We must first realize that resistance was in no way a survival strategy. Yet, even when it seemed obvious that death was near inevitable, why did they not put up a fight? This argument is still puzzling to many holocaust historians, yet the arguments of Raul Hilberg and Yehuda Bauer offer insight to possible reasons why they did not fight and that resistance was more widespread than most people think.
First of all we will look at Raul Hilberg’s “Two Thousand Years of Jewish Appeasement,” to give us possible reasons why Jews simply willing followed orders to their death. We must see the destruction in a way that has two role-players: the perpetrators and the victims. We will closely look at the role that Jews played in sealing their own fate.
Hilberg gives us five possible Jewish reactions to the situation they had been confronted with. First of all we will look at the possibility of resistance. It seems as though people would not willingly walk to their death, but 2000 years of appeasement was not easily changed. Along with the history of appeasement, the Jews were totally caught by surprise. They had little organization and so, could not put up a worthwhile fight even if they had wanted to. The SS also did a good job of mental warfare in that any resistance, no matter how significant, the perpetrators knew that the repercussions would affect the whole community and so it was hard to muster support for physical opposition.
The second reaction was Jewish attempt to make the struggle more of a mental battle than a physical one. They tried to avert the full plans of the German army by using written and oral appeals. Jews also tried to anticipate German wishes. The SS found that the ghettos could be very productive and tried to milk them for all they could. In this way, the Jews believed that if they were able to be productive, they would be spared long enough because of their economic value for help to arrive.
Another possible reaction is flight. Only a few thousand Jews escaped from the ghettos in Russia and Poland, and very few escaped from the camps. This was the most viable survival option and yet very few took it. Von dem Bach talked about an “unguarded escape route to the Pripet Mar...
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...was extremely difficult for many reasons. First of all, although there were armed undergrounds in two of the camps, they never acted, and other than this it was impossible to get arms to stage a real resistance. Second of all, the victims were so malnourished that they could not put up any reasonable fight. And lastly, they were in no mental state to fight the SS. They were instead, fighting for their life every second of the day. They had in some ways given up on life and often times willing to obey all orders because it was the easiest way to do things.
My immediate reaction is, how could they not resist when they know they are going to die. But, it is easy to say what you would do looking back at the situation. In many cases I believe that they did resist in the best way they knew how. They fought for life and did that by any means necessary. Many times they felt as though if they prolonged their life, that soon enough they would be saved. This seems as a very reasonable thought, so in my opinion I believe that they did resist more than Hilberg gives them credit for, but I believe they did it from lessons they had learned from the past 2000 years.
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