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Daring to Resist


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Dutch resistance worker listens to radio

teacher's guide
BACKGROUND

This film portrays the experiences of three women who resisted the Nazis during World War II. The images you see on the screen contain photographs and footage filmed during the war years as well as location footage and interviews shot in the late 1990s.

Barbara Ledermann, Faye Schulman and Shulamit (Shula) Lack were all born in the mid-1920s to Jewish families and survived the Holocaust to recount their stories. Living in different parts of Europe, they undertook different forms of resistance. Faye went into battle with partisans in Poland (now Belarus). In distributing illegal underground newspapers and assisting Jews in hiding, Barbara fought against the German occupiers. Shula and her associates in Zionist youth organizations in Hungary also resisted Nazi terror by attempting to smuggle Jewish victims to safety.

By refusing to submit to tyranny and murder, these three, like many others of courage and conscience, resisted. They made the decision to fight back. Their story must be told to counter the still too common myth that Hitler's victims submitted to their deaths without a fight.

The three stories portrayed in Daring to Resist demonstrate that the Holocaust, like the war itself, did not come to all countries and regions in the same way or at the same time. In discussing the Holocaust with students, teachers should avoid oversimplifying complex events.

The role of women in the Holocaust has been largely neglected. The stories of Barbara, Faye and Shula reaffirm the fact that women made enormous contributions to the fight against Nazism.

The Rise of Nazism
The film's main focus is on the war years, from Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland in 1939 to its defeat in 1945. But of course the Holocaust did not suddenly burst onto the scene with Nazi Germany's Blitzkrieg.

Hitler's drive for power began as early as 1919, first with an attempt to overthrow the German democratic government by force, then by an effort to achieve power through the ballot box and establish a dictatorship from above. The latter strategy succeeded. Hitler was named Chancellor (similar to the post of Prime Minister) on January 30, 1933.

He capitalized on this position to establish, with a growing number of supporters, a dictatorship based on his own personal rule, terror against opponents, and persecution of those he considered "racial enemies," above all the Jews.

Anti-Semitism as Policy
Over the next several years, laws and decrees created a state based on the Nazis' racist ideology, stripping German Jews of their jobs, their property, and their civil rights. Many German Jews, like Barbara's family in the film, emigrated to escape these racist policies, but few countries were willing to offer refuge. Of those who did not emigrate, many victims were reluctant to begin an entirely new life abroad, and others did not have the means to pay for exit fees, taxes and bribes.

At the same time, Hitler began to prepare for a war of European and even global conquest. On November 9, 1938, legal measures against the Jews gave way to organized violence during the Kristallnacht (Night of Broken Glass). Jewish homes, businesses, community institutions and places of worship were attacked, looted and destroyed. At least 32 people were killed, and the first mass roundups of Jews took place, with more than 30,000 sent to concentration camps.

Hitler's years of preparation were crucial to the later implementation of the Holocaust. German Jews suffered six years of persecution before the war brought the Nazi racial program to much of the rest of Europe in the wake of conquering German armies.

Origins of Genocide
While prejudice, hatred and persecution of Jews was common in overwhelmingly Christian Europe, this seemed to give way to growing acceptance in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Assimilated Jews in Western and Central Europe often lived and worked alongside non-Jews, attended the same public schools and engaged in a shared civic life. Such was the case for Barbara's family in Berlin up to 1933, and for Shula's family in Budapest. In Northeastern Europe assimilation was less common.

Nazi Germany first attacked Poland on September 1, 1939, and occupied the western part of that country. In a secret agreement with Hitler, Stalin's Soviet Union occupied eastern Poland, including Faye's village of Lenin. Lenin fell to the Nazis when Hitler broke the pact and attacked the Soviet Union in 1941.

Holland, where Barbara lived after her German-Jewish family sought refuge there, was attacked and occupied by the Germans in 1940.

Hungary, where Shula lived, was an ally of Nazi Germany during the war, but the Hungarian government resisted turning over the country's Jewish citizens to the Nazi death machinery. In 1944, the Nazis took over their erstwhile ally to prevent the Hungarians from making a separate peace with the Allies, and began deporting Hungary's Jews — many of them refugees from other countries — to Auschwitz.

In general, conditions were most appalling in Eastern Europe, where two-thirds of European Jews lived. Mass killings, such as the murder of the Jewish citizens of Lenin, began in Eastern Europe in June, 1941. Six special killing centers or "extermination camps" were constructed from late 1941 to mid-1942, the largest and deadliest being Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Beginning in 1942, Jews from all corners of Europe were deported, country by country, to these death camps.

Of the nine million Jews living in Nazi-controlled territories, more than six million were killed by the end of the war, among them most of Barbara's, Faye's and Shula's immediate families. In a very real sense, Barbara's, Faye's and Shula's survival itself represents an act of resistance: By living on to tell their stories and to establish their own families after the war, they defied the Nazis’ plans to eradicate Jewish life.

 

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