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 Harry Burger.
Harry Burger was born on May 10, 1924, in Vienna, Austria. The Burger family was affluent and lived a comfortable life until 1938, when Germany annexed Austria and the German Nuremberg Laws were put into effect there. Harry's family escaped into France, hoping to flee German rule, but their plans were dashed when France was conquered by Germany in 1940. Harry's father was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. Meanwhile, Harry and his mother were moved to a makeshift ghetto in Nice, France. Their one stroke of luck was that the Italian army, which was not abusive to Jews, occupied Nice. When the Italians left France, Harry, his mother and 700 other Jews followed them into Italy. When they arrived at an Italian fort, Harry learned the Nazis were en route to collect the Jews. Harry and his mother escaped capture, while more than 350 of the others were taken by the Nazis.
Harry and his mother were living in a barn on the Italian-French border when he was approached by a group of Italian soldiers. Harry asked if he could join them. On the spot, the soldier issued Harry a rifle. In this fashion, he became a partisan in the First Alpine Division, where he used his fluency in German to interrogate captured soldiers.
Initially, the First Alpine Division was under-equipped; they eventually received Allied support in the form of airdropped munitions and clothing. One of the First Alpine's most important tasks was the sabotage of German electric capabilities. In Northern Italy the train system was electrically powered, so the destruction of local electric plants seriously hindered German mobility.
After the war, Harry was reunited with his mother and returned to France. He stayed in France for five years, working as a photographer. In 1950, Harry immigrated to the United States, eventually finding photography work with two prominent television networks. Harry has one child and four grandchildren.
Critical Thinking Questions
- What obstacles and limitations did Jews face when considering resistance?
- What pressures and motivations may have influenced Harry Burger'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?