Smuggler, fighter, spy: The true story of Jewish women who defied the Nazis

Author Judy Batalion

Author Judy Batalion

JORDAN PALMER

During World War II approximately 30,000 Jews escaped ghettos and work camps and formed organized armed resistance groups to fight the Nazis. Known as partisans, these groups of fighters included many women. According to the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation, their work in the partisan encampments ranged from domestic duties such as cleaning cooking and nursing, to reconnaissance, weapons transport, as well as armed combat. Women made up approximately 10% of the partisans.

The Polish Resistance

Stories of the extraordinary accomplishments of brave Jewish women who became resistance fighters, cannot be lost to time. Witnesses to the brutal murder of their families and neighbors and the violent destruction of their communities, these unknown women—some still in their teens—helped transform the Jewish youth groups into resistance cells to fight the Nazis.With courage, guile, and nerves of steel, these “ghetto girls” served as couriers, armed fighters, intelligence agents and saboteurs. In a new book, “The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos,” author Judy Batalion, the granddaughter of Polish Holocaust survivors, recounts the unforgettable true tale of war, the fight for freedom, female friendship and survival in the face of staggering odds.

Earlier this month, Lory Cooper, manager of volunteers and tours for the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum, got to the chance to interview Batalion and discuss her book. The Holocaust Museum will broadcast Cooper’s interview with the author at 7 p.m. Sunday, April 19. The event will be broadcast simultaneously on Facebook and on the Higher Education Channel (at Spectrum 989 and AT&T U-verse 99). It will then be archived for later view at hecmedia.org.The Jewish Light caught up with Cooper in advance of the April 19 event to discuss her main takeaways from the book and her interview with Batalion.

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Lory Cooper’s five main takeaways

1. “For me, the biggest takeaway from the book was truly understanding the span of the resistance. Batalion shows how the resistance to the Nazis took place many ways, through spirituality, education, humor, writing/recording the truth, disseminating information, smuggling goods, building tunnels and violence. Batalion writes of the significance of each form, and how the various types of resistance worked together for the Jews to resist the Nazis. Before reading this book, when I gave tours at the Holocaust Museum and talked about resistance, it was a bit like reciting a memorized script. Now after reading this book, I feel I truly understand the scope and importance of resistance, and I look forward to sharing these stories and values with museum visitors.”

2. “I appreciated considering the tensions in roles and ideology among various groups—men vs. women, young adults vs. older leaders, Nazi collaborators vs. Jewish helpers. There were so many great themes and quotes that would be really neat to analyze in a secondary English paper. While the adult version is pretty graphic, the author did also publish a “Young Readers Edition” that I hope schools will begin to use in their Holocaust instruction.”3.” I was so inspired by these women’s agency and resilience. I kept thinking of how young they were and how did they organize to teach children, establish soup kitchens, falsify documents, build tunnels and bunkers, organize currier missions, get materials and knowledge to build bombs? Even one of the photos from summer camp in the late 1930’s is similar to my summer camp pictures. Hearing these incredible stories makes you wonder “What would I have done?” 4. “In our new museum that will open in summer 2022, one of the new galleries will explore the roles and perspectives of the different players in the Holocaust. As we worked on the content for this gallery, we questioned how to handle people or groups who blurred the lines: a Nazi who saved a Jew, the Judenrat, the Jewish police, etc. As I read the book, I was especially sensitive to these ideas. I appreciated how the author told these multifaceted stories. At the end of the book, she wrote “History needs to account for complexities; we must all confront our pasts honestly, face the ways we are both victims and aggressors.”5. “The importance of hearing testimony to remember, honor and give a voice to those who perished.”

Virtual Author Event  

Cooper said the April 19 event will be a fascinating look at a little-known aspect of the Holocaust — whether or not the audience member has read the book. For those who have read the book, she said she hopes “the interview will give a ‘behind the scenes’ or ‘in the eyes of the author’ perspective to this incredible story of women resistance fighters.” And for those who haven’t read it yet, they will hear some unbelievable stories and feel they have to know more,” Cooper said. “This project took Judy Batalion 14 years of research and writing, so she has excellent insights to share.”