Abstract | Background | The Couriers | The Fate of Jewish Women in Occupied Poland | Living a Double Identity in Perilous Times | Courier Profiles: Lonka Kozibrodska, and Why Women Were the Couriers | Havka Folman | Frumka Plotnicka…"Die Mameh" | Sima | Gusta Davidson Draenger | Mala Zimetbaum | The Destruction of Crematorium Number Four | What Sustained Them? | Conclusion | Endnotes | Bibliography

What Sustained Them?

If I am not for myself, who will be?
If I am for myself alone, who am I?
If not now, when?

Traditional Hasidic Saying

In his memoir A Surplus of Memory, Antek Zuckerman posed a valuable question to consider about the couriers:

Aside from me, I don't think anyone traveled as much as the woman couriers. I was the only man who was on the road. The girls were invaluable and their sacrifice was infinite. Without them, it would definitely have been impossible to maintain the Movement throughout the German occupation zone. All of them and every individual according to her ability risked her life and demonstrated unimaginable loyalty. I asked myself where they drew their strength, what sustained them?99

What did sustain the couriers to continue to resist in an environment thick with terror, despair, death and destruction? How were these young women, many of them in their teen years, able to summon the strength and composure to continue on with their missions as their entire world was being annihilated?

The foundation of their courage is found in the spirit, education, and shared ideals acquired in the youth groups. In their youth groups, they had studied role models from history, drawing inspiration and strength. They could count on the support of their brothers and sisters in the resistance to sustain them. They had a clear determination not to desert the collective.

Havka Folman wrote of her responsibility to the Jewish people and the youth organizations, which helped sustain her: "We knew there was no escape from responsibility. It was with that responsibility for the public over whose fate we were struggling, that we lived. We had determined not to desert the collective and that decision strengthened us, spirit, mind, and body."100

As the steps to the Final Solution inexorably advanced from the spring of 1942, the ZOB assumed the burden of responsibility for the future of their people and their place in history. They struggled to leave a legacy of courage and resistance to the Final Solution. They knew that they had to fulfill their historic duty.

Gusta Draenger's incentive to continue to resist was the legacy the Jews would leave for future generations. She and other resistance members envisioned the historical significance of their sacrifices:

What normal thinking person would suffer all this in silence? Future generations will want to know what overwhelming motive could have restrained us from acting heroically. If we don't act now, history will condemn us forever. Whatever we do we're doomed, but we can still save our souls. The least we can do now is leave a legacy of human dignity that will be honored by someone someday.101

Zivia Lubetkin had similar source to draw from. She wrote In the Days of Destruction and Revolt:

There wasn't much hope, but people believed in what they were doing. Young people, together, somehow are not afraid. It was absolutely clear to us that if we did nothing, the entire Jewish community of Poland would have been murdered without having uttered a cry of protest. This realization gave us strength and not simply kill ourselves in despair."102

Among Chaika Grossman's motivations was achieving retribution: "We wanted so much to end the siege of bondage, to break through to great things, to a great revenge that would shake the foundations of our conqueror's world."103

Lisa Chapnick, like Grossman, was motivated by vengeance:

I should say that each step of the Jewish women on the Aryan side was extremely risky and dangerous. We seem to have lived on the verge of disaster, to have walked on the edge of a blade. We all assumed that none of us would survive, but it was our moral duty to fight the Nazis, to avenge our parents and our people.104

© Copyright Judy Cohen, 2002.
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