Icon by Omar RamirezSpiritual Resistance

Since armed resistance in the ghettos and concentration and death camps was met with certain death, it was not common. Yet the people tortured by the Nazis found the will to live within their hearts. Through courage of spirit as well as religious faith the Jews, Gypsies, and other groups victimized in Hitler's Holocaust stayed alive.

Spiritual resistance took many forms during the Holocaust. For some, just pretending to carry on their normal life style was resistance. Those who attempted to continue their lives in the ghettos faced conditions of starvation, disease, and the chance that their lives may be cut short at any moment with a bullet from one of Hitler's SS. In ghettos, simple rituals of culture took on high significance as they were the only reminders of life before the ghetto. With enforced curfews extending from early evening to early the next morning all socialization had to go on during the day or with people living in the same building. Small groups came together to play cards, and listen to comics, actors, musicians, or singers; to forget the horrors they witnessed each day. Artists and poets continued to work to relieve the pain of living. Their work serves as a reminder of their experiences of tragedy.


Children look out from the barbed wire at Auschwitz. Photo from the USHM Archives.


Though praying was made illegal, synagogue services occurred secretly and with regularity. The creation and distribution of underground newspapers provided an outlet for the thoughts and feelings of the oppressed. Jewish children were taught secretly because their education was forbidden, but they were taught none the less. Great efforts were made to continue to hold to traditional dietary customs, though it was forbidden by the Nazis and punishable by death. Committees met to discuss philanthropic, educational, religious, and cultural matters within the community and to try to serve the people regardless of Nazi authoritarian rules.

More active resistance by Jews and others also occurred. Many Europeans risked their lives to hide Jewish families in their attics or basements so that they would not be moved into ghettos or concentration camps. In some cases families moved from safe house to safe house to escape countries with German Occupation. The families trying to escape risked not only their own lives but the lives of each individual who helped them. Still, people helped.

In the camps, under the direction of slave labor, Jews and others resisted the Nazis by purposefully working below their capabilities and sometimes sabotaging goods they were manufacturing. By making defective products to be used by the Nazis, the workers attained personal satisfaction through the belief that they were stunting the German war effort. Though the actual effects of this sabotage on the Nazi was effort can not be measured its effect on the morale of the workers was strong.