On June 27, 1941, five days after the invasion of the Soviet Union, German troops occupied Bialystok. Over the next several weeks, thousands of Jews were rounded up and killed. At the end of July, German authorities ordered the more than 50,000 Jews remaining in the city to enter the ghetto.
Under German occupation, the Bialystok ghetto served as an important industrial center for the production of war matériel and other items. The Jewish Council hoped that the presence of these factories and workshops would prevent the destruction of the ghetto’s population. In 1942, when many of the ghettos in the surrounding region were liquidated, Jewish life in Bialystok remained relatively peaceful.
Unwilling to be lulled into a false sense of security, Jewish political factions within the ghetto began organizing for resistance. In January 1942, the governing Jewish underground in the Vilna ghetto sent Chaika Grossman back to her hometown of Bialystok to initiate a united front of leftist and Zionist groups within the ghetto. Differences in ideology and strategy separated the various factions. At the end of July 1943, all the Jewish underground groups in the ghetto finally agreed to form a united armed front, and Chaika Grossman was elected as a member of the command staff.
To collect information and provide other assistance to the ghetto resistance, Chaika Grossman posed as a Polish Christian so that she could operate on the “Aryan” side of the city. There, along with other members of the Jewish resistance, she acquired weapons and helped to smuggle them into the ghetto. She also undertook dangerous missions to the Warsaw, Vilna, and Grodno ghettos to gather information and meet with leaders of the Jewish underground.
On the night of August 15, 1943, German soldiers and SS units began preparations for the final liquidation of the Bialystok ghetto. After surrounding the ghetto, they sent troops into the factory area. The following day, German authorities ordered the remaining Jews to assemble for deportation. With few weapons at their disposal, and against heavily armed troops, the ghetto fighters went into action. While some carried out acts of sabotage, still others went to the deportation area, where many Jews were assembled, to incite them to revolt and escape. The Jewish fighters tried to breach the German defenses to facilitate a mass escape through the ghetto fences. Against overwhelming forces, the Jewish underground in Bialystok held out for almost a week.
During the uprising, Chaika Grossman fought alongside her comrades in fierce battles with German troops. She escaped to the “Aryan” side of the city and continued her underground activities by providing supplies to partisans in nearby forests. She even helped to organize a resistance cell made up of anti-Nazi Germans. In 1948, she settled in Israel and later served in its parliament, the Knesset. She died on May 26, 1996.