THE COURIERS OF THE JEWISH
UNDERGROUND IN POLAND
DURING THE HOLOCAUST
The Nazi Blitzkrieg overran the western half of Poland in September of 1939, establishing the General-Government region of German jurisdiction. Two years later the Germans invaded the Soviet-occupied eastern half of Poland as Operation Barbarossa swept into the Soviet Union itself. Subsequently, every Jewish community in Poland was isolated and destroyed in a carefully conceived plan of extermination: the Final Solution. The Nazis imposed successive, repressive measures that rapidly escalated to ghettoization, liquidation and deportation to death camps. Over half of the six million Jews murdered in the Holocaust lived in Poland before they perished.
As the tyranny escalated, a network of resistance emerged, the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). From the beginning of the German occupation of Poland, the young activists who founded the ZOB resisted and defied Nazi edicts. Although militarily overwhelmed by Nazi forces during their eventual uprisings in Polish cities such as Vilna, Bialystock and Warsaw, the Jewish Fighting Organization left a heroic legacy. The couriers of the Jewish resistance were a significant part of that legacy.
Women who were an integral part of the Jewish resistance showed some of the greatest courage during the occupation. They operated as rescuers, partisan and ghetto fighters, and liaisons. The young liaisons or couriers regularly traveled the Nazi occupied territory of Poland from 1939 to 1945. Passing on information about the death camps and issuing calls to organize armed resistance, they helped prepare the members of their youth organizations in Poland for their decisive ordeal. The couriers learned the ways of assuming double identities, smuggling, and using weapons with their own initiative. They were scholars, doctors, teachers, students and private citizens before the war. There wasn't a normal military structure within the Jewish underground. No one was trained for armed resistance. However, the couriers adapted to their wartime roles virtually overnight.
The accounts of women's resistance to the Final Solution such as those of the couriers are relatively unknown. Besides a handful of autobiographies written by couriers who survived the Holocaust, there isn't book published in English devoted to their unique contributions in the resistance. This has been corroborated by scholars in field at Princeton University, Michigan State, University of Toronto, Bar Ilan University in Israel, and the United States Holocaust Museum in Washington, among others. Exploring the accomplishments of women in history such as the couriers leads us to a deeper understanding of the Holocaust. The sacrifices that both men and women made in response to the overwhelming Nazi onslaught help us to a clearer understanding of the challenges which all of humanity faced. A study of women's experience provides us with a missing link to help complete the picture of the struggle. Their stories provide models for resistance to tyranny and evil.
This thesis gives more visibility to the stories of the couriers in the annals of the Holocaust, bringing their diverse narratives and voices into one study. Consequently, one begins to realize the breadth of their achievements.