Remembering the Women Who Resisted the Third Reich

By Sara Williams
Tallahassee, Florida


Today we limit ourselves to small acts of kindness such as helping an old lady across the street. This was not the case during World War II. Everyday hundreds of brave women risked being shot or worse to save the lives of those being hunted or hurt by the Third Reich. The people they saved were Jewish, Polish, German, Hungarian, and many other faiths and nationalities. Most of these heroines had never met the victims they saved. How many people would do the same thing if put in their shoes? Today's generation can learn a lot from the heroism displayed by the brave women who resisted the Nazi Party. For us to learn from these women, though, we must first understand what they did and why they did it.


The women who resisted Third Reich were motivated by many ideals. Many felt that they could just stand by while these atrocities took place in their own backyards. Others were Jews who had escaped, but continued to help their brethren in any they could. Also, some of these individuals, such as Karolina Kobylec, had children who were in hiding and felt it their duty to help others. When asked if she was scared, she replied: "I was scared stiff, but what could I do? I was sorry for these people; they only wanted to live. I could not refuse. After all, my own children were also in hiding." Whatever their motivation, these women dedicated themselves to the cause of saving lives.


Many women hid Jews and other people hunted by the Gestapo. I believe that concealing these people was the most dangerous activities that these women could participate in. Many of these people were shot on sight or sent to concentration camp. Even knowing these dangers, some women never turned anyone away. These were {ordinary" women, such as Sophie Rostworowska, who kept Jews and goods stolen from the Nazis at her estate. The two-room apartment of Irena and Zofia Podkowinska and Nina Assorobraj was known as "Home of the Three Graces." They, like many, other women, provided homes for anybody needing help and protection. Daily these women risked not only their lives, but also the lives of their families and friends.


Another very dangerous form of resistance was working for the Underground. These women procured money and forged documents for Jews in hiding. Assisted by the Jewish National Committee, each woman worked for the Underground in a different way. Eva Brzuska, used her small grocery store as a front to hide documents and Jews on their way to another hideout. The women of the Underground placed Jews with families and found them jobs. Christine Zamoyska-Panek worked as a nurse for the Underground. She, like many brave women, risked being shot on sight had she ever been caught.


Some women used the fact that they were trusted by the Nazis to help the Jews. Hiltgunt Zimmerman used her position as a prison translator to help political prisoners by smuggling in medicine, food, warm clothing, vitamins and other requested items. Also she took letters from the prisoners to their families. Hiltgunt succeeded in raising their morale and saving prisoners' lives. Other women set up canteens and secretly fed the starving men, women, and children of the ghettos. Women such as Wladyslawa Choms who eventually wrote a memorandum to the President of the United States informing him of the situation of Jews in Poland. Said Dorothy Taub of Mrs. Choms; "Mrs. Choms rescued many of our Jewish babies and placed them with Christian families. She not only protected our children and rescued our men and women, but what is more, she inspired us with the will to survive."


Nuns also played an important role in the resistance. These brave nuns used their convents to hide Jewish women and children. One province of the Family of Mary hid several hundred Jewish children at their orphanage. Many nuns also ran illegal schools. They fronted them as "cooking" schools and taught mainly girls. Sister Maria Stella Trzecieska ran a hostel with about sixty female students. To save the lives of her jewish children, she provided them with Aryan papers. Furthermore, she set up a canteen and fed on average two thousand people everyday.


One of the most famous women who gave her life to resist the Nazi Party was Hannah Senesh. Hannah was a Hungarian Jew who was sent to Palestine by her mother to escape the Nazis. While there, she joined a British parachute corps. Their mission was to parachute behind enemy lines and then cross into the Hungarian border to liberate a concentration camp there. While in Yugoslavia, she joined the local partisans in their fight against the Nazis. Before interacting with the partisans she had known little about the atrocities that the Jews were enduring. This revelation led her to write "Blessed is the Match" and many other poems. "Blessed is the Match" is known to all Hungarian people and is memorized by the school children.


"Blessed is the Match"

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake.

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

Hannah Senesh 1944


When Hannah was finally captured, she retained her pride and courage. She taught children to read and made presents for fellow prisoners. She was remembered for her strength; even when she was tortured she never gave up the precious military secrets that she held. Yoel Palgi acknowledges her bravery when he writes: "Thus, her image and actions lit the way for the Hungarian Jewry for whose rescue she came and for whom she sacrificed her life."


In conclusion, the women who resisted the Third Reich were probably performed the most heroic deeds in human history. These individuals unselfishly risked their lives to save those persecuted by the Nazi Party. These brave women hid Jews, saved them from starvation, gave them false documents, and many other dangerous activities. What can we learn from the heroic deeds performed by these women? First we must learn that we as a generation can never let people be persecuted this way. It is our responsibility to stop the abomination and bigotry that seem to plague our society. We should learn from the past that this only causes death and destruction. My generation needs to learn how to be a less selfish and think about how we can help others instead of always thinking about ourselves. The women who resisted the Third Reich risked not only their lives, but also the lives of their families. These women displayed an unselfish heroism that hasn't been repeated since.





Bartoszewski, Wladyslaw. The Samaritans: Heroes of the Holocaust. Boston; Twayne, 1970.


Zamoyska-Panek, Christine. Have You Forgotten? A memoir of Poland 1939-1945. New York; 1989.


Senesh, Hannah. Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. New York: Schocken Books, 1972.


Zassenhaus, Hiltgunt. Walls: Resisting the Third Reich - One Woman's Story. Boston: Beacon Press, 1974.


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