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Ch.6 Second World War: the holocaust - war within the war

posted 10 Apr 2011, 11:49 by Admin uk

If a person has no hope of staying alive,

he at least does not want to die in vain.1

Tadeusz Patzer, concentration camp survivor

As analyzed in the previous chapter, the Second World War was mainly caused by the struggle between imperialists for the redistribution of markets, and their desire to defeat the Soviet Union. However, within this war the German Nazi Government waged a war against Jews, Roma, and many other ‘undesirables’. The causes of this war are even more shrouded in darkness than the causes of the Second World War. In general the Holo­caust is defined as a one off evil event standing outside of history and bear­ing no relationship to what was before or came after. This is false.

What is equally false is the widespread myth that there was no resistance in the concentration camps. The creation of concentration camps and the subsequent Holocaust did create the worst possible conditions for fighting back. But, given those circumstances, what is remarkable is not the lack of resistance, but that the resistance was a large as it was.

Racist ideology

Nazism is usually presented as an evil ideology completely alien to all other ideologies. And thus it is easy to conclude that Nazism has nothing to do with British, French or American imperialism. But many aspects of Nazi ideology were familiar features in the developed capitalist countries.

Nationalism was its main ideological basis. In imperialist states, nationalism meant placing the values and interests of one’s own nation above those of other nations. This presupposed that the common values and interests within a nation were greater than those between people internationally. Pre­cisely what these values and interests were was unclear. They were usually associated with flags, accounts of heroic battles in the past, language, and ‘the national character’.

Towards the end of the 19th century, as the working class grew, organised and began to challenge those in power, the bourgeois state needed an ide­ology that could reduce social tensions, something which could give the impression that all classes shared a common interest. In pre-capitalist socie­ties, this role had been occupied by religion. Nationalism took its place.

This, in turn, was combined with racism. Hitler consciously put forward the division of humanity into races as an ideological alternative to the Marxist view that society was divided into classes.2

The Nazis were not alone in mixing nationalism with racism. The brutal oppression practised by all imperialist powers in the colonies required some form of justification, and the solution was to view those being oppressed as inferior creatures. This was combined with a quasi-scientific notion of genetics that gave birth to a new form of racism.

In ancient Rome, the Romans were of course considered superior to their slaves, who generally came from conquered territories. But a slave could become a Roman if he was freed by his master, and a Roman could be­come a slave. In the film Gladiator, Russell Crowe falls from his position as one of Rome’s most successful generals to that of a slave. In medieval times, the Jews were victims of widespread discrimination, but persecu­tion usually ceased if they converted. Often, the Jews were forced to do precisely that. Modern racism makes no such allowance. A person from an ‘inferior’ race has the wrong genes, and that cannot be changed. The inevitable conclusion is that the ‘superior’ race must be cleansed from such alien elements.

The first law permitting compulsory sterilisation was introduced in Indiana (United States) in 1907. In time, seventeen other American states followed Indiana’s example, and in 1926 this was sanctioned by the US Supreme Court. Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes expressed the opinion of the court as follows: “It is better for all the world if, instead of waiting to execute degenerate offspring for crime, or to let them starve for their imbecility, society can prevent those who are manifestly unfit from continuing their kind” 3 It is not so strange, therefore, that in 2000 a study concluded that “The comparative histories of the eugenical sterilization campaigns in the United States and Nazi Germany reveal important similarities of motiva­tion, intent, and strategy”4 In Sweden, too, such ideas took root among the bourgeoisie. Nor was the right wing of the Social Democratic Party immune to the ‘spirit of the times’. In 1935 the Social Democratic govern­ment introduced a sterilisation law, despite the opposition of the left in the Swedish Labour Movement. Between 1935 and 1976, some 63 000 people underwent compulsory sterilisation in Sweden, many of them Roma or travellers. Only Nazi Germany sterilised a larger number of people.5

Nazi racism was directed primarily at the Jews. Anti-Semitism was not unique to Nazism. Hitler was an admirer of the American car manufacturer Henry Ford, and the feeling was mutual up to the entry of the US into the Second World War. One of Ford’s newspapers had, as early as 1920, pub­lished a series of anti-Semitic articles headed The international Jew: the world’s foremost problem.6 Hitler and Ford agreed on the myth that 75% of all Com­munists were Jews.7

Anti-Semitism was widespread, also in Britain. The British Nazis, organised in the British Union of Fascists (BUF) and led by Sir Oswald Mosley, 6th Baronet, had 40 000 members at their peak in the 1930s. The party had many supporters in the upper echelons of British society. King Edward VIII was one of them. Hitler intended to use him as a puppet monarch in Britain, if Germany had won the war.8

Hitler adopted ideas that were already widespread and combined them with ‘socialist’ rhetoric in order to enlist the sympathy of poorer sections of the community. The ‘Aryan race’ was described as superior, and the Jews were made scapegoats. They were blamed for all the misfortunes suffered by the German people. A kind of mysticism was also added to the brew.

Forcing the Jews out

Initially, the Nazis wanted Jews to emigrate from Germany. They tried to achieve this by isolating and tyrannising the Jewish community. By legisla­tive means, they forced successive categories of Jews out of public life, confiscating their property and imposing special pass laws that separated Jews from the rest of the population.

For Jews themselves, however, the problem was not only getting out of Germany but getting into other countries. Major obstacles were put in their way. Sweden was among the countries that wanted to stop Jews at its bor­ders, and together with Switzerland was responsible for making their escape more difficult. It was at the initiative of these two neutral states that the Germans began stamping the letter J into the passports of Jews in October 1938 so that foreign customs officials could immediately identify and stop them at the border.9

9 November 1939, Crystal Night, more than six and a half years after Hitler seized power, marked the first wholesale destruction of Jewish shops and synagogues, and the murder and mass deportation of Jewish citizens be­gan. Some 30 000 Jews were sent to the concentration camp at the village of Dachau, a few kilometres from Munich. It was the first sizeable group of Jews to be sent there simply for being Jewish.10 The pogrom-like acts of violence were largely carried out by SA and SS groups. These were not uncontrolled, spontaneous attacks by ordinary citizens. The lack of popular enthusiasm shown on Crystal Night convinced the Nazis and other anti-Semites in the German administration that Jews would have to be forced out in a more organised, planned way. 11 The majority of Germany’s 500 000 Jews fled. 170 000 German Jews were killed later.12

Once Hitler had occupied Eastern Europe, millions of Jews were under Nazi control. In July 1940, there was talk of driving the Jews out of Eu­rope by shipping them to the island of Madagascar.13 This line of approach was not unlike the plans put forward by the British Prime Minister, Tony Blair, concerning the way the EU should deal with asylum applicants. He suggested they be sent to special ‘zones’ in Albania, Moldavia or possibly Morocco. 14 Oliver Letwin, home affairs spokesman of the opposition Tory Party, thought that asylum seekers should be dispatched to an island “far, far away”. Blair’s plan foundered when Greek government spokesman Panos Beglitis declared that “Europe must remain a democratic area that grants political asylum and does not have concentration camps”. Hitler abandoned his Madagascar project in late 1940. In the autumn of 1941, he closed German borders to all Jewish emigration. 15

The ideological predecessors to the Holocaust

The French diplomat Joseph Arthur Graf von Gobineau is believed to have been the first person to seek to openly justify the extermination of the Jews. He argued that the ‘Aryan’ race, the creator of civilisation, should not allow itself to be stained by Jews and others.16 The philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche has also been blamed for inspiring Nazi anti-Semitism. But Go­bineau had yet to write his essay and Nietzsche was only six years old when the great British liberal philosopher Herbert Spencer wrote that imperial­ism had done civilisation a service by clearing the earth of inferior races of men. Civilised states in pursuit of “the great scheme of human happiness” were justified in exterminating the lower orders that stood in the way of this goal. 17 Spencer’s liberalism and emphasis on the freedom of the individual only applied to selected parts of the human race.

Spencer was by no means alone in his views. This kind of thinking was widespread in Britain in the 19th century. These ideas were a reflection of what was going on in the colonies.18

The Tasmanians were the first nation of people to suffer total extermina­tion. Tasmania is an island roughly the size of Ireland. In 1803, the first col­onisers arrived, and within a year the massacres had begun. As in the case of the North American Indians, it was not the massacres by themselves that led to the demise of the Tasmanians. The killings were just a prelude to the seizing of their land, the annihilation of all the kangaroos on the island, and the import of thousands of sheep – owned, of course, by the invaders. With their livelihoods gone, many islanders succumbed to disease. In 1829, the British government representatives decided to gather together the re­maining Tasmanians in a form of ghetto (or reserve, as it was called) on the barren west coast of the island. 5 000 soldiers, 45 metres apart, combed the island to make sure no Tasmanians were hiding from the administration. Of the 2 000 natives who had welcomed the first whites when they stepped ashore, only 300 remained. Many of these quickly became alcoholics, and the women gave birth to fewer and fewer children (a normal reaction at times of crisis, even in modern industrialised states.) When Darwin visited the island in 1859 – just 56 years after the arrival of the white colonisers – all the men had already died. The last Tasmanian woman, Truganina, went to her grave in 1876.

Wherever colonial powers have gone, they have left only scattered groups of people and shattered social structures in their wake. Whole native com­munities have been wiped out in the name of civilisation and racial supe­riority. When Hitler attacked Jews, he was treading a well-worn path. What the imperialist powers had been engaged in for decades in the colonies, he tried to achieve in a matter of a few years in Europe.

Other colonial regimes had implemented their genocides far away from home. This was not only for geographical reasons. Public opinion, not least the Labour Movement, would not have tolerated genocides if they could have got first hand information. Germany only had room to expand next door, and was able to do so because the Labour Movement had been completely smashed in Germany.

Colonial expansion

The Holocaust was part of the Nazis ‘Urge to go East’ (Drang nach Osten) strategy to create more ‘Living space’ (Lebensraum) for German people. This reactionary dream was born at the end of the 19th century. Britain, and to some extent France, had made conquests throughout Africa and Asia. All that was left for Germany to conquer were the under-developed states of Eastern Europe. In Mein Kampf, Hitler wrote that Germany and Britain would share the world between them. He was appreciative of the British, particularly of their aristocracy. After the war, Günther Blumentritt, the general in charge of the German forces in France, described how Hitler reacted when he heard that France had capitulated in June 1940:

“Hitler was in very good humour, he admitted that the course of the campaign had been ‘a definite miracle’, and gave us his opinion that the war would be finished in six weeks. After that he wished to conclude a reasonable peace with France, and then the way would be free for an agreement with Britain. He then aston­ished us by speaking with admiration of the British Empire, of the necessity for its existence, and of the civilisation that Britain had brought into the world. He remarked, with a shrug of the shoulders, that the creation of its Empire had been achieved by means that were often harsh, but ‘where there is planing, the shavings fly’. He compared the British Empire with the Catholic Church – saying they were both essential elements of stability in the world. He said that all he wanted from Britain was that she should acknowledge Germany’s position on the Continent.” 19

Hitler’s drive for Lebensraum was directed principally at the Soviet Union. He wrote in Mein Kampf that he was particularly interested in the fertile ter­ritory of Ukraine, and wished to develop a colony similar to the imperial society created by the British in India: “What India was for England, the territories of Russia will be for us … The German colonists ought to live on handsome, spacious farms. The German services will be lodged in marvel­lous buildings, the governors in palaces … The Germans – this is essential – will have to constitute amongst themselves a closed society, like a fortress The least of our stable-lads will be superior to any native.” 20 This type of society survived in South Africa – a country shaped by British imperialists – right up to the mid-1990s.

Having completed the occupation of Eastern Europe, the Nazis and their local supporters began launching pogroms. Thousands of Jews were killed. But it was not until January 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, at the notorious Wansee conference, that the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question in Europe” became official policy – the Holocaust.21

Three years earlier, the Nazis had begun the policy of gassing ‘incapacitat­ed’ citizens, the physically disabled and the mentally retarded, using carbon monoxide in specially-equipped vans in Poland. Soon afterwards, ‘Action T4’ was launched, directed at the same groups in Germany. At least 120 000 people fell victim to what the Nazis termed ‘mercy killings’ in this way. The methods were subsequently refined and applied in extermination camps.

The first concentration camp was established in the village of Dachau. By the end of 1933, some 150 000 political prisoners (Communists, So­cial Democrats and union activists) were already held in concentration camps.22 Originally they were called ‘re-education centres’. Later they were renamed concentration camps, as they ‘concentrated’ the enemy into a confined space. The Spaniards had invented this type of labour camp in Cuba, but the Nazis were inspired by the British use of them in South Africa during the Boer War. Hitler also dispatched beggars, prostitutes, homosexuals, alcoholics, religious fundamentalists and the disabled to the camps. In the early stages, some of the inmates were tortured, but the only ones who were killed were those who sought to escape and those classed as ‘incurably insane’.23

There were plenty of concentration camps in Germany, and the death toll in them was of course high: conditions were far from humane. But the ‘ex­tinction camps’ (Vernichtungslager) – where the main aim was systematically to gas people – were all but one situated in Poland (the only exception was a small camp in Byelorussia). As people arrived at these camps over half were selected to die at once. Most of the rest were worked to death.

These death camps were built after mass shootings became more and more difficult to implement. Rudolf Höss, the commandant of Auschwitz, wrote after the war that many of the ‘task forces’ (Einsatzkommandos) involved in the mass murders went mad or committed suicide, “unable to endure wading through blood any longer.”24 Extermination camps were a way of de-personalising the mass killings and conducting them more efficiently. In Belzec they could kill 15 000 people a day, in Sobibor 20 000, in Treblinka and Majdanek 25 000. In Auschwitz, a giant hall was built where 2 000 peo­ple could be killed in just three minutes.

Of the approximately six million Jews who died in the Holocaust, half were Poles (85% of all Polish Jews were murdered) and a quarter were from German-occupied territory in the Soviet Union. The others came from the smaller Jewish communities throughout the rest of German-controlled Europe. The extermination was thorough there too. 90% of Latvian and Lithuanian Jews,25 as well as 75% of all Dutch Jews perished.26

Bearing in mind the Nazis’ anti-Semitic ideology, it was only logical that the Jews should be the main group of people to make room for German colonisers. Jews were of such an inferior order in Nazi eyes that they were classed as a non-race, i.e. they had no place among human beings.

In fact, however, all people in the East were considered inferior. Nazis ranked Russians only just above Jews, and the other Slavic people close to Russians. The Auschwitz gas chambers were built in May 1940 to put Soviet prisoners of war to death. It was not until the spring of 1942 that atten­tion was focused on Jews. In all, 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war died of starvation, cold or disease, or were shot by firing squad or gassed to death – 57% of all Soviet prisoners. Only 3.5% of US and British prisoners of war died in captivity.27 As many non-Jewish as Jewish Poles, three million, ended up in the death camps.

Like sheep?

The myth about the Second World War has three parts. Firstly, that the Allies fought the Second World War for freedom and to save the Jews. Secondly, that the Holocaust can only be explained by metaphysical terms such as evil. And finally there is the notion that many, especially Jews, were ‘lead like sheep to the slaughter’. Kazimiera Ingdahl, professor of Slavic language at Stockholm University, writing a review of a recently published book about anti-Semitism in Poland, connects to this idea. Referring to the concentra­tion camps in Poland, he writes that Poles

“saw with their own eyes the persecutions, the violence and the murders, they heard with their own ears the silent lamentation of people condemned to death, with their own sense of smell they smelt the sweetly smoke that puffed out of the crematoria.”28

But somehow, according to him, they managed to completely miss the ex­tensive resistance that went on in the concentration camps. How is it pos­sible that heroic acts in the midst of one of mankind’s darkest experiences are barely mentioned in the history books?

Resistance was far from easy, especially in the extermination camps, and even at its height resistance involved only a minority of concentration camp inmates. But that makes the resistance even more significant, not less.

The first pre-condition for resistance was to avoid demoralisation in condi­tions that were deliberately designed to completely degrade and de-human­ize. Immediately upon arriving at the camps prisoners were systematically beaten and had their name removed and replaced with a number. There were no rules other than complete obedience. Anybody in charge had the right to beat any prisoner to death at any time. Food was at starvation level. A struggle to gain privileges, or even survival, at the expense of ones fellow inmates was actively encouraged.

In order to combat this brutalisation it was necessary to create activities that kept people together. Political study circles, prayers, and schools for the children, all played a role in upholding peoples’ humanity.

Radio receivers (and a few transmitters) were stolen, paid for by bribes to the guards, or put together from scrap. They played an important role in keeping contact with the outside world and maintaining hope. They were even used, when the execution of a particular group was planned, to get the British army to warn via the BBC that if that was to happen there would be severe repercussions.

Prisoners working in the infirmary could save lives by for example exchang­ing the identities of living people with those who had already been murdered. The resistance even developed methods of removing the identification num­bers that at a later stage were tattooed onto the arms of inmates in the death camps. Documents were forged to help people to escape so that they could inform the world about what was going on in concentration camps.

Acts of sabotage were undertaken. When the old crematorium at Dachau could no longer handle the increased demand, construction begun on a new larger one with several ovens and a gas chamber. A detail of inmates headed by a mason inmate received the following instruction from him: “Com­rades, the gas chamber through which all of us may be intended to march must never be finished! Work slowly? No, sabotage wherever you can!” The cement did not bond properly, the foundation turned out to be too weak, and the mortar in the brickwork crumbled so that whole sections had to be torn down and rebuilt.29

In practically all camps where inmates were forced to work on arms pro­duction there were many acts of sabotage. These ranged from the simple misplacing of the right size screws to advanced technical solutions to dam­age the manufacture of arms while allowing them to pass inspection. At Auschwitz the production at the German Armaments Plant declined by 50% within a few months, when systematic sabotage begun. In January 1943, Hitler ordered every tenth inmate to be shot in factories where pro­duction defects were suspected of being caused by sabotage. 30

Some of the most spectacular sabotage was undertaken at Dora, a subsidi­ary camp to Buchenwald, where the V-rockets were produced. Reports have filtered through of Russians urinating on transformers and other sensitive parts of rockets. A Pole and a Frenchmen put a powder into the oil for the missiles. Electric wires were torn. Rheostates removed. Of the 11 300 first generation V-1 rockets launched one-fifth failed at start. The second gen­eration V-2 rockets fared no better. Only half of the 10 800 fired reached their targets. The rest fell apart in the start area, exploded in the air or fell into the North Sea. To counter-act the sabotage the SS developed a net­work of agents in the plant. All in all 300 to 400 inmates were tortured and executed.31

The moral effect upon the prisoners of sabotage was at least as important as the difficulties it caused the Nazis. “Sabotage is like wine” was a phrase used frequently by Polish female inmates to express the elation felt among prisoners after a successful sabotage.32


There were also direct confrontations with the SS guarding the camps. Be­fore entering the gas chambers, disguised as showers, the intended victims were given bread and told that they had to get cleaned. This was to encour­age them to go peacefully, but despite this there are many examples of people refusing to enter peacefully and even of attacks on the guards. When 1700 Hungarian Jews were to be exterminated at Auschwitz in October 1943, one third of them rebelled in the dressing rooms before being herded into the gas chambers were the others already had been killed. A handful of SS men were disarmed and one of them killed. After a wild shootout, the rebels were let out one by one and shot.33

At Mauthausen (not an extermination camp) in Austria almost 500 took part in an attempted breakout. They attacked the guards with wooden shoes and fire extinguishers and carried out tables and rags to protect themselves when they climbed over the electric fence. 419 managed to get out, despite being shot at by the guards, their reduced strength and their unfamiliarity with the surrounding area. 17 survived.34

At Auschwitz, 300 men, mainly Hungarian and Greek Jews, working on a special detail in the crematories and gas chambers knew that they would eventually be executed for being ‘privy to secrets’. They prepared them­selves. Jewish women, who worked in a factory, smuggled explosives and other chemicals to them. They attacked the SS men, blew up the crematorium and cut the wire fence with pliers with insulated handles. The inmates at another crematorium also disarmed their SS guards and killed them. The uprising was set off prematurely and therefore did not get as far as planned. The inmates at two other crematoriums were unable to join them and the gasoline that was stored to burn down the barracks was not used. There were no survivors of this uprising, but three SS junior squad leaders had been killed (the first Nazis to be killed at Auschwitz) and twelve others wounded. The crematorium could not be used again.35

An even larger uprising took place at Treblinka in 1942. But the biggest and most successful rebellion was at the extermination camp Sobidor in October, 1943.

A couple of weeks before the uprising a group of Russian Jews who had served as officers in the Red Army had arrived. They immediately attracted the respect of others, not least one of them – Aleksander Pecherskii. He distinguished himself by turning down rewards of bread, margarine and cigarettes offered to him by the SS for his fast work. He was approached by a fellow inmate who called upon him to flee. However, he turned this down saying that there would be bloody reprisals on those left behind, and that ways had to be found to help as many as possible to escape. When he was asked why Russian partisans did not liberate the camp, he replied: “Our work cannot be done for us by other.”36 After that, the already existing un­derground resistance group offered him the leadership.

An international structure was established to prepare the uprising. Under the disguise of a Yom Kippur celebration in one of the barracks where al­most all of the 500 to 600 inmates gathered, a general discussion about the uprising was held. Tasks were assigned to various subgroups. Everything was carefully planned.

After the uprising and breakout the Lublin police drew up a balance sheet: “On Oct. 14, 1943, ca. 5 P.M., rebellion of the Jews in the SS camp Sobibor, 40 km north of Chelm. They overpowered the guards, took possession of the arsenal, and after a gun battle with the other camp personnel they fled in an unknown direction…9 SS men killed, 1 SS man missing…1 SS man wounded…two foreign guards shot. Around 300 Jew escaped, the others were shot or are in the camp. Troops, police and the Wehrmacht were im­mediately notified and secured the camp around 1 A.M. The area south and southwest of the camp is being combed by the SS and the Wehrmacht.”37

At a trial at Hagen in 1965, the prosecutors got the addresses of 32 survi­vors. Three others had died after the war. They estimated that 50 to 60 of the inmates had escaped certain death thanks to the uprising.38

Removed from history

It is an extraordinary fact, that the resistance in the concentration camps is practically unknown to most people. Why are all the horrendous details of the beatings, the gas chambers, the gruesome medical experiments ex­plained in great detail, but the resistance is passed by? Where are the major Hollywood releases about the sabotage and uprisings?

The plain truth is that the people who fought back are doubly victims. Not only were they the victims of the Nazis, they were also the victims of the Cold War. Most of them were Communists. And therefore by definition incapable of heroism.

Individual communists were not more heroic than non-communists. Al­though there were some outstanding individuals among the communists, there were also individuals who betrayed their fellow inmates to the SS for an extra piece of bread. However, most communists had a moral advantage. The shock of being transformed from being regarded as solid citizens to being treated as non-human beings was not as great. For communists the struggle in the concentration camps was a continuation of the struggle that they had waged against the capitalist system for years. Under far worse con­ditions, yes, but nonetheless basically the same struggle. They also had the advantage of being used to disciplined collective struggle. But these were not the main reason why their resistance was greater and more effective. The point was that the way the camps were organised meant that it was the communists who had the greatest possibility of organising resistance. As the police report above about Sobibor shows, the numbers of guards at the camps were not many in proportion to the number of prisoners. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS, had consciously created another system to maintain control over the camps – the playing out of different nationalities against each other. He established a kind of system of prison­ers’ self-rule, based upon one nationality getting privileges for ruling over others. There was a hierarchy with Jews and Roma at the bottom and Ger­mans, Austrians and Scandinavians at the top. And at the very top were the German common criminals – murderers, thieves, and rapists. They were put in charge of each “block” of barracks and had absolute power over the inmates living there. At least in the beginning. As the number and size of concentration camps grew, German political prisoners and people from other nationalities could also become block leaders. Towards the end of the war there were even some Jewish ones.

Any effective resistance had to cut across this system and organise along internationalist lines. Polish officers were also a group that provided some resistance in the concentration camps, but their nationalism and anti-Semitism effectively made any joint activities very difficult.

Jehovah’s Witnesses were singled out for persecution by Hitler and many ended up in concentration camps. Their anti-war stance and refusal to serve in the army was completely incompatible with Nazi ideology. And many did courageously resist the Nazis. But their willingness to die rather than to have anything to do with war was counter-acted by their cult of obedi­ence. They refused to escape and therefore needed no guards. As they were industrious they were often given service positions in the homes of the SS and even in the home of Auschwitz commandant Höss. He commented that they were “strange creatures” and that “one served an SS leader and anticipated his every wish, but as a matter of principle she refused to clean uniforms, caps, boots, and anything connected with the military; in fact, she never even touched such things.”39

The basic glue of all the biggest and most long lasting underground or­ganisations, such as Combat Group Auschwitz, were all based on working class internationalism. In the Auschwitz and Sobibor uprisings a key role was played by the international veterans of the Spanish Civil War. Their inter­nationalist credentials had already been proven in battle.

Working class internationalism also made it possible for the resistance to build bridges to the civilian population working in and around the camps. One participant comes to the conclusion that among the civilians they came in contact with “the best contacts were…the plainest people in such offices, like boiler-room attendants, craftsmen, and cleaning crews.”40

One survivor commented wryly that international Jewish solidarity, depict­ed under the catch word “world Jewry” and described as very dangerous in Nazi propaganda, was nothing but a myth.41 Many Jews did become com­pletely demoralised. As one from the Auschwitz resistance put it: “’Some­thing could be done’ only with those who had once had some contact with the workers movement.”42

Before the Second World War many Jews had participated in the Labour Movements throughout Europe. Many of the leaders in the German, Rus­sian, Polish, and French Labour Movements were Jewish.

When the ghettoes were established by the Nazis throughout Eastern Eu­rope as a first step towards the Holocaust, these fighting traditions were upheld. The uprising of the Warsaw ghetto is well known, perhaps because it inspired the Warsaw uprising that followed. But it is less known that fight­ers of ZOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, Jewish Fighting Organisation), the biggest resistance organisation, were in the main socialists. In the midst of the uprising they gathered on the 1st of May to sing the Internationale. This does not appear in films about the uprising such as The Pianist. Nor is it known that there was resistance of one form or another in almost all of the 356 ghettoes.

However, there was also another trend among Jews – a nationalist bour­geois one. Many Jewish leaders in the ghettoes tried to make deals with the Nazis and told people to stay calm. These leaders hoped that they could get the Nazis to agree to get rid of some Jews by sending them to Palestine, never mind the rest.

As late as 1943, while the Jews of Europe were being exterminated in their millions, the U.S. Congress proposed to set up a commission to “study” the problem. Rabbi Stephen Wise, who was the principal American spokes­person for Zionism, came to Washington to testify against the rescue bill because it would divert attention from the colonization of Palestine.This is the same Rabbi Wise who, in 1938, in his capacity as leader of the American Jewish Congress, wrote a letter in which he opposed any change in U.S. immigration laws which would enable Jews to find refuge. He stated: “It may interest you to know that some weeks ago the representatives of all the leading Jewish organizations met in conference … It was decided that no Jewish organization would, at this time, sponsor a bill which would in any way alter the immigration laws.”43

No wonder it was left to those with a conscious faith in the struggle of the international working class to wage the only possible struggle in the ghettos and concentration camps against the Nazis.


1 Quoted in Against all hope by Hermann Langbein, 1994

2 Adolf Hitler: Mein Kampf, 1925

3 Hywel Probert in the New Statesman, 15 April 2002

4 Dr Andre Sofair and Dr Lauris Kaldjian: Yale Bulletin, 18 February 2000, http://


5 Svenska Dagbladet, 6 July 2003

6 www.us-israel.org/jsource/anti-semitism/ford.html

7 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERantisemitism.htm

8 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/MONedwardVIII.htm

9 www2.amnesty.se/mcveigh.nsf/tt30?OpenPage

10 www.levandehistoria.se/infowebb/1921/utskrift1921_1945.html

11 Zygmunt Bauman: Auschwitz och det moderna samhället, 1994

12 www.levandehistoria.se/infowebb/1921/utskrift1921_1945.html

13 ibid

14 Guardian, 11 October 2003

15 http://history.acusd.edu/gen/WW2Timeline/holocaust.html

16 Joseph Gobineau: The Inequality of Human Races, 1857

17 Herbert Spencer: Social Statistics, 1850

18 Sven Lindquist: Utrota varenda jävel, 1992

19 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERblumentritt.htm

20 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/RUSbarbarossa.htm21


22 http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERconcentration.htm

23 www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/GERconcentration.htm

24 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Extermination_camp

25 Catalogue of the Stockholm exhibition, Deutschland, Deutschland, 1979

26 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Jews_in_the_Netherlands

27 Sven Lindqvist: Utrota varenda jävel, 1992

28 Svenska Dagbladet: 23 April, 2008

29 Sepp Plieseis: Vom Ebro zum Dachstein. 1946

30 Herman Langbein: Against all hope. 1994.

31 ibid

32 ibid

33 ibid

34 ibid

35 ibid

36 ibid

37 ibid

38 ibid

39 ibid

40 ibid

41 Sim Kessel: Perdu á Auschwitz, 1970

42 Report of the Communist Party Group of the Jawiszowice Concentration Camp quoted in Herman

Langbein: Against all hope. 1994. Jawiszowice was a satellite camp to Auschwitz.

43 http://www.jewsagainstzionism.com/antisemitism/holocaust/index.cfm