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Warsaw Paths Group
Korzona 117/88
03-571 Warsaw, Poland

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The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
May 16, 2018 Warsaw Paths

75 years ago in April/May, a struggle born of desperation took place in Warsaw. After years of horrific conditions in the ghetto, Jewish fighters chose to show the world they would not go quietly to their deaths. Read on to learn about the tragic events of spring 1943.

If  you  are  in Warsaw  during  April/May,  you  will  be  here during  the  75th  anniversary  of  the  Warsaw  Ghetto Uprising. Throughout the city, official commemorations will be held, there will be discussions in the media about the historical importance of the event, but most importantly, there will be symbols of remembrance dotted around the city  that  citizens  of  the  world  can  visit  and  pay  respect to  the  people  that  perished  on  the  streets  of  Warsaw.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943, although inevitably destined  to  fail,  has  gone  down  in  history  as  an  act  of defiance,  an  act  of  protest  against  the  inaction  of  the world in helping the Jewish people in their plight during the  Second  World  War.  This  was  their  time  to  fight. And  so  it  was  to  be  that  from  19  April  to  16  May  1943, following  years  of  torment,  the  fighters  of  the  Warsaw Ghetto  rose  up,  vastly  outmatched  by  the  superior numbers and weaponry of the German war machine. The fighters had a simple choice: go quietly and die anyway, facing  extermination  in  a  camp,  or  die  fighting,  defying the  barbaric  system  which  had  spread  across  Europe.

In 1942 there came a tipping point in the until-then passive resistance  of  Jewish  people,  as  they  were  moved  from ghetto  to  ghetto,  camp  to  camp,  under  the  pretences of  resettlement  or  being  made  to  work.  Some  believed resettlement  was  taking  place,  others  that  they  were needed as labour for the German war effort, others simply accepted  they  could  do  nothing  to  get  away.  But  by now word was spreading, initially through rumours, then from witness accounts, that Jews were being exterminated in  camps.  Between  July  and  September  of  1942  alone, around  280,000  Jews  were  deported  from  the  Warsaw Ghetto  to Treblinka  extermination  camp,  another  11,000 were  sent  to  labour  camps,  and  around  10,000  were killed in the ghetto itself during the deportation process. On  28  July  1942,  amidst  deportations,  members  of Jewish youth organisations formed the Jewish Fighting Organisation (ŻOB – Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa), with a young Mordechai Anielewicz appointed as its leader.

The first act of defiance actually took place on 18 January 1943, prior to the uprising itself, which saw fighters armed with pistols infiltrate a column of Jews being marched to the  Umschlagplatz  by  German  escorts.  They  attacked the  Germans,  which  allowed  people  to  scatter.  Of  the planned  8,000  deportations,  3,000  were  prevented from  taking  place  as  the  Germans  suspended  further deportations  until  further  notice.  There  now  remained around  50,000  Jews  in  the  ghetto. They  knew  what  was to come, and so they built bunkers wherever they could.

The fighters were buoyed by the apparent success of the January  action,  however,  when  the  Germans  planned  to liquidate the ghetto on 19 April 1943, they came much better prepared with tanks and heavy artillery. This did not prevent the Germans from receiving a nasty surprise, however, as they entered to find the streets deserted (everyone hiding in bunkers) and the fighters, armed with pistols, grenades, and  some  automatic  weapons  and  rifles,  attacked. Numbering  only  around  700  fighters,  the  Germans  were stunned on the first day of fighting, losing 12 men while the rest were forced to retreat beyond the walls of the ghetto. The  fighters  continued  their  dogged  resistance, and  though  the  Germans  quickly  broke  the  military organisation  of  the  Jewish  fighters,  pockets  of  resistance couldn’t  be  easily  dealt  with,  so  the  Germans  began  to use  heavy  artillery  and  even  Stuka  dive  bombers.  It  was a  doomed  struggle.  Vicious  street-to-street,  house-to- house  battles  ensued,  with  insurgents  often  burnt  out of  their  boltholes  by  flamethrowers  and  gas.  On  8  May, German  forces  surrounded  the  principal  command  post of the rebels on ul. Miła 18 and though some did escape, rather than face capture, Anielewicz and his cabal opted for  mass  suicide.  By  16  May  the  Uprising  was  over,  with German  commander  Jurgen  Stroop  announcing,  “The former Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no longer in existence.” With the fighting over, the rest of the ghetto was levelled, and  its  inmates  either  sent  to  Treblinka  or  assigned  to Gęsiówka (ul. Gęsia), a small concentration camp nearby. As  a  final,  symbolic  act  of  Jewish  Warsaw’s  demise,  the Germans blew up the Great Synagogue on ul. Tłomackie.

It  is  estimated  7,000  Jews  and  roughly  300  Germans were  killed  during  the  Ghetto  Uprising. The  survivors  of the  Ghetto  liquidation,  some  42,000,  were  transported to  the  Majdanek  concentration  camp  near  Lublin.

Very  little  remains  of  the  former  ghetto  today,  however, to give you an idea of scale, the area consisted of 1/3 the size of the city of Warsaw (mainly the Mirów/Muranów and Wola  districts,  plus  parts  of  the  city  centre).  Despite the  destruction,  small  parts  of  the  ghetto  remain,  from buildings  that  somehow  survived  destruction  and  even fragments of the ghetto wall.

We visit the described places during our Jewish Heritage tour. Please join us to see it and listen to the full story.

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