As swathes of Eastern Europe were swallowed by Nazi occupation, Jewish, Roma and Sinti people were forced into ghettos. These isolated, rundown neighbourhoods were rife with starvation, disease and overcrowding, and staggering mortality rates became the norm.
In response to conditions intended to dehumanise and degrade, many Jews dedicated themselves to preserving their culture, beliefs and morality. Schools, libraries, theatres, orchestras and dances were organised; to Chaim Kaplan of the Warsaw Ghetto, “Every dance is a protest against our oppressors”. Relief organisations, soup kitchens and medical charities flourished into being. In the words of one Vilna ghetto resident:
The resistance of the anonymous masses must be affirmed in terms of how they held on to their humanity, of their manifestation of solidarity, their mutual help and self-sacrifice, and the whole constellation subsumed under the simple heading of “good deeds”
As awareness of the Final Solution spread, resistance movements emerged in seven major ghettos – Bialystock, Krakow, Częstochowa, Kovno, Minsk, Vilna and Warsaw – and 45 minor ghettos. Despite enormous obstacles, these groups transported information, arms and goods, published propaganda, and prepared and engaged in armed resistance.