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A 14 Pages Term Paper on Resistance movements in Nazi Occupied Territories of the Soviet
Union during the Holocaust The Role of Women

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Resistance movements in Nazi Occupied Territories of the Soviet
Union during the Holocaust The Role of Women

         Women had played important role in resistance movements against Nazi’s regime.  Such studies are surprisingly few, given the maturity of the fields of both Holocaust Studies and Women's Studies. However, there is large number of controversy present among the argument that whether women were supporters of Nazi’s regime or against them.

          Esther Fuchs, Associate Professor of Hebrew Literature at the University of Arizona in Tuscon, counters such critiques in her Introduction: " . . .by ignoring gender," she states, "we stand to miss one of the most lethal weapons of Nazi propaganda and persecution. The Nazis produced an ideology of both racist and sexist supremacy. Anti-Semitism and misogyny were interconnected in the Nazi apparatus, and to ignore their misogyny is to remain oblivious to the profundity of their anti-Semitism and anti-humanism. Rather than simplifying, a feminist approach to the Holocaust complicates the scholarly agenda, refines our perceptions, our methodological tools and our ability to understand. Feminist research on the Holocaust is profoundly ethical in its attempt to give voice to the silenced and to enable the oppressed to regain a sense of self and dignity."

          In World War II both Great Britain and the Soviet Union drafted women during the war. By the end of the war Britain had 19% of its total male population and 2% (more than one-half million) of its total female population in the military. The vast majority of English women conscripts did not fight with combat units but most of the women in the Soviet army did.

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          The Holocaust was the systematic, bureaucratic annihilation of six million Jews by the Nazi regime and their collaborators as a central act of state during World War II. In 1933 approximately nine million Jews lived in the 21 countries of Europe that would be occupied by Germany during the war. By 1945 two out of every three European Jews had been killed. Although Jews were the primary victims, hundreds of thousands of Roma (Gypsies) and at least 250,000 mentally or physically disabled persons were also victims of Nazi genocide.

          As Nazi tyranny spread across Europe from 1933 to 1945, millions of other innocent people were persecuted and murdered. More than three million Soviet prisoners of war were killed because of their nationality. Poles, as well as other Slavs, were targeted for slave labor, and as a result, almost two million perished. Homosexuals and others deemed "anti-social" were also persecuted and often murdered. In addition, thousands of political and religious dissidents such as communists, socialists, trade unionists, and Jehovah's Witnesses were persecuted for their beliefs and behavior and many of these individuals died as a result of maltreatment.

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          The concentration camp is most closely associated with the Holocaust and remains an enduring symbol of the Nazi regime. The first camps opened soon after the Nazis took power in January 1933; they continued as a basic part of Nazi rule until May 8, 1945, when the war, and the Nazi regime, ended.

          An estimated 2 million women participated in the partisan cause in Yugoslavia, 282,000 were executed by the Nazis or died in concentration camps. More than 100,000 women were partizanka, part of the organized guerrilla army who engaged in combat and sabotage behind enemy lines. At least 2,000 women were promoted to officer ranks and led partisan bands. By war's end 25,000 partizanka had been killed and 40,000 seriously wounded.

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          The first all woman partisan unit was formed in the Serbian village of Lika on August 25, 1942, 700 women volunteered for the 110 positions available. The next month a second women's unit was formed in Turjanski. Two more all-female units were formed in October. The all-female units were later phased out and women were incorporated into existing male units. On average each unit of 300 had between 5 and 10 women. The women lived in the same quarters as the men, ate the same food, wore the same clothes and shared the same danger. The casualty rate for both male and female partisans was 25%.

          Danisa Milosavljevic, a partisan officer, estimated that the soldiers in her command, both male and female, had walked over 4,000 miles of road less terrain by 1945 and engaged in hundreds of skirmishes and acts of sabotage. Milka Kufrin became a national symbol of partisan resistance for sabotaging the Zagreb-Karlovec railroad line. Mira, Milica and Vera Kriuzman were three well-known women partisans who symbolized Yugoslavia's resistance to Nazi rule.

          The British also sent male and female operatives to Yugoslavia to assist the Resistance. Two teenage girls, Hanna Senesh and Haviva Reich, were part of the all-Jewish units from Palestine who fought with the British in WW II. Both parachuted into Yugoslavia in 1944 to organize escape routes for the underground and Jews trapped behind Nazi lines. Months later both were betrayed and captured, tortured and executed by the Nazis. 

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          In August 1941, before women were officially permitted to fight in the Russian army, Liza Ivanova organized and led a group of 68 men and women guerillas. She fought for more than a year before she was captured by the Nazis who tortured and executed her.
Vera Krylova joined the medical corps in 1941. When the Nazi's marched on Moscow she commanded an impromptu guerilla band of refugees. She was awarded the Order of the Red Banner and later fought with a battalion of ski troops.

          The Soviet Union drafted unmarried women in the later years of the war although many thousands had volunteered much earlier in the conflict. More than 70% of the 800,000 Russian women who served in the Soviet army fought at the front. One hundred thousand of them were decorated for defending their country. Komsomol, the Communist youth organization, mobilized a half-million women and girls for military service. The women trained in all-female groups but after training were posted to regular army units and fought alongside the men.

          About 1,000 women aviators were trained as fighter and military transport pilots, 30 of them were awarded the Gold Star of a Hero of the Soviet Union for their heroism in combat. Three aviation regiments, the 586th Women's Fighter Regiment, the 587th Women's Bomber Regiment and the 588th Women's Night Bomber Regiment utilized only women pilots, engineers and mechanics. Major Tamara Aleksandrovna commanded a Russian all-female air-borne regiment on more than 400 sorties and 125 combat engagements. She and the women she commanded shot down thirty-eight enemy aircraft during aerial combat. Polina Gelman was a bomber pilot who flew 18 combat missions and was decorated five times.

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          Other women pilots fought with primarily male units, including Lily (aka Lydia) Litvak and Katya Budanova who were pilots in the 73rd Fighter Regiment and took part in the Battle of Stalingrad. Captain Budanova downed eight enemy aircraft in combat. Lydia Livak flew 12 combat missions and shot down 9 German aircraft before being wounded and forced to crash land. She recovered from her injuries and returned to battle where she was killed during a 1943 dogfight with 8 Messerschmitts.

          Ludmilla Pavlichenko like many of the women was trained as a sniper. She is credited with killing 309 Germans. Lance Corporal Maria Ivanova Morozova also served as a sniper with the 62nd Rifle Battalion and won 11 combat decorations. She survived the war and became a senior accountant at a factory in Minsk.

          Maria Baide, a scout in the Crimea, killed 15 Germans, wounded several others and routed the rest when her unit was pinned down by enemy machine gun fire. Although wounded she survived and was awarded Russia's highest honor, Hero of the Soviet Union.
Katharina von Kellenbach1, in her essay "Reproduction and Resistance During the Holocaust," introduces three women--Ruth Cronheim, Gonda Redlich, and Ruth Elias--for whom the ability to reproduce becomes a means of resistance. "The birth of a Jewish child," she claims, "was not a private affair, but a politically and religiously significant effort: it signaled the birth of 'avengers in the shape of children' [a quote of Himmler] to the Nazis, and the possibility of a future to the Jews." Tragically, only Ruth Elias survived of these three pairs of mothers and infants; nonetheless, their courageous choice to bear a child in the face of Nazi extermination must be understood as resistance, insists Kellenbach.

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          Alexandra Beiko and her husband Ivan, with Stalin's permission, bought their own tank so they could go into WW II together. She was awarded the order of the Patriotic War.

          Odette Sansom was not unique in her efforts to organize an escape from Ravensbruck concentration camp. Many Jewish women fought Nazi efforts to remove them from the ghettos to the camps or to slave labor in mines and factories.

          Other Jewish women worked to free those imprisoned in the camps, one of the best known was Gisi Fleischmann who in 1944 was arrested, deported to Auschwitz and sent to the gas chamber.  Women organized camp uprisings and staged escapes throughout the war. Days before the Germans evacuated Auschwitz they hung Roza Robata, Ella Garter, Estusia Wajsblum and Regina Sapirstein for refusing under torture to betray others involved in an armed uprising on October 7, 1944.

          Adolf Hitler viewed women as inferior beings, good only for procreation. His misogynist attitudes became a part of his policies on women once he rose to power. He enforced policies that would return women back to their traditional roles as housewives mothers of future Germany. Women knew not to wear cosmetics or revealing clothing because Hitler believed that a proper German woman should not flaunt her sexuality in front of a man. Hitler's policies encouraged women to lead healthy lives so that they could bear healthy, happy, and Aryan children.

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          His policies even affected women who wished to work outside of the home. Many married women were removed from their jobs so that men could occupy them. With employment opportunities for men at a lull, Hitler and the Nazis wanted to ensure that men would have jobs to support their wives and children. The only women allowed to work outside the home were single women because it was understood that they needed to work in order to survive.

          Berntson & Brian Ault2 (1998) discussed why women were supporters of the Nazi party during the beginning of its formation. The Nazi's harsh treatment of women coincided with the beliefs that many Germans had towards women, this even included German women at the time. Women were pre-conditioned to believe that they were good only for reproduction. A lot of women were frightened by the possibility that they may be allowed some freedom within society. At this time Nazism was much stronger than feminism. A lot of the women who joined the party at the time were older women who wished to preserve the traditional roles of women. They discussed the logical reasons for women joining the Nazi party in the early 1930s.

          Czarnowski3 (1996) highlights what types of groups’ older women enrolled in to help the Nazi party. It also describes the restrictions placed on women who wished to marry and have children. The Reich's Mother Service (RMD) was founded in 1934 and was the leading place to take courses on domesticity and motherhood. All other groups of this nature were banned in 1935 so that the Nazis could have complete control over what women were being taught. There were extensive medical exams for a couple to take before they were married. One had to be able to prove how far back their German lineage went. Older women did a lot in order to please the Nazi party.

          Hitler's program for women caused women to support the Nazi regime even more than they already did. Hitler wanted to return women to their inferior roles within society, such as mothers and homemakers. In addition, he wanted to strip women of their right to work. Hitler's program for women worked in theory only. Women ended up gaining more freedom than they had before as a direct result of Nazism. This chapter is an excellent source to gain a better understanding of why women were supporting the Nazis during the 1930s (Frevert 1988a)4.

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          Labor market was controlled during Hitler's reign. Young women in school were forced to take classes geared towards making them better mothers for when the time came for them to have children (Frevert 1988b)5. Women were kept from the political sphere as well as the civil servant sphere of life. It finally concludes that women were the bearers of the nation's future, as long as they fit the Aryan mold (Frevert 1988b).

          Frevert6 (1988c) highlights the groups who were loyal to Hitler and those who were strongly against him. People who were strongly in favor of Hitler were the women who were able to benefit directly from his policies. These women included the young women who joined the BDM and were allowed their first taste of freedom. Older women were even allowed to become SS officers and this opportunity offered them a chance at some real power, which quickly went to their heads. However, some girls did not wish to become a part of the mold so they joined other youth groups, such as the Swing Kids and the Edelweiss Pirates (Frevert 1988c)6. Youth groups even began to form out of churches and these groups allowed young men and women a chance to get together without any Nazi influence on them. Fervet6 (1988c) discussed the great source for women's opposition groups. It does an excellent job explaining the different groups and their reasons for existence.

          Stibbe7 (1993) argued the role women played in Hitler's program. He expressed his desire for women to return to their traditional roles as wives and mothers. He also suggests that some historians believe it was women's acceptance of Hitler's policies, which allowed the Holocaust and terror to ensue. Women did not play much of a role in the actual resistance to Nazism and that is why it is believed that they should share in the burden of guilt (Stibbe7 1993).  Stibbe7 criticized women for their passive acceptance of the stripping of their political rights.

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          von Saldern8 (1994) argued whether women should be considered outright victims or perpetrators in the war. The author comes to the conclusion that it was possible to be both. She believes that women should not be viewed as different from men because of their gender. They should share the same responsibility as men. It also highlights the fact that although some women willingly accepted Nazism there were some women who outright rejected Nazi policies. The article's basic premise is to better illustrate the role, which women played in Nazi Germany. von Saldern8 (1994) throws light on both sides of the argument at once.


  1. Katharina von Kellenbach, in her essay "Reproduction and Resistance During the Holocaust,".  Dec.6, 2001 from World Wide Web: http://www.jewish.co.uk/summary.php3
  2. Berntson, Marit A & Brian Ault. (1998) "Gender and Nazism: Women Joiners of the pre-1933 Nazi Party". The American Behavioral Scientist 41:9 (June/July 1998), 1193-1218.
  3. Czarnowski, Gabriele. (1996) "The Value of Marriage for the Volksgemeinschaft': Policies Towards Women and Marriage Under National Socialism", in Richard Bessel, ed. Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany: Comparisons and Contrasts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.  94-112.
  4. Frevert, Ute. (1988a) "National Renewal and the Woman Question" in Frevert, Women in German History. Oxford: Berg, 1988, 207-215.
  5. Frevert, Ute. (1988b) "National Socialist Policy on Women" in Frevert, Women in German History.  Oxford: Berg, 1988, 217-239.
  6. Frevert, Ute. (1988c) "Resistance and Mass Loyalty" in Frevert, Women in German History.   Oxford: Berg, 1988, 240-252.
  7. Stibbe, Matthew. (1993) "Women and the Nazi State". History Today 43 (Nov. 1993) 35.
  8. von Saldern, Adelheid. (1994) "Victims or Perpetrators? Controversies about the Role of Women in the Nazi State". in David Crew, ed. Nazism and German Society, 1933-1945. London:  Routledge, 1994, 141-165.

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