Jews in the Warsaw Uprising

Zdjęcie archiwalne - powstańcy idą ulicą Warszawy. Niosą sztandar Polski.
fot. Stefan Bałuk, Godzina "W" 1 sierpnia 1944 r. / domena publiczna

The Warsaw Uprising broke out on 1 August 1944.Taking over several districts of the city by the insurgents had a significant impact on the situation of possibly over a dozen thousand Jews who remained in hiding. Hundreds of them volunteered to fight along with the Poles, others shared the fate of the civilian population.

"We call upon all the members of the Jewish Combat Organization who are still alive, and the Jewish youth who is fit for a battle to continue to resist and fight with the occupying force. No one should stand aside. Join the insurgent units! Let us fight for the victory of Poland – a free, independent, strong and just country!" – wrote Itzhak "Antek" Cukierman, head of the Jewish Combat Organization, in a proclamation issued at the very onset of the uprising. The surviving members of the Organization formed an independent platoon which joined the People’s Army (the military command of the Home Army did not agree for the platoon to join in) and fought in defence of the Old Town and later in Żoliborz. 

Capturing the concentration camp on Gęsia Street by the "Zośka" battalion of the Home Army on 5 August and the subsequent liberation of 350 Jewish inmates, mainly from abroad, was one of the key events for the Jews. Several dozen more were liberated by the Home Army soldiers from the Umschlagplatz depots on Stawki Street which had been taken over on 1 August. The former prisoners all volunteered to join in the insurgency. The majority of them were directed to auxiliary service, some joined the front units. The international auxiliary brigade of the People’s Army in the Old Town was made up of the liberated inmates of "Gęsiówka".

Many Polish Jews who had been hiding in occupied Warsaw joined the uprising. We come across them in various military units of the Home Army and in the auxiliary service, e.g. Jewish medical doctors in field hospitals. However, many kept their false "Aryan" identities and therefore we can only estimate that at least several hundred Jews participated in the Warsaw Uprising.

Despite the euphoria of regained freedom which resulted in closer relations between Poles and Jews in the first days of the uprising, the antisemitc prejudices, fuelled by the years of Nazi propaganda, often resurfaced. Some people were obsessed with the threat of espionage, and murdered Jews who had left their hideouts. The increasingly dramatic situation of the civilians had a negative effect on the attitudes towards Jews.

The fall of the uprising put the Jews in grave danger - both the soldiers and the civilians. Taken captive, or leaving the ruined city along with the Polish civilians the Jews were at risk of being denounced and exposed by the Germans. That is why there were many Jews among the Warsaw "Robinsons", i.e. people who decided to stay in Warsaw, hiding among the rubble.