Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin
Rabbi Yitschak RudominCourtesy

Part Six in a series about Jews and the Second World War.

Part One: British and French Appeasement of Nazi Germany

Part Two: Soviet Russia as ally of Nazi Germany

Part Three: United States Isolationism from Nazi Germany

Part Four: France: Ally of the West to Collaborator with Nazi Germany

Part Five:Nations That Actively Saved Jews During The Holocaust

One of the biggest lies about the Jewish People during the Holocaust is that they went "like sheep to the slaughter" (Isaiah 53:7) implying that they offered no resistance. This is not true. It all depended on where Jews found themselves.

While the six million victims of the Holocaust were trapped, where Jews were allowed to join the armies of the Allies, namely, Great Britain, Russia, America and nations allied with them, they joined and served in the armies of those nations in numbers out of proportion to their percentage as part of the general population. While obviously in the Fascist Axis countries where unarmed Jews were deliberately victimized, and in countries conquered by the Nazis and their collaborators Jews were unable to effectively fight back in any real way because the Nazi war machine was too overwhelming and the Nazis were very cunning and calculated in the way they carried out the occupation, ghettoization, genocide and systematic destruction of the European Jews.

While a lot of attention is focused on the six million victims of the Holocaust, with by now probably hundreds of thousands of articles, books, films, and many museums dedicated to the events of the Holocaust, the victims and the perpetrators, nowhere near the same attention is focused on those Jews who formally and officially fought back against the Nazis and their cohorts. It has been estimated that the total world Jewish population before the Holocaust stood at about sixteen million Jews. Six million Jews were murdered by the Nazis. About three million Jews survived in the Soviet Union. There are no exact statistics for how many Jews survived in places that the Nazis occupied and where they applied the Final Solution. For argument's sake let's say there were between one to two million survivors of Nazi occupation (probably a high figure). The pre-war estimate of more than sixteen million Jews, minus the murdered six million and about another one to two million Jews who would survive, means that about eight to nine million Jews in Europe and worldwide combined were not under Nazi domination.

The largest group of Jews in the world were about five million Jews in the United States, about three million Jews in the Soviet Union, and another one to two million in the rest of the world, such as Great Britain, Latin America, mainly in Argentina and Brazil, Canada, North Africa and the Middle East and Persia, plus from the British colonies of Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

There were about half a million Jews who served in the American armed forces and about half a million Jews who served in the Soviet Red Army, plus other Jewish soldiers in the British, Canadian, South African and Australian armies.

That makes a total of more than a million Jews who served in the armed forces of the Allies. This means that out of about eight to nine million Jews either not occupied by the Nazi Germans, mainly in the Soviet Union, and those living in free and democratic countries like America, Britain, Canada and Australia, more than one out every ten Jews not under Nazi rule was actually a combatant fighting against the Nazis and the Axis during the Second World War.

These men and women do not get the credit, attention, honor and glorification that they deserve.

Too much emphasis is put on Jewish suffering and hardly any attention is paid to Jewish heroism. In books about the Holocaust and in museums dedicated to the Holocaust and its victims one finds scant serious attention being paid to the more than one million Jewish soldiers who fought on the winning Allied side against the Nazis and the rest of the Axis.

Going into the background of how it came to be that huge numbers of Jews were virtually seamlessly integrated into the armies of non-Jewish nations one needs to look to modern Jewish history and the advancement of the secularization of Jewish life in modern times. The majority of Jews living in America and in Russia during the time of the Second World War were mostly modernized and assimilated secular Jews. They were not as religiously observant as their parents and grandparents had been. They had attended public or government schools as children and were fully fluent in the native languages of their home countries. They were not Yiddish speaking, although they may have spoken it to their grandparents.

In America, the young Jews of the 1940s spoke good American English while in Russia they were fluent in Russian. This meant that they could easily be conscripted into the American and Russian armies and follow and give commands in their host nations' languages. Same is true for the young Jews of Canada, Australia and South Africa, they were all assimilated and spoke English well. Their level of religious observance was not of a strictly religious nature so they were not as resistant to wearing a strange uniform, going through military training, taught how to fight and shoot, and they did not object to the type of non-Jewish non-kosher food they were served in army canteens or on battlefields. In a word, they were thoroughly acculturated and ready and eager to serve and see action.

Nevertheless they had great Jewish pride and were determined to do their part for the war effort even if it meant giving their lives for it. They were very brave people and threw themselves into the task of fighting and winning the war, from the lowest private to the highest general and scientist among them.

United States

The Jewish Virtual Library provides statistics on Jewish American Soldiers During World War Two:

* During the course of World War II, 550,000 Jewish men and women served in the armed forces of the United States. (Another 1 million Jews served in other Allied forces - 500,000 in the Soviet Army, 100,000 in the Polish Military and 30,000 in the British Army.)

* Jewish service members accounted for 4.23 percent of all soldiers in the U.S. Armed Forces

* About 60 percent of all Jewish physicians in the United States under 45 years of age served in the military.

* 22 Jews attained senior rank in the armed forces - 18 generals, 6 major generals, 12 brigadier generals,1 vice admiral, 2 rear admirals and 1 commodore.

* The total number of Jewish war casualties was 38,338 - 11,000 were killed, 7,000 of which occurred in combat.

* Approximately 26,000 Jewish men and women in uniform received citations for valor and merit. The number of awards totaled 49,315, including 66 Distinguished Service Crosses, 28 Navy Crosses, 41 Distinguished Service Medals, 244 Legions of Merit, 1,434 Silver Stars, 2,047 Distinguished Flying Crosses, 191 Soldier's Medals, 28 Navy and Marine Corps Medals, 4,641 Bronze Star Medals, 13,212 Air Medals and 14,550 Purple Hearts.

* 3 Jewish soldiers were awarded the military's highest distinction, the Congressional Medals of Honor - Ben Salomon, Isadore S. Jachman, and Raymond Zussman

One needs to take into account as well that the Manhattan Project that designed, implemented and built the first American atomic bombs that would finally win the war against Japan for America included and was headed by many Jewish scientists.

In "Jewish Scientists, Jewish Ethics, and the Making of the Atomic Bomb" it is noted that: * Among the leading nuclear physics scientists, there was an inordinately large number of Jews. Many of them were German, Hungarian, Polish, Austrian and even Italian Jews. Due to the rise of virulent anti-Semitism in Germany, especially after the Nazi takeover of that country in 1933, most of the German-Jewish scientists found themselves unemployed, with no laboratory facilities or even citizenship, and had to seek refuge in other European countries. Eventually, many of them settled in the United States.

* Of the heads of sections in charge of the Manhattan Project, at least eight were Jewish, led by the man in charge of the operation, J. Robert Oppenheimer. Among them Edward Teller, Eugene Wigner, Leo Szilard, all Hungarian Jews, stood out. From Vienna came Victor Weisskopf. Max Born, James Franck, Hans Bethe and Otto Frisch were born in Germany. Some of them studied under Niels Bohr, a Dane whose mother was Jewish. Others were native-born Americans – Isadore Rabi, Richard Feynman and Eugene Rabinowitz. Joseph Rotblatt came from Poland via Britain and settled in the United States.

* Other well-known scientists involved in the development of nuclear power were also Jews; Albert Einstein led the list and he was the one who, at the insistence of Leo Szilard, wrote in August 1939 the famous letter that alerted President Roosevelt to the military uses of atomic power. Szilard was also among the scientists who met with Roosevelt later that year to discuss the significance of nuclear fission and its possible use in the coming war. Other Hungarian Jews who figured prominently in the development of nuclear physics were Theodore Von Karman, George de Hevesy, Michael Polyani and John Von Neumann. Emilio Segre was an Italian Jew. Enrico Fermi had a Jewish wife and escaped from Fascist Italy to protect her.

Soviet Union

In a University of Michigan study it is recorded that:

* In World War Two, about half a million Soviet Jews served—18.3% of the 3,028,538 Jews in the USSR in 1939.

* If one takes into account the 2.1 million or so Jews who became Soviet citizens in 1939-40 as a result of territorial annexations the percentage declined to 11 percent (501,000 of 4.2 million).

* The casualty rate was very high. If it is correct that about 180,000 died, then more than a third of all Soviet Jews in the military (36%) were killed.

* 147 Heroes of the Soviet Union.

* 303 Jewish generals and admirals in the Soviet forces.

* It seems there were about 167,000 Jewish officers and 334,000 enlisted men among the Jews in the service. The extraordinarily high proportion of officers is due to the fact that officer rank generally required at least partial secondary education and Jews were generally the best educated Soviet nationality.

* Ivan Chernyakhovsky was the youngest-ever Soviet General of the army. For his leadership during World War Two he was awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union twice. He died from wounds received outside Königsberg at age 37 while in command of the 3rd Belorussian Front. (Wikipedia)


There were more than 100,000 Jews in the Polish Army at the start of the Second World War according to Yad Vashem that says that "after the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Polish soldiers, among them Jews, volunteered to serve in the Red Army and fight in their ranks. A Polish army was set up in the Soviet Union, headed by General Vladislav Anders. Despite the fact that the officers in Anders’ army were generally hostile towards them, some 4,000 Jews – 5% of the total number of soldiers – served in its ranks. At the end of 1942, Anders’ Army reached Eretz Israel via Tehran. Some 3,000 Jewish soldiers stayed in the country, joining the Jewish Underground. Those who remained in Anders’ Army took part in the invasion of Italy and the battles in the area of Monte Casino. 22 Jewish soldiers were killed at Monte Casino, 62 were injured, and many were awarded medals of honor at the end of the war."

According to one author, there were almost 200,000 Jews who served as Polish soldiers and at least 5,000 of them were officers in the Polish army, see "Jews-Officers in the Polish Armed Forces 1939-1945".

Great Britain

In "British Jewry and Wartime Commemoration" it is stated that:

* 60,000-65,000 Jewish men and women fought for Britain during the Second World War, including 4,000 refugees from Nazism.

* Reasons for enrolment varied tremendously, ranging from military conscription to patriotic feeling.

* Others, in particular first generation immigrants, joined to express their gratitude to a country that gave them refuge and opportunities (although many German-Jewish refugees in Britain were interned as ‘enemy aliens’ at the beginning of the Second World War), while it was the Third Reich’s persecution of German Jewry that motivated many British-Jews to enrol and fight against Nazi Germany between 1939 and 1945.

* Over 60,000 Jews served in the British Armed Forces (excluding dominion or colonial personnel), including 14,000 in the Royal Air Force and 15,000 in the Royal Navy. (Wikipedia)

* Many Jews living in the British Mandate of Palestine joined the British Army in North Africa. About 30,000 Jews from Mandatory Palestine also served in the British military, including 5,500 who served in the Jewish Brigade, a military formation composed of Jewish soldiers from Palestine led by British-Jewish officers. (Wikipedia)

Canada: According to the Government of Canada: Jewish Canadian Service in the Second World War: More than 17,000 men and women from Canada's tiny wartime Jewish community of 168,000 residents would serve in uniform during the conflict, putting their lives on the line in the cause of peace and freedom. Jews took part in all of Canada's major battles—from Hong Kong to Dieppe, Ortona to D-Day, and beyond. They served with distinction and nearly 200 of their ranks received decorations for gallantry and other official citations for their exemplary service. These contributions came at a high cost, however, with nearly 450 Jewish Canadians losing their lives during the Second World War.

South Africa: According to "The Jewish Fighter in World War II: South Africa": Until the end of the war, from South Africa's 100,000 Jews, over 10,000 Jews, men and women, enlisted for service, about 4.8% of the Army’s total. They fought in East Africa and in the Western Desert. There were 750 Jewish Soldiers serving in the Division that was captured in the Battle of Tobruk. Small groups of those Jews managed to escape and get back to British lines. Jewish captives who had been interned in Prisoner-of-War Camps in Italy escaped and joined the Italian Partisans. 357 Jewish Soldiers fell in the war, and another 327 were injured. Scores of Jews were awarded with various decorations; of them, 2 were awarded with the Distinguished Service Order and 7 with Officer of the British Empire.

Australia: A total of 3,870 Jewish service personnel served in Australia’s military forces in World War Two. The most outstanding soldier of this period was Major-General Paul Cullen, son of Sir Samuel Cohen; he changed his name in case he was captured by the Nazis. (Holocaust: Australian Jewish Soldiers)

Jewish Resistance and Uprisings

Jewish Resistance in Nazi Occupied Europe took various forms of organized underground activities conducted against German occupation regimes in Europe by Jews during World War II.

Ghetto Uprisings during World War II were a series of armed revolts against the regime of Nazi Germany between 1941 and 1943 in the newly established Nazi Ghettos.

Wikipedia has an amazingly long list of selected ghetto uprisings during the Holocaust:

The uprisings erupted in five major cities, 45 provincial towns, 5 major concentration and extermination camps, as well as in at least 18 forced labor camps. Notable ghetto uprisings included:

To some extent, the final liquidation of other ghettos was also met with armed struggle:

The best known is the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, an act of active armed Jewish resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto by about one thousand Jewish fighters in German-occupied Poland during World War II to oppose Nazi Germany's final effort to transport the remaining ghetto population to Majdanek and Treblinka death camps. The uprising started on 19 April when the ghetto refused to surrender to the police commander SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, who ordered the burning of the ghetto, block by block, ending on 16 May. A total of 13,000 Jews were killed, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. German casualties were probably fewer than 150, with Stroop reporting 110 dead and wounded casualties. The uprising was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II. (Wikipedia)


From the Wikipedia article about Jewish partisans; who were fighters in irregular military groups participating in the Jewish resistance movement against Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War Two. In Eastern Europe, many Jews joined the ranks of the Soviet partisans. Jewish partisan groups of note include the Bielski partisans who operated a large "family camp" in Belorussia (numbering over 1,200 by the summer of 1944), the Parczew partisans of southeast Poland, and the United Partisan Organization which attempted to start an uprising in the Vilnius Ghetto in Lithuania and later engaged in sabotage and guerrilla operations. In Lithuania alone, they killed approximately 3,000 German soldiers.

From the Jewish Partisan Educational Foundation: Between 20,000- 30,000 Jews escaped from Nazi ghettos and camps to form or join organized resistance groups. These Jews joined hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish partisans who fought the Germans, but they had to worry about local antisemites. Often they formed all-Jewish groups to protect themselves from their old neighbors. Partisans with ammunition blew up thousands of Nazi supply trains, making it harder for the Germans to fight the war. In Lithuania, Jewish partisans were responsible for significant damage to Nazi trains. Partisans also destroyed numerous Nazi power plants and factories, and focused their attention on other military and strategic targets, rather than on civilians. Most of the Jewish partisans took up arms in Eastern Europe after the Hitler-Stalin Pact failed, and war between the Germans and the Soviets began in June 1941.

Helping Israel

After the Second World War, from all of these groups came the core leadership and fighting cadre of what would become the emergent Israel Defense Forces as Jews with military experience would join together with those Jews in Eretz Yisrael who did not have that prior real-life training, to fight in the defense of the new state of Israel in 1948. Battle hardened Jewish veterans of the conflicts during the Second World War would bring their military training and hard won battlefield experience to bear to make the Israeli army into a successful war machine capable of defending itself and repelling and defeating attacks by the Arab enemies intent on destroying it.

In particular, soldiers who had served in the Jewish Brigade recruited from the Jews of Eretz Yisrael during the Second World War would become the basis for trained Israel Defense Forces army personnel and units. Some Jewish fighter pilots who had served in various allied air forces, such as Ezer Weizman would become Israeli air force generals and later Israel's president in their own right. Jewish soldiers who had fought the Nazi-allied Vichy French in Lebanon and Syria, such as Moshe Dayan would become a future chief of staff and minister of defense. Israel's first officially appointed general "Aluf" in the 1948 War of Independence was United States Colonel Mickey Marcus a highly decorated World War Two veteran.

Thus not only did Holocaust survivors swell Israel's Jewish population after World War Two, and bring with them their tragic personal stories of horror and suffering under Nazism, there was also a sector of brave war veterans from the victorious Allies who brought with them the aura and mind-set of heroes and the ability and skills needed to attain victory over Israel's and the Jews' enemies.

"Behold, the Guardian of Israel neither slumbers nor sleeps" (Psalms 121:4). The Holocaust is not like other Jewish catastrophe's that had few "silver linings," because out of the ashes of the Holocaust emerged a Jewish Phoenix, like a mythical bird that is reborn from the ashes. The word "Holocaust" means a "complete burnt offering" (from the Greek) but it does not paint the whole picture of what happened to the Jewish People.

While six million Jews, more than one third of the Jewish People, went up in flames in Kiddush HaShem - Sanctification of God's Name, on the other hand, the surviving parts of the Jewish People, in the Americas, Europe, North Africa and Asia doubled up and set out on a path of rebirth and revitalization mainly in reborn Jewish State in the Holy Land of Israel.

Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin was born to Holocaust survivor parents in Israel, grew up in South Africa, and lives in Brooklyn, NY. He is an alumnus of Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Berlin and of Teachers CollegeColumbia University. He heads the Jewish Professionals Institute dedicated to Jewish Adult Education and Outreach Kiruv Rechokim. He was the Director of the Belzer Chasidim's Sinai Heritage Center of Manhattan 19881995, a Trustee of AJOP 19941997 and founder of American Friends of South African Jewish Education 19952015. He is also a docent and tour guide at The Museum of Jewish Heritage A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in Downtown Manhattan, New York. He is the author of The Second World War and Jewish Education in America: The Fall and Rise of Orthodoxy. Contact Rabbi Yitschak Rudomin at[email protected]