Bowdoin College

03/07/2024 | News release | Distributed by Public on 03/07/2024 21:27

The Jewish “Ghetto Girls” Who Fought Back against Nazis

Other heroines survived the war, such as Renia Kukielka, who died in Israel ten years ago. Her adventures included jumping from a moving train to escape the Nazis after being recognized. Kukielka looked more Slavic than Jewish, said Batalion, so she was able pass as a Christian. As a result, she became what was known as a "courier girl," bringing information, documents, and weapons into the ghettos. At one point, we are told, she taped grenades to her body, underneath her clothes, as well as hiding money and false papers in her undergarments and shoes.

Jewish women tended to be better suited than men to this kind of courier work, said Batalion, as they were able to integrate more easily into society, traveling unnoticed on the streets of Nazi-occupied Europe. That's because, unlike the boys, Jewish girls normally went to non-Jewish schools so were better at pretending to be Christian. "Also, the Nazis were sexist and did not tend to suspect women of having weapons in their handbags!"

For decades after the war, said Batalion, the stories of women like these were hidden and not really discussed, often for personal reasons. Those who survived, she explained, often suffered from survivor's guilt. Also, they were still young when the war ended and wanted to get on with their lives, raise families, and put this trauma behind them.

"It's through these young women that I learned personally that not only is trauma passed through generations of Jewish women, but so is courage and daring, passion, and compassion."

Some eight decades on, concluded Batalion, it's time these inspirational women were more widely acknowledged, and their stories heard.