Many Jews in ghettos across eastern Europe tried to organize resistance against the Germans and to arm themselves with smuggled and homemade weapons. Between 1941 and 1943, underground resistance movements formed in about 100 Jewish groups. The most famous attempt by Jews to resist the Germans in armed fighting occurred in the Warsaw ghetto.
The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. Frank ordered Jews in Warsaw and its suburbs rounded up and herded into the Ghetto. At this time, the population in the Ghetto was estimated to be 400,000 people, about 30% of the population of Warsaw; however, the size of the Ghetto was about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw.
13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto during the uprising (some 6,000 among them were burnt alive or died from smoke inhalation). Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to concentration and extermination camps, in particular to Treblinka.
The Jewish Partisan Song
In the summer of 1942, about 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to Treblinka. When reports of mass murder in the killing center leaked back to the Warsaw ghetto, a surviving group of mostly young people, led by Mordechai Anielewicz formed an organization called the Z.O.B. (for the Polish name, Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, which means Jewish Fighting Organization). The Z.O.B., led by 23-year-old Mordecai Anielewicz, issued a proclamation calling for the Jewish people to resist going to the railroad cars.
In January 1943, Warsaw ghetto fighters fired upon German troops as they tried to round up another group of ghetto inhabitants for deportation. Fighters used a small supply of weapons that had been smuggled into the ghetto. After a few days, the troops retreated. This small victory inspired the ghetto fighters to prepare for future resistance.
On April 19, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto uprising began after German troops and police entered the ghetto to deport its surviving inhabitants. Seven hundred and fifty fighters fought the heavily armed and well-trained Germans.
On 19 April 1943, the first day of the most significant period of the resistance, 7,000 Jews were transported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka extermination camp, where, purportedly, they developed again into resistance groups, and then helped to plan and execute the revolt and mass escape of 2 August 1943.
The Warsaw ghetto fighters were able to hold out for nearly a month, but on May 16, 1943, the revolt ended. The Germans had slowly crushed the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps. May 8, 1843 was the last day that Mordechai Anielweicz and his friends lived. They fought the Nazis in the Ghetto until there was no more hope and then they killed themselves to avoid capture by the Gestapo.
To symbolize the German victory, Stroop ordered the destruction of the Great Synagogue on Tlomacki Street on May 16, 1943. The ghetto itself was in ruins. Stroop reported that he had captured 56,065 Jews and destroyed 631 bunkers. He estimated that his units killed up to 7,000 Jews during the uprising. The German authorities deported approximately another 7,000 Warsaw Jews to the Treblinka killing center, where almost all were killed in the gas chambers upon arrival.
The Germans deported almost all of the remaining Jews, approximately 42,000, to the Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp, and to the Poniatowa, Trawniki, Budzyn, and Krasnik forced-labor camps. With the exception of a few thousand forced laborers at Budzyn and Krasnik, German SS and police units later murdered almost all of the Warsaw Jews deported to Lublin/Majdanek, Poniatowa, and Trawniki in November 1943 in “Operation Harvest Festival” (Unternehmen Erntefest).
Even after the end of the uprising on May 16, 1943, individual Jews hiding out in the ruins of the ghetto continued to attack the patrols of the Germans and their auxiliaries.
After the uprising was over, most of the incinerated houses were razed, and the Warsaw concentration camp complex was established in their place. Thousands of people died in the camp or were executed in the ruins of the Ghetto. At the same time, the SS were hunting down the remaining Jews still hiding in the ruins.
A number of survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, known as the “Ghetto Fighters,” went on to found the kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot (literally: “Ghetto Fighters'”), which is located north of Acre, Israel. The founding members of the kibbutz include Yitzhak Zuckerman (Icchak Cukierman), who represented the ŻOB on the ‘Aryan’ side, and his wife Zivia Lubetkin, who commanded a fighting unit. In 1984, members of the kibbutz published Daphei Edut (“Testimonies of Survival”), four volumes of personal testimonies from 96 kibbutz members. The settlement features a museum and archives dedicated to remembering the Holocaust. Yad Mordechai, a kibbutz just north of the Gaza Strip, was named after Mordechaj Anielewicz.
Zvika Greengold, the hero of the yom Kippur War of 1973, grew up in kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot. His story is featured in the article: The Zvika Force (koach Zvika): Legend or Fake?
Life in Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto Story