|Warsaw Ghetto Uprising|
|Part of World War II and the Holocaust|
Photo from Jürgen Stroop's report to Heinrich Himmler from May 1943 and one of the best-known pictures of World War II.
The original German caption reads: "Forcibly pulled out of dug-outs."
|Commanders and leaders|
|Daily average of 2,090 including 821 Waffen-SS||About 600 ŻOB and about 400 ŻZW fighters, plus a number of Polish fighters|
|Casualties and losses|
|17 confirmed and up to 300 killed, 93 wounded (German figures)||About 13,000 killed, 56,885 deported, mostly civilians (German estimate)|
|According to Stroop's unofficial account, 71,000 people in all were killed or deported. The 16 killed on the German side do not include Jewish forced collaborators.|
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Yiddish: אױפֿשטאַנד אין װאַרשעװער געטאָ; Polish: powstanie w getcie warszawskim; German: Aufstand im Warschauer Ghetto) was the 1943 act of Jewish resistance that arose within the Warsaw Ghetto in German-occupied Poland during World War II, and which opposed Nazi Germany's final effort to transport the remaining Ghetto population to Treblinka. The uprising started on 19 April when the Ghetto refused to surrender to the police commander SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, who then ordered the burning of the Ghetto, block by block, ending on 16 May. A total of 13,000 Jews died, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. German casualties are not known, but were not more than 300. It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.
In 1939, German authorities began to concentrate Poland's population of over three million Jews into a number of extremely crowded ghettos located in large Polish cities. The largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, concentrated approximately 300,000–400,000 people into a densely packed, 3.3 km² central area of Warsaw. Thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease and starvation under SS-und-Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik and SS-Standartenführer Ludwig Hahn, even before the mass deportations from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp began.
The SS conducted many of the deportations during the operation code-named Grossaktion Warschau, between 23 July and 21 September 1942. Just before the operation began, the German "Resettlement Commissioner" SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle called a meeting of the Ghetto Jewish Council Judenrat and informed its leader, Adam Czerniaków, that he would require 7,000 Jews a day for the "resettlement to the East". Czerniaków committed suicide once he became aware of the true goal of the "resettlement" plan. Approximately 254,000–300,000 Ghetto residents met their deaths at Treblinka during the two-month-long operation. The Grossaktion was directed by SS-Oberführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, the SS and police commander of the Warsaw area since 1941. He was relieved of duty by SS-und-Polizeiführer Jürgen Stroop, sent to Warsaw by Heinrich Himmler on 17 April 1943. Stroop took over from von Sammern-Frankenegg following the failure of the latter to pacify the Ghetto resistance.
When the deportations first began, members of the Jewish resistance movement met and decided not to fight the SS directives, believing that the Jews were being sent to labour camps and not to their deaths. By the end of 1942, Ghetto inhabitants learned that the deportations were part of an extermination process. Many of the remaining Jews decided to revolt. The first armed resistance in the ghetto occurred in January 1943. On 19 April 1943, Passover eve, the Germans entered the ghetto. The remaining Jews knew that the Germans would murder them and they decided to resist to the last. While the uprising was underway, the Bermuda Conference was held from 19–29 April 1943 to discuss the Jewish refugee problem. Discussions included the question of Jewish refugees who had been liberated by Allied forces and those who still remained within German-occupied Europe.
Two Jewish underground organisations fought in the Warsaw Uprising: the left wing Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB) founded in July 1942 by Zionist Jewish youth groups within the Warsaw Ghetto; and the right wing Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW), or Jewish Military Union, a national organization founded in 1939 by former Polish military officers of Jewish background which had strong ties to the Polish Home Army, and cells in almost every major town across Poland. However both organisations were officially incorporated into the Polish Home Army and its command structure in exchange for weapons and training.
Marek Edelman, who was the only surviving uprising commander from the left-wing ŻOB, stated that the ŻOB had 220 fighters and each was armed with a handgun, grenades, and Molotov cocktails. His organization had three rifles in each area, as well as two land mines and one submachine gun. Due to its socialist leanings, the Soviets promoted the actions of ŻOB as the dominant or only party in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a view often adopted by secondary sources in the West.
The right-wing faction ŻZW which was founded by former Polish officers, was larger, more established and had closer ties with the Polish resistance, making it better equipped. Zimmerman describes the arm supplies for the uprising as "limited but real". Specifically, Jewish fighters of the ŻZW received from the Polish Home Army: 2 heavy machine guns, 4 light machine guns, 21 submachine guns, 30 rifles, 50 pistols, and over 400 grenades for the uprising. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, ŻZW is reported to have had about 400 well-armed fighters grouped in 11 units, with 4 units including fighters from the Polish Home Army. Due to the ŻZW's anti-socialist stand and close ties with the Polish Home Army (which was subsequently outlawed by the Soviets), the Soviets suppressed publication of books and articles on ŻZW after the war and downplayed its role in the uprising, in favour of the more socialist ŻOB.
More weapons were supplied throughout the uprising, and some were captured from the Germans. Some weapons were handmade by the resistance; sometimes such weapons worked, other times they jammed repeatedly.
Shortly before the uprising, Polish-Jewish historian Emanuel Ringelblum (who managed to escape from the Warsaw Ghetto, but was later discovered and executed in 1944) visited a ŻZW armoury hidden in the basement at 7 Muranowska Street. In his notes, which form part of Oneg Shabbat archives, he reported:
They were armed with revolvers stuck in their belts. Different kinds of weapons were hung in the large rooms: light machine guns, rifles, revolvers of different kinds, hand grenades, bags of ammunition, German uniforms, etc., all of which were utilized to the full in the April "action". (...) While I was there, a purchase of arms was made from a former Polish Army officer, amounting to a quarter of a million złoty; a sum of 50,000 złoty was paid on account. Two machine guns were bought at 40,000 złoty each, and a large amount of hand grenades and bombs.
Due to the nature of the conflict and that it took place within the confines of German-guarded Warsaw Ghetto, the role of the Polish Home Army was primarily one of ancillary support; namely, the provision of arms, ammunition and training. Although the Home Army's stocks were meager, and general provision of arms limited, the right-wing ŻZW received significant quantities of armaments, including some heavy and light machine guns, submachine guns, rifles, pistols and grenades. The Polish Home Army also disseminated information and appeals to help the Jews in the Ghetto, both in Poland and by way of radio transmissions to the Allies, which fell largely on deaf ears. During the uprising, the Polish Resistance units from the Polish Home Army and the communist Gwardia Ludowa attacked German units near the Ghetto walls and attempted to smuggle weapons, ammunition, supplies, and instructions into the Ghetto. Their failure to break through German defences limited supplies in the Ghetto which was otherwise cut off from the outside world by a German-ordered blockade.
"In mid-April at 4 am, the Germans began to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto, closed down the remnants of the Jews with a police cordon, went inside tanks and armored cars and carried out their destructive work. We know that you help the martyred Jews as much as you can, I thank you, my countrymen, on my own and the government's behalf, I am asking you to help them in my own name and in the government, I am asking you for help and for extermination of this horrible cruelty. " - Supreme Commander of the Polish Armed Forces in the West and Prime Minister of the Polish government-in-exile gen. Władysław Sikorski - The content of the leaflet published in May 1943 in a circulation of 25,000 by Council for Aid to Jews calling for help to Jews.
The command of the Home Army ordered to Kedyw carried a series of actions around the walls against the German units under code name Ghetto Action. Between 19 and 23 April 1943, the Polish resistance engaged the Germans at six different locations outside the ghetto walls, shooting at German sentries and positions and in one case attempting to blow up a gate. The Polish Home Army fought in 4 units with the ŻZW in Muranowska Street having climbed into the Ghetto via secret tunnels dug by the ŻZW. A National Security Corps unit commanded by Henryk Iwański ("Bystry") reportedly fought inside the Ghetto along with ŻZW and subsequently both groups retreated together (including 34 Jewish fighters) to the so-called Aryan side. Several ŻOB commanders and fighters also later escaped through the tunnels with assistance from the Poles and joined the Polish underground (Home Army).
"From April 24, daily patrols against Germans near the ghetto, aimed at eliminating the Germans and training their own (Jewish) branches- upto now without own losses. Some Germans were eliminated every day." - Report for the month of April 1943 of the Kedyw, Warsaw District of the Home Army
Participation of the Polish underground in the uprising was confirmed by a report of the German commander Jürgen Stroop, who wrote:
When we invaded the Ghetto for the first time, the Jews and the Polish bandits succeeded in repelling the participating units, including tanks and armored cars, by a well-prepared concentration of fire. (...) The main Jewish battle group, mixed with Polish bandits, had already retired during the first and second day to the so-called Muranowski Square. There, it was reinforced by a considerable number of Polish bandits. Its plan was to hold the Ghetto by every means in order to prevent us from invading it. (...) Time and again Polish bandits found refuge in the Ghetto and remained there undisturbed, since we had no forces at our disposal to comb out this maze. (...) One such battle group succeeded in mounting a truck by ascending from a sewer in the so-called Prosta [Street], and in escaping with it (about 30 to 35 bandits). (...) The bandits and Jews – there were Polish bandits among these gangs armed with carbines, small arms, and in one case a light machine gun – mounted the truck and drove away in an unknown direction.
Poster printed by ŻOB: "All people are equal brothers; Brown, White, Black and Yellow. To separate peoples, colors, races, Is but an act of cheating!"
Commemorative pennant of ŻZW - Jewish Military Union.
Page 5 of Stroop Report describing German fight against "Juden mit polnischen Banditen" - "Jews with Polish bandits".
Continuation 27 April 1943 describing fight against "jüdisch-polnische Wehrformation" ("Jewish-Polish armed formation").
On the other hand, despite German evidence of Polish fighters joining the struggle, some survivors have reported different experiences. In her book On Both Sides of the Wall, Vladka Meed, who was a member of the left-wing ŻOB, devoted a chapter to the insufficient support from the Polish resistance. Indeed, records confirm that the leftist ŻOB received less weaponry and no fighters from the Polish Home Army, unlike the right-wing ŻZW with whom the Home Army had close ties and ideological similarities. However, both Vladka and Benjamin Meed were eventually rescued from the Ghetto by a Polish man who risked his life by transporting them both out of the danger zone covered up with burlap inside his wagon, and bandaged Benjamin's head wound.
Ultimately, the efforts of the Jewish resistance fighters proved insufficient against the German occupation system. According to Hanna Krall, the German task force dispatched to put down the revolt and complete the deportation action numbered 2,090 men armed with a number of minethrowers and other light and medium artillery pieces, several armored vehicles, and more than 200 machine and submachine guns. Its backbone consisted of 821 Waffen-SS paramilitary soldiers from five SS Panzergrenadier reserve and training battalions and one SS cavalry reserve and training battalion. The other forces were drawn from the Ordnungspolizei (Orpo) order police (battalions from the 22nd and 23rd regiments), Warsaw personnel of the Gestapo and the Sicherheitsdienst (SD) intelligence service, one battalion each from two Wehrmacht (Heer) railroad combat engineers regiments, a Wehrmacht battery of anti-aircraft artillery, a detachment of multinational (commonly but inaccurately referred to by the Germans and Jews alike as "Ukrainians") ex-Soviet POW "Trawniki-Männer" auxiliary camp guards trained by the SS-Totenkopfverbände at Trawniki concentration camp, and technical emergency corps. Several Gestapo jailers from the nearby political prison Pawiak, led by Franz Bürkl, volunteered to join the "hunt" for the Jews. A force of 363 officers from the Polish Police of the General Government (so-called Blue Police) was ordered by the Germans to cordon the walls of the Ghetto. Warsaw fire department personnel were also forced to help in the operation. Jewish policemen were used in the first phase of the Ghetto's liquidation and subsequently summarily executed by the Gestapo. Stroop later remarked:
I had two battalions of Waffen-SS, one hundred army men, units of Order Police, and seventy-five to a hundred Security Police people. The Security Police had been active in the Warsaw ghetto for some time, and during this program it was their function to accompany SS units in groups of six or eight, as guides and experts in ghetto matters.
By his own words, Stroop reported that after he took command on 19 April 1943 the forces at his disposal totaled 31 officers and 1,262 men:
Stroop's report listed ultimate forces at his disposal as 36 officers and 2,054 men:
His casualty lists also include members of four other Waffen-SS training and reserve units (1st SS Panzer Grenadier; 2nd SS Panzer Grenadier; 4th SS Panzer Grenadier; 5th SS Panzer Grenadier Training Battalions). Polish police came from the Kommissariarts 1st, 7th and 8th. There is also evidence that German Police of the SSPF of Lubin took part in the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto Jews.
On 18 January 1943, the Germans began their second deportation of the Jews, which led to the first instance of armed insurgency within the Ghetto. While Jewish families hid their so-called "bunkers", fighters of the ŻZW, joined by elements of the ŻOB, resisted, engaging the Germans in direct clashes. Though the ŻZW and ŻOB suffered heavy losses (including some of their leaders), the Germans also took casualties, and the deportation was halted within a few days. Only 5,000 Jews were removed, instead of the 8,000 planned by Globocnik. Hundreds of people in the Warsaw ghetto were ready to fight, adults and children, sparsely armed with handguns, gasoline bottles, and a few other weapons that had been smuggled into the Ghetto by resistance fighters. Most of the Jewish fighters did not view their actions as an effective measure by which to save themselves, but rather as a battle for the honour of the Jewish people, and a protest against the world's silence.
Two resistance organizations, the ŻZW and ŻOB, took control of the Ghetto. They built dozens of fighting posts and executed a number of Nazi collaborators, including Jewish Police officers, members of the fake (German-sponsored and controlled) resistance organization Żagiew, as well as Gestapo and Abwehr agents (such as Judenrat member Dr Alfred Nossig, executed on 22 February 1943). The ŻOB established a prison to hold and execute traitors and collaborators. Józef Szeryński, former head of the Jewish Ghetto Police, committed suicide.
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On 19 April 1943, on the eve of Passover, the police and SS auxiliary forces entered the Ghetto. They were planning to complete the deportation action within three days, but were ambushed by Jewish insurgents firing and tossing Molotov cocktails and hand grenades from alleyways, sewers, and windows. The Germans suffered 59 casualties and their advance bogged down. Two of their combat vehicles (an armed conversion of a French-made Lorraine 37L light armored vehicle and an armored car) were set on fire by the insurgents's petrol bombs. Following von Sammern-Frankenegg's failure to contain the revolt, he lost his post as the SS and police commander of Warsaw. He was replaced by SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop, who rejected von Sammern-Frankenegg's proposal to call in bomber aircraft from Kraków and proceeded to lead a better-organized and reinforced ground attack.
The longest-lasting defense of a position took place around the ŻZW stronghold at Muranowski Square, where the ŻZW chief leader, Dawid Moryc Apfelbaum, was killed in combat. On the afternoon of 19 April, a symbolic event took place when two boys climbed up on the roof of a building on the square and raised two flags, the red-and-white Polish flag and the blue-and-white banner of the ŻZW. These flags remained there, highly visible from the Warsaw streets, for four days. After the war, Stroop recalled:
The matter of the flags was of great political and moral importance. It reminded hundreds of thousands of the Polish cause, it excited them and unified the population of the General Government, but especially Jews and Poles. Flags and national colours are a means of combat exactly like a rapid-fire weapon, like thousands of such weapons. We all knew that – Heinrich Himmler, Krüger, and Hahn. The Reichsfuehrer [Himmler] bellowed into the phone: "Stroop, you must at all costs bring down those two flags!"— Jürgen Stroop, 1949
During this fight on 22 April, SS officer Hans Dehmke was killed when gunfire detonated a hand grenade he was holding. When Stroop's ultimatum to surrender was rejected by the defenders, his forces resorted to systematically burning houses block by block using flamethrowers and fire bottles, and blowing up basements and sewers. "We were beaten by the flames, not the Germans," Edelman said in 2007. In 2003, he recalled: "The sea of flames flooded houses and courtyards. ... There was no air, only black, choking smoke and heavy burning heat radiating from the red-hot walls, from the glowing stone stairs." The "bunker wars" lasted an entire month, during which German progress was slowed.
While the battle continued inside the Ghetto, Polish resistance groups AK and GL engaged the Germans between 19 and 23 April at six different locations outside the Ghetto walls, firing at German sentries and positions. In one attack, three units of the AK under the command of Captain Józef Pszenny ("Chwacki") joined up in a failed attempt to breach the Ghetto walls with explosives. Eventually, the ŻZW lost all of its commanders and, on 29 April, the remaining fighters from the organization escaped the Ghetto through the Muranowski tunnel and relocated to the Michalin forest. This event marked the end of significant fighting.
At this point, organized defense collapsed. Surviving fighters and thousands of remaining Jewish civilians took cover in the sewer system and in the many dugout hiding places hidden among the ruins of the Ghetto, referred to as "bunkers" by Germans and Jews alike. The Germans used dogs to look for such hideouts, then usually dropped smoke bombs down to force people out. Sometimes they flooded these so-called bunkers or destroyed them with explosives. On occasions, shootouts occurred. A number of captured fighters—especially the women—lobbed hidden grenades or fired concealed handguns after surrendering. There were also clashes between small groups of insurgents and German patrols at night.
Stroop later recalled:
May First was memorable for a number of reasons. I witnessed an extraordinary scene that day. A group of prisoners had been herded into the square. In spite of their exhaustion, many of them held their heads high. I stood nearby, surrounded by my escort. Suddenly I heard shots. A young Jew – in his midtwenties I'd guess – was firing a pistol at one of our police officers – one...two...three...fast as lightning. One of the bullets hit the officer's hand. My men sprayed the Jew with fire. I managed to whip out my own pistol and hit him as he fell. As he lay dying, I stood over him, watching his life ebb away. — Jurgen Stroop, Conversations with an Executioner 
On 8 May, the Germans discovered a large dugout located at Miła 18 Street, which served as ŻOB's main command post. Most of the organization's remaining leadership and dozens of others committed mass suicide by ingesting cyanide, including the chief commander of ŻOB, Mordechaj Anielewicz. His deputy Marek Edelman escaped the Ghetto through the sewers with a handful of comrades two days later.
On 10 May, a Bundist member of the Polish government in exile, Szmul Zygielbojm, committed suicide in London to protest the lack of reaction from the Allied governments. In his farewell note, he wrote:
I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto fell with arms in their hands in the last heroic battle. I was not permitted to fall like them, together with them, but I belong with them, to their mass grave. By my death, I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.
The suppression of the uprising officially ended on 16 May 1943, when Stroop personally pushed a detonator button to demolish the Great Synagogue of Warsaw. Stroop later recalled:
What a marvelous sight it was. A fantastic piece of theater. My staff and I stood at a distance. I held the electrical device which would detonate all the charges simultaneously. Jesuiter called for silence. I glanced over at my brave officers and men, tired and dirty, silhouetted against the glow of the burning buildings. After prolonging the suspense for a moment, I shouted: Heil Hitler and pressed the button. — Jürgen Stroop, Conversations with an Executioner
Besides claiming an estimated 56,065 Jews accounted for (although his own figures showed the number to be 57,065) and noting that "The number of destroyed dug-outs amounts to 631." in his official report 24 May 1943, Stroop listed the following as captured booty:
Regarding the booty of arms, it must be taken into consideration that the arms themselves could in most cases not be captured, as the bandits and Jews would, before being arrested, throw them into hiding places or holes which could not be ascertained or discovered. The smoking out of the dug-out by our men, also often made the search for arms impossible. As the dug-outs had to be blown up at once, a search later on was out of the question. The captured hand grenades, ammunition, and incendiary bottles were at once reused by us against the bandits. Further booty:
Up to 23 May 1943 we had counted:
4.4 million Zloty; furthermore about 5 to 6 million Zloty not yet counted, a great amount of foreign currency, e.g. $14,300 in paper and $9,200 in gold, moreover valuables (rings, chains, watches, etc.) in great quantities. State of the Ghetto at the termination of the large-scale operation: Apart from 8 buildings (Police Barracks, hospital, and accommodations for housing working-parties) the former Ghetto is completely destroyed. Only the dividing walls are left standing where no explosions were carried out. But the ruins still contain a vast amount of stones and scrap material which could be used."
Sporadic resistance continued and the last skirmish took place on 5 June 1943 between Germans and a holdout group of armed Jews without connections to the resistance organizations.
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.
Jürgen Stroop's internal SS daily report for Friedrich Krüger, written on 16 May 1943, stated:
180 Jews, bandits and sub-humans, were destroyed. The former Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no longer in existence. The large-scale action was terminated at 20:15 hours by blowing up the Warsaw Synagogue. ... Total number of Jews dealt with 56,065, including both Jews caught and Jews whose extermination can be proved. ... Apart from 8 buildings (police barracks, hospital, and accommodations for housing working-parties) the former Ghetto is completely destroyed. Only the dividing walls are left standing where no explosions were carried out.
According to the casualty lists in Stroop's report, German forces suffered a total of 110 casualties – 17 dead (of whom 16 were killed in action) and 93 injured – of whom 101 are listed by name, including over 60 members of the Waffen-SS. These figures did not include Jewish collaborators, but did include the "Trawniki men" and Polish police under his command. The real number of German losses, however, may be well higher (the Germans suffered about 300 casualties by Edelman's estimate). For propaganda purposes, the official announcement claimed the German casualties to be only a few wounded, while propaganda bulletins of the Polish Underground State announced that hundreds of occupiers had been killed in the fighting.
German daily losses of killed/wounded and the official figures for killed or captured Jews and "bandits", according to the Stroop report:
According to Israel Gutman, "the number cited by Stroop (16 dead, 85 wounded) cannot be rejected out of hand, but it is likely that his list was neither complete, free of errors, nor indicative of the German losses throughout the entire period of resistance, until the absolute liquidation of Jewish life in the ghetto. All the same, the German casualty figures cited by the various Jewish sources are probably highly exaggerated." Other historians such as Raul Hilberg and French L. MacLean endorse the accuracy of official German casualty figures. On the other hand, Stroop report vastly exaggerated actual losses (and strength) of the resistance.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.
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. 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.
In October 1943, Bürkl was tried and condemned to death in absentia by the Polish Resistance's Special Courts, and shot dead by the AK in Warsaw, a part of Operation Heads targeting notorious SS officers. That same month, von Sammern-Frankenegg was killed by Yugoslav Partisans in an ambush in Croatia. Himmler, Globocnik and Krüger all committed suicide at the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. The General Government Governor of Warsaw at the time of the Uprising Dr. Ludwig Fischer was tried and executed in 1947. Stroop was captured by Americans in Germany, convicted of war crimes in two different trials (U.S. military and Polish) and executed by hanging in Poland in 1952 along with Warsaw Ghetto SS administrator Franz Konrad. Stroop's aide, Erich Steidtmann, was exonerated for "minimal involvement"; he died in 2010 while under investigation for war crimes. Walter Bellwidt, who commanded a Waffen-SS battalion among Stroop forces, died on 13 October 1965. Hahn went into hiding until 1975, when he was apprehended and sentenced to life for crimes against humanity; he died in prison in 1986. SS Oberführer Arpad Wigand who served with von Sammern-Frankenberg as SS and Police Leader in Warsaw from 4 August 1941 to 23 April 1943 was tried for war crimes in Hamburg Germany in 1981 and sentenced to 12.5 years in prison; died 26 July 1983. Walter Reder reportedly served in the SS Panzer Grenadier Training Battalion III; he served a jail sentence in Italy from 1951 to 1985 for war crimes committed in 1944, and died in 1991. Josef Blösche was tried for war crimes and executed in 1969. Heinrich Klaustermeyer was tried for war crimes in 1965 and died in 1976.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 took place over a year before the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The Ghetto had been totally destroyed by the time of the general uprising in the city, which was part of the Operation Tempest, a nationwide insurrection plan. During the Warsaw Uprising, the Polish Home Army's Battalion Zośka was able to rescue 380 Jewish prisoners (mostly foreign) held in the concentration camp "Gęsiówka" set up by the Germans in an area adjacent to the ruins of former Ghetto. These prisoners had been brought from Auschwitz and forced to clear the remains of the ghetto. A few small groups of Ghetto residents also managed to survive in the undetected "bunkers" and to eventually reach the "Aryan side". In all, several hundred survivors from the first uprising took part in the later uprising (mostly in non-combat roles such as logistics and maintenance, due to their physical state and general shortage of arms), joining the ranks of the Polish Home Army and the Armia Ludowa. According to Samuel Krakowski from the Jewish Historical Institute, "The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had a real influence ... in encouraging the activity of the Polish underground."
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. In 2008, Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi led a group of IDF officials to the site of the uprising and spoke about the event's "importance for IDF combat soldiers."
In 1968, the 25th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Zuckerman was asked what military lessons could be learned from the uprising. He replied:
I don't think there's any real need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn't a subject for study in military school. (...) If there's a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.
On 7 December 1970, West German Chancellor Willy Brandt spontaneously knelt while visiting the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes memorial in the People's Republic of Poland. At the time, the action surprised many and was the focus of controversy, but it has since been credited with helping improve relations between the NATO and Warsaw Pact countries.
Many people from the United States and Israel came for the 1983 commemoration.
Already during the war the influence and the importance of the right leaning Jewish underground organisation Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ZZW) or Jewish Military Union was being downgraded. The surviving commanders of the leftist ŻOB either did not mention the ŻZW's fight in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in their writings at all, or belittled its importance. Also the war-time Soviet propaganda did only briefly mention the fighters as they collided with its aims of presenting the Soviet Union as the only defender of the European Jewry. In addition, except for David Wdowiński none of the high-ranking commanders of the ŻZW survived the war to tell their part of the story and it was not until 1963 that Wdowiński's memoirs were published.
This led to a number of myths concerning both the ŻZW and the Uprising being commonly repeated in many modern publications. This was even strengthened by the post-war propaganda of the Polish communists, who openly underlined the value of the leftist ŻOB, while suppressing all publications on the Polish Home Army-backed ŻZW.
In recent years, new research by historians Dariusz Libionka (Poland) and Laurence Weinbaum (Israel) on the ŻZW has called into question the validity of what has been written on the Revisionist Zionist underground that fought in the ghetto. Their monograph (Bohaterowie, hochsztaplerzy, opisywacze) cast new light on some of the Polish and Jewish accounts retold by those who wrote about the revolt. Over the years these testimonies found their way into many secondary sources – both popular and scholarly works by other authors – as well as reference books. The research by Libionka and Weinbaum attempted to deconstruct and discredit the testimony of Henryk Iwański and two others who claimed to have fought in the ranks of the organization or aided it. Libionka and Weinbaum maintain that Dawid Moryc Apfelbaum, who is often credited with having played a commanding role in the ŻZW, and after whom a square was named in Warsaw, was in all likelihood an entirely fictitious figure, a product of fałszywka (political forgery).
Nevertheless, the stories of Apfelbaum and Iwański as heroic combatants of the Ghetto continue to be the focus of commemorations. In Israel, on the 70th anniversary of the uprising, a new edition of the 1963 book on the ŻZW written by Chaim Lazar-Litai was published, and retold the story of Iwański's and Apfelbaum's commanding role in the ŻZW. The retired Israeli politician Moshe Arens, who has also written widely on the ŻZW and the Warsaw Ghetto, contributed a foreword to the new edition.
The uprising is the subject of numerous works, in multiple media, such as Aleksander Ford's film Border Street (1948), John Hersey's novel The Wall (1950), Leon Uris' novel Mila 18 (1961), Jack P. Eisner's autobiography The Survivor (1980), Andrzej Wajda's films A Generation (1955), Samson (1961), and Holy Week (1995), and Jon Avnet's film Uprising (2001). It was also portrayed in Marvin J. Chomsky's NBC miniseries Holocaust (1978) and Roman Polanski's film The Pianist (2002). The revolt was briefly featured in the fantasy film Highlander (1986), as well as in the novel Highlander: Zealot (1997) and the video game Velvet Assassin (2009). Joe Kubert's graphic novel Yossel imagines the conflict.
Original in Polish: PDF 1.86 MB.
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