Whispers Among the Screams: Emotional Resistance to the Holocaust in the Warsaw Ghetto

Open Access
Sautner, Corey Vail
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Arts
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Sabine Doran, Thesis Supervisor
  • Cathleen Denise Cahill, Honors Advisor
  • Warsaw
  • Warsaw Ghetto
  • Holocaust
  • Holocaust Study
  • Emmanuel Ringelblum
  • Nazi Germany
  • Nazi Occupation of Poland
  • Yiddish Art
  • Yiddish Literature
  • Yiddish Plays
  • Yiddish Instruction
  • Polish Jewsh
  • Jewish Intellectuals in Europe
  • Jews in Poland
  • Y L Peretz
  • Resistance to the Holocaust
  • Jewish Resistance to the Holocaust
  • Nonviolent Resistance
  • Resistance Literature
What is emotional resistance? Rebellion against an occupying presence can manifest into a variety of forms, yet the most conventional incarnations of revolution remain the most popular. That is resistance by violent force, or in more democratic scenarios, political action. The former is ubiquitous for its simplicity and accessibility, in the use of physical, corporal harm to achieve a sociopolitical gain against an occupying presence. As representative of the popular conscience on resistance, such armed revolts attract the overwhelming majority of scholarship. Nazi-occupied Warsaw is no exception to this rule, as the failed Warsaw Ghetto Uprising enjoys significant academic attention. While the insurrection is noble in its intentions and valiant in its participants, this paper contends that other, less conventional forms of resistance are equally (if not more) profound and potent in challenging the Nazi ethic. Secretive instruction of illicit Jewish topics, sustained productions of cherished Yiddish plays, and defiant, poignant literature were all abundant throughout ghettoized Warsaw, indicating a conscious communal effort to challenge Nazi ideology. Furthermore, all of these manifestations of emotional resistance were created by Jews for their fellow Jews, who demonstrated a clear intention to provide peaceful mechanisms of relief, and resistance, for a suffering audience. Given that ghettoized Warsaw presents a dualistic scenario- a uniquely Nazi fusion of severe militaristic control with psychologically disturbing elements- it is a now a worthy case study for the emergence of emotional resistance. Under the aegis of a Nazi regime whose interests in territorial annexation transcended tangible, materialistic gains to installing concepts of Aryan racial superiority, concrete forms of resistance may not always prove effective. Consequently, against an oppressive Nazi power whose fundamental ideology relies upon the imposition of denigration and dehumanization, challenges against such rhetoric can serve as astonishingly effective remedies towards a plummeting morale. As was the case with Warsaw, this nonviolent resistance reignited the communal spirit in its motivation, resilience, and creativity through the conception of novel means of shedding the shackles of occupation- both structural and psychological. Therefore, this thesis defines emotional resistance as the Jewish community’s conscious effort to combat the demoralizing intentions of Nazi racial ideology, whether through the continued instruction of Hebrew topics under clandestine circumstances, leaving fine arts as an expressive force, or the employment of literature as a vehicle of rhetorical rebellion, specifically. This thesis will explore each of these forms of resistance individually, and illuminate the potential for nonviolent rebellion to occur under emotional, psychological, and cognitive pretenses.