The above portrait of the Rogatchover Rebbe pre WWII whose writings were smuggled out.
The review of Hidden in Thunder accentuates that in this dark period were displayed many types of heroism and acts of spiritual heroism were among the foremost acts displayed. Note the comment of R Yehoshua Moshe Aronson Note the speech quoted as the speech of Menachem Zemba's that the only way possible to sanctify G-d's name in the holocaust period unlike the expulsion of Spain was to take up arms, for the Nazis left them no other choice in the matter. Death in defiance was preferable to death in Surrender. I will continue with more of a bio on his life and writings and the circumstances offered him to escape the Warsaw ghetto which, with three other Rebbes, they refused and stuck by their fellow Jews and died in that Ghetto.
Finally, a treatment with some balance. The Jerusalem Post, just in time for Yom HaShoah, provides an
important review of the new translation of Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives
on Faith, Halachah and Leadership During the Holocaust by Esther Farbstein,
a haredi Holocaust scholar and educator who has been enormously important in
setting the course for contemporary Holocaust education in the haredi world.
Farbstein’s work, says the reviewer, focuses primarily on the acts of spiritual heroism – remaining steadfast in Torah
practice under the most difficult circumstances imaginable. Drawing from haredi
archives, however, she also shows that there was a more
nuanced approach to physical resistance than is acknowledged in some circles
today. While some Torah personalities denied any value to taking up arms
not to extend the possibility of living, but to defend Jewish honor or exact
The Radzyner Rebbe, Rabbi Shmuel Shlomo Leiner, called on Jews to break
out of the ghettos, flee to the forests and take up arms. Rabbi Shlomo David
Yehoshua Weinberg, the Slonim Rebbe, allowed underground activists to use his
basement as an arms cache. Rabbi Yehoshua Moshe Aronson, who was held in the
Konim labor camp, supported a plan by the inmates to take revenge against German
“Let us at least defend Jewish honor and avenge our spilled
blood,” wrote Aronson. The plan was never carried out, however, and Aronson
expressed sorrow at having missed the opportunity for vengeance and rebellion.
I was happy to see that the reviewer cited several treatments of the famous speech of R. Menachem Zemba, one of the giants of the pre-war generation. As of late, some revisionists among us have labored to extirpate his view from the record.
“If today Jews were being forced into apostasy,” said Zemba, “and we could be saved by agreeing to it, as was done in Spain or after the decrees of [the First Crusade in] 1096, our death would be a kind of martyrdom. But today the only way of sanctifying God’s name is by taking up arms.”
Faced with the Nazi program of subjugation, humiliation and annihilation of the Jewish people, he supported the ghetto fighters’ choice to take up arms. Even if the uprising was suicidal, Zemba felt that death in defiance was preferable to death in surrender.