Female Badasses in History: Haika Grosman (1919-1996)

by spaceinvaderjoe

Today is Yom HaShoah, the Israeli Holocaust Remembrance Day and the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. It was very difficult for me to decide who to write about today since there are many, many stories of outstanding women in connection to this day; women who saved people; women who resisted; women who fell victim to the Nazi genocide. All of the should be remembered and honored today. I decided for Haika Grosman because her story is one of resistance, defiance, conviction, passion, courage, and ultimately hope. While it is important that this day is one that ultimately is not solely about hope because of the millions of men, women and children who were murdered by the Germans, Austrians and their collaborators, I believe a message of hope is needed sometimes.

Haika Grosmann was an active member of the Zionist Socialist Movement in Poland and was involved in the anti-Nazi resistance in her homeland from the first day on. She was involved in resistance activities in Poland and Lithuania. She was one of the leaders of the Jewish resistance in the city of Bialystok where she was involved in the armed uprising against the Germans who “terminated” the Ghetto. The uprising ultimately failed but Grosman survived and continued her activity in the Jewish resistance in Poland until 1945 despite the fact that she had been offered to emigrate to the British mandate Palestine numerous times. After the war she stayed in Poland helping to trace Nazi collaborators and assisting Holocaust survivors to emigrate. After her emigration to Israel in 1948 she was very active in the Kibbutzim and union movement and through her writings aimed at spreading knowledge about and preserving the memory of the Holocaust. She also was actively involved in the struggle for full civil equality for the Arab population, as well as social justice and peace.

Haika Grosman was born in 1919 in Bialystok into a wealthy Jewish family. She was one of the few members of her family as well one of the few of the sixty thousand Jewish inhabitants of Bialystok who would survive the Holocaust.
From an early age on she was involved with the Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir, a Jewish socialist youth movement, which educated its members towards a socialist ideology as well as immigration to the British mandate in Palestine. Grosman rose the ranks in the movement, eventually becoming a public representative and speaker. In 1938 she was accepted at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem thereby gaining her immigration certificate. The movement’s leadership asked her to stay though to continue her instructions on Socialism and Zionism to Jewish communities in Eastern Poland. Grosman decided to stay.

With the German invasion of Poland in 1939 Grosman together with many others fled eastward, in Grosman’s case to Vilna. Grosman had also become one of the leaders of the Ha-Shomer movement by now, well known for her leadership skills and her dedication. With the Soviet invasion of Lithuania, she and others went underground because of the uncertainty what to expect form the Soviet occupation. She continued her work in education Jewish communities and assisting with matters of emigration. She also once again turned down her chance to emigrate.

With the German invasion of the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941, the question what to do came up again. Most of Grosman’s fellow leaders of the movement decided to go east yet again but Grosman declared that she would stay. As a woman with Aryan looks she would be able to move in German occupied territory she reasoned.
In the fall of 1941 the Germans rounded up most of the Jews of Vilna and deported them 10 kilometers from the city to kill them. The few remaining Jews were forced to live in a Ghetto. Grosman who had obtained false papers lived outside the Ghetto and traveled back and fourth between Poland and Lithuania in order to inform her movement of the German atrocities. She participated in the “movement” gathering in a convent near Vilna, where the group, led by famous jewish partisan Abba Kovner, decided on armed resistance. Sent to Bialystok to organize the fighting underground, she served as a contact person between Vilna and Bialystok and other ghettos.

In Bialystok, Heika Grosman’s mission was to create a unified front between all the Jewish resistance organizations (such as the Zionists, the socialist Bund and so forth) and the Judenrat (Jewish council, the administration of the Ghetto put in place by the Germans) in order to be able to resist violently against the Germans. It was a difficult task and it was only completed in August of 943, on the eve of the German extermination of the Bialystok Ghetto. An uprising was staged with Grosman as one of the leaders but the Germans who had learned from their experience in Warsaw were quick to crush it violently. Grosman managed to survive and escaped to the “Aryan” side of town under grave danger. Under even more danger for her own life, she stayed in Bialystok and together with six other women formed her anti-fascist committee which had the purpose of marinating contact with the Soviet partisans outside of the city supplying them with information as well as helping the few remaining Jews in the city escape to safety in the woods.
With the surrender of the German troops, Grosman and her friends marched in the front line, side by side with the Soviet Brigade fighters who entered the city in August 1944. Grosman, who was awarded the highest national medal for utmost courage by the Polish government, stayed in Bialystok, but declined her friends’ repeated appeal to officially join the communist leadership. At the same time, she integrated into the new regime, and served in the security forces tracing Nazi collaborators. At this time, the end of 1944 and beginning of 1945, the remaining leadership of the Halutz movements were looking for a way to reach the survivors of the camps and the refugees who had returned from central USSR. The members of Ha-Shomer ha-Za’ir in Poland located Grosman and, in an emotion laden meeting, told each other about the hardships and horrors of their personal experiences. Informing her superiors in the security forces that she was joining her Jewish Zionist comrades, Grosman reached the joint commune in Warsaw in April 1945. Until her immigration to Israel in May 1948, she operated mainly in the political field, serving as head of the youth department in the Central Jewish Committee formed by the Polish authorities. As an acknowledged hero of war, she established political connections which helped her to organize institutions for the absorption of refugee children.

Arriving in Israel in 1948, Grosman fought in the war of independence and afterwards became very active in the Kibutzim and union movement as well as in socialist politics. She also wrote her autobiography about her time in the resistance and the loss of her relatives. Until the end of her life in 1996 Grosman never tired of promoting the memory of the Holocaust and the commemoration of its victims. Due to her socialist politics, she was also involved in campaigns for social justice and civil liberties for the Arab population. Highly honored by the Polish as well as the Israeli government, Heika Grosman stands out for her brave resistance conducted under life threatening conditions, her convictions, her tireless effort to save people and fight the Germans and their campaign of extermination.