Scrapbookpages Blog

April 8, 2013

Holocaust Remembrance Day is a day to remember the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The historical fight between the Nazis and the Jews, known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, began on April 19, 1943 and ended on May 16, 1943. A total of 56,065 Jews were taken as prisoners by the Germans during the uprising, and around 6,000 Jews were killed during the destruction of the buildings in the ghetto.

The date of Holocaust Remembrance Day changes each year, but the date of the Uprising remains the same: April 19th, the first day of Passover in 1943.

Monument on the site of Mila 18, the last bunker to surrender during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Monument on the site of Mila 18, the last bunker to surrender during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

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. 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.

A building that was destroyed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

A building that was destroyed during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The reason, for the Jewish Resistance in April and May 1943, was that the Jews in the Ghetto had learned that the daily trains to Treblinka were not transporting the Jews to resettlement camps in the East, but were taking them to a death camp to be killed in gas chambers. It was because the ghetto residents began refusing to get on the trains that the Nazis decided to liquidate the ghetto. Ukrainian and Latvian SS soldiers marched into the ghetto on April 19, 1943, entering at the northern border of the Ghetto on Zamenhofa street. It was not until May 16th that the SS was able to defeat the Jewish resistance fighters, who lasted longer than the whole Polish army when the Germans and the Russians jointly invaded Poland in September 1939.

The iconic photo below was included in the photos in the Stroop Report, which was the report written by the Commander of the SS forces that fought the Jews.

Jews who were forced out of a Hotel in the Warsaw Ghetto

Jews who were forced out of a Hotel in the Warsaw Ghetto

The soldier, who is holding a gun on the little boy in the photo, was Josef Blösche; he was put on trial in East Germany after the war and was executed after being convicted of participating in the action to put down the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. There are 50 photos included in The Stroop Report, which documents the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto.

In June 1942, the Nazis had begun transporting the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka death camp on the Bug river, near the eastern border of German-occupied Poland. Eventually, reports of mass murder got back to the Warsaw Ghetto and a resistance organization called the Z.O.B. (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) was formed to prevent any more deportations from the ghetto. The leader of the Z.O.B. was Mordecai Anielewicz.

Jews coming out of their hiding places to surrender

Jews coming out of their hiding places to surrender

The interior of one of the underground bunkers where the Jews hid in the Warsaw Ghetto

The interior of one of the underground bunkers where the Jews hid in the Warsaw Ghetto

In January 1943, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto decided to resist the next round-up for deportation to Treblinka; the young Z.O.B fighters fired on German troops as they tried to get the Jews into railroad cars to be transported to the death camp. The Germans retreated after four days of fighting and the Jews began to prepare to hold out against future attempts to liquidate the ghetto.

The following quote is from the opening statement by Robert Jackson at the Nuremberg International Military Tribunal in which he spoke about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  One of the crimes, charged against the Germans at the IMT, was the crime of killing Jews during the Uprising.

It is the original report of the SS Brigadier General Stroop in charge of the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto, and its title page carries the inscription “The Jewish ghetto in Warsaw no longer exists.” It is characteristic that one of the captions explains that the photograph (the photo which shows a little boy with his hands up) concerned shows the driving out of Jewish “bandits”; those whom the photograph shows being driven out are almost entirely women and little children. It contains a day-by-day account of the killings mainly carried out by the SS organization, too long to relate, but let me quote General Stroop’s summary:

“The resistance put up by the Jews and bandits could only be suppressed by energetic actions of our troops day and night. The Reichsfuehrer SS [Heinrich Himmler] ordered, therefore, on 4/23/1943, the cleaning out of the ghetto with utter ruthlessness and merciless tenacity. I, therefore, decided to destroy and burn down the entire ghetto without regard to the armament factories. These factories were systematically dismantled and then burned. Jews usually left their hideouts, but frequently remained in the burning buildings and jumped out of the windows only when the heat became unbearable. They then tried to crawl with broken bones across the street into buildings which were not afire. Sometimes they changed their hideouts during the night into the ruins of burned buildings. Life in the sewers was not pleasant after the first week. Many times we could hear loud voices in the sewers. SS men or policemen climbed bravely through the manholes to capture these Jews. Sometimes they stumbled over Jewish corpses: sometimes they were shot at. Tear gas bombs were thrown into the manholes and the Jews driven out of the sewers and captured. Countless numbers of Jews were liquidated in sewers and bunkers through blasting. The longer the resistance continued the tougher became the members of the Waffen SS, Police and Wehrmacht who always discharged their duties in an exemplary manner. Frequently Jews who tied to replenish their food supplies during the night or to communicate with neighboring groups were exterminated.”

“This action eliminated,” says the SS commander, “a proved total of 56,065 [sent to Treblinka]. To that, we have to add the number killed through blasting, fire, etc., which cannot be counted.” (1061- PS)

Although the Jews lost the fight, the point is that they RESISTED the Nazis and that is cause for celebration.  The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were eventually taken to Treblinka and killed in gas chambers, but at least they tried.

I previously blogged about Treblinka here and here and here.