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 deported to Treblinka, a meeting of Jewish leaders took place to discuss the possibility of resistance. At the time, the decision was made to reject armed confrontation against the Germans because it would result in even greater hardships for the ghetto population. The Jews did request the Polish Home Army to send an appeal to the Allied nations that the German people be threatened with reprisals for their crimes against the Jews. The appeal was transmitted to London but the BBC maintained complete silence. The sequence of events that led to the Warsaw ghetto uprising began with the 5 September 1942 deportation of Jews to Treblinka, which reduced the ghetto from its high of 380,000 in November 1940 to a population of 70,000. By October 1942, a coordinating committee consisting of various ghetto political groups formed the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB). When in January 1943 the Nazis decreed another wave of deportations, Jews refused to comply with the order. When the Germans attempted to round up Jews, they encountered resistance from the ZOB, which engaged them in hand-to-hand combat. By mid-January the Germans reassessed the situation in light of Jewish resistance, and the outcome was a temporary halt in the deportations. Inasmuch as the remaining Jews now followed the orders of the ZOB, the Judenrat (Jewish Council) lost its authority.Heinrich Himmler, monitoring the events, now ordered the dissolution of the ghetto and dispatched Brigade-fuhrer Jurgen Stroop to raze the ghetto. The final liquidation of the Warsaw ghetto began on Monday, 19 April 1943, the eve of Passover. The Germans surrounded the ghetto, and subsequently the Waffen-SS entered the ghetto but was met with concentrated fire and incendiary bombs. At first, Jewish resistance forced the Germans to withdraw from the ghetto, inasmuch as they were unprepared for the armed response. Once they returned, however, the Germans engaged the Jews in street battles and adopted the tactic of systematically burning the ghetto, building by building. This strategy forced the resistance fighters to abandon their positions and use the sewers in order to escape from the fire. The Germans countered this by blowing up the manholes, and smoking candles were lowered into the sewer passages. As the Jews came up for air, the Germans shot them. On 8 May, Mordecai Anielewicz, the charismatic leader of the ZOB, was killed, and in subsequent attacks the German forces shot Jews in increasing numbers. Ultimately the revolt failed, and Stroop reported that 56,065 Jews were apprehended. Of this number, 13,929 were killed by the Germans, and the remainder deported to death camps such as Treblinka. In addition to the figure of 56,065 an estimated 5,000 to 6,000 Jews were killed in explosions or fires.Stroop noted that German losses were 16 dead and 85 wounded. Stroop’s figures may have underestimated German casualties, but the importance of the ghetto revolt was not found in the number of casualties. Rather, news of the revolt spread throughout the ghettos of occupied Poland. The Warsaw ghetto revolt became a legend even as the war and the deportations continued. The revolt gave hope not only to the Jews trapped in the ghettos of German-occupied Poland but to Jews throughout the world. The Warsaw ghetto uprising was perceived as marking the start of the Jewish resistance to the Nazi oppressors.
Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. Jack R. Fischel. 2014.
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