Tosia Altman, Jewish Resistance Fighter, is born, 1919
On This Day in Jewish History: August 24th, 1919
Tosia Altman was born in Lipno, Poland in 1919. In her early years, she was an active member and youth group leader in the HaShomer Hatzair Zionist movement
At the outbreak of World War II and the invasion of Poland, she fled east to Vilna, Lithuania, alongside other HaShomer youth movement leaders.In Vilna, the youth movement was extremely concerned about the members that were still trapped under Nazi occupation and decided to send back leaders west to help them organize.
As a distinguished leader, Altman was chosen to return to Nazi occupied Poland. She made the dangerous journey by going around to various cities organizing the movement's branches. Meanwhile, she corresponded with leadership in Vienna and British Mandated Palestine at great risk, as during that time Jews were not allowed on trains. After the sealing off of the Warsaw Ghetto, Altman continued her work and snuck food packages into the Ghetto.
Had she been caught, her being outside the Ghetto would’ve been a capital offense. In December of 1941 she returned to Vilna where she met Abba Kovner. Abba Kovner’s views (which later proved correct) were that the Nazis goal was complete extermination of the Jewish People, was not localised to certain ghettos and the Jews should not go to their deaths without a fight. She then returned to the Warsaw Ghetto and alongside other leftist resistance groups, established an anti-fascist self defense organization, but were unable to secure weapons and soon the organization fell apart.
After the first wave of mass deportations from Warsaw to Treblinka the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) was established. Altman smuggled grenades and explosives into the ghetto for the ZOB and helped Jews find hiding places outside of the ghetto. In October of that year, the Polish Home Army began supplying the ZOB with weapons. In January of 1943 during the next wave of deportations, Warsaw Jews put up an armed resistance.
Many ZOB members were killed and Altman was captured, taken for deportation, but rescued by a Jewish Ghetto policeman on behalf of HaShomer Hatzair. The resistance partly succeeded and 5,000 Jews were deported instead of the intended 8,000. The Polish Home Army increased its supply of weapons to the ZOB who began training for the Ghetto liquidation. On April 18, the Germans surrounded the Ghetto in preparation for its liquidation. On the 21st they began to burn down the Ghetto. Altman acted as a courier in between the central command bunker and a bunker where wounded were held and saved Jews from burning buildings. On the twentieth day of fighting, the bunker where Altman and hundreds of others were hiding was found by the Germans who poured gas into it. Many committed suicide when they were no longer able to fight off the gas rather than be deported. 6 people from that bunker were able to get out alive, one being Altman who was wounded. Two weeks later, a fire broke out in the attic Altman was hiding in and her body was very badly burned. The Polish police handed her over to the Germans and she died two days later.
Altman was posthumously awarded the Silver Cross of the Military Order of Virtuti Militari, Poland’s highest military decoration for courage and heroism for her work fighting against the Nazis.