Between July 22, and September 1942, 300,000 Jews were shipped from Warsaw to
Treblinka. Only 55,000 remained in the ghetto. As the deportations went on,
despair gave way to a determination to resist. A newly-formed group, the Z.O.B.
(Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or Jewish Fighting Organization), slowly took
effective control of the ghetto.
On January 9, 1943, Himmler 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 this was the end. Jews made use of the
many hiding places they had created since April. They did not report as ordered.
The Resistance sprang into action. Jewish fighters could strike quickly, then
escape across the rooftops. German troops moved cautiously. They would not go
down to cellars. The German Aktion ended within a few days. Jews interpreted
this as a victory. From then on, resistance became the dominant force in the
Hideouts were fortified and resistance units were strengthened in preparation
for the next battle. As one Z.O.B. 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."
The Germans tightened the siege of the ghetto. Electricity, water and gas
were cut off. The Germans used police dogs…
On the third day, the tactics shifted. The Germans no longer entered the
ghetto in large groups, but roamed through it in small bands. The decision was
reached to burn the entire ghetto.
The Germans had planned to liquidate the ghetto in three days. The Jews held
out for more than a month. Fighters succeeded in hiding in the sewers, even
though the Germans tried first to flood and then smoke them out with smoke bombs. "Not until May 8…"
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 the numbers of those who
fought and died. Mordecai Anielwicz wrote to his colleague Itzhak
Zuckerman:"…what really matters is that the dream of my life has become
true. Jewish self defense in the Warsaw ghetto has become a fact. Jewish armed
resistance and retaliation have become a reality. 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 Jewish Council leadership was lost). More than 300,000 were dead at
Treblinka; the rail cars were at the station. The fighters knew they were bound
to lose. There was no longer a choice between life and death, but at stake was
the honor of the Jewish people. The choice was to die fighting and to inflict
casualties on the enemy.
Jewish fighters faced overwhelmingly superior forces. The German figures
reported after the battle, even if they are understated with regard to their
losses, reflect the mismatch. Of the Jews captured, 7,000 were shot, 7,000 were
transported to the death camp of Treblinka, and 15,000 were shipped to Lublin.
Nine rifles, 59 pistols, and several hundred grenades, explosives and mines were
captured. Among the Germans and their collaborators, the losses were 16 dead and
copyright Michael Berenbaum 2001
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission