The Jewish women who defied the Nazis

At warsaw ghetto, with blond hair tied back in braids and bright blue eyes, the young Jewess Niuta Teitelbaum she seemed naive and innocent. One day she walked determinedly into the office of a high-ranking Gestapo officer and shot him in cold blood. He wouldn't be the only one. Another was shot in bed at home. With the appearance of a Polish farmer and feigned shame, he also cajoled some Nazi guards by asking them in a whisper to speak to a certain officer about a "personal matter", implying that he had impregnated her. Once in his office, he took out a pistol with a silencer and shot him in the head, then came out calm and smiling. She also killed two other Nazi agents and wounded a third, who was taken to the hospital: disguised as a doctor, she entered her room and did not forgive, also taking the guard with her. It is not surprising that with such a record she was one of the most wanted assassins by the Gestapo, who called her "little Wanda with pigtails". She called herself "executioner". She was persecuted, tortured and executed. He belonged to the communist group Spartacus. She was 25 years old and she is one of the forgotten polish jewish women that the art historian and comedian Judy Battalion, granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor, rescues in the essay 'Daughters of the Resistance' (Seix Barral).

Faye Schulman attending an operation on a wounded partisan. BELARUSIAN WAR MUSEUM

Batalion, born in Canada and trained at Harvard, brings together numerous stories that they break the "perverse myth of the passivity of the Jews", that they allowed themselves to be led without resistance to death. "Although my own grandparents survived, I myself have always believed in that idea of ​​passivity. But I discovered these active, enraged Jewish women, who exploded with rage, who dressed up, who operated clandestine printing presses, jumped from moving trains, planted bombs in the wagons, they hid guns in loaves of bread, they bought guns from drug dealers in cemeteries and they shot Nazis in the head," he recounted by videoconference from New York.

They fought and rebelled

"The story of the sadness and passivity of the Jews had always reached us. But in reality, in the 90 ghettos of Eastern Europe there were clandestine resistance units and, in them, women who fought and rebelled, who participated in networks rescue and partisan forces and helped rescue 20,000 people from the ghettos," he adds.

Renia Kukielka in Budapest, in 1944. COURTESY OF MERAV WALDMAN

Batalion lived 15 years ago in London. "I thought a lot about my Jewish identity and the emotional legacy of the Holocaust, how trauma passes from generation to generation. Whether I was the way I was because of my grandmother's family background," his 'bobeh', who ended up in the gulag Soviet, in Siberia, explains. I was thinking of writing a play about women, especially about Hannah Senesh, a young Hungarian Jew who, after arriving in present-day Israel, returned to Nazi-occupied Europe and joined the Allies. And looking for information in the British Library, he found a book in Yiddish published in New York in 1946, 'Women in the ghettos'. She began to pull a thread that became 12 years of focused research "through a female prism." He is now working on the script to turn 'Daughters of the Resistance' into a movie under the direction of Steve Spielberg.

Renia Kukielka joined the Resistance after seeing a Nazi crack a baby's skull


Batalion admits to "constantly" thinking about what she would have done in the place of those women. "Would I have run away? Would I have stayed? Would I have resisted? I want to think that I would have intervened in some way, but what I know is that I would not have been able to shoot anyone in the head. Many resisted in a thousand ways, as they could. But from what the sons of Renia Kukielka when I went to visit them in Israel I am not like her. They described her as very self-confident, someone who trusted her gut."

Pioneer Training Commune in Bialystok, 1938. Frumka Plotnicka, standing second from right. COURTESY OF THE HOUSE OF GHETTO FIGHTERS MUSEUM

Kukielka, a key figure in the book, was 15 years old when the Nazis invaded Poland. She was neither idealistic nor revolutionary, but a middle-class girl who found herself in a "sudden and unrelenting nightmare" by losing most of her family. After seeing a baby's skull cracked open by a Nazi by throwing him against a wall and another child confronting the Germans in Chmielnik, he joined the Resistance, jewish youth movement freedom. As he would write in 1945, it was easier for the Nazis to kill a person than to smoke a cigarette.

Torture and deportation

Kukielka participated in numerous missions as a courier transporting documents and weapons, hiding Jews and spying on the Germans. She fell into the hands of the Gestapo and was tortured to near death, but never revealed that she was Jewish. Nor did his partner Bela Hazan speak, despite four months of harsh interrogations, before being deported to Auschwitz.


Tema Schneiderman and Havka Folman smuggled grenades into the Warsaw ghetto along with menstrual pads and underwear. As the famine spread, Frumka Plotnicka ran a soup kitchen and Zivia Lubetkin taught children. Faye Schulman blew up trains of German soldiers, and although she had no medical training, she learned to perform surgery in the open air. Vitka Kempner helped 200 Jews escape through a forest and Henia Reinhartz created an underground library in the Lodz ghetto.

guilt and forgetfulness

Batalion believes that their stories have been forgotten for various reasons. "Many kept silent, others because they told their story in the 40s, some wrote it as a brief catharsis, but since they didn't believe them, they stopped doing it. Others because they were accused of collaborating, of sleeping with Nazis to survive, because they said: ' if you survived it would be because you would do something to achieve it.' Many felt guilty for having left their families to join clandestine movements, or thought that, unlike those who died in Auschwitz, they had not fared so badly". It also weighs the fact that "they were very young and had their whole lives ahead of them, although they no longer had anything, neither a country nor a family, and their world no longer existed. They needed to start from scratch and leave the past behind in order to have children and for the Jewish community to recover.

'Daughters of the Resistance'

Judy Battalion

Six Barral

Translation: Aurora Echevarria

677 pages. 24 euros

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