.

Malka Zdrojewicz, along fellow resistance fighters Rachela and Bluma Wyszogrodzki, was arrested by the SS for having carried arms (guns and grenades, etc.) into the Warsaw ghetto. These brave young women risked their life as part of their active resistance of Nazi oppression.

Astrid Løken - fearless scientist and spy
Most of the people who worked with Astrid Løken never suspected she was a high ranking member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. They only knew of her passion about bumblebees and her dedication to her research.

Shortly after the Nazi forces invaded Norway in 1940, the resistance force known as XU began recruiting researchers in natural science, realizing their field work would give excellent cover for their spy work. Astrid applied to the Nazi authority for permission to study bumblebees near otherwise restricted military areas. Because they assumed she was a harmless scientist watching insects, she was given free range, and routinely took photos of roads, bridges and other important structures, which she then developed back at the university where she was studying.

Lyudmila Pavlichenko - badass with a gun
It's all well and good to punch Nazis, but Lyudmila Pavlichenko did more than that. She shot them. And not just a few. As a USSR Army soldier in World War II she sniped 309 of them.

When she showed up at the recruitment office after the Germans invaded the USSR, she was initially offered a job as a nurse, but they agreed to let her prove herself. They handed her a rifle and showed her a couple of enemy fighters across the field of battle. She convinced them by handily dispatching both, earning her place as a sniper. In fact, there were over 2,000 female snipers in the Soviet Army. But Pavlichenko was the best. Her successes in the field earned her the respect of her superiors and the admiration of civilians near and far.

Leona Woods - visionary scientist
Not all of the Nazi-fighting occurred in Europe. Thousands of Americans worked tirelessly on stateside projects that helped support the soldiers and spies overseas. The scientists involved with the Manhattan Project worked day and night trying to beat the Germans to construct the first nuclear bomb. Leona Woods was the only female physicists on the team that built the world's first nuclear reactor, which helped the scientists in Los Alamos solve the puzzle of how to turn atomic energy into a weapon.

She knew that her work was most than just a science experiment. It was a desperate race to beat the Germans who would surely use such a weapon to expand their fascist goal of creating a new world order.

Irena Iłłakowicz - Polish resistance martyr
In September 1939, within 3 weeks, both the Germans and Soviets invaded Poland. In October, Irena joined the resistance movement with her husband. Irena was assigned to a branch responsible for conducting military, economic and information reconnaissance, and sent to Berlin to spy on the Germans.

When her network was discovered by the Germans, dozens of activists were arrested. Irena herself was arrested and taken to Pawiak, a prison that was being used to interrogate resistance members, and to process Jews and others for removal to concentration camps, where was tortured. She bravely refused to give up any info despite increased torture. Her resistance colleagues, hoping to spare her, sent her a vial of cyanide, but she refused to use it. She was eventually able to escape, after her husband bribe a guard and other resistance members forged documents to have her released.

Margaret Bourke-White - inspirational photojournalist
In 1936, talented photographer Margaret Bourke-White was hired by the publishers behind a brand new magazine, Life, where her work was a regular feature, creating a new job as a photojournalist. She continued traveling to cover important events around the world. When World War II broke out, she was already on the ground in Europe, making her the first woman allowed in combat zones there. When German forces invaded Moscow, she was the only foreign photographer there, making her images a valuable resource documenting the firefight.

When the US entered the war, she found a spot with troops in North Africa, Italy, and Germany. She was there to captured the gruesome scenes when the Buchenwald concentration camp was liberated, the first time these types of horrors were so clearly illustrated for the American public.

Josephine Baker - World War II spy
Internationally acclaimed singer and dancer Josephine Baker moved France in the mid-1920s to escape the soul-crushing racism she experienced in the United States. When the Germans invaded Poland, she refused to leave France for safer areas, and instead joined French Resistance when she was recruited by the French military intelligence to serve as a "honorable correspondent." Her role was to use her celebrity to mix with high-ranking officials at embassy parties, and gather information about troop locations. She moved freely all around Europe, Northern Africa, and even South America as an entertainer, carrying info about airfields, harbors, and troop concentrations back to officials in France or Britain written in invisible ink on her sheet music.

For her efforts, she was awarded the honorary rank of lieutenant in the Free French Air Force, and after the war she received both the Croix de Guerre and the Medal of the Resistance, and was made a Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur, an honor usually reserved for French citizens.

Katya Budanova - brave young role model
Katya Budanova was born into a peasant family in rural western Russia. After the death of her father she was sent her to live with her sister in Moscow. It was there, working as a carpenter in an aircraft factory, where she began to show an interest in flying. The factory had an aeroclub, and Katya, always the brave one, joined the parachute team. In 1934, at the age 18, she earned her flying license, and in 1937, she graduated to flight instructor.

When Hitler's forces attacked the USSR, like many of her compatriots, she rushed to enlist in the military. She was assigned to the all-female 586th Fighter Regiment, led by the infamous Marina Raskova. With the war raging all along the western border, her regiment was called in to take the place of male fighters. Katya flew her first combat missions in May 1942, defending the rail-lines near Saratov. Over the course of the next year, Katya showed extreme bravery and skill, defending her country by shooting down enemy planes of all types, earning the Order of the Red Star, the Order of the Patriotic War, and the title of Hero of the Russian Federation (posthumously).

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