Zvi “Heshek” Bauminger. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem Photo Archives
Aharon “Dolek” Liebeskind. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Yad Vashem Photo Archives
Gate at the Cracow ghetto. US Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Instytut Pamieci Narodowej
Heshek Bauminger (1919–1943) and Aharon “Dolek” Liebeskind (1912–1942)
Soon after German troops occupied Cracow in early September 1939, Jews there began to organize resistance to Nazi rule. Though the Jewish population was devastated by the mass expulsions from the city in 1940 and the creation of a ghetto the following year, activists, primarily from Zionist youth groups, succeeded in creating underground cells. In December 1941, members of the Akiva (Akiba), the largest of the prewar youth groups in Cracow, even set up a secret base on an agricultural training farm outside the city.
By mid-1942, two main resistance organizations existed in the Cracow ghetto. The first was led by Aharon “Dolek” Liebeskind, the chief of the Akiva group and a skilled organizer who brought together various Zionist youth organizations in the underground. The second band of fighters was headed by Heshek Bauminger, a former soldier in the Polish and Soviet armies who had escaped from German hands. Returning to Cracow, he created a resistance group, largely composed of his fellow youths in the left-wing Zionist Ha-Shomer ha-Tsa’ir movement, and established close ties to the local Communist resistance.
Having learned about the mass murder of Jews in the Chelmno killing center and the deportations from Cracow to the Belzec death camp in June 1942, the Jewish fighters decided to respond with armed resistance against the Nazis. Using couriers like Hela Schüpper, the leaders of this group established contact with other Jewish resistance groups in Warsaw, Tarnow, and Rzeszow, obtained valuable information, and smuggled weapons back into the ghetto. They sent commando groups out into the nearby forests to link up with the partisans and set up a forgery workshop, under Shimson Draenger, to create false papers and documents.
In October 1942, the two resistance groups joined together to form the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO). In the months that followed, the JFO operated outside the ghetto, sabotaging rail lines, raiding German warehouses, and attacking German soldiers and security police. On December 22, the Jewish fighters carried out their boldest plan—a series of attacks on German forces throughout the city. Members of the JFO were to throw grenades into three cafés where German officers congregated, sabotage army and police vehicles, distribute anti-Nazi leaflets, raise Polish flags on the bridges over the Vistula, and assassinate German soldiers throughout the city. At the Cyganeria café, the fighters killed at least seven German officers and wounded many more.
In the wake of these attacks, German authorities launched a massive manhunt to find the resistance fighters. On December 24, the Gestapo located Liebeskind’s hiding place and he died in the violent shootout that followed. The next day, Hitler’s headquarters was informed of the action. In March 1943, the German police closed in on Bauminger and in a hail of gunfire he perished, perhaps by his own hand. Though its membership had been decimated by arrests and its leaders killed or captured, the JFO continued to fight on, carrying out sabotage, distributing anti-Nazi materials, and urging Jews to resist and flee to the forests.
Award presented in 2001.