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The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out on this date in 1943, months after an initial and brief armed uprising in January had delayed a Nazi roundup of Jews for the death camps. The Jewish Fighting Organization contained representatives of Hashomer Hatzair, the Bund, the Polish Workers-Communist Party, Halutz (Pioneers), and others, and was led by Mordechai Anielewicz, a 23-year-old Socialist Zionist who had helped create the unified group. The fighting broke out in the early morning as Nazi troops entered the ghetto, which had been reduced to 70,000 inhabitants from nearly half a million, in order to proceed with a final deportation. The resistance drove the Germans back with serious losses, and several long days of bombardment and street-to-street fighting ensued, with German tanks, artillery and planes arrayed against pistols, hand grenades and Molotov cocktails. On May 8 the Jewish central command post was attacked and the partisan leaders, including Anielewicz, committed suicide or were killed. General Jurgen Stroop, assigned with crushing the Uprising, wrote to Berlin in an early report, “We are doing everything we can to combat the Jewish bandits . . . Day and night . . . They surrender only when they no longer have strength to resist . . . They prefer to remain in burning buildings rather than surrender.” On May 16th Stroop reported to his superiors that “the Jewish section of Warsaw no longer exists.” A total of 631 hidden bunkers had been destroyed. Yet partisan skirmishes continued until mid-July, and some Jews survived and continued to fight the Nazis in the forests.
“I feel that great things are happening and what we dared do is of great, enormous importance. . . . The fact that we are remembered beyond the ghetto walls encourages us in our struggle. Peace go with you, my friend! Perhaps we may still meet again! The dream of my life has risen to become fact. Self-defense in the ghetto will have been a reality. Jewish armed resistance and revenge are facts. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting . . .” —Mordechai Anielewicz, letter, April 23, 1943
From the Jewish Currents Archive: An excerpt from Emanuel Ringelblum’s Warsaw Ghetto Diary
Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.