blog here Perhaps the most well-known example of Jewish resistance is the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
By the end of September, 1942, most of the city’s Jews had been sent to the Treblinka extermination camp. Only about 50,000 of the more than 400,000 Jews remained alive in the Warsaw ghetto. It was at this time that the underground began to organize in earnest for armed resistance. A Jewish Fighting Organization was formed. It consisted of members from the Jewish youth groups that had been active in Poland before the war. The two main groups were the Zionist youth organizations, who believed in the establishment of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, and the Bundists, who worked for Jewish freedom in a socialist Poland. The groups now combined and pooled their resources.
Photos from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19, 1943
The fighters had no military training at all. When they asked for help from the Polish underground they were given ten old revolvers. The most Aryan looking young women and girls smuggled themselves out of the ghetto, primarily through the sewer pipes, and bought weapons from whomever they could. The underground built bunkers – hidden places with no visible entrances –behind walls, under basements, and in attics. They constructed passageways that connected spaces within buildings and between bunkers in neighboring buildings; they dug tunnels between basements and courtyards, so that they could move around without going outside.
On January 18, 1943, the ghetto was unexpectedly surrounded and SS troops moved in. The Germans were met by gunfire. In the three days of fighting, the Nazis succeeded in rounding up far fewer Jews than usual. Fifty German soldiers were killed or wounded. Jewish casualties were high. But the event electrified the ghetto. Thousands of Jews hid themselves in the bunkers. The Polish underground, surprised that the Jews had fought back, gave the Jewish fighters another 49 revolvers, 50 grenades and some explosives. The fighters also received money from the Jewish council.
Following this initial foray into the ghetto and the seizure of some five to six thousand Jews for deportation, the Germans suspended further action for three months. During this time, the ghetto fighters, about one thousand of them, organized into groups of ten: men and women.
The Germans deliberately set the date for the final liquidation of the ghetto for the first night of Passover: April 19, 1943. SS brigadier general Jurgen Stroop was the Nazi officer in charge of wiping out the ghetto. His instructions from Himmler read: “The roundups in the Warsaw ghetto must be carried out with relentless determination and in as ruthless a manner as possible. The tougher the attack, the better. Recent events show just how dangerous these Jews are.” Stroop confidently predicted that the ghetto action would be over in three days.
Early on the morning of April 19, 1943, the ghetto was surrounded by SS troopers, German and Polish police, German army soldiers and Ukrainian volunteers. At 6 AM, over two thousand heavily armed soldiers marched in, followed by guns and tanks and trucks filled with ammunition, and the Warsaw ghetto uprising began. The Jewish fighters attacked. By 5 PM, after 11 hours of fierce fighting, the Germans were forced out of the ghetto. One young Jewish woman testified: “The rejoicing among Jewish fighters was great, and, see the wonder and the miracle, those German heroes retreated, afraid and terrorized from the Jewish bombs and hand grenades, homemade…we the few with our poor arms drove the Germans away from the ghetto.”
The Nazis brought in heavy artillery and tanks. The Jews fought back with revolvers and gasoline bombs. When they saw a tank burning, a fighter wrote, “we danced for joy. It was the happiest moment in our lives.”
The Nazis began setting fire to ghetto buildings. Stroop wrote in his daily report: “one saw that the Jews and bandits preferred to go back into the fire rather than fall into our hands. The Nazis brought in flamethrowers to reach the Jews hidden in bunkers. The Nazis cut off gas, electricity, and water to the ghetto. The fighters flew the forbidden red and white flag of Poland alongside the blue and white flag of the Jews.”
On May 8, after three weeks of fighting, the Germans surrounded the headquarters of the Jewish Fighting Organization. When those inside would not surrender, the Nazis sent in poison gas. Close to 100 fighters chose suicide rather than surrender. A few days later about 75 Jews managed to escape through the sewers to the Aryan side. A few succeeded in surviving there until the end of the war.
The fighting continued until May 16. By that time, most of the Jews had either been killed in the fighting or captured and deported to Treblinka. The ghetto was then razed to the ground, and General Stroop wrote in his report: “the Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no more.”
The Germans had used close to three thousand men and the most modern arms and weapons, including tanks, artillery and mines. The Jews had resisted them with about a thousand fighters, hand grenades, revolvers, one or two machine guns and a few captured rifles. They had held off the Nazis for a month. They held out longer than the country of Poland when Germany invaded, and for as long as it took the Germans to defeat France.
Join the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Social Media Campaign by Polin
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