For too long the stories about Jewish Rescuers and Jewish Resistance Fighters have been ignored. With these stories, we wish to reclaim their memories and their courage.
Compiled by Chana Arnon
Jews Rescued Jews Committee, Israel
Agmon, born Teichman, became active in the resistance in 1943 when dodging a call-up for forced labor in the army. Born in Kisvarda in the north-east of Hungary, he moved to Munkacs and then to Budapest on April 15, 1944. Agmon’s main task during the summer months of 1944 was to organize groups for a trip across the border to Romania. The campaign was called “Tiyul” (excursion in English). Agmon’s job was to provide the forged documents, money, and most important, to train the refugees to internalize their new identity and ready them for possible interrogation. He trained such groups, usually about 8-10 people, daily. At the same time he made trips around the country to homes where fugitives were concentrated. Equipped with a false identity and a pass to free train rides, he was able to move around at any time. Close to 6,000 people, mainly children, were saved in the homes organized by the underground halutz movement and the ICRC. The same movement also maintained a sophisticated laboratory for counterfeit documents and Agmon was a member in both these branches. He was also a leading member of the group which, in October 1944, set up a large-scale food distribution campaign which reached thousands in Budapest as well as in the outlying regions.
Born in Lozin, Slovakia, Alpan was a member of the Shomer Hatsair in Munkacz, Hungary, where he lived from 1930-36. In 1936 he started higher education in Prague, studying philosophy and law. Alpan joined the resistance in Slovakia in 1940 but moved back to Budapest where he worked for the resistance from January 1944 to January 1945. He was a member of the leadership of the halutz underground organization created by the Relief and Rescue committee of the Zionist Labor Organization. Here he had the responsibility for the shelters and the “Tiyul” escape operation to Romania. The group produced and distributed forged documents, created children’s homes where some 5000 children were saved; they distributed food to the Budapest ghetto and maintained contact with the Socialist-Communist underground which supported them.
Most transports to Westerbork, the Dutch camp from where the Jews were deported to the East, came in at night. Yehoshua Birnbaum would meet the train in the middle of all the chaos of arrival, to catch children who arrived without parents. They were housed in barrack #35, where there were four dormitories and a big dining room at the disposal of the children. This was the orphanage for which the Birnbaums took personal responsibility. Special permits were produced to protect the children, imaginary baptism was adduced.
In Bergen-Belsen the Birnbaum orphanage remained in operation and on April 23, 1945, the children were taken by truck to the train that was to take them back to Holland. They were liberated by the Russians. Dozens of abandoned children survived Bergen-Belsen through the care and devotion of the Birnbaums and their devoted helper, Mrs. Frederika Melkman-de Pauw.
In August 1944, I was assigned to the aircraft workshop of Horthyliget. I met a childhood friend who asked me to provide him with details about the plant, such as number of airplanes to be delivered etc. With the help of a friend, I was able to supply the information. Shortly after, carpet bombing by the American airforce completely destroyed the plant, including the Messerschmidts which had not yet been delivered. Alas, about ten of our comrades were also the victims of this infernal bombardment.
Hehalutz Hadati and the Hatsalah movement organized around the “glass house” (29 Vadasz street), officially annexed by the Swiss consulate. 7,800 Jews, candidates for aliyah were to benefit from Swiss protection before, theoretically, leaving Hungary via Romania for Palestine. To this end, protective passes, Schutzpasses, were issued here in huge numbers. I joined an intelligence network where coded information about deserters and fugitives (Polish and Slovak) was received as well as information about comrades already on their way to deportation. We issued Schutzpasses for them of which I distributed a considerable number in person in the Budapest region and others I entrusted to non-Jews who, for a fee, were willing to deliver them to those of whom we knew section numbers or date of transport.
On November 8, 1944, due to my Jewish looks, I was arrested by the Crossed Arrows. For 48 hours I was subjected to torture in order to reveal the origin of the dozens of passes and false documents which I was carrying upon arrest. With four other detainees, I was then taken to the river Danube to be executed. I managed to escape and went back to 29 Vadasz Street to join my friends in their rescue operations. At the beginning of December the number of people sheltered at the house counted about 2,000. For these we had to provide food, beds, hygiene and security.
Besides issuing false Schutzpasses, we went on producing false ID cards issued under the name of places already liberated by the Red Army, so that their authenticity could not be checked. Our comrades took these to the fugitives who could, in certain cases, under the guise of “refugees from the occupied territories”, be housed in apartments left by deported Jews or transferred to the ghetto.
This youth movement was founded in France in 1923 and was composed of Jewish youth from all sectors. In 1938 the first boarding schools for refugee children were opened. After the German occupation all the activities of the Scouts were prohibited and they reorganized under umbrella organizations as clubs. The main objective of these were to find hiding places for children, preparing forged papers such as ID cards, food and clothing coupons etc.
It is estimated that between 850-1250 children were taken care of among whom some 500 were illegally passed into Switzerland.
Sabine Elzon was active in the Lyons area. She served as courier to hidden families, bringing forged documents and other necessities. Her main activity was with hidden children.
Sabine and her husband lived next to a church and were on friendly terms with the priests. Upon receiving inside information about an impending round-up in 1942, they approached the priest and asked for help. He offered to hide Jews in his church and 75 people were hidden there for two days. When the round-up was over, these people went into hiding.
Born in Vienna, in 1920, Ethan Guinat and his family left in 1935 and settled in Belgium. Five years later when Belgium and Holland were conquered, he fled to France.
In France he set up an organization to save Jews from the imminent Nazi danger. Many children, now known by the name ‘Les Enfants Cachés’ or the hidden children, owe their lives to this organization. Known by the name ‘Toto’ during his years in the Resistance, he is now the President of the Veterans of the French Jewish Resistance Organization.
Of 300,000 pre-war French Jews more than 200,000 Jews survived the horrors of the Nazi occupation. This high percentage is the result of the Jewish resistance in France. Of the 86,000 Jews who were sent to Germany only about 3/ 4000 Jews survived the ordeals of the concentration and extermination camps.
Salo de Haas was hidden in the North of the Netherlands on a farm. His host, the farmer, formed a “knokploeg” or hit unit with his friends and they attacked homes of collaborators as well as prisons from which they freed their friends. Salo became a member of this group. At the end of the war, Salo undertook a very dangerous mission of transmitting stolen German documents across enemy lines to the Allied forces then already in the liberated South of Holland.
Hella Felder was saved by Elja Vega [Dr. E.Alvares Vega, alias Jan Willem Rutgers]. He found her a hiding-place in Brabant. From time to time she had to move to a new address, and Elja would always find her a new hiding-place.
During her period in hiding she also volunteered to be a carrier for the Dutch Resistance. During the harsh hunger winter of 1944-45, she rode miles on her bicycle and delivered letters in Gorchum, Wouderichem and on the other side of the river. When young men from the resistance stole distribution booklets, she would stand on guard. She enjoyed being able to help in the fight against the dreadful occupier.
Kaufman served as secretary to one of the important Gestapo officers in Paris. She was in a position to transfer information as well as forms and rubber stamps to her friends in Holland. This enabled the latter to travel to France “legally” and escape to Spain. After being betrayed, Paula spent the last year of the war in Auschwitz.
In February 1942, Bronka answered a call to come to a meeting of Dror in Bialiystok. She sneaked out of the Grodno ghetto and boarded a train without any documents, arriving safely. The seminar took place and Bronka was asked to stay on in the Bialystok ghetto to work for the movement. From now on her life took a different turn. Bronka was asked to move to the Aryan side of the city to serve as a liaison officer. Using a forged birth certificate, Bronka applied for a German ID card, along with the other Polish inhabitants of the city. Each time she crossed over to the Aryan side, she took off her yellow star, but she was not caught. A friend from the movement helped her find a job as a housemaid for three German railroad operators. Knowing them was a great help to her when she rode the trains in pursuit of arms to buy and deliver.
While living on the Aryan side, Bronka became an address for Jewish girls from the Grodno ghetto in flight from the German massacre there. Although the Bialystok ghetto was also in the process of being liquidated, the big city seemed to offer some measure of relief. Bronka, with her composure and cultured demeanor, her perfect Polish, and her non-Jewish appearance, managed to evade arrest.
At the start of the Bialystok ghetto uprising, August 16, 1943, Bronka met with Chaika Grossman, with the forest liaison, Marylka Rosycka, and established contact with the partisans there. Unable to get inside the ghetto walls, Bronka wandered around and around the walls looking for fugitives who she might be able to help. The goal for these women was to save as many from the deportation trains as they could. The partisans who sheltered the fugitives also needed help and this was part of the movement’s purpose as well. The uprising lasted more than three weeks. Mordechai Tenenbaum was killed or committed suicide and with him died the great majority of the fighters. Bronka managed to save one of the fighters and procured a weapon for him. At another time, she met on the street with a man who had escaped from Tereblinka and was hiding in a church. She brought him to the partisans, but he was later killed in battle. The partisan group grew from 50 to 100, but the new arrivals, fugitives from the ghetto or the camps, were in psychological and physical crisis, without weapons and many had lost the will to live. Bronka and her friends brought food, weapons, and medication to the forest, but the need far outstripped the supply they were able to get.
Fella Cajtak, twenty years of age when the war broke out, was a young nurse. In December 1942, Fella was deported to Auschwitz with her parents. In Birkenau, Fella worked in the dental clinic. As such she had access to drugs, clothing and food which she distributed among prisoners. The greater part of Fella’s rescue operations was carried out in C-Lager, a punishment lager. Here Fella became Blockalteste of Block #8 and was in charge of more than 1000 Jewish girls. Her activities were known and she received valuables from Jewish inmates with which she bribed the SS men. Thus she was able to hide the weak and the sick among the girls in a neighboring warehouse. She did her utmost to give medical care, love and hope to alleviate the suffering. Dozens of girls in barracks #8 owe their life to Fella.
In 1942, the family decided to try to escape. At first he hid with a farmer and after a year of milking cows, he and his sister, Gerda, found a hiding place in Nunspeet with the Bakker family: Opa Bakker and Tante Cor, a husband-wife team. The Bakkers were connected to the underground and had organized a hiding place for Jews in the forest. It was Harry’s job to take the daily food from the house to the “hidden village”. In the beginning there were around 20 Jew, but this number grew to 80. Harry relates that there were among this number a British pilot, a Russian and a German. The daily supply of food, heating materials, and water for such a large group was a complicated logistic feat. It was hard to keep this a secret. Harry assumes that the people in Nunspeet knew of the existence of this “village”. They did not betray them but rather helped them in many ways.
In May 1942 the MJS movement was created. Some of its members joined the Armee Juive , the Jewish Army, whose goal it was to serve as a Jewish national military army in the fight against Nazism and for the support of the Jewish settlement in Palestine. This organization supported and aided in the spiriting away of Jews across the borders of France, mainly to Spain, in the forging of identity papers etc. for hidden children.
The collaboration of the Zionist youth with the “sixth” of the Scouts and the OSE in the illegal border crossings to Switzerland and Spain was the ultimate achievement of this group. In the area of children’s rescue in France it is estimated that more than 7,000 children were saved by the concerted efforts of all the organizations.
An international Jewish welfare organization for relief to adults and children. With the rise of Nazism in Germany, the organization moved to France. In 1940, when France capitulated and was divided in two, the OSE moved to southern France, under the Vichy government. In 1942, they went underground. Until the end of 1942 some of the children were sent to the US but most were housed in mansions that were rented or bought in the center of France. In 1943 all the homes were closed because of the persecutions. The children were taken individually to hiding addresses with non-Jewish families or to other institutions. Thousands of children were thus saved.
Miriam Waterman laid the connection between Joop Westerweel (Righteous Gentile) and the Jewish resistance workers, Menachem Pinkhof and Joachim Simon. This connection led to a non-violent illegal network that laid out an escape route to Spain as well as hiding Jews in Holland and sustaining them during this period. Miriam was closely associated with the heads of the Loosdrecht Children’s Home for Jewish refugee children and teenagers, Pinkhof and Simon, and with them was instrumental in preparing a safe haven for these youngsters (more than fifty) in August 1942 when they were about to be rounded up for deportation.
Letty was part of the Westerweel Group and ran a small apartment in Rotterdam for a group of youngsters slated to use the escape route to southern France and Spain. The apartment had only two registered residents, but Letty had to obtain food for many times that number. She did this, armed with false ID papers for quite a while and in this way saved the lives of her comrades. In the end she was arrested with eight of her friends in the apartment. Letty was taken to Westerbork and survived Auschwitz.
This was a relief committee of the Jewish congregations in France with a socialist-Zionist orientation. This mainly consisted of “foreign” Jews, i.e. non-French. Represented were the Bund and Poalei Zion, but also OSEF and ORT.
In 1944, in Paris, Amelot participated in the creation of a defense league which organized all the resistance organizations under one umbrella. Under the auspices of this organization Amelot organized its activities and save more than 1,000 children from deportation and death, relieved the fate of thousands and supplied thousands of hot meals in its four vacation camps.
Born in Marseilles, Denise Siekierski-Caraco, nicknamed Colibri (hummingbird) during her early Scout days, became active in the resistance in September, 1942, after the first round-up of Jews in Marseilles. In November 1942 Vichy France was occupied by the Germans and the work intensified, still in the framework of the Scouts (called Sixth). It comprised finding homes for fugitives, producing false documents, guiding people to the Swiss and Spanish borders, monthly visits to the hidden individuals, and liaison work that included traveling to various places in the south of France carrying illegal documents. Denise maintained close ties with the Jews hidden in Chambon-sur-Lignon, a Protestant enclave in Catholic surroundings where thousands of Jews found shelter. In January 1943, Denise, again in Marseilles, helped organize a hiding operation. Interviewing the applicants and supplying them with false documents, Denise’s own life was in danger and she moved around town, sleeping in a different location every night. She finally had to leave town and went to Grenoble. Returning in June, 1943, she met Joseph Bass and joined his resistance group, the Service Andre. Denise was Bass’ principal assistant, narrowly escaping arrest several times, always on the move for others.
Jacques Stroumsa, an engineer and a violinist, was deported to Auschwitz in 1943. He was able to secure the post of engineer in the Union-Werke plant and with the tacit assent of his German boss, was able to procure jobs at the plant for his friends, some from Saloniki as well as for his sister, Bella, and seven other Greek women friends. He also saved the lives of three female students from Strassbourg by securing them jobs at the plant.