“The question is not why all the Jews did not fight, but how so many of them did. Tormented, beaten, starved, where did they find the strength – physical and spiritual – to resist?”

- Elie Wiesel

 

“Jewish resistance during the Holocaust is an important story and one, I believe, that has not been accurately told.”

- Richard Rhodes, Pulitzer Prize winning author and member of Butterflies in the Storm advisory board

 

Butterflies In The Storm is a project that aims to highlight three remarkable instances of Jewish resistance against the Nazis during WWII. One of the stories recounts the little known but highly significant Algerian Jewish resistance of 1942, another centers on the Treblinka concentration camp, while the third is focused on the Minsk ghetto resistance movement.

 

Butterflies In The Storm aims to celebrate the heroism of these oft-forgotten resistors, to bring a new perspective to the horrors of the Holocaust and World War II and, ultimately, to show how the human spirit can shine in even the darkest, most tragic circumstances.

 

Any acts of defiance during this period are made all the more incredible when one bears in mind that the chances of success were at best, minimal, and that the Nazis were known to have enforced the brutal rule of “collective responsibility”, whereby entire groups and families were held responsible for any act of rebellion, even if carried out by just one individual.

 
Below is a brief synopsis of each story:

 

ALGERIA

The story of the Jewish Algerian resistance movement has been largely neglected by history and was an incredible triumph for a small group of largely non-combatant young Jewish men and women. The success of the resistance was instrumental in saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of Jews in North Africa, who were targeted as the next victims of Hitler’s “Final Solution”. Jewish Algerian resistance changed the course of the war and had a major impact on its final outcome, for both the Allies and the Third Reich.

 

November 8th, 1942 was the fateful day that an overwhelmingly Jewish force, led by Bernard Karsenty, Roger Carcassonne and José Aboulker staged a coup in the capital of Algiers. This coup had been planned in conjunction with the Allies to help launch “Operation Torch”, the Allied invasion of North Africa. Surprise was the single most crucial condition of success. Surprise for the pro-Nazi French leaders, the Vichy generals, and the leaders of the pro-Nazi militias arrested in their beds as well as the chief of police incarcerated in his own jail.  Incredibly, the resistors were able to neutralize a whole battalion in order to allow the Allies to invade Algiers and demand a cease fire from the French who grossly overestimated their numbers. For two years, these young men risked their lives, because some collaborators, caught before the invasion, were executed on the spot. “Operation Torch” was an extraordinary success whose tremendous importance was commented on by Eisenhower and Nazi officers alike.

 

MINSK

The Minsk Ghetto was created on July 25th, 1941. 1 month later, the underground movement of the ghetto had their first meeting. For 2 years, this tenacious resistance resulted in the escape of over 10,000 Jews, most of whom relocated in the surrounding forests and joined Partisan groups.  These partisan groups were instrumental in disrupting Nazi supply lines by blowing up numerous train tracks, and killing a large numbers of SS troops. In fact these partisan groups were a key component of the Soviet push that finally defeated the Germans who had invaded Russia in 1941. Some of the unsung heroes of the Minsk ghetto underground include Hersh Smolar who faked his own death and hid for 4 months in a typhus infirmary before escaping and Joseph Gavi, a child who managed to lead over 200 Jews to their freedom.

 

TREBLINKA

 

In Treblinka the Jewish inmates were divided into 7 work groups.  In early 1943, they decided to set the whole camp on fire. In order to do so, they needed arms. After a few trials, they eventually succeeded in getting several revolvers with cartridges, twenty rifles and twenty hand grenades. One of the inmates was given a job by the Nazis to spray disinfectant all over the camp. On the day of the uprising, August 2, 1943, instead of disinfectant, he generously sprayed gasoline everywhere under the eyes of a totally unsuspecting officer. A shot near the gate of the Jewish barracks was heard at 3:45 p.m. and that was the signal for the uprising. Hand grenades were thrown on the “disinfected” areas, triggering a huge fire and a deafening noise: the arsenal with all the ammunitions exploded. Of 1,500 prisoners, about 600 managed to escape the camp, but only about 70 are known to have survived until the end of the war. However, most of the guards at the camp perished, no more gassings were undertaken at Treblinka and the camp was shut down a year later.