The Jewish Underground

There is a fairly straight line from the self-defence groups of this period to the militant undergrounds of the Eastern European ghettoes of the 1940’s. By the time of the rise of European fascism, in its various inter-war forms, the Zionist, Jewish socialists - and many Jewish Communists, too - had internalised the idea of the fighting Jew. They might have differed in their interpretation of this concept, and their ideas of the desirable human society might indeed vary from group to group, but they were at a similar stage of development in terms of self-defence.

Nevertheless, these three groups remained the principal and exceptional recipients of the idea of the fighting Jew (“muscle Jews”, as Max Nordau referred to them in a famous article of 1903), and it was therefore predictable that they would lead the fighting underground groups in the ghettos, or the partisan groups in the surrounding forests, possibly up to 30,000 people in all. Many of the Jewish groups outside the ghettoes experienced isolation from the general resistance movements and some were even given up to the Nazis.
[A similar phenomenon occurred among the French Jewish youth movements, especially the Eclaireurs Israelites de France (Jewish Scouts). Numbers for Jewish groups in Soviet Russia remain unknown See: ]

On the one hand, these were Jews who understood that the experience of the Jew forced him and her – all too often – away from the beloved books that, in one way or other, had remained the central heritage of Jewish culture, a literary culture par excellence.

Yet many of them were intellectuals, who in other circumstances would have spent their lives far away from any expressions of violence.

It was essentially their shared understanding of the Jewish situation, together with their internalisation of the impossibility of living out a normal life, that led them into the ranks of the underground groups.

Finally, they were committed to their ideas, to working together in organised groups, and had an informal leadership structure, all of which enabled them to make their own decisions and undertake concerted action against their shared enemy.





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31 May 2005 / 22 Iyar 5765 0