The 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

April 19 was the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. A commemorative ceremony was held at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw to honor the memory of the insurgents as well as all those murdered in the Warsaw Ghetto.

These events constituted a further part of the commemorative events that began last year, on the 70th anniversary of the beginning of the Grossaktion, on  July 22, 1942. During the two summer months, about 300 000 Jews were deported to their deaths in the gas chambers of Treblinka extermination camp. Only 60 to 70 thousand people survived and were concentrated in a smaller area, located in the old ghetto, the so-called residual ghetto.

Those who survived knew that their death sentences were merely postponed. The only choice they had left was the choice of how they would die – and they decided to die in battle. Preparations began in the ghetto, to resist the next “extermination action” with deadly force. Thus the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa – ŻOB) was created, led by a merely twenty odd year old Mordechaj Anielewicz. The first combat encounter took place in January 1943, when German Nazi forces entered the ghetto. The Jews, convinced that this was to be their final day, resisted the Nazis. They did it so successfully, that surprised German Nazi forces retreated from the ghetto after a couple of days of skirmishes. After these events, preparations for the uprising gained momentum. Weapons were bought, provisions were made, and bunkers were set up. ŻOB also received support from the Polish Resistance.

The Uprising broke out on the April 19th, 1943. German Nazi forces. under the command of Jürgen Stroop. surrounded the ghetto at night. The occupant made a point of committing the most atrocious of crimes against the Jews on Jewish holidays. It was no different this time, for April 19th was the eve of the holiday of Passover (Pesach).. German Nazi troops, experienced and armed with state of the art equipment, met with resistance from the Jewish fighters. About 1000-1500 poorly trained insurgents (mostly members of ŻOB, but also from the Jewish Military Union – Żydowski Związek Wojskowy [ŻZW] – and veterans) fought the German Nazis for almost a month. The German Nazis, wishing to erase all traces of Jewish presence in Warsaw, set fire to buildings,  house after house, condemning their inhabitants to die in flames. Many, refusing to burn alive, chose to take their own lives, jumping from the windows of the burning houses, straight into the streets.

On May 8th, 1943, the German Nazis discovered the bunker where leaders of ŻOB were hiding. Surrounded and outnumbered, the insurgents, along with Mordechaj Anielewicz, chose to commit suicide. Only a handful of fighters managed to escape. After the death of Anielewicz, Marek Edelman became the leader of the insurgents. May 16th, 1943 marks the symbolic end of  the Warsaw Ghetto, when by the order of Jürgen Stroop the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street was blown up. Throughout the Uprising, about 7000 Jews were killed, most of them burned alive. German casualties are unknown, they most likely amount to a couple hundred soldiers. The German Nazis captured and deported about 50-60 thousand Jews to camps. The area of the old ghetto was burned down and the remaining ruins were razed to the ground.