A Tale of Two Resisters

April 19, 1943. General Jürgen Stroop entered the Warsaw Ghetto accompanied by German troops and German and Polish police. His goal: Deportation of the surviving inhabitants of the Ghetto.

Stroops' cakewalk met fierce resistance from a small but determined group of fighters led by Mordecai Anielewicz. Doomed from the beginning, 750 Jewish civilians took on the German army in a last-ditch effort to stop the deportations to the extermination camps.

At first, the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) seemed to succeed. Using mined gates and home-made hand grenades, the Ghetto fighters surprised the superior forces wearing the swastika. Their well-executed ambushes resulted in initial victory.

But it was not to last. By May 8, 1943, nearly 600 of the partisans had been killed or had committed suicide, including Mordecai Anielewicz. Eight days later, the resistance had ended and the Ghetto was leveled.

April 19, 1943. Fourteen young Germans were led into Munich's Justizpalast to be tried before Roland Freisler for treason. Against all odds, they had worked to turn public opinion against the Nazis, publishing leaflets that decried atrocities, calling for fellow citizens to listen to their consciences and overthrow tyranny.

They had undertaken an audacious graffiti campaign, painting Down With Hitler and Hitler, the Mass Murderer in seventy places across Munich. When students revolted following the Gauleiter's vulgar speech in January 1943, they thought the tide had turned, that maybe, just maybe, home-made resistance could topple an evil regime.

But slowly the Nazi net caught them, dragged them in, trapped them in the system. By the end of March, most had been indicted.

And on April 19, they had to face their accusers. Three women had never been indicted, sent to face the judge with no charges filed against them, no attorney to defend their case (except for court-appointed lawyers who were assigned to "defend" them that morning in court).

Judge Freisler ranted and raved, he insulted them, tried to degrade them, ridiculed them before an audience of highly-decorated Nazi officers and jeering Gestapo agents.

And they stayed strong, never wavering, never repenting for the glorious acts they had undertaken. Professor Kurt Huber gave his final lecture, speaking to a hostile class who wanted none of liberty and justice, none of Fichte's grand words. Words that gave his co-defendants courage, words that strengthened their resolve.

Three were condemned to death: Willi Graf, Professor Kurt Huber, Alexander Schmorell. The rest were given various sentences, with one "acquittal" for Falk Harnack (the Gestapo trailed him to catch more resisters, till Falk finally had enough and defected to the Allies in Greece). On July 13, 1943, Alex and Professor Huber were beheaded. Willi Graf's execution was delayed until October 12, 1943.

April 19, 1943. Were these people crazy for resisting? Wouldn't it have been easier to go along? To board the train to Auschwitz without resisting? To fly under the radar and not stir up trouble in Munich? To keep on saying, After the war...? To merely survive without taking a stand?

Wasn't it utter foolishness to take on an army hell-bent on destruction?

Maybe so.

Perhaps our world would be a safer place if we were gifted with a few more crazy people, if there were more who were willing to act utterly foolish. If liberty and justice were revered before the fact and did not require resistance?

- Ruth Hanna Sachs

(c) 2003 Ruth Hanna Sachs. All rights reserved. Please contact us for permission to quote.