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1941: Mass Murder
 pg. 213 
  Mass murder by shooting still decimated Jewish communities. However, in the latter months of 1941 it became clear to the Germans that mass murder by shooting was overly stressful on the killers and too inefficient to meet the goals of the "Final Solution." The major change in Nazi Germany's anti-Jewish policy entailed that Jews would increasingly be deported and destroyed at major death camps in Poland.

Employing euphemisms about "resettlement," the Germans tried to disguise their murderous intentions. Abba Kovner, a young, Jewish Resistance leader, was not deceived. When the Nazi slaughter of Lithuanian Jews convinced him that armed resistance against the Germans was imperative, he dedicated himself to organizing Jewish fighters.

At a clandestine meeting held in Vilna, Lithuania, on the night of December 31, 1941, Kovner crafted a manifesto, which was shared more widely with Jewish Resistance members the next day. "Hitler plans to destroy all of the Jews of Europe," the Proclamation of the Vilna Ghetto Resistance Organization stated on January 1, 1942, "and the Jews of Lithuania have been chosen as the first in line." Its exhortation continued: "We will not be led like sheep to the slaughter! True, we are weak and defenseless, but the only reply to the murderer is revolt! Brothers! Better to fall as free fighters than to live by the mercy of the murderers. Arise! Arise with your last breath!"

Based on his early and correct judgment about German intentions to destroy European Jewry completely, Kovner's public call for resistance was the first of its kind. In late 1941 European Jews severely lacked the resources and support needed for effective uprisings. Nevertheless, as the Final Solution's mass murder continued, armed Jewish men, women, and youths found ways to resist the Nazis in ghettos, in partisan units, in underground groups across the European continent, and even in the concentration and extermination camps.

What stands out is not the false stereotype that there was scant armed resistance among the European Jews, but rather that so much of this resistance did take place when Jewish resources were terribly limited. After the Holocaust, the examples of Jewish resistance carried out in spite of hopeless odds and almost certain death bear profound symbolic meaning for all people--Jews and non-Jews alike--who understand the human quest for freedom.

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This mobile killing van gassed Jews who were being deported to the crematoria at Chelmno, Poland.
Photo: YIVO Institute for Jewish Research / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

Billowing smoke testifies to the fierce fighting between German troops, shown driving into the Ukraine, and Soviet defenders. Using flamethrowers and grenades, the Germans destroyed everything in their path.
Photo: AP/Wide World

1941: Mass Murder
 pg. 213 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.