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The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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Many Jews in ghettos across eastern Europe tried to organize resistance against the Germans and to arm themselves with smuggled and homemade weapons. Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements formed in about 100 Jewish groups. The most famous attempt by Jews to resist the Germans in armed fighting occurred in the Warsaw ghetto.

Jews from the Warsaw ghetto are marched through the ghetto during deportation. Warsaw, Poland, 1942-1943.

In the summer of 1942, about 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka. When reports of mass murder in the killing center leaked back to the Warsaw ghetto, a surviving group of mostly young people formed an organization called the Z.O.B. (for the Polish name, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which means Jewish Fighting Organization). The Z.O.B., led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz, issued a proclamation calling for the Jewish people to resist going to the railroad cars. In January 1943, Warsaw ghetto fighters fired upon German troops as they tried to round up another group of ghetto inhabitants for deportation. Fighters used a small supply of weapons that had been smuggled into the ghetto. After a few days, the troops retreated. This small victory inspired the ghetto fighters to prepare for future resistance.

On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans. The ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps.

Key Dates

JULY 28, 1942

In the midst of the first wave of deportations from Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp, the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) is established. On July 22, 1942, the Germans begin massive deportations which last virtually without stop until September 12, 1942. During this time more than 250,000 Jews from the ghetto are deported or killed. The ZOB, formed by members of Jewish youth organizations, calls for the Jews of the ghetto to resist deportation. Reports of the massacres of Jews by mobile killing units and in extermination camps have already filtered into the ghetto. However, the ZOB is not yet ready to stage a revolt. After deportations end in September, the ZOB expands to incorporate members of underground political organizations and establishes contact with the Polish resistance forces who provide training, armaments and explosives. Mordecai Anielewicz is appointed commander.

JANUARY 18-21, 1943

The Germans renew deportations from the Warsaw ghetto. This time however, they encounter resistance from the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization; Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa). The early morning roundups take the ZOB organization by surprise, and individuals take to the streets to resist the Germans. Other Jews in the ghetto retreat into prepared hiding places. The Germans, expecting the expulsions to run smoothly, are surprised by the resistance. In act of retaliation they massacre 1,000 Jews in the main square on January 21, but suspend further deportations. The Germans were able to deport or kill 5,000-6,500 Jews. Encouraged by the results of resistance actions, the Jews in the ghetto plan and prepare a full-scale revolt. The fighting organization is unified, strategies are planned, underground bunkers and tunnels are built, and roof-top passages are constructed. The Jews of the Warsaw ghetto prepare to fight to the end.

MAY 16, 1943

After a month of fighting, the Germans blow up the Great Synagogue in Warsaw, signaling the end of the uprising and the destruction of the ghetto. On April 19, 1943, the Germans under the command of SS General Juergen Stroop, began the final destruction of the ghetto and the deportation of the remaining Jews. The ghetto population, however, does not report for deportations. Instead, the ghetto fighting organizations have barricaded themselves inside buildings and bunkers, ready to resist the Germans. After three days, German forces begin burning the ghetto, building by building, to force Jews out of the hiding places. Resistance continues for weeks as the Germans reduce the ghetto to rubble. Although there are only about 50,000 Jews left in the ghetto after the January 1943 deportations, General Stroop reports after the destruction of the ghetto that 56,065 Jews have been captured; of those 7,000 deported to the Treblinka extermination camp, and the remainder sent to forced-labor camps and the Majdanek extermination camp. Some of the resistance fighters succeed in escaping from the ghetto and join partisan groups in the forests around Warsaw.


End of Article.