As part of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s mission to serve as the national institution for Holocaust education and remembrance, the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance has recognized the bravery of Jews who attempted to thwart the Nazis and their collaborators. The honorees or their representatives (in the case of posthumous awards) have been presented with specially commissioned Medals of Resistance. In the Museum’s first decade, a total of 18 Medals of Resistance have been awarded, recognizing outstanding examples of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust. The final Medals were awarded in 2004, the Museum’s 10th Anniversary year.
The Medal is composed of four pieces joined together in a pendant form. The center section of the medal is a gold bas-relief of three partisans in the forest, surmounted by a red and white enamel bar signifying the stripes of the American flag. A blue and white enamel magen David hangs beneath bas-relief, and from it hangs a ruby in the shape of a drop of blood. The ruby recalls the line from the Partisan’s Hymn: Un vu gefalen iz a shpritz fun undzer blut, shprotzen vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut (And wherever a drop of our blood has fallen, from there sprouts our heroism and courage).
Museum Presents 2001 Medals of Resistance
The Museum awarded Medals of Resistance to the Jewish fighters of the Cracow Ghetto in Poland who formed the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO) and to the Nováky Group, a Slovakia-based resistance organization.
“The United States Holocaust Museum created the Medals of Jewish Resistance to honor the brave men and women who fought against their oppressors, even against impossible odds, during the dark days of the Second World War, during the Holocaust,” U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Kurtzer told those gathered in the US Embassy in Tel Aviv on June 25, 2002, in honor of Hela Schüpper-Rufeisen, who accepted the Medal of Jewish Resistance on behalf of the JFO.
The Jewish Fighting Organization was formed in the Cracow Ghetto through the merging of two organizations, the left-wing Zionist Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa’ir movement, which had established close ties to the local Communist resistance and was headed by Heshek Bauminger, and the Akiva group, a conglomeration of Zionist youth groups and led by Aharon Liebskind. Formed in October 1942, the JFO conducted operations outside the Ghetto walls, sabotaging rail lines, raiding German warehouses, and attacking German soldiers and police. On December 24, 1942, the Gestapo located Liebeskind and killed him in a violent shootout.
Schüpper-Rufeisin worked closely with JFO leaders and took an active role in many of their resistance activities. In his remarks, Kurtzer described her work as a courier between Cracow and Warsaw, an extremely difficult and dangerous job, “She successfully smuggled documents, people, leaflets, money, and even weapons into Cracow—including the weapons used in the attack on the Café Cyganeria.”
In the fall of 1942, the Polish police captured Schüpper-Rufeisin. She withstood three days of interrogation and revealed nothing; she was released. In early 1943, Schüpper-Rufeisin was shot and wounded as she tried to leave Warsaw. She remained in the city and participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on April 19, 1943, and continued for 27 days.
On May 7th, Schüpper-Rufeisin was sent out of the ghetto to deliver news about the uprising. “The day after she left,” Ambassador Kurtzer reminded the audience, “the Germans destroyed the bunker on Mila 18, killing 100 JFO fighters.” In March 1943, German police closed in on Bauminger and he perished in a hail of gunfire, perhaps by his own hand.
Read the complete text of Ambassador Kurtzer’s remarks.
“Organized armed resistance movements hold a place of significance in the struggle against Nazi oppression,” said US Ambassador Ronald Weiser in his remarks at the presentation ceremony on May 22, 2002, in the US Embassy in Bratislava, where he presented the Medal to Alexander Bachnar on behalf of the Nováky Group. The press, including Slovak national television, covered the presentation and Bachnar’s acceptance speech.
“The beginnings of such movements can be dated back to 1942,” the Ambassador continued, “when the deportations of the Jews began. It became clear to many young Jews that they were not to be transferred to Poland to work, as official propaganda claimed, but that they would end up in concentration camps and face certain death.”
Bachnar was sent to the Nováky Jewish Labor Camp as a young man where he became a member of the illegal underground movement and partisan group there. “The medal I have just received,” said Bachnar in his acceptance speech to the group of family, friends, and former resistance fighters gathered in the Bratislava embassy, “also belongs to the 250 young boys and girls of the Nováky Camp, who, during the dramatic times of 1944, decided not to succumb to the passive fate of their already deported fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. They decided to stand up against Nazi evil and its local collaborators holding a gun in their hands.”
Read the complete text of Bachnar’s remarks.
Zionist and Communist Jews in the Nováky forced labor camp formed the Nováky Group. On August 8, 1944, with the Slovakian partisan movement growing rapidly, the Jewish fighters in the camp launched a revolt, disarming the guards and taking over the camp. The newly freed prisoners then joined the Slovak National Uprising that aimed to overthrow the country’s pro-Nazi government. The Nováky Group eventually consisted of 250 former prisoners from the labor camp and two other camps, and formed the only exclusively Jewish fighting unit in the Uprising. Thirty-eight members of the Nováky Group died in the Uprising.
During the uprising, Bachnar became one of the platoon commanders of the Nováky Group. For his bravery and resistance efforts he has received the Czech War Cross and the Medal of the Slovak National Uprising. “In fact,” Ambassador Weiser concluded, “their resistance in Nováky is considered one of the most effective contributions of Jews to the collective effort of the Slovak National Uprising in 1944, an important milestone in anti-Nazi resistance.”
Read the complete text of Ambassador Weiser’s remarks.
The Medals of Resistance are awarded by the Miles Lerman Center for the Study of Jewish Resistance—an endowed program of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum—to recognize the bravery of Jews who attempted to thwart the Nazis and their collaborators. The mission of the Miles Lerman Center is to educate America and the world about the scope of Jewish physical resistance during the Holocaust, through ongoing Museum programs, seminars, and the collection of artifacts, archival materials, and oral histories.