A wreath being laid at a memorial site in Warsaw, Poland for those killed in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (Photograph circa 1947. Photo Credit: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archives.)
On April 11, 2018, Yom Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Israel, along with six other countries (including the United States which celebrates April 12), recognizes Holocaust Remembrance Day. On this day, we remember the six million Jews who were murdered by Nazi Germany in one of the largest mass genocides in history. This day was picked in honor of the largest Jewish led uprising during the Second World War. Between April 19 – May 16, 1943 the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto joined together and resisted the Nazi’s effort to liquidate the ghetto. When the Jews refused to surrender to the SS, Commander Jürgen Stroop ordered the complete destruction of the ghetto. About 13,000 Jews died during the uprising and about half of them either burned alive or suffocated in the fires.
With the establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto in 1940, there were about 300,000-400,000 Jews concentrated there. Due to the conditions that the Germans placed on the Jews, many in the ghetto died from disease and starvation before the mass deportations began. Between July 22- September 12, 1943 around 265,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka or murdered in the ghetto. About 35,000 Jews were granted permission to continue to stay in the ghetto to work, while another 20,000 remained hidden. For the 55,000 Jews that remained in the ghetto, deportation seemed inevitable. On April 19, 1943, the revolt began as the German SS entered to deport the remaining Jews to other labor camps or killing centers.
There were two main resistance groups that fought in the uprising. One group was the left-wing Zydowsha Organizacja Bojowa (ZOB), which was founded in 1942 and was made up of Zionist Jewish youth groups that had been established throughout the Ghetto. The second group was a right-wing organization called Zydowski Zwiazek Wojsicow (ZZW). The ZZW was founded in 1930 by Polish military officers from Jewish backgrounds, which developed strong ties to the Polish Home Army. Both organizations were eventually incorporated into the Polish Home Army and its command structure in trade for weapons and training. About 500 ZOB and 250 ZZW fighters joined together in their efforts to defeat Nazis.
On April 19, 1943, SS officers entered the ghetto on the eve of Passover to liquidate it. When they entered the streets, they were deserted and all the resisters were hiding or in bunkers. On the first day of the uprising, the Jewish fighters used their weapons to force the Nazis out of the ghetto, killing 12. By the third day, the SS had set the ghetto ablaze in order to force out the remaining Jews. The SS were able to break the resistance within days; however, many individuals and small groups continued to fight for almost a month. In all, 7,000 Jews were killed during the uprising, 7,000 sent to Treblinka to be gassed upon arrival, and the remaining 43,000 were sent to labor camps.