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July 14: Escape through the Sewers of Warsaw

July 13, 2015

gueto03The sole woman within the high command of the Jewish Fighting Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Zivia Lubetkin died in Israel at age 61 on this date in 1976. Born and raised in Poland, Lubetkin was a leader in the leftwing Zionist youth movement and was one of the brave young Jews who left the Russian-controlled area of Poland and entered the German-controlled area to help organize the Jewish community to exit for Palestine and, ultimately, to take up arms against the Nazis. In January 1940, Lubetkin reached Warsaw, where she became responsible for negotiating with the Joint Distribution Committee and the Judenrat on behalf of the families within her movement, and organized several innovative projects to provide members with work, an income and a social milieu that would keep at bay the disintegration of mental health in the ghetto. Lubetkin was one of some three dozen fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to survive the war: leading her comrades through the sewers of Warsaw on May 10, 1943, three weeks after the Uprising began; she also took part in the general Warsaw Uprising in 1944. After the war, she worked within communities of Jewish survivors to help channel illegal immigrants to Palestine, where she herself went in 1946. Lubetkin married Yitzhak Zuckerman, another hero of the Warsaw Gehtto, and together they founded Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta’ot and its Ghetto Fighters’ House museum. Lubetkin testified at the war-crimes trial of Adolf Eichmann in Israel in 1961.

“The day before they were discovered by the Germans, the [Jewish Fighting Organization] command, located at 18 Mila Street, decided that Lubetkin should set out in order to find a connection to the outside via the sewage tunnels that led to the Aryan side. On May 10, 1943 she went through the sewers with the last of the fighters. To the end of her days she was haunted by the thought that she had abandoned her remaining friends to certain death.” —Tikva Fatal-Kna’ani, Jewish Women’s Archive