April 19, 2023 marks the 80th Anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising – when the Jews of Warsaw took up an armed struggle against the occupying Nazi Germans. On that day, they showed their bravery amidst no hope for victory. Facing annihilation, they chose to die with dignity. We invite you to learn more about history by reading the article prepared by Collegium Civitas student Ms. Kinga Boćkowska.
The 19th of April is a remarkable day in Polish history – it’s the day (80 years ago) when the Jews of Warsaw took up an armed struggle against the occupying Nazi Germans. On that day, they showed their bravery amidst no hope for victory. They sought revenge and dealt as much retribution as possible against their perpetrators. Facing annihilation, they chose to die with dignity.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest Nazi ghetto during World War II. It was established in 1940 and held approximately 460,000 Jews. The living conditions were deliberately unbearable – with Nazi officials intentionally attempting to eradicate the ghetto population, through limiting food and medical supplies. The daily food rations in 1941 were limited to just 184 calories and as the years went by, this fell further to 177 calories per person.
It is important to consider the incredible actions taken by the men, women, and children imprisoned in the ghetto and how they risked their lives while taking part in smuggling and illegal trade. This was often the only way to survive, to obtain the necessary supplies and food for ghetto inhabitants, that would otherwise die of starvation.
In July 1942, the Great Deportation “Aktion” had commenced. Within a few months nearly 300,000 Jews had been taken to the extermination camp at Treblinka. In response to these mass deportations, the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB) was established on 28th of July 1942 – its members initially included activists of the left-oriented youth. Later, communists and socialists joined the cause as well.
This organisation played a crucial role in the Ghetto Uprising, when 2000 Nazi German soldiers entered the Ghetto. Upon entering, these soldiers were faced by approximately 300-500 ŻOB members divided into 22 militant groups led by Mordechaj Anielewicz, who later became a symbol of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
The fighting began at the two intersections of Gęsia and Nalewski street and Miła and Zamenhofa street, where ŻOB members were launching pre-made grenades and Molotov’s / petrol-bombs at the approaching German units. An armed struggle between ŻOB and German soldiers continued for only the first few days of the Uprising, due to the shortage of weapons and ammunition. The ŻOB insurgents were required to hide in bunkers and basements, whilst organising frequent raids on the Nazi Germans. These bunkers and basements involved extreme conditions – they were often overcrowded, lacking access to fresh water and food, with extremely high temperatures and with minimal or no fresh air. People hiding in these places often had no contact with the “outside world” for many days.
In the aftermath of the Uprising, the area of the ghetto was razed to the ground. The Nazis began burning the Ghetto to force the Jews out of their hiding spots – some victims were buried underneath the buildings’ ruins, and the rest were forced to step outside and were either killed on the spot or deported to the labour camps. Jürgen Stroop, who led the Nazi German forces during the Uprising wrote in his report that his soldiers had captured or killed over 56,000 Jews and located 631 bunkers, 36,000 people were deported to Nazi labour camps. It is important to keep in mind that the numbers provided from the German side may have been exaggerated, however, these are the only official reports that were issued. Nevertheless, it reflects the enormous scale of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the bravery of its participants.
There are many symbols to represent the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and one of the most important of these, are Daffodils. They are associated with Marek Edelman, who was the last commander of the ŻOB. Every anniversary of the Uprising, he would receive yellow flowers from an anonymous sender and place them at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw and other sites associated with the extermination of Jews. This inspired an unofficial tradition of celebrating the Uprising with daffodils. Many years later, the POLIN Museum organised a campaign called “Daffodils,” with the aim of educating people and reminding them about the horrific events that happened in Warsaw during World War II.
Ultimately, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is an extremely important historical event, not only from the perspective of Poland. It shows the dedication, bravery, and honour of imprisoned Jewish people and serves as a lesson to us all about the cost of freedom.
By: Kinga Boćkowska