Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 19 April 1943
63 years ago today was the eve of Passover and the 50,000 - 60,000 (out of more than half a million who had been forced into the narrow streets of this confined space) suriving Jews living in the Warsaw Ghetto were slated to be finally and completely annihilated. When the SS troops entered the ghetto to renew the deportations to the death camps, however, they met with unexpected resistance.
Fewer than 500 young fighters, girls and boys --the youngest aged 12 but most in their late teens and early twenties, who were poorly armed and even more poorly trained refused to go to their deaths quietly. Instead they embarked on a desperate and hopeless struggle, none expecting to survive it or even to survive beyond the first day. And yet, on that first day this small group achieved an astonishing victory --the attacked elite SS troops withdrew from the Ghetto in chaos. Not a single Jew was deported from the ghetto on that day. Of course, they returned but twice more were forced to withdraw. Over the next month and a half, the members of the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) fought tenaciously as the Nazis began burning the ghetto to the ground around them and ferreting out the civilians and fighters hidden in their last places of refuge: cramped, crowded and airless underground bunkers.
The entire country of Poland, with its army and air force, capitulated to the Nazis in only 3 weeks. The resistance put up by the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters lasted nearly twice that long.
The Uprising did not end in victory for these brave Jewish fighters. The remaining 60,000 civilians in the ghetto were burned alive, shot, and deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka and Auschwitz. At the end of May, 1943 approximately 120 fighters managed to reach the "Aryan" side of Warsaw --some through a tunnel they had dug (the members from Betar's fighting group) and some through the sewers (Hashomer, Dror, and Bund members). The Betar fighters who tried to escape through the tunnel were denounced by Poles in the area and all were shot and killed. Of the larger group that attempted escape through the sewers, approximately 30 had to be left behind when only one of two escape vehicles arrived to transport the fighters into hiding. As they waited for the second vehicle to arrive they were discovered by the Nazis and all those remaining were killed. The fighters who survived the Ghetto and the subsequent months --in hiding and as they continued their resistance with the polish underground (many were discovered and killed suring this time) --also took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Only 34 fighters survived the war.
As part of my commemoration of the uprising, I'm adding in biographical and details of the role they played of the known fighters into Wikipedia --surprisingly, there was almost no information about the uprising or any of the fighters save Zuckerman, Edelman, and Anielewicz. Zivia Lubetkin and Simha Rotem weren't even mentioned!