Thursday, April 14, 2011

Liza Chapnik's Story: Women in the Ghettos

"In the ghetto all Jews were potential victims of Nazi sadism.  Members of the Gestapo would come to the ghetto - alone or with friends - for entertainment. This entertainment consisted of taking potshots at a child, raping a woman, cutting the beard off an old man, humiliating people in the street, and so on" –Liza Chapnik (Chapnik, 113).

1. All of the ghettos established by Nazis during the Holocaust.

           Liza Chapnik was a just a young woman when the Holocaust started, born in Grodno, Poland in 1922.  She lost her entire family, but she managed to survive and tells her story in “The Grodno Ghetto and its Underground: A Personal Narrative”.  She tells us about the many difficult experiences she went through, which included fleeing the Nazis and heading east, coming across towns where all of the Jews had already been killed, and finally going back to Grodno just before it was turned into a ghetto (Chapnik).

                            2.  Grodno Ghetto when it opened.                   Soldiers harassing Jews.

        When Liza Chapnik was in the Grodno ghetto, there were two main groups of youth.  The first group wanted to start an armed uprising in the ghetto.  They knew it was a risky idea because they would be incredibly outnumbered by the stronger, better-armed Nazis.  However, still wanted to go through with it because they felt they should honor the Jewish nation and seek revenge for the deaths of their loved ones.  The second group argued that they should join together and escape the ghetto at night and run into the forests to join partisans and fight the Nazis together.  The downside of this plan was that they had very few weapons, definitely not enough to take on the entire German army, and this was made clear when on February 7, 1943, people escaped the ghetto.  Most of them were shot before they even reached the forests, but the ones who made it got weapons, went into hiding, and plotted against the Nazis (Chapnik).
            A group of young women who escaped from the Grodno ghetto acted as couriers in and out of the ghettos.  One of these girls was Liza Chapnik.  They had fake identification documents made and she became a Christian Polish girl named Maria Mrozowska.  She got a job peeling vegetables and cleaning by day, and sneaking into and out of the ghetto by night.  There was a secret opening in the ghetto wall through which she collected messages and jobs for her to do from inside the walls.  People asked her to help them find safe rooms for underground meetings and weapons to use to escape the ghetto (Chapnik).
            Many women took part in going to the partisan every day to deliver messages, weapons and materials for uniforms.  They joined forces with the antifascist groups of Germans who when the Germans were leaving Bialystok for good, they were going to mine the entire city, but the Germans on the inside gave the information about the mines to the Jews so everyone could escape and survive (Chapnik).
            The women played a huge role in the resistance against the Nazis in the Grodno ghetto and surrounding ones.  As you can see from Liza Chapnik’s experiences, sometimes women were the best people to escape the ghetto and start helping all of the people on the inside get food, clothing and planning escapes.  They communicated with Jews all over trying to sneak around the Nazis, stop what they were trying to do, and save the lives of their people.  Liza and the other women who joined her in escaping the ghetto proved to be extremely heroic and show that women played a large role in helping people out in the ghettos, something most people would not assume without further research.

Photographs: 1. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
2. "The Grodno Ghetto"

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