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75th Anniversary Kaddish at Yad Vashem for the Four Heroines of Auschwitz

Remember the Women Institute participated in a special Kaddish and ceremony for the Four Heroines of Auschwitz, held at Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the victims of the Holocaust, in Jerusalem, Israel, on Monday, January 6, 2020, at the memorial monument that honors them.

Four Heroines

Photo, left (l-r): Prof. Guilherme Ary Plonski, Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel, Ariela Heilman, and Dr. Sonja Hedgepeth at the Yad Vashem monument for the four heroines hanged at Auschwitz 75 years ago. Photo, right: Participants at the ceremony at Yad Vashem included relatives, scholars, and representatives of Hashomer Hatzair, the Zionist youth group that the heroines belonged to.

The four young women –Ala Gertner, Roza Robota, Regina Safirstajn and Ester Wajcblum - were publicly hanged before the assembled women’s camp at Auschwitz on January 6, 1945, for their role in smuggling gunpowder from the Union Munitions plant at Auschwitz-Birkenau to the men of the Sonderkommando. Roza, who had been a member of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth group in Poland, was recruited into the camp underground by Noah Zabludowicz, who came from her hometown and youth group. Some of the other young women who were part of the smuggling operation had been members of Hashomer Hatzair before the Holocaust. About thirty women and girls have been identified as playing roles in the operation, and there may have been more. The smuggled gunpowder was intended to help blow up Krematorium IV during the October 1944 Sonderkommando uprising at Auschwitz.

These four Jewish female resistance fighters were caught and then singled out for this unusual form of execution on direct orders from Berlin, just weeks before the camp’s liberation. On this 75th anniversary of their murder, January 6, 2020, family members, friends, representatives of Remember the Women Institute, and others met at the Yad Vashem monument in memory of the women to say Kaddish, honor their memory, and remember their bravery.

The event was organized by Ariela Heilman, the niece of Ester Wajcblum, one of the four heroines. Ariela’s mother and Ester’s sister, Anna Heilman (born Hana Wajcblum), was also part of the resistance group that smuggled gunpowder from the ammunition factory. A delegation from Hashomer Hatzair, headed by Secretary General Oren Zuckierkorn, was present to honor their former members. In addition to Zuckierkorn, Ronnen Harran, a researcher on the subject and the son of a member of the resistance group spoke. Eva Lutkiewicz of Yad Vashem also provided background. Prof. Joel Yaari revealed that his own mother, in her memoir of her time in Auschwitz, stated that Ester Wajcblum was alive after the hanging but then shot by an SS-affiliated guard. Cantor David Aptowitzer, retired from of Agudath Israel Congregation in Ottawa, Canada, led the memorial prayers for the four heroines. Dr. Sonja M. Hedgepeth, Prof. Guilherme Ary Plonski, and Dr. Rochelle G. Saidel represented Remember the Women Institute.

For details about this history, see an excellent academic article by Ronnen Harran (2017), “The Jewish Women at the Union Factory, Auschwitz 1944: Resistance, Courage and Tragedy,” Dapim: Studies on the Holocaust, 31:1, 45-67, DOI:10.1080/23256249.2017.1294315, published online, March 1, 2017.

For details about an earlier related event by Remember the Women Institute, see "Giving Women Their Place in Holocaust History."

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