Focal Point: Resistance

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Voices of Resistance

In this clip series, survivors and other witnesses to genocide recall the various ways they individually or collectively resisted injustice and discrimination during wartime, sometimes at great personal risk. What are the circumstances in which resisting authority becomes a moral duty? What forms can resistance take? What does the face of resistance look like?

Days of Remembrance: Roman Kent

Language: English

Roman Kent talks about the songs he would sing for resistance in camps and how these songs create a sense of community.

  • Days of Remembrance: Roman Kent

    Language: English

    Roman Kent talks about the songs he would sing for resistance in camps and how these songs create a sense of community.

  • Ruth Brand on resistance

    Language: English


    Ruth Brand talks about the decision to fast on Yom Kippur—also known as the Day of Atonement—in Auschwitz II-Birkenau as a form of resistance.



  • Ralph Friedman on Resistance Songs in Vilnius

    Language: English

    Ralph Friedman recalls the songs he used to hear in the Vilnius ghetto, including one about a resistance leader who turned himself in to the commandant.

  • Esperance Kaligirwa on her neighbors standing up to genocide

    Language: English

    In this clip, Esperance Kaligirwa recalls being rounded up by men intent on killing her and her family but were spared by the actions of her neighbors who interceded for them.

  • Jennie Sauer on Joining a Resistance Group

    Language: English

    Jennie Sauer describes how her cousin helped her escape from Kurowice concentration camp and join his band of Jewish resistance fighters in the forest. A week after she escaped, the camp was liquidated and most of the prisoners were killed.

  • Zenon Neumark on Joining the Resistance

    Language: English

    Zenon Neumark describes the first anti-Jewish laws and policies that affected his life and how he became involved in a resistance group. He says that while it was difficult to escape, he thought it took more courage to stay.

  • Anna Heilman on resistance in Auschwitz

    Language: English

    Anna Heilman remembers helping her sister, Ester Wajcblum, smuggle gunpowder to aid in the Sonderkommando uprising at Auschwitz II-Birkenau. Ester Wajcblum was hanged publicly in the camp on January 1, 1945.

    See more clips on Auschwitz

  • Yehudah Bakon on Resistance Through Art

    Language: English

    Yehudah talks about several painters who were hired to create artwork as reports for the Germans. Many of these painters created illegal paintings that have survived, showing the terrible atrocities of the Holocaust and were sent to a camp as prisoners for their punishment.

  • David Gurvitz on the Vilna Ghetto Resistance and Liquidation

    Language: English

    David Gurvitz describes how he and fellow members of the Vilna ghetto resistance movement planned and prepared their escape from the ghetto during its liquidation in September 1943.

  • Vera Laska on Participating in the Czech Resistance Movement

    Language: English

    Vera Laska describes how, as a teenager, she helped Jews and French political prisoners cross the mountains from Slovakia into Hungary. This clip is part of the new Facing History and Ourselves IWitness activity Choosing to Rescue.

  • Sol Liber on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

    Language: English

    Sol Liber explains his involvement as a resistance fighter during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which took place beginning April 16, 1943. Along with his fellow ghetto inhabitant, Hakiva Leifer, he fought in the Warsaw ghetto until his capture and eventual deportation to the Treblinka II Death Camp, Poland, in May 1943.


Why this focal point

Observing a religious holiday. Stealing food. Organizing a secret orchestra in the ghetto. Taking up arms. Resistance by Jews against their Nazi oppressors during the Holocaust took many forms. But all were efforts to undermine a regime that was determined to wipe out an entire people. One of the great myths of the Holocaust is that the Jewish people surrendered to mass annihilation. On the contrary, countless men and women risked — and often sacrificed — their lives standing up to the Nazi killing machine.

Throughout history, other persecuted groups have demonstrated similar bravery in the face of genocidal tyranny.

In September 2016, the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research hosted the first-ever international conference on the Guatemalan genocide of the early 1980s. “Resistance” will be the primary theme.

With many perpetrators still connected to power in the Central American country, the present-day movement to bring justice to the architects of the Guatemalan military’s scorched-earth campaign that killed roughly 200,000 people — mostly indigenous villagers — is a form of resistance.

Resistance will also be this year’s theme pertaining to the Institute’s partnership with Comcast, in which a feature film anchors other program offerings meant to memorialize the Holocaust and promote tolerance.

Resistance — which is among the Center’s central topics of examination — isn’t just a phenomenon of war.

The word also describes the acts of courage and kindness that combat intolerance, hatred and other injustices of modern life. It is what separates the bystanders — those who do nothing to resist unfairness or misfortune — from the upstanders who refuse to do nothing or remain silent. 

Educational resources on the topic of resistance

Rescue is a crucial topic in understanding genocide survival and appreciating the difficult choices that people make in extreme circumstances. Although many stories of survival during the Holocaust are due to unexplained and unexplainable circumstances, there are also numerous accounts of individual and group acts of aid and rescue that contributed to the survival of thousands of Jewish people.

The lesson addresses the theme of resistance during the Holocaust. Through survivor testimony, students will understand that resistance can take many forms and can happen even under the most oppressive situations.

This unit is designed for those students who have completed a teacher guided reading of Number the Stars by Lois Lowry. The unit theme is about ordinary people who show courage, bravery, and kindness and take risks under extraordinary circumstances of danger. The theme is about not being a bystander in the face of wrongdoing. Video testimony from USC Shoah Foundation’s Visual History Archive feature a Holocaust survivor whose experiences mirror those reflected in the novel.

Blog Posts on Resistance

Stephen Smith

The young Nazi approached 13-year-old Szulem Czygielmamn as he walked on the sidewalk of Lubartowska Street in Lublin, Poland, and shoved him off the sidewalk. Szulem was lucky; Jews had died for less.

Rennie Svirnovskiy

What I’ve learned, looking back at my family history and while working at USC Shoah Foundation, is how to do resistance. That’s how you do resistance. You see injustice and you tirelessly fight against it.

Benjamin Biniaz

Maximilian Kolbe, born in Poland in 1894, was a Franciscan friar and Catholic priest. He spent most of his life studying theology and dedicating himself to the church, traveling across Europe and Asia during his lifetime.

Benjamin Biniaz

Aristides de Sousa Mendes was a Portuguese diplomat stationed in Bordeaux in the late 1930s who issued tens of thousands of visas to Jewish families, in direct violation of anti-Jewish laws instituted by Portugal’s fascist government at the time. For this act of resistance, Sousa Mendes faced trials and conviction, leaving him to live out the rest of his life in poverty and disgrace, and his 15 children scattered all over Europe and the U.S.

Stephen Smith

The young Nazi approached 13-year-old Szulem Czygielmamn as he walked on the sidewalk of Lubartowska Street in Lublin, Poland, and shoved him off the sidewalk. Szulem was lucky; Jews had died for less.

Stephen Smith

Paris. The way we think of that beautiful city has changed. That's what they want. They want us to think about things differently, to use Paris as a symbol of bloodshed and fear, not the one we know and love of liberty and culture. That is the nature of extremism: It tries to change who we are, how we see the world, to change our habits and our patterns of thought, to enjoy our freedoms less, to exert control.

Stephen Smith

We have ample historical evidence that hateful words can be as dangerous as physical violence itself. German poet, Heinrich Heine said in 1821, “He who burns books will soon burn people.”

Jeffrey Langham

What makes Gad Beck’s story so remarkable, however, was that not only was he a “Mischling” but he was also a gay teenager living in Nazi Berlin, the epicenter of a military power antagonistic to both Jews and gays.

Stephen Smith

What does it mean to live 70 years after the liberation of Auschwitz in a world in deep crisis? What does it mean with all we know about the damage that hatred causes – after all the pain we have gone through – that we are hurtling out of control into an inferno of rage that takes us right back to where we started?  Why are survivors of the Holocaust who walked out of the camps with at least the hope that their own suffering was not in vain, dying disappointed?

Deanna Hendrick

On March 8, 2015 there will be events all over the world celebrating the achievements of women for International Women’s Day. This year’s theme Make it Happen encourages action for advancing women’s rights and also recognizing the incredible and courageous work women do in various industries throughout the world.


IWitness resources on resistance

IWitness is a free online educational resource for educators and students that provides access to  2,515 testimonies from the Institute's Visual History Archive's listing of 55,000 full-length interviews with survivors and other witnesses to genocide.

You can view a collection of short testimony clips on the topic of resistance at

Here are also some IWitness lessons that address the issue of resistance: