Today is Yom Hashoah ve Hagvura. The day Jews both mourn and celebrate. They mourn the destruction of more than six million innocent men, women, and children. They celebrate the courage of all those who fought to survive. This day always comes shortly after celebration of the Passover holiday.
Last night, I attended the annual Shoa (Holocaust in Hebrew) commemoration project of the Montreal community. Every year, six families who survived the Holocaust are chosen to light a candle and to share their story via video. No matter how often one attends these programs, one is consistently awed by these stories of survival and redemption.
The story of young women at the outset of their lives who, when challenged by history, responded with remarkable courage. The Jewish “Couriers” who were real life “Wonder Women”.
The three couriers (from the left) – Tema Sznajderman, Bella Chazan, Lonka Korzybrodska (Photo – Ghetto Fighters House Archives)
During the Holocaust, Jewish resistance groups employed women as messengers to communicate with the world outside the ghettos. Daniel Seaman tells the story of three daring young women — Tema Schneiderman, Lonka Kozybrodska, and Bella Chazan— who risked their lives to help their people.
In December 1941, Tema, Lonka, and Bella were…invited to the Christmas party at Gestapo headquarters in the then-Polish city of Grodno, disguised as Polish Catholics…
[Before the war, all three had been] members of their local chapters of the [Zionist-socialist] He-ḥaluts Dror Jewish youth movement. . . . Once the war broke out, the youth movements, with their elaborate network of connections, proved to be an unexpected asset for the Jewish communities in Eastern Europe that were deliberately isolated [from one another] by the Germans.
Tema, Lonka, and Bella, like several other female members of the youth movement, were the natural choice to serve as the link between the communities, known as the “couriers” (k’shariyot in Hebrew). Disguised as non-Jews, they risked their lives to move from ghetto to ghetto, traveling through treacherous territory, transporting documents, papers, money, ammunition, and weapons across borders and into ghettos…
Not long after that evening, the dangers of the tragic era would inevitably catch up with them and their luck would run out. First Lonka, who in June 1942 was caught at the border crossing at Malkinia. She was interrogated as a member of the Polish Underground, [her captors not realizing that she was a Jew], and held in the [notorious] Pawiak prison in Warsaw. When she failed to arrive at her expected destination, Bella set out to look for her. She too was captured at the same border crossing and also sent to Pawiak. Bella and Lonka never revealed their identities, never broke, never exposed secrets though tortured severely. They never broke character either, [maintaining the ruse that they were Polish Gentiles].
Of Tema’s fate, it is known that she was transferred to the Treblinka extermination camp after being captured in the Warsaw Ghetto on January 18, 1943, during one of her many daring excursions to the place. She most likely perished there.
While Lonka died in Auschwitz, Bella survived and lived to the age of eighty-two in Israel.