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Jewish Combat Organization

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa
ייִדישע קאַמף אָרגאַניזאַציע
Jewish Combat Organization
Flag of ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization).svg
Flag of ŻOB
Active28 July 1942
CountryNazi occupied Poland
EngagementsWorld War II
Mordechai Anielewicz
Yitzhak Zuckerman
Marek Edelman
Military eagle
ZOB Badge.svg

The Jewish Combat Organization (Polish: Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB; Yiddish: ייִדישע קאַמף אָרגאַניזאַציעYidishe Kamf Organizatsie; often translated to English as the Jewish Fighting Organization) was a World War II resistance movement in occupied Poland, which was instrumental in organizing and launching the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.[1] ŻOB took part in a number of other resistance activities as well.

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In the early 1800’s in Germany, most big cities had an all-powerful chief Rabbi, appointed by the government and charged with making all Jewish decisions, even acting as a Judge in Jewish matters. If you were Jewish, you were supposed to listen to the guy. In each city there was just one synagogue and one chief Rabbi. This didn’t sit well with a bunch of Jews influenced by enlightenment ideas. They wanted to apply scientific study to Judaism, which was known as the Wissenschaft des Yubentums - their main goal was to promote morality rather than a religion mostly based on supernatural claims. A “reform” of Judaism, if you will. And in modernizing their traditions, they hoped it would prove they could be treated as equal citizens with equal rights – as talked about in the previous video on Emancipation. Some of their first changes were in the prayer book. They took out references to Jerusalem being their true home because they felt at home in Germany and weren’t dreaming of returning to Jerusalem. They heard sermons in German rather than drashes in Yiddish. They stopped wearing kippahs, added organ music, and had shorter services. Traditional Rabbis rejected all of these changes, but eventually in some cities an event would occur causing a shift. For instance, in Berlin, the city’s synagogue needed renovations so for a while Jews gathered in smaller spaces instead. In the smaller groups – these new rulings became popular. In the late 1830s a young liberal group of Rabbis, drawn to these reform movements, gathered together by Rabbi Abraham Geiger, began having conferences. It was a small group. These weren’t traditional Rabbis – in fact, some were so liberal they couldn’t get jobs. They started saying what should and shouldn’t be done in Judaism. They talked about which rituals they wanted to continue and which didn’t have meaning any more to them. They mostly got rid of the laws that you could put in the category of “Judaism is strange because..." – namely, ritual laws whose purposes were not only unclear, they sometimes made it difficult to be a part of German culture. Kashrut (kosher), for instance, made it impossible for a Jew to eat with a non-Jew. The reformers said the purpose of the religion was to feel holy, to feel spiritual, and to be moral. And a lot of these ritual laws – maybe they worked when they were first set up but they no longer worked that way. And in the 1840’s, between the the small communities, the conferences, the ideology, it’s the start of what we’d now call a movement. The ideology said that Judaism needs to continue evolving, as humans have always shaped it. They rejected the idea that the Talmud was revelation – Oral Torah. It’s a human product. Until the Reform movement, there was no such thing as ‘Orthodoxy.’ There was just Judaism. The label Orthodoxy emerged as the voice that rejected the Reform movement on behalf of tradition It said “Nope! The Oral Torah was revealed at Sinai! You can’t just reject huge portions of it. You can’t deny the authority of the Torah as interpreted by the Rabbis. And what you’re doing is invalid for that reason.” There was a further splinter movement called neo-Orthodoxy, what we’d now call Modern Orthodoxy, which allowed some very small concessions. For instance, Samson Raphael Hirsch, a leader of that movement, allowed men to shave their breads. Part of the reason modern Orthodoxy was so important, was that Hirsch said, “Listen we’re not going to all agree. We’re going to have multiple organizations. Multiple synagogues.” He insisted that the Jewish community of Frankfurt formally split. So whereas before everyone was unified under one official way of being Jewish and there were these little pop ups of other ways of being Jewish, Hirsh is the one who said, “I’m tired of fighting – You go do your thing. And I’ll do my thing. We don’t even want to talk to you. Go do something separate.” It was a really important transition, and it’s a piece of beginning to think about distinct movements of Judaism, rather than everyone arguing about the one way all Jews should be Jewish in the modern world. Another critic of Reform, Zecharia Frankel split from the Reformers over whether to pray in German instead of Hebrew. Was it more important for people to understand what they were saying or for people to pray the same way their grandparents prayed? He accepted the scientific study of Judaism but remained commited to tradition. He went on to form what ultimately became Conservative Judaism. He formed the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau which inspired the Jewish Theological Seminary of America which became the heart of the Conservative movement as we know it today By the second half of the nineteenth century the Liberal Jewish movement in Germany was by far the majority. Around this time more and more Jews started moving to America. There, the Reform and Conservative movements reached new heights. So…how did Judaism spread in America? Well that's a story for another time.


Offshoot of Jewish youth groups

The ŻOB was formed on 28 July 1942, six days after the German Nazis under SS General Jurgen Stroop began the Gross Aktion Warschau sealing the fate of the Jews confined in the Warsaw Ghetto: "All Jewish persons living in Warsaw, regardless of age and gender, [would] be resettled in the East."[2][3] Thus began massive "deportations" of about 254,000 Jews, all of whom were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. The Gross Aktion lasted until 12 September 1942. Overall it reduced the once thriving Warsaw Jewish community of some 400,000 to a mere 55,000 to 60,000 inhabitants.

The youth groups that were instrumental in forming the ŻOB had anticipated German intentions to annihilate Warsaw Jewry and began to shift from an educational and cultural focus to self-defense and eventual armed struggle.[4]

Unlike the older generation, the youth groups took these reports seriously and had no illusions about the true intentions of the Germans. A document published three months before the start of the deportations by Hashomer Hatzair declared: "We know that Hitler's system of murder, slaughter and robbery leads steadily to a dead end and the destruction of the Jews."[5]

A number of the left Zionist youth groups, such as Hashomer Hatzair and Dror, proposed the creation of a self-defense organization at a meeting of Warsaw Jewish leaders in March 1942. The proposal was rejected by the Jewish Labour Bund who believed that a fighting organization would fail without the help of the Polish resistance. Others rejected the notion of armed insurgency saying that there was no evidence of a threat of deportation. Moreover, they argued any armed resistance would provoke the Germans to retaliate against the whole Jewish community.[6][7]

In November 1942, ŻOB officially became part of and subordinated its activities to the High Command of the Armia Krajowa. In return the AK began providing ŻOB with weapons and training, with the first shipment of guns and ammunition being provided in December 1942.[8] The organization was spied upon by organization Jewish collaborators with Nazis called "Society of Free Jews"(Towarzystwo Wolnych Żydow)[9]

ŻOB resistance to the second deportation

A poster of the Jewish Combat Organization. The Yiddish text reads:All people are equal brothers;Brown, White, Black, and Yellow.To separate peoples, colors, races -Is but an act of cheating!
A poster of the Jewish Combat Organization. The Yiddish text reads:
All people are equal brothers;
Brown, White, Black, and Yellow.
To separate peoples, colors, races -
Is but an act of cheating!

On 18 January 1943, the Nazis began a second wave of deportations. The first Jews the Germans rounded up included a number of ŻOB fighters who had intentionally crept into the column of deportees. Led by Mordechai Anielewicz they waited for the appropriate signal, then stepped out of formation, and fought the Nazis with small arms. The column scattered and news of the ŻZW and ŻOB action quickly spread throughout the ghetto. During this small deportation, the Nazis only managed to round up about 5,000 to 6,000 Jews.

The deportations lasted four days during which the Germans met other acts of resistance from the ŻOB. When they left the ghetto on 22 January 1943, the remaining Jews regarded it as a victory, however Israel Gutman, a member of the ŻOB who subsequently became one of the leading authors on Jewish Warsaw wrote, It [was] not known [to the Jews] that the Germans had not intended to liquidate the entire ghetto by means of the January deportations. However, Gutman concludes that the [January] deportations... had a decisive influence on the ghetto's last months.

Final deportation and uprising

ŻOB's appeal to the Polish people issued on 23 April 1943
ŻOB's appeal to the Polish people issued on 23 April 1943

The final deportation began on the eve of Passover, 19 April 1943. The streets of the ghetto were vacant; most of the remaining 30,000 Jews were hiding in carefully prepared bunkers including their headquarters located in Ulica Miła 18, many of which had electricity and running water, however they offered no route of escape.

When the Germans marched into the ghetto, they met fierce armed resistance from fighters attacking from open windows in vacated apartments. The defenders of the ghetto utilized guerrilla warfare tactics and had the strategic advantage not only of surprise but also of being able to look down on their opponents. This advantage was lost when the Germans began systematically burning all of the buildings of the ghetto forcing the fighters to leave their positions and seek cover in the underground bunkers. The fires above consumed much of the available oxygen below ground, turning the bunkers into suffocating death traps.

By 16 May 1943, the German Police General Jürgen Stroop, who had been in charge of the final deportation, officially declared what he called the Grossaktion, finished. To celebrate he razed Warsaw's Great Synagogue. The ghetto was destroyed and what remained of the uprising was suppressed.


Even after the destruction of the ghetto, small numbers of Jews could still be found in the underground bunkers, on both sides of the ghetto wall. In fact, during the last months of the ghetto some 20,000 Jews fled to the Aryan side. Some Jews who escaped the final destruction of the ghetto, including youth group members and leaders Kazik Ratajzer, Zivia Lubetkin, Yitzhak Zuckerman and Marek Edelman, would participate in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Nazis.

While many members and leaders of the youth groups perished in the Warsaw Ghetto, Zionist and non-Zionist youth movements remain active. One can still find the left Zionist youth groups Hashomer Hatzair and Habonim Dror in countries such as Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Switzerland, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. There are still remnants of the non-Zionist Jewish Labour Bund's S.K.I.F. in Australia, United Kingdom, France and United States. The right youth group Betar operates in Australia, Brazil, Western Europe and the United States, and Bnei Akiva, a religious Zionist organization, operates worldwide.

Similar Organizations

A second Jewish resistance organization called the Jewish Military Union (Polish: Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ŻZW), formed primarily of former officers of the Polish Army in late 1939, operated side by side with ŻOB & was also instrumental in the Jewish armed struggle.[10]


  1. ^ "Jewish Fighting Organization - Polish history". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  2. ^ Paulsson, Gunnar S. (20 October 2018). Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw, 1940-1945. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300095463. Retrieved 20 October 2018 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ "The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising". Retrieved 2018-05-03.
  4. ^ (in Polish) 23 IV 1943, Warsaw: Odezwa Żydowskiej Organizacji Bojowej z pozdrowieniami z walczącego getta i wezwaniem do walki o wspólną wolność Żydów i Polaków. Archived 2008-10-20 at the Wayback Machine Skarby Dziedzictwa Narodowego; Nask, 2008
  5. ^ Call to Armed Self-Defense,  from Ha-Shomer Ha-Zair newspaper in the Warsaw Underground Jutrznia ("Dawn"), March 28, 1942.
  6. ^ "The Kibbutz Artzi Federation". Retrieved 20 October 2018.
  7. ^ Hashomer Hatzair World Movement Archived 2008-09-12 at the Wayback Machine
  8. ^ Stefan Korbonski, The Polish Underground State, pp. 123-124 and 130. Jews Under Occupation Archived 2011-09-27 at the Wayback Machine
  9. ^ The Eagle Unbowed by Halik Kochanski, page 306 Harvard University Press, 2012
  10. ^ David Wdowiński (1963). And We Are Not Saved (222 pages)|format= requires |url= (help). New York: Philosophical Library. ISBN 0802224865. Note: Chariton and Lazar were never co-authors of Wdowiński's memoir. Wdowiński is considered the single author.

External links

This page was last edited on 7 February 2020, at 10:36
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