The Jews of Volhynia and their Reaction to Extermination
Volhynia in Northwestern Ukraine was captured by the Germans in July 1941. During the first six months of its occupation, some 60,000 Jews were murdered, leaving 180,000 survivors. Then the mass murders were temporarily halted and many thought they might thus see out the war. However, in mid-1942, actions were re-instigated to liquidate all Jews in the region. Many Jews of all ages attempted to save themselves, either individually or in groups, by fleeing into the forests and swamps. However, antisemitic, fascist Ukrainians were so hostile that it was safer to remain in the ghettos as long as possible. In a few instances, mass flights were recorded from some camps but only a very small fraction survived. Others prepared hiding places within the ghetto. Estimations suggest that some 40,000 Jews either fled or hid on the eve of extermination. Some rebelled individually, usually as they were about to be murdered. Organized rebellion took the form of revolt in the ghetto or the flight of groups into the forests under a smoke screen resulting from setting fire to the ghetto houses. Weapons and ammunition were scarce and Jewish casualties were very high, but some escaped and some Germans were killed or wounded. The local partisans often rejected those who reached the woods. Eventually, many small groups joined up, and were integrated with the Soviet partisans. The exact number of those who survived the war is unknown but it was small. And for those who did not make it, they did achieve their aim to die with honor.