Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

Jewish inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto, established by the Nazis as one of many ghettos to centralize Jews for eventual transport to slave-labor and concentration camps, rose in resistance against the German military. Two clandestine Zionist youth organizations, with an estimated combined strength of nearly one thousand members, began a campaign of armed resistance that lasted for twenty-seven days. The uprising was quelled, but it inspired death-camp revolts and civilian resistance during the remaining years of World War II.

Summary of Event

Before the start of World War II, the largest community of Jews in Europe was in Warsaw, Poland, with a population exceeding 350,000. After the Nazis invaded Poland in September, 1939, they established the Warsaw Ghetto, to which all Jews were forced to move. The Warsaw Ghetto, separated from the rest of the city by a continuous 20-foot wall topped by barbed wire, was the largest among more than eight hundred ghettos built by the Nazis in Europe. After the ghetto was demarcated in November, Jews from outside Warsaw were shipped in from Germany, France, and Greece on a continual basis. At first, visitors and residents could pass through the ghetto’s boundaries during daylight hours, but the gates were permanently closed in October, 1941, imprisoning everyone within its walls. Warsaw Ghetto uprising (1943) Jews;resistance to Nazis Holocaust;Warsaw Ghetto Civil unrest;Poland [kw]Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis (Apr. 19-May 16, 1943) [kw]Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis, Warsaw (Apr. 19-May 16, 1943) [kw]Uprising Against Nazis, Warsaw Ghetto Armed (Apr. 19-May 16, 1943) [kw]Nazis, Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against (Apr. 19-May 16, 1943) Warsaw Ghetto uprising (1943) Jews;resistance to Nazis Holocaust;Warsaw Ghetto Civil unrest;Poland [g]Europe;Apr. 19-May 16, 1943: Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis[00800] [g]Poland;Apr. 19-May 16, 1943: Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis[00800] [c]World War II;Apr. 19-May 16, 1943: Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis[00800] [c]Wars, uprisings, and civil unrest;Apr. 19-May 16, 1943: Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis[00800] [c]Atrocities and war crimes;Apr. 19-May 16, 1943: Warsaw Ghetto Armed Uprising Against Nazis[00800] Czerniakow, Adam Zuckerman, Yitzhak Lubetkin, Zivia Anielewicz, Mordechai Himmler, Heinrich Stroop, Jürgen

Once completely segregated, ghetto occupants suffered from life-threatening living conditions. In 1941 alone, more than forty-three thousand people died. The Jewish Council Jewish Council , or Judenrat Judenrat , led by Adam Czerniakow, was appointed by the Nazis to supervise all aspects of life in the ghetto. The council had to confront massive problems, such as acquiring enough food, medical supplies, and housing for the inhabitants. Families were packed into cramped apartments, children were forced to beg in the streets, and even an extensive black market of goods and services could not support the increasing number of people. In addition to these hardships, Jews were forced into labor in several factories and workshops within the ghetto, producing textiles and armaments for the German army. Many workers died from the extreme physical labor, given that their diet of less than 1,000 calories per day. The population also was decimated by epidemics of typhus and other diseases, by starvation and frequent mass executions, and, eventually, by forced deportations to the death camps.

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The death camps Death camps in Poland were created after the Nazi hierarchy at the Wannsee Conference Wannsee Conference (1942) in January, 1942, decided to implement the so-called final solution of the Jewish question—the extermination of all Jews in Europe. Part of this planned genocide included increased transports from the ghetto to the death camps. Squads of Jewish police had to conduct “roundups,” and posters announced that those being deported would be allowed to carry no more than 15 kilograms (33 pounds) of luggage, including provisions for several days. Between July and October, 310,000 of the 380,000 residents of the Warsaw Ghetto were deported. Most of those designated for the transports were the elderly, occupants of the poorhouses, refugees, and children. During that time, Jewish leaders inside the Warsaw Ghetto had received evidence that these transports were designated for the Treblinka Treblinka death camp death camp. Judenrat leader Czerniakow refused to sign orders for such large-scale deportations, and he committed suicide in July, 1942.

From July, 1942, until April, 1943, members of the Jewish underground within the ghetto accumulated weapons and ammunition from the black market and the Polish underground. The Jewish Fighting Organization Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) and the Jewish Military Union Jewish Military Union (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy) created several secret arms factories, began building subterranean shelters and bunkers, and implemented a training program for attacking the Nazis. The groups, led by Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin, the only female commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization, also established a courier system for smuggling money and weapons, forged documents, and critical information. However, this mobilization did not receive unanimous support from the Jewish leaders, who feared reprisals from the Nazi military and risks to the entire ghetto.

When deportations resumed in January, 1943, the resistance fighters launched their first revolt, but more than six thousand residents were transported to the death camp despite resistance. Nazi officials also murdered one thousand Jews on the final day of the expulsion in retaliation for this revolt, and they reduced the size of the ghetto by nearly one-third, with streets outside the new ghetto’s boundaries reoccupied by non-Jewish Poles. Because another, and final, evacuation of the ghetto was likely, the resistance movement’s leaders convinced a majority of the remaining inhabitants to support an armed uprising. They spent months preparing for the inevitable struggle, and by the time of the uprising, they had assembled twenty-two fighting units.

After Schutzstaffel Schutzstaffel (SS) leader Heinrich Himmler ordered in early February the evacuation of the entire ghetto, resistance leaders established routes—from rooftops to the sewers—with vantage points so that fighters could launch assaults or hide from Nazi retaliation. However, the resistance fighters faced serious disadvantages. They had only a small arsenal of rifles, homemade bombs, and Molotov cocktails to use against German Stuka dive-bombers, howitzers, tanks, machine guns, and troops that could be deployed to suppress a rebellion.

When three thousand Nazi troops and armed police entered the ghetto on April 19 to deport the remaining inhabitants, most of the residents did not report to the assembly point (Umschlagplatz). Instead, the Jewish resistance groups responded with grenades and gunfire, marking the first, and the largest, uprising in an urban ghetto within Nazi-occupied Europe.

After the start of the uprising, the Nazis deployed more than two thousand soldiers, who used more and more firepower, including bombs, during the battles that erupted daily throughout the ghetto. Few members of the resistance had combat experience, and they had to conserve their limited ammunition, so they relied on frequent, rapid attacks and a careful stockpiling of weapons to sustain their offensive. To combat this guerrilla-style warfare, the Nazi troops under the command of SS general Jürgen Stroop resorted to a variety of tactics, from setting fire to buildings and cutting off all utilities to placing poisonous gas in water mains and sewer pipes. With minimal outside assistance or hope of rescue, the resistance fighters struggled vainly but persisted against rising casualty rates and the Nazis’ superior weaponry. Block by block, Nazi troops forced the resisters to evacuate under heavy artillery bombardment or to avoid being killed by fire. Those who were caught were immediately executed. On May 8 the resistance leaders’ headquarters was destroyed, and resistance commander Mordechai Anielewicz was killed.

By the time the uprising ended on May 16, more than twenty thousand people had been killed, and the ghetto was in ruins. The Warsaw Ghetto was officially and finally liquidated after the remaining sixteen thousand occupants were transported to Treblinka. A small number of Jewish insurgents who managed to escape or were rescued later joined partisan groups in the forests outside Warsaw.

Significance

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising, despite its tragic outcome, inspired the Armia Krajowa (the Polish home army) in exile, Jewish partisans, and other resistance groups throughout occupied Europe for the remainder of the war. The uprising refuted commonly held perceptions that Jews who were arrested and then deported to concentration camps had passively accepted their subjugation. It also confirmed Nazis determination to implement the “final solution” despite armed opposition.

News of the young resistance fighters’ heroism spread to the death camps, where three prisoner revolts forced the closure of all the death camps by the beginning of 1945. The resistance fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising have been commemorated through memorials and ceremonies around the world for their decision to die with honor and dignity. Warsaw Ghetto uprising (1943) Jews;resistance to Nazis Holocaust;Warsaw Ghetto Civil unrest;Poland

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Corni, Gustavo. Hitler’s Ghettos: Voices from a Beleaguered Society, 1939-44. London: Arnold, 2003. Provides a detailed, well-documented description of ghetto conditions, incorporating extensive historical research and eyewitness testimony.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Gutman, Israel. Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Boston: Houghton, 1994. Offers a richly detailed analysis of the political circumstances leading to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Contains maps, photographs, and an extensive bibliography.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hilberg, Raul. The Destruction of the European Jews. 3d ed. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2003. An unrivaled study of the bureaucratic process of destruction by the Nazis against the Jews of Europe. Analysis situates the concentration and death camps within that systematic process. Focuses especially on developments that transformed the conventional concentration camps into centers of mass murder such as those at Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau in German-occupied Poland.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Lande, David. Resistance! Occupied Europe and Its Defiance of Hitler. Osceola, Wis.: Zenith Press, 2001. Relies on many interviews and other reports of the people who lived under Nazi government, emphasizing those who helped the Allied cause by undermining German administration.
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    xlink:type="simple">Laqueur, Walter, and Judith Tydor Baumel, eds. The Holocaust Encyclopedia. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2001. A detailed, comprehensive survey of all aspects of the Holocaust. Includes more than two hundred photos and many helpful research tools.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Meed, Vladka. On Both Sides of the Wall. Washington, D.C.: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1999. A vivid personal memoir by a member of the underground resistance at the Warsaw Ghetto. Includes rare photographs.
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    xlink:type="simple">Sloan, Jacob, ed. and trans. Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto: The Journal of Emmanuel Ringelblum. New York: Schocken Books, 1974. Contains translated journal entries by the archivist of the Warsaw Ghetto from 1939 to 1942. Includes maps.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. “Ghettos, 1939-1945: New Research and Perspectives on Definition, Daily Life, and Survival.” Washington, D.C.: Author, 2005. A 175-page report of a symposium on the question of Jewish ghettos during World War II, focusing on everyday life in the ghettos.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Warsaw Ghetto. Jewish Virtual Library. http://www .jewishvirtuallibrary.org/. An excellent resource not only for details of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising (click on “Holocaust,” then on “Ghettos”) but also on the Holocaust in general. Includes photographs, maps, an extensive bibliography of suggested readings and Web sites, and more. Highly recommended.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. http://www.ushmm.org/museum/exhibit/focus/uprising/. Another highly recommended resource, from one of the major centers for Holocaust studies in the United States.

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