Jewish History: World War II
Ruth Aliav-Klüger was the only women among the early members of Mosad le-Aliyah Bet, the “illegal” immigration branch of the underground paramilitary organization Haganah that smuggled Jews out of Europe and into Palestine during World War II.
Tosia Altman played important roles in the Jewish resistance to the Nazis. Her pale skin and blonde hair allowed her to blend in and serve as a spy, and she was integral to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
During World War II, only when the Yishuv’s Council of Women’s Organizations called for the recruitment of women was an agreement reached with the British authorities to enlist women living in Palestine into the forces. The first to join were in the ATS (Auxiliary Territorial Serivce) followed by the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force).
Most Jewish women artists from Austria have been forgotten due to the male domination of the Austrian art sphere and the Holocaust. However, many Jewish female artists in Austria created influential work and established their own system of education and their own organizations, leading to a flourishing female art world until 1938.
Created at the beginning of the twentieth century, B’nai B’rith Women expanded its role during both World Wars. Although gender roles after World War II reverted to a more conventional structure, in the 1960s BBW shifted its efforts to reflect the antipoverty and feminist campaigns of the period.
The daughter of a Chinese mother and a Russian Jewish father, Tatjana Barbakoff used her mixed heritage as inspiration for stunning and innovative dance performances. Her expressive technique entranced critics, while her costumes inspired dozens of painters and sculptors to capture her likeness. In 1944, she was killed in Auschwitz.
Barbara (Monique Andrée Serf) was a French singer and composer whose melancholy style rose to national significance. Born in Paris in 1930, after World War II Barbara studied music, rising to fame in the 1960s. Her Jewish identity and wartime experience as a child influenced her non-conformist persona as an artist, and through her song lyrics, she advocated for Franco-German reconciliation.
Psychologist Dorothy Walter Baruch championed the health development of children as an educator, author, psychologist, and as a community leader. Her psychodynamic approach to child development focused on the relationship between physical, emotional, and intellectual development and on rechanneling children’s feelings through play and art therapy.
Matilde Bassani Finzi was an active Italian anti-fascist who relentlessly fought the injustices of Mussolini and the Nazis. She continuously worked towards the ideals in which she believed: freedom, democracy, and equality for women.
Formally created in 1938 and 1939, the Baum group was a German anti-Fascist resistance organization. Initially its work consisted of making and distributing anti-Fascist propaganda, but on May 18, 1942, the Baum group joined the effort to set fire to an anti-Soviet exhibit at a public park in Berlin. The damage was minimal and shortly thereafter, the Gestapo arrested hundreds of Jews in retaliation and twenty-two members of the Baum group were executed.
Hélène Cazes Benatar was a Moroccan-born human rights lawyer who rescued thousands of refugees in North Africa during World War II. She was a life-long advocate for individual rights and political equality, especially for disenfranchised Maghrebi Jews. During World War II, she fought to protect victims of pro-Fascist Vichy rule; post-war, she promoted the migration of Moroccan Jews to Palestine and elsewhere.
Writer and artist Berthe Bénichou-Aboulker was born in Oran, French Algeria, in 1886. She published a number of collections of poems and plays. After publishing her first play in 1933, she became the first woman writer to be published in Algeria.
Margarete Berent was the first female lawyer to practice in Prussia and the second female lawyer ever licensed in Germany. In 1925 she opened her own law firm in Berlin and, after fleeing Nazi Germany, opened her own firm in the United States. Not only was she the first female lawyer and the head of her own law firm, but she was also an ardent feminist and active in promoting opportunities for women.
A prolific literary critic and essayist who wrote fiction, short stories, and novels, Lili Berger worked to educate, instruct, expose, and memorialize. Her works captured the Polish-Jewish experience in the twentieth century, particularly those of other writers and artists.
Elisabeth Bergner, born in Austrian Galicia, was one of the most successful and popular stage and screen actresses in pre-World War II Germany, known for her superior artistic skills and wide variety of roles. During the war, she helped actors escape Germany. She was honored with the Schiller Prize of the City of Mannheim, the Ernst Lubitsch Prize, and the Austrian Cross of Merit for Science and Art.
A lawyer by training, Vienna-born Clementine Bern-Zernik produced broadcasts for the US Office of War Information in London during the war, served as the director of a Displaced Persons Camp in post-war Germany, and spent the last 50 years of her life as a UN liaison to the New York Public Library. Throughout her life she maintained a strong Austrian identity and was a founding member of the Austrian-American Federation.
Photographer and photojournalist Eva Besnyö was born in Budapest in 1910. In the 1930s Besnyö moved to Berlin, where she quickly became successful with numerous exhibitions and commissions and spent time with politically engaged intellectuals and artists. Following the war, Besnyö was active in the Dolle-Mina feminist movement and was awarded the Dr. Erich Salomon Award for her life’s work.
Meta Pollak Bettman was an untiring volunteer in Jewish and civic causes in the early twentieth century.
Ilse Bing was known as the “Queen of the Leica” for her work in photojournalism, fashion, and advertising with this new camera, fast film, and darkroom techniques of polarization and cropping. Her work was highly influential in France in the 1930s when many émigré artists were energized by the cross fertilization of disciplines that contributed to modern photography.
German physicist Marietta Blau joined the Institut für Radiumforschung, where she developed an emulsion technique for recording the tracks of particles that allowed her to detect neutrons and observe nuclear disintegration caused by cosmic rays. Forced to emigrate in 1938, worked for the US Atomic Energy Commission and later taught at the University of Miami. Throughout her career, she faced discrimination for her religion and gender and was denied paid work.