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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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 ghetto.

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 85 wounded.

copyright Michael Berenbaum 2001
All Rights Reserved. Reprinted with permission
From ADL's Braun Holocaust Institute
Questions and Answers about the Holocaust
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: A Quick Reference
For Educators: Classroom Activities
Holocaust Denial: An Online Guide
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