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April 30, 2011

Holocaust Remembrance Day marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Filed under: Holocaust — Tags: , , — furtherglory @ 3:31 pm

According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Yom Hashoah which falls on May 2nd this year, is observed in honor of the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising which began on April 19, 1943.  According to the Museum, the United States has an official eight-day period, known as Days of Remembrance of the Victims of the Holocaust, that begins the Sunday before Yom Hashoah. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is mandated by Congress to lead this national observance in America. The 8 Days of Remembrance this year will begin on May 1st.

On the Hebrew calendar, April 19, 1943 was the 14th of Nissan – the day before Passover, a very important and happy holiday. Orthodox Jews objected to this date for a Holocaust Remembrance day.  The 27th of Nissan was chosen instead for Holocaust Remembrance because this date falls beyond Passover but within the time span of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ended with the destruction of Mila 18, a house which was the entrance to an underground bunker where Jews were hiding from the SS men who were trying to take them to the Treblinka extermination camp.  Today a memorial stone marks the location of the house.   

Memorial stone where the house at Mila 18 was located

Pictured above is the memorial stone to the Jewish heroes of the Z.O.B. (Jewish Fighting Organization) who died in an underground bunker beneath the house at ul. Mila 18 during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April and May 1943. The stone sits on top of a mound of rubble, where the house at this address once stood; it is turned slightly toward Mila street which is to the left. The street is still named Mila, but #18 is no longer an address there.

Mila 18 Stone is inscribed with names of Jewish heroes Photo credit: Florida Center for Instructional Technology

The memorial stone at Mila 18 has the names of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, including Marek Edelman, the longest living survivor, who died in 2009.

The battle of the Warsaw Ghetto lasted for twenty-eight days, but the Jews never gave up. As at Masada, where 2000 years ago, a group of Jews decided to kill themselves rather than surrender to the Romans, most of the 120 resistance fighters at Mila 18 decided to commit suicide rather than surrender.

At 8:15 p.m. on May 16th, Jürgen Stroop, the German SS Commander, declared victory by blowing up the Tlomacki Synagogue outside the walls of the Ghetto. According to the Stroop Report, around 5,000 to 6,000 Jews who were hiding in buildings in the Ghetto had been blown up or burned to death and a total of 631 bunkers had been destroyed.  Mila 18 was the last bunker where Jews held out to the end. The more than 80 civilians who remained in the bunker would either surrender or die of asphyxiation.

A typical underground bunker in the Warsaw ghetto

A Jew who has surrendered is searched by an SS man

The photograph below shows the spot on Mila street where the house at Mila 18 once stood. Beyond the trees in the foreground, you can see the grass covered mound of rubble with a memorial stone on the top of it.

The mound of rubble where Mila 18 once stood

Just below the steps, in the photo above, you can see a path around the grass-covered mound of rubble. This path is an outline of the actual building which stood at Mila 18. As you can see by the size of the mound, the building was very small. The photo above was taken from the street that is at right angles to Mila street. The house was set very close to the street and the actual entrance to the house at number 18 Mila street was formerly on the right hand side of the mound.  A row of trees has been planted to mark where the sidewalk in front of the house used to be.

The attack on the Mila 18 bunker in the Warsaw Ghetto began on May 8, 1943, after the fighting between SS soldiers and the Jews had been going on for almost three weeks. The SS brought in Ukrainian and Latvian auxiliary SS soldiers because they could not speak Polish or Yiddish and thus could not be persuaded by the Jews to allow them to escape, according to Martin Gilbert’s book entitled “Holocaust Journey.”

According to a book entitled “The bravest battle, the 28 days of the Warsaw Ghetto,” Mila 18 was a self-contained world-within-a world. A long narrow corridor led into numerous underground rooms on either side. A gang of thieves, led by Schmuel Asher, had previously excavated this gigantic bunker under three large adjoining buildings. Asher led Mordechai Anielewicz, the commander of the Z.O.B., to the bunker.

Access to the bunker at Mila 18 was through a house at that address. There were many other bunkers in the Warsaw Ghetto and Mila 18 was the last of them to be destroyed by the Germans. The fighting continued even after Mila 18 fell. Other houses that sheltered Jews, but did not have access to a bunker, were attacked.

In September 1943, the Germans sent a Polish labour battalion to the site of the Warsaw Ghetto to demolish any walls and structures that were still undestroyed. “Those who still remained in hiding” one of the ghetto’s most recent historians has written, “evidently met their deaths during the demolition activities, although a few individuals continued to live in dug-outs, totally cut off from nature, light and human company.”

The Germans had planned to make the former ghetto into a huge city park. Instead, the spot where Mila 18 once stood is now in the middle of a neighborhood of new modern buildings in Warsaw.

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