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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Last Update 9 April 2006

Following the Great Deportation during the summer of 1942, a profound change took place in the Jewish outlook. The awful truth of what had taken place, became too apparent. Those who had been deported were dead, and those that remained faced the same end. The longing for relatives who had been torn away and the searing pain over their loss were truly felt only after the deportations had ended, mixed with feelings of guilt for remaining alive. A new mood arose in this post deportation period, deep hatred for the Nazis, desire for revenge, and the growth of determined resistance.
At the end of October 1942, a consultation was held at the Ha-Shomer Hazair headquarters at 61 Mila Street, and the ZOB had been consolidated and enlarged with the addition of youth movements and splinter groups of underground political parties of all persuasions from Zionists to Communists. A ZOB command was formed, made up of representatives of the founding organisations and the combat groups. At this October 1942 meeting on the agenda were two key subjects: the defence of the Warsaw ghetto, and to teach the Jewish Police and workshop owners a lesson.
The ZOB's first operations were directed against the Jewish Police, in retaliation for its diligence and brutality during the mass deportations, senior officials of the Judenrat who were known to be on close terms with the Germans, and Jews who had developed a reputation as agents for the various branches of the German police. The ZOB leadership were convinced that the ghetto could not be set in gear for an armed struggle, as long as it contained a Fifth Column, prepared to collaborate with the Germans, by passing on information, or handing Jews over to the Germans.
Following the unsuccessful assassination attempt on Jozef Szerynski on 20 August 1942 by Yisrael Kanal, the first person condemned to death by the ZOB was Jacob Lejkin, who as Szerynskiís deputy, had played a leading role in the mass deportations. The assassination was planned with great care, and the group that accepted the mission consisted of three members of the Ha-Shomer Hazair: Margalit Landau and Mordechai Grobas trailed Lejkin for some time, charting his regular movements and hours of work, while Eliyahu Rozanski was chosen as the assassin.
Towards evening on 29 October 1942 Lejkin was shot to death while walking from the police station to his home on Gesia Street. His aide, Czaplinski, who was walking by his side, was injured.
The next assassination was directed against Yisrael First, a senior official of the Judenrat. First had been one of the directors of the Economic Department, but his influence extended far beyond that sphere. From the earliest of the Judenrat, he had been the councilís liaison officer with various branches of the German police, and he played a part during the "Great Action". The assassination was carried out on 28 November 1942, by David Schlman of Dror He Halutz, on Muranowska Street.

The second wave of deportations was launched on 18 January 1943. This time, however, the Jews who were ordered to assemble in the courtyards of their apartment houses to have their papers examined, refused to comply and went into hiding. The first column that the Germans managed to up in the first few hours, consisted of some one thousand persons, who offered a different kind of resistance.
A group of fighters, led by Mordechai Anielewicz, armed with pistols, deliberately infiltrated the column that was on its way to the Umschlagplatz. When the agreed upon signal was given, the fighters stepped out of the column and engaged the German escorts in hand-to-hand fighting. The column dispersed, and news of the fight, which had taken place in the street of the central ghetto, soon became common knowledge.
Eliyahu Rozanski and Margalit Landau who were involved in the killing of Lejkin, fell in this battle, Anielewicz was nearly killed after running out of ammunition.
That first day the Germans also met with armed resistance on the corner of Zamenhofa and Mila Streets, from an apartment in which a group of Dror members including Yitzhak Zuckerman, had taken up positions. Some SS-men were killed, others ran off, leaving their weapons behind.

Clearing of a Factory*
v. Sammern
v. Sammern
According to German sources on 20 January 1943 two SS-battalions surrounded Többens and Schultzís shops. This operation was commanded by von Sammern-Frankenegg and the commandant of Treblinka I labour camp, Theodor von Eupen. The fact that the "action" was halted after a few days, and that the Germans have managed to seize no more than 10% of the ghetto population, was regarded by Jews and Poles alike as a German defeat.
The Germans however, had not intended to deport the whole ghetto. In fact they carried out an order by Heinrich Himmler (after his visit to Warsaw on 9 January 1943), to deport 8,000 Jews from the ghetto. With this deportation the levels set by Himmler prior to the "Great Action", would be met.

The deportations and other events that took place in January were to have a decisive influence on the last months of the ghetto existence, up to April and May 1943. The Judenrat and the Jewish police lost whatever control they still had over the ghetto. In the central part of the ghetto it was the fighting organisations that were obeyed by the population. Odilo Globocnik appointed one of the German shop owners, Többens, as Ghetto commissar. His assignment was to transfer the machinery and workers of the major shops in the Warsaw Ghetto to labour camps in the Lublin area. Többens however, ran into opposition from the workers, who were taking their instructions from the ZOB.
The Jewish resistance also impressed the Poles, and they now provided more aid to the Jewish fighters than in the past. The fighting organisations used the few months they had left before the final liquidation to consolidate, equip themselves, and prepare a plan for the defence of the ghetto.
The ZOB now had 22 fighting squads, of 15 fighters each, the Military Union had about half the number of fighters, but it operated in a similar manner.
The ghetto as a whole was engaged in feverish preparations for the expected deportation, which all believed would be the last and the final one. The general population concentrated on preparing bunkers. Groups of Jews, made up mostly of tenants of the same building, went to work on the construction of subterranean bunkers, shelters such as these had helped evade capture during the January 1943 deportations. Many Jews were now ready to entertain the hope that the combination of resistance and hiding might provide the route to rescue.
Bunker #1
Bunker #1*
Bunker #2
Bunker #2*
The network of bunkers in the ghetto was expanded, and a substantial part of the ghetto population was kept busy at night digging the hideouts and communication trenches under the ground. Much thought and sophistication went into the planning of the entrances and exits of the hiding places. Bunkers and wooden bunks were installed in them, and air circulation was provided for, as well as electricity and water supplies, food, and medicines to last for months.
The preparation of bunkers became a mass movement in the central ghetto area, and as the final deportation drew near every inhabitant of the ghetto had two addresses - one on the ghetto surface and a subterranean one in a bunker.

Revolt and Final Liquidation

SS questioning Ghetto Fighters
SS questioning Ghetto Fighters*
Trawniki Men after shooting Tenants
Trawnikis after shooting Tenants*
The final liquidation of the ghetto began on 19 April 1943, the eve of Passover. This time the deportation did not come as a surprise. The Jews had been warned of what lay ahead and they were ready. The Germans had a substantial military force on the alert for the deportation, but they were taken by surprise, by the street battles, and the determination of the Jews to resist. This lack of understanding cost SS-Oberführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg his post as HSSPF Warschau. Himmler replaced him with SS- and Police General Jürgen Stroop, who was experienced in fighting partisans, to supervise the deportation and liquidation of the ghetto. In his telex to the HSSPF Ost, F.W. Krüger, from 22 April 1943 Himmler ordered the most possible toughness for the ghetto liquidation.
Stroopís daily progress reports to Krüger and his final summary when the revolt had come to an end, constitute the basic historical documentation of the resistance offered by the Jews and the methods used by the Nazis to overcome it.
According to Stroop the Großaktion ("Great Action") began on 19 April 1943, when a strong police force surrounded the ghetto at 3 a.m.. The German armed forces that had been assembled for the operation consisted of 850 men and 18 officers, under the command of von Sammern-Frankenegg. It entered the ghetto in two sections, met with armed resistance and was forced to retreat. The forces were drawn from SS Panzergrenadiere, cavalry training, SS and police regiments, technical emergency corps, security police, Wehrmacht engineers, Trawniki-Männer from the SS training camp Trawniki, as well as Polish police and fire brigade personnel.
The Ghetto in Flames
The Ghetto in Flames*
Marching to the Umschlagplatz
Marching to the Umschlagplatz*
On the first day the Germans became aware of the kind of uprising they were facing. The central ghetto, which had a population of more than 30,000, was completely empty, except for a handful of Judenrat members and a Jewish police unit. No Jews could be rounded up for deportation, and the freight cars at the Umschlagplatz had to remain empty. The magnitude of the hiding operation took the Germans by surprise, as had the armed resistance.
In the first three days, street battles took place in the ghetto, Stroop decided to systematically set fire to the buildings to flush out the fighters. This meant that the Jewish fighters had to abandon their positions and seek refuge in the bunkers. The ghetto was now one great burning torch, enveloped in dense smoke and permeated by stifling odours. The temperatures in bunkers below burning houses reached boiling point. Most of the food was spoiled by the devastating heat, the people had to quench their thurst by drinking warm and stinking water. One could hardly breathe or talk, being on the verge of going mad, but still the Jews refused to surrender to the Germans.
Emerging a Bunker #1
Emerging a Bunker #1*
Emerging a Bunker #2
Emerging a Bunker #2*
Under cover of darkness they tried to leave the burning bunkers. Everyone looked for a bunker where conditions could be slightly better, although this was likely to be a temporary improvement. In the second week of the uprising, the bunkers were the main arena of resistance. In this fight, the Germans had to struggle for each bunker. They used tear gas or poison gas, forcing the Jews out. In many instances Jews kept firing as they emerged, and a number of women fighters threw grenades, hidden in their clothes, after they had surrendered. The Germans made the Jewish women remove their clothes, in order to lessen the chances of being killed or wounded.
On 8 May 1943, the command bunker of the ZOB, which contained about 100 people, was attacked by the Germans. The five exits were blocked, the main entrance was broken open and canisters of poisonous gas were thrown inside. Arie Wilner and Lolek Rotblat called on the fighters to take their own lives rather than surrender to the Germans. Some of the fighters did indeed commit suicide, while others were killed by the gas, some managed to escape. Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the revolt, fell at 18 Mila Street, along with many other brave fighters.

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On 16 May 1943, Stroop announced that the Großaktion had been completed. To mark the end of this action, he ordered the destruction of the Great Warsaw Synagogue on Tlomackie Street, at 8 p.m..
In his final report on the military campaign that he led against the ghetto revolt, Stroop provided the following data: Of the total of 56,065 Jews who were seized, 22,000 were deportated to Majdanek, 14,000 - 16,000 to Poniatowa, 5,000 - 6,000 to Trawniki, and 7,000 to Treblinka. 5,000-6,000 lost their lives in explosions and fires. Stroop exaggerated the figures of Jews exterminated, as well as reducing the casualty figures experienced by his forces, 16 killed and 85 wounded.
Stroop proposed establishing a concentration camp in Warsaw. Its prisoners could be used to clear away the ruins and buildings on the territory of the former ghetto. Between 16 May and 19 July 1943 Stroop's idea was realized and KZ Warschau established.

In 1951, Stroop was tried in Warsaw. He was sentenced to death for war crimes, and hanged. Stroopís report was used at the Nürnberg War Crimes Trial in Germany.


Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust
Yisrael Gutman. The Jews of Warsaw 1939-43. Harvester Press, 1982
The Stroop Report

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