Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

(April 19–May 16, 1943) Revolt by Polish Jews under Nazi occupation against deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp.

By July 1942 the Nazis had herded 500,000 Jews from surrounding areas into the ghetto in Warsaw. Though starvation killed thousands each month, the Nazis began transferring more than 5,000 Jews a day to rural "labour camps." When word reached the ghetto in early 1943 that the destination was actually the gas chambers at Treblinka, the newly formed Jewish Fighting Organization (ŻOB) attacked the Nazis, killing 50 in four days of street fighting and causing the deportations to halt. On April 19 Heinrich Himmler sent 2,000 SS men and army troops to clear the ghetto of its remaining Jews. For four weeks the ŻOB and guerrillas fought with pistols and homemade bombs, destroying tanks and killing several hundred Nazis, until their ammunition ran out. Not until May 8 did the Nazis manage to take the ŻOB headquarters bunker. Many of the surviving ŻOB fighters took their own lives to avoid being captured. The battle raged until May 16, when the SS chief declared "The Warsaw Ghetto is no more." During the 28 days of the uprising, more than 40,000 Jews were either killed or deported.

* * *

▪ Polish history
 resistance by Polish Jews (Jew) under Nazi (Nazi Party) occupation in 1943 to the deportations from Warsaw to the Treblinka extermination camp. The revolt began on April 19, 1943, and was crushed four weeks later, on May 16.

      As part of Adolf Hitler (Hitler, Adolf)'s “final solution” for ridding Europe of Jews, the Nazis established ghettos (ghetto) in areas under German control to confine Jews until they could be executed. The Warsaw ghetto, enclosed at first with barbed wire but later with a brick wall 10 feet (3 metres) high and 11 miles (18 km) long, comprised the old Jewish quarter of Warsaw. The Nazis herded Jews from surrounding areas into this district until by the summer of 1942 nearly 500,000 of them lived within its 840 acres (340 hectares); many had no housing at all, and those who did were crowded in at about nine people per room. Starvation and disease (especially typhus) killed thousands each month.

      Beginning July 22, 1942, transfers to the death camp at Treblinka began at a rate of more than 5,000 Jews per day. Between July and September 1942, the Nazis shipped about 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to Treblinka. Only some 55,000 remained in the ghetto. As the deportations continued, despair gave way to a determination to resist. A newly formed group, the Jewish Fighting Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa; ŻOB), slowly took effective control of the ghetto.

      On January 9, 1943, Heinrich Himmler (Himmler, Heinrich), the chief of the SS (the Nazi paramilitary corps), visited the Warsaw ghetto. He ordered the deportation of another 8,000 Jews. The January deportations caught the Jews by surprise, and ghetto residents thought that the end had come. Making use of the many hiding places that they had created since April, Jews did not report as ordered. The resistance sprang into action. Jewish fighters could strike quickly, then escape across the rooftops. German troops, on the other hand, moved cautiously and would not go down to cellars. When the German deportation effort ended within a few days, Jews interpreted this as a victory. From then on, the resistance dominated the ghetto. The resistance fortified hideouts and strengthened fighting units in preparation for the next battle. As one ŻOB leader recalled,

We saw ourselves as a Jewish underground whose fate was a tragic one, the first to fight. For our hour had come without any sign of hope or rescue.

 Having withdrawn, the Germans suspended deportations until April 19, when Himmler launched a special operation to clear the ghetto in honour of Adolf Hitler's birthday, April 20. April 19 was also the first day of Passover, the Jewish holy days celebrating freedom from slavery in Egypt. Before dawn, 2,000 SS men and German army troops moved into the area with tanks, rapid-fire artillery, and ammunition trailers. While most remaining Jews hid in bunkers, by prearrangement, the ŻOB and a few independent bands of Jewish guerrillas, in all some 1,500 strong, opened fire with their motley weaponry—pistols, a few rifles, one machine gun, and homemade bombs—destroying a number of tanks, killing German troops, and holding off reinforcements trying to enter the ghetto. The Germans withdrew in the evening. The next day the fighting resumed and casualties mounted. The Germans used gas, police dogs, and flamethrowers in an effort to rout the Jews from their bunkers, leaving the city under a pall of smoke for days. On the third day the Germans' tactics shifted. They no longer entered the ghetto in large groups but roamed it in small bands. Then they made a decision to burn the entire ghetto.

 The Germans had planned to liquidate the ghetto in three days. The Jews held out for nearly a month. Resistance fighters succeeded in hiding in the sewers, even though the Germans tried first to flood them and then force them out with smoke bombs. Not until May 8 did the Nazis manage to take the ŻOB headquarters bunker. Civilians hiding there surrendered, but many of the surviving ŻOB fighters took their own lives to avoid being captured alive; so died Mordecai Anielewicz (Anielewicz, Mordecai), the charismatic young commander of the underground army. The one-sided battle continued until May 16, becoming sporadic as Jewish ammunition was exhausted. Total casualty figures for the uprising are uncertain, but the Germans likely lost several hundred soldiers during the 28 days that it took them to kill or deport over 40,000 Jews. SS Major General Jürgen Stroop supervised the coup de grace: the dynamiting of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw. Thereupon he wrote his report: “The Warsaw Ghetto Is No More.”

      The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was nothing less than a revolution in Jewish history. Jews had resisted the Nazis with armed force. The significance and symbolic resonance of the uprising went far beyond those who fought and died. As Anielewicz wrote to his colleague Yitzhak Zuckerman (Zuckerman, Yitzhak),

My life's dream has now been realized: Jewish self-defense in the ghetto is now an accomplished fact.…I have been witness to the magnificent, heroic struggle of the Jewish fighters.

      Some aspects of the Warsaw uprising were common to all ghetto insurrections. Resistance came at the end, when all hope for survival was abandoned and when trust in the leadership of the Nazi-created Judenräte (“Jewish Councils”) was lost. More than 300,000 had died at the extermination camps; the rail cars were at the station. The fighters knew that they were bound to lose. There was no longer a choice between life and death, but the honour of the Jewish people was at stake. They chose to die fighting and to inflict casualties on the enemy.

      Jewish fighters faced overwhelmingly superior forces. Even if they are understated with regard to their losses, the German figures reported after the battle reflect the mismatch. Of the Jews captured, the Germans shot 7,000 and transported 7,000 to the death camp at Treblinka, 15,000 to Majdanek, and the remainder to forced-labour camps. The Germans captured 9 rifles, 59 pistols, and several hundred grenades, explosives, and mines. Among the Germans and their collaborators, the stated losses were 16 dead and 85 wounded.

Michael Berenbaum
 

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — Infobox Military Conflict conflict=Warsaw Ghetto Uprising partof=World War II and the The Holocaust caption=Photo from Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943 and one of the most famous pictures of World War II date=April 19 1943… …   Wikipedia

  • Warsaw Ghetto Uprising —    From the moment that the Warsaw ghetto was established by the Germans in November 1940, an underground resistance movement emerged in the ghetto. After the deportation of July 1942, when 60,000 of the ghetto’s “nonproductive elements” were… …   Historical dictionary of the Holocaust

  • Ghetto uprising — Ghetto uprisings were armed revolts by Jews and other groups incarcerated in Nazi ghettos during World War II against the plans to deport the inhabitants to concentration and extermination camps. Some of these uprisings were more massive and… …   Wikipedia

  • Warsaw Ghetto — The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos located in the territory of General Government during World War II, established by Nazi Germany in Warsaw, the prewar capital of Poland. Between 1941 and 1943, starvation, disease and mass… …   Wikipedia

  • Warsaw Ghetto —    On the eve of Germany’s invasion of Poland in September 1939, Warsaw had about 375,000 Jews, who constituted about 30 percent of the city’s total population. Warsaw was the capital of Polish Jewry where both a religious and Jewish secular… …   Historical dictionary of the Holocaust

  • Częstochowa Ghetto Uprising — The Częstochowa Ghetto Uprising was an insurrection in Poland s Częstochowa Ghetto against German occupation forces during World War II. The first Jewish Ghetto of Częstochowa (the “Large Ghetto”) was established by the German Nazis in April 1941 …   Wikipedia

  • Białystok Ghetto Uprising — was an insurrection in Poland s Białystok Ghetto against Germany during World War II. It was organised and led by Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa (Polish for Anti fascist Military Organisation ). Until February 1943 there were approximately… …   Wikipedia

  • the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto — Jewish anti Nazi rebellion in the Polish ghetto of Warsaw in 1943 …   English contemporary dictionary

  • WARSAW — (Pol. Warszawa), originally capital of the Masovia region; from the 16th century, capital of Poland. Jews were apparently living in Warsaw by the end of the 14th century, but the first explicit information on Jewish settlement dates from 1414. In …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Warsaw Uprising Museum — Warsaw Rising Museum Muzeum Powstania Warszawskiego Replica of the B 24 Liberator Established February 10, 1983 (opened July 31, 2004) …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.