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.

True

When Sue Hoppin was in college, she met the man she was going to marry. "I was attending the University of Denver, and he was at the Air Force Academy," she says. "My dad had also attended the University of Denver and warned me not to date those flyboys from the Springs."

"He didn't say anything about marrying one of them," she says. And so began her life as a military spouse.

The life brings some real advantages, like opportunities to live abroad — her family got to live all around the US, Japan, and Germany — but it also comes with some downsides, like having to put your spouse's career over your own goals.

"Though we choose to marry someone in the military, we had career goals before we got married, and those didn't just disappear."

Career aspirations become more difficult to achieve, and progress comes with lots of starts and stops. After experiencing these unique challenges firsthand, Sue founded an organization to help other military spouses in similar situations.

Sue had gotten a degree in international relations because she wanted to pursue a career in diplomacy, but for fourteen years she wasn't able to make any headway — not until they moved back to the DC area. "Eighteen months later, many rejections later, it became apparent that this was going to be more challenging than I could ever imagine," she says.

Eighteen months is halfway through a typical assignment, and by then, most spouses are looking for their next assignment. "If I couldn't find a job in my own 'hometown' with multiple degrees and a great network, this didn't bode well for other military spouses," she says.

She's not wrong. Military spouses spend most of their lives moving with their partners, which means they're often far from family and other support networks. When they do find a job, they often make less than their civilian counterparts — and they're more likely to experience underemployment or unemployment. In fact, on some deployments, spouses are not even allowed to work.

Before the pandemic, military spouse unemployment was 22%. Since the pandemic, it's expected to rise to 35%.

Sue eventually found a job working at a military-focused nonprofit, and it helped her get the experience she needed to create her own dedicated military spouse program. She wrote a book and started saving up enough money to start the National Military Spouse Network (NMSN), which she founded in 2010 as the first organization of its kind.

"I founded the NMSN to help professional military spouses develop flexible careers they could perform from any location."

"Over the years, the program has expanded to include a free digital magazine, professional development events, drafting annual White Papers and organizing national and local advocacy to address the issues of most concern to the professional military spouse community," she says.

Not only was NMSN's mission important to Sue on a personal level she also saw it as part of something bigger than herself.

"Gone are the days when families can thrive on one salary. Like everyone else, most military families rely on two salaries to make ends meet. If a military spouse wants or needs to work, they should be able to," she says.

"When less than one percent of our population serves in the military," she continues, "we need to be able to not only recruit the best and the brightest but also retain them."

"We lose out as a nation when service members leave the force because their spouse is unable to find employment. We see it as a national security issue."

"The NMSN team has worked tirelessly to jumpstart the discussion and keep the challenges affecting military spouses top of mind. We have elevated the conversation to Congress and the White House," she continues. "I'm so proud of the fact that corporations, the government, and the general public are increasingly interested in the issues affecting military spouses and recognizing the employment roadblocks they unfairly have faced."

"We have collectively made other people care, and in doing so, we elevated the issues of military spouse unemployment to a national and global level," she adds. "In the process, we've also empowered military spouses to advocate for themselves and our community so that military spouse employment issues can continue to remain at the forefront."

Not only has NMSN become a sought-after leader in the military spouse employment space, but Sue has also seen the career she dreamed of materializing for herself. She was recently invited to participate in the public re-launch of Joining Forces, a White House initiative supporting military and veteran families, with First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

She has also had two of her recommendations for practical solutions introduced into legislation just this year. She was the first in the Air Force community to show leadership the power of social media to reach both their airmen and their military families.

That is why Sue is one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5,000 donation will be going to The Madeira School, a school that Sue herself attended when she was in high school because, she says, "the lessons I learned there as a student pretty much set the tone for my personal and professional life. It's so meaningful to know that the donation will go towards making a Madeira education more accessible to those who may not otherwise be able to afford it and providing them with a life-changing opportunity."

Most military children will move one to three times during high school so having a continuous four-year experience at one high school can be an important gift. After traveling for much of her formative years, Sue attended Madeira and found herself "in an environment that fostered confidence and empowerment. As young women, we were expected to have a voice and advocate not just for ourselves, but for those around us."

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!

Vanna White appeared on "The Price Is Right" in 1980.

Vanna White has been a household name in the United States for decades, which is kind of hilarious when you consider how she gained her fame and fortune. Since 1982, the former model and actress has made millions walking back and forth turning letters (and later simply touching them—yay technology) on the game show "Wheel of Fortune."

That's it. Walking back and forth in a pretty evening gown, flipping letters and clapping for contestants. More on that job in a minute…

As a member of Gen X, television game shows like "Wheel of Fortune" and "The Price is Right" send me straight back to my childhood. Watching this clip from 1980 of Vanna White competing on "The Price is Right" two years before she started turning letters on "Wheel of Fortune" is like stepping into a time machine. Bob Barker's voice, the theme music, the sound effects—I swear I'm home from school sick, lying on the ugly flowered couch with my mom checking my forehead and bringing me Tang.

This video has it all: the early '80s hairstyles, a fresh-faced Vanna White and Bob Barker's casual sexism that would never in a million years fly today.

Keep Reading Show less