Spiritual resistance during the Holocaust refers to attempts by individuals to maintain their humanity, personal integrity and dignity in the face of Nazi attempts to dehumanize and degrade them. Most generally, spiritual resistance may refer to the refusal to have one's spirit broken in the midst of the most horrible degradation. Cultural and educational activities, maintenance of community documentation, and clandestine religious observances are three examples of spiritual resistance.
In addition to armed resistance, Jews engaged in various forms of unarmed defiance. These included organized attempts at escaping from the ghettos into nearby forests, non-compliance with Nazi demands on the part of certain Jewish community leaders, illegal smuggling of food into the ghettos, and spiritual resistance.
Groups in many ghettos established secret archives and methodically wrote, collected, and stored reports, diaries, and documents about daily life in the ghettos. These efforts served to gather evidence on the situation of Jews in occupied Europe and also sought to reaffirm a Jewish sense of community, history, and civilization in the face of both physical and spiritual annihilation.
The best known of these archives was that of the Warsaw ghetto, code-named Oneg Shabbat ("Joy of the Sabbath") and founded by historian Emanuel Ringelblum (1900-1944). The Oneg Shabbat archive was clandestinely compiled between 1940 and 1943 under Ringelblum’s leadership. Members of the secret Oneg Shabbat organization gathered thousands of testimonies from natives of Warsaw and from hundreds of other localities, creating a documentary record of the wartime fate of Polish Jewry. On April 18, 1943, just one day before the start of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the third and final part of the archive was placed in a cylindrical metal box and buried. Ten metal boxes were recovered on September 18, 1946 beneath the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto. The second portion of the archives was uncovered on December 1, 1950. The final cache was never found. The archive provides valuable documentation of life and death inside the ghetto.
Taking a Stand
Spiritual resistance shows that taking a stand does not necessarily involve military force or physically fighting an enemy. Although collecting records of daily life and death in the ghetto did not necessarily guarantee one’s survival, the Oneg Shabbat archive and other archives like it have provided historians with first-hand accounts of life in the ghettos and camps. Documenting the evidence is taking a stand because it helps future generations to learn about the Holocaust and helps to fight against those who deny that the Holocaust happened.
Resources to Explore
- Spiritual Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto Online Encyclopedia Article
- Writers and Poets in the Ghettos Online Encyclopedia Article
- Songs of the ghettos, concentration camps, and World War II partisan outposts
- Poem: For Not Lost Is the Hope