Despite great obstacles, Jews throughout occupied Europe attempted armed resistance against the Germans and their Axis partners. They faced overwhelming odds and desperate scenarios, including lack of weapons and training, operating in hostile zones, parting from family members, and facing an ever-present Nazi terror. Yet thousands resisted by joining or forming partisan units. Among them was Ben Kamm.
18-year-old Ben Kamm had a comfortable life surrounded by family and friends in Warsaw, Poland. In 1940, Ben and his family were relocated to the cramped quarters of the Jewish ghetto, where food was scarce. Ben used his blond hair and blue eyes to avoid suspicion outside of the ghetto and performed deliveries to smuggle in food. Smuggling food was punishable by death, but Ben wanted to defy the enemy and survive.
Ben convinced his friends to escape the ghetto and join a group of partisans fighting the Nazis. They found the partisan commander Grzezor Korczynski, a former Polish officer, and under his command ambushed enemy policemen to obtain guns and a chance to battle the enemy.
Partisan life was dangerous and Ben witnessed the shooting of 5 partisan fighters. The violence did not deter Ben, but Ben returned to Warsaw to try and help his family. In the ghettos, he witnessed suffering and starvation and it was the last time he saw his family. Upon returning to Korczynski's brigade, they freed 1,000 Jews from a forced-labor camp. A group of Jewish soldiers, who escaped a POW camp, tried to join the partisans but were killed by Korczynski because they did not hand over their valuables.
Ben left because he saw he could arrive at the same fate and joined the Russian partisan group of more than 1,600 fighters led by General Fyodorov. He was trained to place mines under train tracks and disrupt the equipment flow. Ben helped destroy 549 trains in 1943. In addition to fighting, Ben and the Fyodorv Brigade rescued escaped Jews and they survived the war.
Near the war's end, all Polish partisans were ordered back to Poland to distribute weapons and get people to fight. The Wanda Wasilewska brigade fought in a fierce battle when trapped by Nazis, but Ben and his fellow partisans forced a German retreat. The war ended soon after and he discovered he was the sole survivor of his entire family. Ben Kamm would deny that he was a hero.
Ben died on November 8, 2010.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Kamm's decisions and actions?
- Are these factors unique to this history or universal?
- How can societies, communities, and individuals reinforce and strengthen the willingness to stand up for others?