Remembering Shomeric Heroines of the Shoah

April 8, 2021 is Yom HaShoah. This year, take time to learn about two Shomeric heroines, Tosia Altman and Rozka Korchak. Thank you to Moreshet for documenting their history, as well as stories of so many others from the Shoah.

Tova (Tosia) Altman 1918 (Lipno, Poland) - 1943 (Warsaw, Poland)

At age 11, Tosia Altman joined the local chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, which soon became the center of her life, and at the age of 14 she was selected to serve as a counselor in the movement. Later, she underwent agricultural training in Częstochowa and impatiently awaited the day she would fulfill her goal of emigrating to Palestine. But her move to Palestine was delayed by the exigencies of the movement, which needed her to continue her work in Poland. On the eve of the war, Tosia was selected to head up a secondary movement leadership that was meant to begin operating in the event of a state of emergency. 

Immediately after the fall of Poland in September 1939, Tosia joined the concentration of Hashomer Hatzair members in Vilna. When the troubling reports regarding the fate of the Jews of Poland, the paralysis of movement chapters in the country, and their young members left without leadership and guidance in face of the new realities of German occupation, she was one of the first to return to occupied Warsaw. Tosia was a talented and sensitive young woman, and, in addition to her efforts to reorganize movement work for underground conditions, she published articles in the underground movement press and became one of the movement's most important emissaries to ghettos throughout occupied Poland. Her travels, which were all undertaken using falsified documents, were filled with anxiety and fear. Only upon reaching Jewish surroundings and feeling the breath of fellow Jews around her did Tosia's familiar smile return to her face, once again radiating warmth and comfort. 

After the establishment of the Jewish Fighting Organization, the ŻOB, Tosia was sent to the Aryan side of the city to carry out the dangerous and sensitive mission of acquiring weapons and smuggling them into the ghetto. With every rumor of an impending action, Tosia would return to the ghetto, as she did on the eve of the Passover holiday in 1943. At this point, Tosia was integrated into the ŻOB command and was responsible for communications with Antek Zuckerman, the ŻOB's representative outside the ghetto. After the Germans started burning down the houses in the ghetto, Tosia, accompanied by Mordechai Anielewicz, visited wounded comrades in the bunker at 30 Franciszkanska Street.

Tosia was injured during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943. She was among the few fighters who managed to escape the ghetto via the sewer system after the discovery of the bunker at 18 Mila Street in which the last remaining ŻOB fighters had taken refuge. On May 24, 1943, a fire broke out in the fighters' hiding place, and some were killed in the raging inferno. Others were captured by the policemen and firefighters who arrived on the scene. Tosia and a friend named Shifra were taken into custody and handed over to the Germans, who brought them to the hospital. After a few days of being tortured, both died of their injuries. 

Quote: An excerpt from Tosia's final coded letter to a friend in Palestine, April 7, 1942: The Jewish People are dying before my eyes, and I wring my hands, unable to help it." 

Rozka Korchak  1921 (Bielsko, Poland) - 1988 (Ein-Hahoresh, Israel)

Rozka Korchak, the eldest of three daughters, was born into a downtrodden, traditional Jewish Zionist family. Her father enrolled her in a Polish school and also sent her to a Jewish heder to learn Yiddish, where she was the only female student. Her family's economic hardships prevented her from continuing her studies in a structured framework. She found employment selling and distributing rolls baked in the home of a Jewish widow in nearby Plock and quenched her great thirst for knowledge in the local library. Rozka joined the Plock chapter of Hashomer Hatzair, where she became a member of the local leadership and a counselor, which was work she would continue after joining the Hashomer Hatzair group in Vilnius. She also emerged as a major figure in the underground organization for armed struggle in the ghetto, " the United Partisans organization"  (Fareynegte Partizaner Organizatye), or the F.P.O. During the liquidation of the ghetto in September 1943, Rozka and a number of fellow F.P.O. members managed to escape to the Rudniki Forest near Vilnius, where they operated in the ranks of the partisans in the forest until the end of the war.

When Rozka immigrated to Palestine toward the end of 1944, she was the first to deliver first-hand testimony regarding the Holocaust of the Jews of Vilnius and the story of the Jewish resistance movement. She made her home on Kibbutz Ein Hahoresh and was one of the founders of Moreshet, the Mordechai Anielevich Memorial Holocaust Studies and Research Center. Until her death in 1988, she devoted all her energy to commemorating the Holocaust and the Jewish resistance.

Quote: " Rudniki  forest, [...]  no one knew how to get to…And what did we find in Rudnicki? Here, everyone was tested as individuals. It depended on how you were able to manage and to cross the swamp when necessary, or if you got lost in the forest. Those are forests with no end, not like the ones we know in Israel…In the Rudniki region, everything was ostensibly Lithuanian. The brigade was Lithuanian, the special staff was Lithuanian, and we too were appended to the Lithuanian forces. The fact that our unit was ninety-five percent Jewish did nothing to change the fact that the name of the unit was Lithuanian. In actuality, we began establishing the basis for autonomous Jewish partisan units. We were Jews, our command was Jewish, our spoken language was Jewish – daily orders were issued in Yiddish. There,  in that forest we had special roles, because we were both partisans and Jews. The idea of establishing a separate independent Jewish partisan unit capable of solving the painful problems captured the hearts of many fighters and cried out for fulfillment. The idea of the Jewish unit was cultivated during discussions among the partisans and incidental encounters and became an aspiration of many."