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Female Leadership during the Holocaust: Female Couriers

This LibGuide showcases women as central figures in the Jewish resistance movement during World War II.

Tema Sznajderman_Bela Hazan_Lonka Korzybrodska

(L to R) Tema Sznajderman, Bela Hazan, and Lonka Korzybrodska, members of the He-Halutz ha-Za’ir-Dror movement and of a group of young women known as the kashariyot, who smuggled documents, weapons, newspapers, money, medical supplies, news, forged identity cards, ammunition—and other Jews—into and out of the ghettos.

Courtesy of Yad Vashem, Jerusalem.

About Jewish resistance couriers (kashariyot)

The kashariyot (couriers) were young women who traveled on illegal missions for the Jewish resistance in German-occupied Eastern Europe during the Holocaust. Using false papers to conceal their Jewish identities, they smuggled secret documents, weapons, underground newspapers, money, medical supplies, news of German activities, forged identity cards, ammunition—and other Jews—in and out of the ghettos of Poland, Lithuania, and parts of Russia. Their name comes from the Hebrew word for connection, kesher, because the kashariyot provided the kesher for Jews who were trapped in ghettos. The couriers were a lifeline—a “human radio” for news and information, a trusted contact for supplies and resources, and a personal inspiration for hope and resilience.

Tema Sznajderman false identity card during Nazi Germany

Kennkarte (identity card) of Tema Sznajdermann in the name of Wanda Majewska, issued in Cracow, May 14, 1942.

Courtesy of Bronia Klibanski.

Why did the Jewish resistance need couriers?

When the Germans forced the Jews of Poland into ghettos, they not only segregated them from their Christian neighbors, but also cut them off from other Jews. The ghetto walls were designed to isolate the Jews from news, information, supplies, and assistance that might help them survive. To overcome that paralyzing isolation, the Jewish resistance developed a “secret weapon,” the kashariyot (courier), who could break through the walls of the ghettos throughout the vast territory of prewar Poland, and who could deliver news, help, and hope.

Who were they?

Most of the kashariyot (couriers) shared five basic characteristics.

First, they were already active in a youth group affiliated with a specific Jewish organization.

The second characteristic of the courier was their physical appearance—they did not look distinctively Jewish and could blend into the Polish population. While it helped to have blond hair and blue eyes, blending into the local population required much more than the color of one’s hair or eyes. It involved the totality of one’s appearance, including one’s clothing, gestures, and demeanor.

Third, the young women who became couriers typically spoke fluent Polish and did not have a Jewish accent.

Fourth, most couriers were in their late teens and early twenties, as were most of the other young men and women in the Jewish resistance. As young people, they were more likely to be strong, energetic, and idealistic.  Also, they were also more likely to be single.

Finally, most couriers were female because the leadership of the Jewish underground movement explicitly preferred and selectively recruited women to be couriers. Jewish men were marked by their circumcision which was a disadvantage for them.  In addition, Jewish women in wartime Poland had social and psychological advantages over Jewish men.  For example, the social definition of appropriate male and female roles allowed women more freedom in public spaces. It was considered normal for a young woman to be out shopping and walking in the streets during the day, while a young man who was walking around (and not working) was more likely to be stopped and questioned by the police. Those routine checks meant that male couriers were subjected to greater scrutiny and were more likely to be caught. In addition, male couriers faced the risk that hung over all young men in Poland: They were more likely to be arbitrarily picked up for forced labor.

For more information, please see Jewish Women Couriers

Lonka Korzybrodska (1917-1943)

Lonka Korzybrodska was a Jewish courier during the Holocaust

Lonka Korzybrodska was born in Poland in 1917, she joined He-Haluz, a resistance movement during World War II, as one of the first female liaisons. Aided by her “Aryan” features, she relayed information throughout the chapters of the organization. She continued her missions for the movement until her capture in June 1942, when she was interrogated and imprisoned as a Polish woman. She was later transported to Auschwitz, where she died from typhus in March of 1943.

For more information, please see Lonka Korzybrodska

Bela Hazan (1922-2004)

Bela Hazan was a Jewish courier during the Holocaust

A mugshot of Bela Hazan in Auschwitz that was taken on November 14, 1942. (credit: Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Museum)

Bela Hazan was born in Rozyszcze, Poland (now Ukraine), in 1922.  She joined the He-Halutz ha-Za’ir-Dror movement as a teen. On the outbreak of World War II, Bela Hazan escaped to Vilna, where she worked as a smuggler for Dror, posing as a Pole. She was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942, though they did not know she was Jewish. She worked as a nurse in various concentration camps, including Birkenau, Auschwitz, Ravensbruck, Malchow, and finally Taucha in Leipzig. When Taucha was evacuated, she stayed behind, escaping with 140 inmates to American forces. She immigrated to Israel, where she died in 2004.

For more information, please see Bela Hazan

Tema Sznajderman (1917-1943)

Tema Sznajderman

Tema Sznajderman grew up in Poland during the interwar period. In 1942, Tema traveled to Bialystok to become a courier for the He-Halutz-Dror throughout the German-controlled areas. Sznajderman worked to aid Jews to hide their identities and assume Christian ones. Together with Mordechai Tenenbaum, her fiancé, she forged many documents that aided their Jewish comrades in fleeing to Turkey and Palestine. Tema also undertook the dangerous mission of traveling to ghettos to report on their conditions and encourage resistance to the Germans. She was last heard from on January 13, 1943, after crossing the border into Poland, headed for Warsaw; she was killed 5 days later at the first uprising in the Warsaw ghetto.

For more information, please see Tema Sznajderman