The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Avrie Butzler

The Transition to Warsaw

In September of 1939, Hitler and his soldiers invaded Poland (A&E Television Networks 2). This represented only the beginning of the destruction the Polish people would have to face. Ted Gottfried, author of Heroes of the Holocaust, describes the journey to the ghetto: “In 1940 the Nazis herded 400,000 Jews into a walled in area of Warsaw...” (81). This area became known as the Warsaw Ghetto, one of the largest ghettos in the country. At this time, ghettos began popping up in Nazi-occupied cities all over Eastern Europe (A&E Television Networks 2). Conditions in these ghettos grew more and more appalling as WWII progressed. However, the worst was yet to come for the Jews at Warsaw.

Conditions

The confined area known as the Warsaw Ghetto was only 2.5 miles long and a mile wide (Gottfried 81). The Nazis packed thousands of people into this minuscule space making it easy for diseases to spread. For two years several Jews died because of disease, starvation, and exposure (Gottfried 81). They continuously suffered for these reasons as well as the lack of medicine. Sick, fatigued, and dying bodies covered the streets near the ghetto (Shore 31). The German soldiers soon began deportation operations and killed thousands of Jews in the process. The Jewish Virtual Library describes the deportations by saying, “Approximately 300,000 men, women, and children were packed in cattle cars and transported to the Treblinka death camp where they were murdered” (2). During this time, not everyone knew that deportation ultimately meant death. When addressing the situation at Warsaw, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum stated, “The German authorities granted only 35,000 Jews permission to remain in the ghetto, while more than 20,000 Jews remained in the ghetto in hiding” (1). These people were used as slave labor and mistreated in every way possible. As the German soldiers continued to try and dehumanize the Jewish population, resentment within the ghetto only grew larger.
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Preparation

After years of ill-treatment, in 1943 the Jews still remaining at the Warsaw Ghetto discovered the Nazis’ plan to deport them to death camps (Bard 3). They received word that their loved ones had been sent to extermination camps instead of labor camps. A Polish man named Jan Karski spoke of the terrors he saw when he visited a death camp in disguise: “Freight cars were packed so densely with Jews that when they were unloaded, a large percentage of those inside were corpses” (Gottfried 58). The population inside the Warsaw Ghetto decided it was time for action; as a result, the Z.O.B was created. Z.O.B. stood for the Polish name Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which translates to Jewish Combat Organization (Bard 3). Other resistance groups formed and many of them worked together. PBS summarizes the formation of such groups by saying, “Each political group formed its own battle group which came under the central command of a 24-year-old named Mordecai Anielewicz” (5). The combat groups built bunkers and shelters inside the ghetto. The Z.O.B. covertly obtained weapons such as grenades, rifles, revolvers, pistols, and a few machine guns from the Polish military (U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum 2). The young Jewish men and women planned to attack the next time the German soldiers tried to transfer them.

The Resistance

On January 18th, 1943, Nazis entered the ghetto to prepare more Jews for deportation, but after several days of being attacked by resistance forces, the Germans retreated (A&E Television Networks 4). Even though the Z.O.B. achieved this one diminutive victory, nothing could have prepared them for the fighting that would ensue in the following months. The battle in April can be described with the following statement: “Around 2,000 Germans armed with a tank, two armored cars, three light-anti-aircraft guns, one medium howitzer, heavy and light machine guns, flamethrowers, rifles, pistols and grenades faced off against 700-750 Jewish resistance fighters” (WGBH Educational Foundation 6). The odds were against the unorganized fighters as they fought the well-trained German soldiers. It became the Nazis mission to destroy the Warsaw Ghetto and they set it on fire building by building (Bard 8). However, the Z.O.B. possessed skillful and deadly tactics. Sewer fighters would burst out of manhole covers, fire at the Nazis, and then quickly disappear (Gottfried 83). Eventually members of the uprising resorted to suicide missions. Towards the end of the battle, the Z.O.B. and the other resistance groups knew they would be defeated by the Germans, but this did not stop them from fighting until the bitter end.

The Aftermath

Nazi General Jürgen Stroop declared the German victory over the Warsaw Ghetto on May 16th and announced his plan to blow up a well-known Synagogue nearby (Bard 9). This was his way of making a statement, but the Warsaw rebels’ message to the public was still heard. 56,065 Jews were murdered or sent to camps and around 300 Germans died during the uprising (Shore 12). The resistance may have been doomed from the start, yet the ghetto fighters astonished those who learned of their story. Author Ted Gottfried speaks for those who fought against Hitler’s Nazis by saying, “The Jews who died fighting his forces in the last days of the Warsaw Ghetto received no medals, but their heroism will not be forgotten” (84). Their resistance inspired Jews everywhere to fight back and gave others hope in the darkest of times.
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Works Cited

Gottfried, Ted, and Stephen Alcorn. Heroes of the Holocaust. Brookfield, CT: Twenty-First Century, 2001. Print.


"Holocaust Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising." Jewish Virtual Library. American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Holocaust/uprising1.html>


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Shore, Marci. "The Jewish Hero History Forgot." The New York Times. The New York Times Company, 18 Apr. 2013. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/opinion/the-jewish-hero-history-forgot.html?_r=1>


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Web Image. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.phpModuleId=10005188&MediaId=698>.


United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Web Image. 4 Nov. 2015. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/media_ph.phpModuleId=10005188&MediaId=705>


"Warsaw Ghetto Uprising." History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 28 Oct. 2015. <http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/warsaw-ghetto-uprising>


"Warsaw Ghetto Uprising." PBS. WGBH Educational Foundation, 2009. Web. 06 Nov. 2015 <http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX103.html>


"Warsaw Ghetto Uprising." United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. United States Holocaust Memorial Council, 18 Aug. 2015. Web. 03 Nov. 2015. <http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10005188>