Rywka Glanc (1915–1943) – fighter of the Jewish Combat Organization, courier, “mother of the Częstochowa ghetto”

Written by: Szymon Pietrzykowski
Translated by: Szymon Pietrzykowski
On June 26, 1943, Rywka Glanc, a fighter of the Jewish resistance movement called “mother of the Częstochowa ghetto”, was killed by Germans after she escaped from the so-called "Small Ghetto" in Częstochowa.
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Rywka Glanc, nickname “Masza”, 1939–1943. The collection of the Ghetto Fighters House

The Jewish underground could not exist without women. This fact is strongly emphasized by Emanuel Ringelblum: “Throughout the war, they had carried on welfare work all the time with great devotion and extraordinary self-sacrifice. Disguised as Aryan women, they had carried illegal literature around the country, managed to get everywhere […]; they bought and transported arms, executed […] death sentences, and shot gendarmes and SS-men […]. Altogether they completely outdid the men in courage, alertness and daring”[1]. In armed struggle women were in no way inferior to the opposite sex. This served as a pretext for various kinds of legends, such as the one invoked by Ringelblum: “Popular fantasy also created a Jewish Joan of Arc. At 28 Świętojerska Street, the bristle workshop, a beautiful 18-year-old girl dressed in white had been seen firing a machine gun at the Germans with extraordinary accuracy, while she herself was invulnerable – she was apparently wearing some sort of armour, said popular rumour”[2].

One of such heroic women undoubtedly was Rywka Glanc – fighter of the Jewish resistance movement, courier between various ghettoes, member of the Zionist youth organization “Dror” (i.e. “Freedom” in Hebrew) and Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB, The Jewish Combat Organization). A relatively little-known figure, somewhat in the shadow of her more famous companions, to mention e.g. Cywia Lubetkin-Cukierman or Witka Kempner-Kowner[3], she deserves more recognition. She was born in 1915 in Konin and died on June 26, 1943, during a shootout with the Germans after they discovered the hiding place of the last surviving underground fighters of the Częstochowa ghetto. She was only 27 years old.

When the war broke out, she was completing her Hachshara (i.e. vocational training in preparation for leaving for Palestine) in a fisherman’s kibbutz at the port of Gdynia[4]. From there she went to Łódz (renamed Litzmannstadt when the occupation began), where she was forced to move inside the ghetto (together with other 200,000 Jews) – the second largest ghetto in terms of size and population, next to Warsaw. For some time Rywka worked as the secretary of the chairman of the Jewish Council of Elders, Mordechaj Chaim Rumkowski – just like another Jewish woman from Konin, Estera (Etka) Daum, who later wrote a memoir titled Byłam sekretarką Rumkowskiego (in English: I Was Rumkowski’s Secretary[5]). She fled to Warsaw when she got to know his character. Rumkowski was considered as a domineering, authoritarian person, which was best expressed by his nicknames – “King Chaim” or “Chaim the Terrible”. His strategy based on making the Łódź ghetto a model workplace that was supposed to meet the most urgent needs of Germany’s military potential during the war is assessed in different ways by researchers and witnesses of history. He is often accused of collaboration, especially in early postwar historical works or testimonies. On the other hand, in later years Rumkowski began to be perceived in a slightly more positive light – his decision on the maximization of production in the ghetto contributed to the fact that the liquidation of the closed district of Łódź took place as one of the last compared to other such places (summer of 1944), and therefore the larger number of Jews survived the war (about 10,000); despite his limited agency he did what he could for the survival of his people. One should not overlook the allegations of sexual crimes that he allegedly committed against his subordinate female employees and underage pupils of the boarding school for Jewish children run by him in Helenówek (northern part of the city)[6].

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Design of a post stamp for the post office in Łódź Ghetto with the bust of Chaim Rumkowski.
The collections of the JHI


As a co-founder of the underground “Dror” network at the end of 1940, Rywka became the head of the Lublin district. At the end of the following year, she founded a kibbutz in Częstochowa (as it was written in a short passage about her in the Memory Book of Czestochowa: “She was successful where others failed”[7]). She belonged to the leadership of the local ŻOB. Its headquarters was set up in a building at 66 Nadrzeczna Street – this is where the popular term “Group 66” came from[8]. The first instance of armed resistance happened on January 4, 1943 – several days before the so-called “January self-defense” in the Warsaw Ghetto (January 18–22)[9] – as a result of one of the round-ups carried out by the Germans. Members of Local ŻOB, Mendel Fiszlewicz (an escapee from Treblinka I labor camp) and Icchok Fajner, were among the selected group of people. Not wanting to be dragged to cattle trains leading to certain death (in Treblinka II), they decided to act. Fiszlewicz first shot from his pistol at a supervising German functionary named Rohn, wounding him. However, the pistol quickly got stuck and it was impossible to use it. Fajner, in turn, only had a knife at his disposal, with which he attacked another German named Sapport. They both were immediately shot by military policemen. In retaliation for their deed, the Germans executed 27 people. Their corpses were lying on the streets of the ghetto for the next few days, covered in snow, as a warning sign[10].  

This incident has mobilized the comrades of fallen fighters to intensify their clandestine activities. Efforts were made to obtain weapons, hand grenades or explosives for the production of Molotov cocktails; street-fighting training was taking place; two underground passages from the ghetto to the Aryan side have been dug[11]. After the partial liquidation of the Częstochowa ghetto – which began on September 22, 1942, the day after Yom Kippur, and lasted until October 7–8, and in consequence of which the vast majority of the approximately 40,000 Jews living there died (they were deported to Treblinka II and perished in gas chambers or being murdered on the spot)[12] – Rywka was transferred by ŻOB to the Aryan side of Warsaw to establish a closer collaboration with the underground there. She often circulated between Warsaw, Częstochowa and Zagłębie (“Her Aryan features and extraordinary courage helped her extricate herself from hazardous situations – from roadside inspections or when suddenly being accosted by Germans in railway stations, etc. Rywka always returned refreshed and calmly recounted the troubles she had experienced along the way”[13]).

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So-called First Alley (the starting point of the Alley of the Holiest Virgin Mary – the most
representative street in Częstochowa, that was located in the western part of Częstochowa ghetto.
Winter 1941.
The collection of the Public Library in Częstochowa, public domain


After the fall of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, she wholeheartedly opposed the idea of giving up fighting and departure to surrounding forests. As Cywia Lubetkin-Cukierman, also associated with “Dror”, recollects in her memoirs: “[…] Rywka Glanc from Częstochowa came to us. I told her «because the uprising ended as it did, it is important that you go to the forest, to the partisans, you will be able to kill many more Germans there, and maybe also to save more Jews». She replied: «We also want to be with our brothers until the very last moment, same as you» […][14]”.

Rywka Glanc died while trying to get out of the so-called “Small Ghetto”, where there were about five or six thousand surviving Jews – mostly young people, selected for forced labor in the Hasag armaments factory (Hugo Schneider AG)[15]. Together with Marek Folman (her comrade from ŻOB who came from Warsaw to help organize armed resistance[16]), she escaped through an underground tunnel and hid in a house at 17 Old Market Square. Unfortunately, the next day their hideout was discovered by Germans. A fight ensued. Folman threw a grenade at them and managed to escape. Several other fighters, led by Rywka, returned the fire until the ammunition ran out. All of them were shot dead. The Germans suffered one casualty and two people were wounded[17].

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Map depicting the territory of the “Small Ghetto” in Częstochowa,
after the partial liquidation of the local
Jewish Closed District in the Autumn of 1942.
The collection of the USHMM, public domain

As mentioned by Szlomo (Stefan) Grajek, one of the very few surviving ŻOB members, Rywka was called “the mother of the ghetto”, because the organization of the underground movement in Częstochowa rested mainly on her ‟broad shoulders”[18]. It was she who brought weapons, distributed underground leaflets, and contacted emissaries from various ghettos. “One saw Rywka everywhere, with her blonde hair and beaming countenance, wearing her short leather coat, encouraging and instilling within her comrades, who considered her their model and followed her, a resolve and energy”[19].

Rywka’s name appears on the central plaque of the postwar monument commemorating members of ŻOB in Częstochowa at the local Jewish cemetery at Złota Street[20]. It’s placed second from the top – right under the second commander of ŻOB, Mojtek Zylberberg, born in Kalisz, who replaced the fallen Fiszlewicz in this position. It emphasize the significant role she played. In recognition of the enormous heroism she demonstrated, Rywka was posthumously awarded the Virtuti Militari order – Poland’s highest military decoration[21].

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Monument commemorating ŻOB (the Jewish Combat Organization) in Częstochowa.
Wojciech Domagała / Wikimedia Commons




[1] E. Ringelblum, Polish-Jewish Relations During the Second World War, ed. and footnotes by J. Kermish, S. Krakowski, trans. from Polish by D. Allon, D. Dąbrowska, D. Keren, Warsaw, Evanston, IL 1992, p. 179.

[2] Ibidem, p. 178.

[3] In this context, the fact that life companions of both women were famous fighters, and public figures / authorities after the war – Icchak “Antek” Cukierman and Aba Kowner – could not be without some significance. It should be emphasized that both Cywia and Witka earned their legend solely by themselves, regardless of with whom they were associated with. When the outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943, found “Antek” on the Aryan side, it was Cywia who took part in the fighting. She was one of the surviving ŻOB members. She fought in a combat group under the command of Zachary Artsztajn in the central ghetto, then with Berl Brauda. Witka, in turn, became famous for the daring action of blowing up a German train with weapons and equipment heading to the Eastern front, using a hand-made bomb near Vilna – it was the first successful sabotage action by the Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (in Yiddish: United Partisan Organization) – the very first Jewish paramilitary underground unit, which was established on January 23, 1942 (about half a year before the Jewish Combat Organization that was created on July 28, 1942), in response to news about mass murders in Ponary (a small tourist resort near Vilna at the time, nowadays a part of the city).

[4] The kibbutz of the Gordonia youth organization, where the trainings were held, was located in a mansion named “Zgoda” (i.e. Consent) at Paderewskiego Street No. 14. In years 1934–1939, a fishing section operated there, whose members were trained in this profession, with the help of Polish fishermen. See W kibucu „Gordonia” w Gdyni (reportaż) (In the «Gordonia» kibbutz in Gdynia [a report]), „Przegląd Zachodni. Niezależne pismo tygodniowe Żydów Pomorza i Wielkopolski” (The Western Review: An Independent Weekly Magazine of Jews from Pomerania and Greater Poland), Year II, No. 40 (48), October 22, 1937 r., p. 6.

[5] See: E. Daum, Byłam sekretarką Rumkowskiego. Dziennik Etki Daum (I Was Rumkowski’s Secretary: Etka Daum’s Diary), ed. E. Cherezińska, Poznań 2008.

[6] For more on Rumkowski, his activities and perception of him as a person / public figure, see e.g.: Archiwum Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (AŻIH, Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute), Zbiór relacji Ocalałych z Zagłady (Collection of testimonies of Holocaust Survivors), signature: 301/157, relacja Mendela Trona (report by Mendel Tron), Otoczone drutem państwo (Wire Bound State), pp. 1–51; E. Daum, Byłam sekretarką Rumkowskiego, op. cit; Sz. Rozennsztajn, Notatnik (The Notebook), ed., trans. and introduction by M. Polit, ed. J. Baranowski, M. Polit, E. Wiatr, Warszawa 2008; A. Rudnicki, Kupiec Łódzki; Niebieskie kartki (Merchant from Łódź; Blue Cards), Warszawa 1963, pp. 8–51; „Słuchają słów prezesa…”. Księga przemówień Chaima Mordechaja Rumkowskiego (“They all listen to the Words of the President...”: The Book of Speeches by Mordechaj Chaim Rumkowski), ed. A. Sitarek, M. Trebacz, Łódź–Warszawa 2011; M. Polit, Mordechaj Chaim Rumkowski – prawda i zmyślenie (Mordechaj Chaim Rumkowski: Truth and Fabrication), Warszawa 2012; Rok za drutem kolczastym. Obwieszczenia Przełożonego Starszeństwa Żydów z getta łódzkiego, 1940–1944 (A Year behind the Barbed Wire. Announcements from the Eldest of the Jewish Council in the Łódź Ghetto, 1940–1944), ed. A. Sitarek, E. Wiatr, trans. M. Półrola, D. Dekiert, Warszawa 2019.

[7] Memorial Stones (Memoryal shteyner), The Book of Częstochowa (Sefer Czenstochow), ed. M. Schutzman, Jerusalem 1967, Vol. 2, s. 291; https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa6/cze2_285.html (English Translation).

[8] See: S. Edelst (née Gutgold), History of the Undergroud Group “66” (Geshikhte fun ​​di untererd grupe 66”) [in:] The Book of Częstochowa (Sefer Czenstochow), op. cit., pp. 277–281, English Translation: https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa6/cze2_238.html#Page277.

[9] For more information on this event see e.g. P. Batorski, January 18, 1943, “January Self-Defense” in the Warsaw Ghetto, https://www.jhi.pl/artykuly/18-stycznia-1943-samoobrona-styczniowa-w-getcie-warszawskim,4820.

[10] See: W. Paszkowski, Groby-pomniki na cmentarzu żydowskim w Częstochowie (Graves-Monuments at the Jewish Cemetery in Częstochowa), Rocznik Muzeum Częstochowskiego (Częstochowa Museum Yearbook), Vol. 11 (2011), pp. 208–209.

[11] See: Ibidem, s 209–210.

[12] See: J. Z., Getto w Częstochowie i Żydowska Rada Starszych (Ghetto in Częstochowa and the Jewish Council of Elders), Historyczno-Badawczy Biuletyn Filatelistyczny (Historical and Research Philatelic Bulletin), Vol. 45, No. 3/4 (2004), pp. 77–81.

[13] See: Memorial Stones (Memoryal shteyner), op. cit., p. 291.

[14] C. Lubetkin-Cukierman, Zagłada i powstanie (In the Days of Destruction and Revolt), trans. from Hebrew by  M. Krych, Warszawa 1999, p. 154.

[15] See: A. Hetnar-Michaldo, Obozy pracy przymusowej w Częstochowie należące do niemieckiego koncernu zbrojeniowego Hasag (Forced Labor Camps of Hasag’s Armaments Concern in Częstochowa) [in:] Skrwawione dusze. Prawda, sprawiedliwość, przebaczenie, pojednanie (Bloodied Souls: Truth, Justice, Forgiveness, Reconciliation), red. A. Bartuś, Oświęcim 2015, s. 223–229.

[16] During deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto, he was taken to the Umschlagplatz, but he managed to escape from the cattle train heading to Treblinka. After returning to Warsaw, he became the representative of ŻOB on the “Aryan” side, he helped in getting the surviving fighters out of the ghetto and transporting them to forests near Wyszków, where they were to continue their guerilla fight.

[17] See: Memory Stones (Memoryal shteyner), op. cit., pp. 291–292.

[18] See: S. Grajek, The Struggle of the Częstochowa Jews (Kamf fun tshenstakhaver Judn) [w:]  The Book of Częstochowa, op. cit. pp. 181–184, https://www.jewishgen.org/yizkor/Czestochowa6/cze2_177.html.

[19] Memory Stones (Memoryal shteyner), op. cit., pp. 291.

[20] See: W. Paszkowski, Groby-pomniki na cmentarzu żydowskim w Częstochowie, op. cit., s. 207–213; W. Paszkowski, Polish ŻOB Monument (availible only in Polish Language), https://www.czestochowajews.org/wp-content/uploads/Polish_ZOB_Monument.pdf.

[21] See: Memory Stones (Memoryal shteyner), op. cit., pp. 292.

Szymon Pietrzykowski