8 badass Jews who gave Nazis exactly what they deserved and then some.

Hanukkah is almost upon us, and this year, it's not just about latkes, jelly doughnuts, and exchanging disappointing gifts.

GIF from "The Simpsons."

At a time of great uncertainty and fear — when swastikas are popping up in public parks, incoming government officials are not quite denying that they maybe might start putting all the people who follow a disfavored religion of their choosing on a list, and neo-Nazis are donning fedoras and mingling over chicken parm sliders at swanky D.C. chain restaurants, we (((Jews))) need to take a lesson from our Maccabee forefathers, bust out our dreidels-of-sneaky-plotting, and gear ourselves up to reject darkness and resist oppression as forcefully and righteously as we can.


Fortunately, rejecting darkness and resisting oppression as forcefully and righteously as we can is kind of our thing.

To refresh our memories and lay on some much-needed inspiration, here are eight stories of badass Jews who fought back against fascism — one for each night of Hanukkah:

1. William Cohen, who helped unite Jews in America against Hitler

William Cohen. Photo by U.S. State Department.

In 1933, while much of America's political leaders were busy convincing themselves that the Nazis were just passionate about stretching their triceps, Cohen, a former U.S. congressman from New York, prominently endorsed a boycott of German goods.

"Any Jew buying one penny’s worth of merchandise made in Germany is a traitor to his people," Cohen announced at a meeting of the Jewish War Veterans. While the boycott (obviously) failed to stop the Nazis, it helped galvanize Jewish resistance in the United States and frame opposition to the regime as a moral duty.

He also thoroughly kicked Hitler's ass at mustaches.

2. Danuta Danielsson, who treated Swedish neo-Nazis with an appropriate lack of respect in the 1980s

Here's what we know about Danuta Danielsson:

  • She was of Polish-Jewish descent.
  • Her mother survived Auschwitz.
  • During a neo-Nazi rally in Vaxjo, Sweden, in 1985, she ran up to one of the demonstrators a and smacked him with her purse.

Danielsson never talked about the incident and passed away three years later, so we'll never know why she did it, but "hitting Nazis for revenge is fun and good" is probably as close a guess we'll ever get, and, you know what?

That's fine.

3. Leon Feldhendler and 4. Alex Pechersky, who helped shut down a concentration camp

On Oct. 14, 1943, Feldhendler, a Jewish council leader in the Zolkiew ghetto, and Pechersky, a Russian-Jewish soldier, led 300 of their fellow prisoners on a daring, improbable escape from the Sobibor concentration camp — the largest such prisoner escape of the war. Though only roughly 50 of the escapees survived the next two years, the camp was forced to shut down in the wake of the revolt.

Both Feldhendler and Pechersky lived to the see the Nazis kicked out of their respective homelands, though Feldhendler was killed in an ambush by right-wing Poles in early 1945. The two were instrumental in making a lot of Nazis sad and/or dead, a legacy that was, ultimately, memorialized in the 1987 film "Escape from Sobibor."

5. Faye Schulman, who provided historical documentation of the resistance movement in World War II

A photographer by trade, Schulman was initially recruited to take pictures for the Nazis when they invaded her Polish hometown in 1941. Determined to find clients less likely to enslave and, eventually, murder her, she fled into the woods, where she convinced a group of partisans to let her embed.

She spent the next two years taking pictures, documenting the day-to-day activities of the resistance. Because there were no craft stores in the woods, she made her own solutions to develop her photos.

Schulman preserved her photos through the end of the war and beyond, eventually entering them into the historical record as proof of that there was defiance behind Nazi lines from Jews and non-Jews alike.

6. Simon Wiesenthal, who tracked down Nazis after the war to bring them to justice

A death camp survivor, Wiesenthal survived the murder of most of his family, separation from his wife, and a brutal forced march that nearly claimed his life in the years following Hitler's invasion of his native Poland. After the war, he settled in Linz, Austria, and dedicated his life to a single, glorious goal: hunting Nazis.

Wiesenthal chased Nazis all over the world — first as a freelancer (somehow, Wiesenthal even managed to make the gig economy seem badass) and eventually through his organization, the Jewish Documentation Center. He tracked down Adolf Eichmann in Argentina; Franz Stangl, the commandant of Treblinka, in Brazil; and Karl Silberbauer, the gestapo agent who arrested Anne Frank, in Austria. He helped put dozens of former SS agents on trial in West Germany. And presumably, he did it all while feeling absolutely 100% great about himself and having no regrets, ultimately passing away at a ripe old age while, it would stand to reason, shredding a killer solo on an electric guitar. He was just that badass.

7. Vidal Sassoon, who threw down with British fascists in a series of bloody street fights

Vidal Sassoon (left). Photo by Ronald Dumont/Getty Images.

Yes, that Vidal Sassoon. Only one year after World War II ended in Europe, a group of British fascists, led by Oswald Moseley, attempted to rebuild their political movement by spreading fear of "aliens" — code for refugee Jews living in the U.K.

The famous hair stylist, then a teenager, was part of an underground movement of British ex-service members who grabbed knives and razor blades and punched, kicked, and slashed Moseley's thugs on the streets of East London until they gave up and crawled back down the hole they slithered out of.

Really.

That Vidal Sassoon brand shampoo that's been sitting, half-full, in your downstairs shower? That's right. That's the shampoo of justice.

8. Gertrude Boyarski, who literally burned a bridge between Nazi soldiers and the food they needed

"I want to fight and take revenge for my whole family" would not be a totally out-of-place thing for Liam Neeson to say at the beginning of a film where he teams up with a wolf to kill the man who ran over his aunt with a train. Instead, those words came from the lips of Boyarski, who actually spoke them to a Russian commander after her parents and siblings were killed by German soldiers in the Polish woods.

With vengeance on her mind, Boyarski teamed up with the Soviet partisans to create as much Nazi pain and misery as humanly possible for the next few years. According to the former partisan, she and a comrade personally set fire to a bridge used by Germans to transport food and supplies, were discovered, and subsequently were shot at.

When the bridge failed to burn fast enough, they tore parts of the flaming bridge apart with their bare hands while Hitler's troops tried in vain to machine gun them in the face.

So, um.

How many Nazi bridges has your grandma burned down? (Seriously, we should get our grandmothers together and ask them.)

While our ancestors did a heckuva job sticking it to fascism, when the last candle burns down this year, there will still be more fight to be fought.

Want to join up?

You can donate some of that Hanukkah gelt to the ACLU, Immigration Rescue Committee, Muslim Public Affairs Council, and Anti-Defamation League.

Unfortunately, they don't accept tube socks, so you're stuck with those.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


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Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

I'll never forget the exhilaration I felt as I headed into the city on July 3, 2018. My pink hair was styled. I wore it up in a high ponytail, though I left two tendrils down. Two tendrils which framed my face. My makeup was done. I wore shadow on my eyes and blush on my cheeks, blush which gave me color. Which brought my pale complexion to life. And my confidence grew each time my heels clacked against the concrete.

My confidence grew with each and every step.

Why? Because I was a strong woman. A city woman. A woman headed to interview for her dream job.

I nailed the interview. Before I boarded the bus back home, I had an offer letter in my inbox. I was a news writer, with a salary and benefits, but a strange thing happened 13 months later. I quit said job in an instant. On a whim. I walked down Fifth Avenue and never looked back. And while there were a few reasons why I quit that warm, summer day: I was a new(ish) mom. A second-time mom, and I missed my children. Spending an hour with them each day just wasn't enough. My daughter was struggling in school. She needed oversight. Guidance. She needed my help. And my commute was rough. I couldn't cover the exorbitant cost of childcare. The real reason I quit was because my mental health was failing.


Keep Reading Show less
True

Each year, an estimated 1.8 million people in the United States are affected by cancer — most commonly cancers of the breast, lung, prostate, and blood cancers such as leukemia. While not everyone overcomes the disease, thanks to science, more people are surviving — and for longer — than ever before in history.

We asked three people whose lives have been impacted by cancer to share their stories – how their lives were changed by the disease, and how they're using that experience to change the future of cancer treatments with the hope that ultimately, in the fight against cancer, science will win. Here's what they had to say.

Celine Ryan, 55, engineer database programmer and mother of five from Detroit, MI

Photo courtesy of Celine Ryan

In September 2013, Celine Ryan woke up from a colonoscopy to some traumatic news. Her gastroenterologist showed her a picture of the cancerous mass they found during the procedure.

Ryan and her husband, Patrick, had scheduled a colonoscopy after discovering some unusual bleeding, so the suspicion she could have cancer was already there. Neither of them, however, were quite prepared for the results to be positive -- or for the treatment to begin so soon. Just two days after learning the news, Ryan had surgery to remove the tumor, part of her bladder, and 17 cancerous lymph nodes. Chemotherapy and radiation soon followed.

Ryan's treatment was rigorous – but in December 2014, she got the devastating news that the cancer, once confined to her colon, had spread to her lungs. Her prognosis, they said, was likely terminal.

But rather than give up hope, Ryan sought support from online research, fellow cancer patients and survivors, and her medical team. When she brought up immunotherapy to her oncologist, he quickly agreed it was the best course of action. Ryan's cancer, like a majority of colon and pancreatic cancers, had been caused by a defect on the gene KRAS, which can result in a very aggressive cancer that is virtually "undruggable." According to the medical literature, the relatively smooth protein structure of the KRAS gene meant that designing inhibitors to bind to surface grooves and treat the cancer has been historically difficult. Through her support systems, Ryan discovered an experimental immunotherapy trial at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, MD., and called them immediately to see if she was eligible. After months of trying to determine whether she was a suitable candidate for the experimental treatment, Ryan was finally accepted.

The treatment, known as tumor-infiltrating lymphocyte therapy, or TIL, is a testament to how far modern science has evolved. With this therapy, doctors remove a tumor and harvest special immune cells that are found naturally in the tumor. Doctors then grow the cells in a lab over the next several weeks with a protein that promotes rapid TIL growth – and once the cells number into the billions, they are infused back into the patient's body to fight the cancer. On April 1, 2015, Ryan had her tumor removed at the NIH. Two months later, she went inpatient for four weeks to have the team "wash out" her immune system with chemotherapy and infuse the cells – all 148 billion of them – back into her body.

Six weeks after the infusion, Ryan and Patrick went back for a follow-up appointment – and the news they got was stunning: Not only had no new tumors developed, but the six existing tumors in her lungs had shrunk significantly. Less than a year after her cell infusion, in April 2016, the doctors told Ryan news that would have been impossible just a decade earlier: Thanks to the cell infusion, Ryan was now considered NED – no evaluable disease. Her body was cancer-free.

Ryan is still NED today and continuing annual follow-up appointments at the NIH, experiencing things she never dreamed she'd be able to live to see, such as her children's high school and college graduations. She's also donating her blood and cells to the NIH to help them research other potential cancer treatments. "It was an honor to do so," Ryan said of her experience. "I'm just thrilled, and I hope my experience can help a lot more people."

Patrice Lee, PhD, VP of Pharmacology, Toxicology and Exploratory Development at Pfizer

Photo courtesy of Patrice Lee

Patrice Lee got into scientific research in an unconventional way – through the late ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau.

Lee never met Cousteau but her dreams of working with him one day led her to pursue a career in science. Initially, Lee completed an undergraduate degree in marine biology; eventually, her interests changed and she decided to get a dual doctoral degree in physiology and toxicology at Duke University. She now works at Pfizer's R&D site in Boulder, CO (formerly Array BioPharma), leading a group of scientists who determine the safety and efficacy of new oncology drugs.

"Scientists focused on drug discovery and development in the pharmaceutical industry are deeply committed to inventing new therapies to meet unmet needs," Lee says, describing her field of work. "We're driven to achieve new medicines and vaccines as quickly as possible without sacrificing safety."

Among the drugs Lee has helped develop during her career, including cancer therapies, she says around a dozen are currently in development, while nine have received FDA approval — an incredible accomplishment as many scientists spend their careers without seeing their drug make it to market. Lee's team is particularly interested in therapies for brain metastases — something that Lee says is a largely unmet need in cancer research, and something her team is working on from a variety of angles. "Now that we've had rapid success with mRNA vaccine technology, we hope to explore what the future holds when applying this technology to cancers," Lee says.

But while evaluating potential cancer therapies is a professional passion of Lee's, it's also a mission that's deeply personal. "I'm also a breast cancer survivor," she says. "So I've been on the other side of things and have participated in a clinical trial."

However, seeing how melanoma therapies that she helped develop have affected other real-life cancer patients, she says, has been a highlight of her career. "We had one therapy that was approved for patients with BRAF-mutant metastatic melanoma," Lee recalls. "Our team in Boulder was graced by a visit from a patient that had benefited from these drugs that we developed. It was a very special moment for the entire team."

None of these therapies would be available, Lee says without rigorous science behind it: "Facts come from good science. Facts will drive the development of new drugs, and that's what will help patients."

Chiuying "Cynthia" Kuk (they/them) MS, 34, third-year medical student at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine

Photo courtesy of Cynthia Kuk

Cynthia Kuk was just 10 years old when they had a conversation that would change their life forever.

"My mother, who worked as a translator for the government at the time, had been diagnosed with breast cancer, and after her chemotherapy treatments she would get really sick," Kuk, who uses they/them pronouns, recalls. "When I asked my dad why mom was puking so much, he said it was because of the medicine she was taking that would help her get better."

Kuk's response was immediate: "That's so stupid! Why would a medicine make you feel worse instead of better? When I'm older, I want to create medicine that won't make people sick like that."

Nine years later, Kuk traveled from their native Hong Kong to the United States to do exactly that. Kuk enrolled in a small, liberal arts college for their Bachelor's degree, and then four years later started a PhD program in cancer research. Although Kuk's mother was in remission from her cancer at the time, Kuk's goal was the same as it had been as a 10-year-old watching her suffer through chemotherapy: to design a better cancer treatment, and change the landscape of cancer research forever.

Since then, Kuk's mission has changed slightly.

"My mom's cancer relapsed in 2008, and she ended up passing away about five years after that," Kuk says. "After my mom died, I started having this sense of urgency. Cancer research is such that you work for twenty years, and at the end of it you might have a fancy medication that could help people, but I wanted to help people now." With their mother still at the forefront of their mind, Kuk decided to quit their PhD program and enter medical school.

Now, Kuk plans to pursue a career in emergency medicine – not only because they are drawn to the excitement of the emergency room, but because the ER is a place where the most marginalized people tend to seek care.

"I have a special interest in the LGBTQ+ population, as I identify as queer and nonbinary," says Kuk. "A lot of people in this community and other marginalized communities access care through the ER and also tend to avoid medical care since there is a history of mistreatment and judgement from healthcare workers. How you carry yourself as a doctor, your compassion, that can make a huge difference in someone's care."

In addition to making a difference in the lives of LGBTQ+ patients, Kuk wants to make a difference in the lives of patients with cancer as well, like their mother had.

"We've diagnosed patients in the Emergency Department with cancer before," Kuk says. "I can't make cancer good news but how you deliver bad news and the compassion you show could make a world of difference to that patient and their family."

During their training, Kuk advocates for patients by delivering compassionate and inclusive care, whether they happen to have cancer or not. In addition to emphasizing their patient's pronouns and chosen names, they ask for inclusive social and sexual histories as well as using gender neutral language. In doing this, they hope to make medicine as a whole more accessible for people who have been historically pushed aside.

"I'm just one person, and I can't force everyone to respect you, if you're marginalized," Kuk says. "But I do want to push for a culture where people appreciate others who are different from them."