Holocaust Educational Trust Ambassador Blog

What Did Resistance Mean During the Holocaust?

When we hear the word ‘Holocaust’ many thoughts may come to mind, from the concentration camps to the ghettos and to the survivors who continue to share their stories.

The Holocaust was an exceptionally dark period in our shared history, yet even amongst this darkness there were small sparks of light in the form of resistance. While we often consider resistance in its armed form, the importance of non-armed defiance cannot be overlooked.

As two Regional Ambassadors, we wanted to highlight a few examples of this non-armed defiance for us all to consider what resistance means in the context of the Holocaust.

The Oneg Shabbat Archive

Polish Jewish Historian Emanuel Ringelblum founded the Oneg Shabbat Archive in October 1940 to record the experiences of Jewish people living in the Warsaw Ghetto. He and other archivists collected documents such as letters, art, posters and documents, written in both Yiddish and Polish, focusing mainly on everyday life within the ghetto as well as cataloguing deportations.

Part of the temporary exhibition Light of the Negative with 76 photographs from The Ringelblum Archive taken in the Warsaw Ghetto at the Jewish Historical Institute in WarsawPart of the temporary exhibition Light of the Negative with 76 photographs from The Ringelblum Archive taken in the Warsaw Ghetto at the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Adrian Grycuk, CC BY-SA 3.0 PL, via Wikimedia Commons

The first section of the archive was buried in 1942, as they feared that the frequent deportations may unveil it. In 1943, with rumours circling of the ghetto’s liquidation, the remaining parts were also buried.

The first part of the archive was recovered in 1946 and the second in 1950 (whilst the third was never found). The Oneg Shabbat archive is an incredible resource, which enables us to learn about the lives of Jewish people in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Nazis and their collaborators aimed to destroy Jewish culture, Oneg Shabbat aimed to preserve it.

Zalman Gradowski

Zalman Gradowski was a Polish Jew deported from the Grodno ghetto to Auschwitz-Birkenau in December 1942. He was chosen for the Sonderkommando unit, selected to work in and around the gas chambers and crematoria.

Gradowksi (along with other members of the Sonderkommando) was determined to record what was going on in Auschwitz-Birkenau, by writing about his experiences such as the transportations and the selection process. Gradowski hid his writings near the crematoria shortly before taking part in the Sonderkommando Revolt in which he died.

Within his writings Gradowksi wrote, Dear finder of these notes, I have one request of you, which is, in fact, the practical objective for my writing, that my days of Hell, that my hopeless tomorrow will find a purpose in the future.

Clandestine Schools

Jewish School in the Riga Ghetto.Jewish School in the Riga Ghetto, Rakoon CC0 via Wikimedia Commons

Secret schools were established in many of the ghettos in Eastern Europe and served as a vital escape from the horrors of everyday life. They also represented attempts to protect children, as far as possible, from the harsh realities of the world outside. The continuation of education is a clear sign of defiance against the Nazi regime through a determination to go on, and a hope for the future.


When deportations to Auschwitz-Birkenau began in 1942, Amsterdam’s Jews were held in a theatre in the city center before they were sent to the camps. Walter Süskind supervised this deportation center for the Dutch Jewish Council. He and other Jewish officials responsible for registering new arrivals tried to ensure that the children were not registered. The children were smuggled out in rucksacks, laundry baskets and even milk churns by the Jewish nursery staff. With the help of Dutch resistance organisations, the children were sent to safehouses in the countryside. Süskind was eventually deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where he was murdered.


Surviving, whilst clearly defying the aims of the Nazis, also allows for the memory of those who suffered, and those who were murdered, to be carried on. In the words of Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel, For the survivor who chooses to testify, it is clear: his duty is to bear witness for the dead and for the living. The act of surviving and sharing their testimonies is the ultimate defiance against their persecutors.

Five Holocaust survivors sit among dozens of Regional Ambassadors. Regional Ambassadors with survivors at the Holocaust Educational Trust’s Ambassador Conference in 2019.

By Jess Reid and Dylan Magill