Warsaw Ghetto Uprising - Revolt against the Nazis led chiefly by Zionist groups in
1943, by Mordechai Anielewicz of
Hashomer Hatzair. This was one of several Zionist
resistance operations organized during the
revolt was organized by the ZOB - Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (English: Jewish
Fighting Organization), though fighters of another group, the Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy (ZZW) also took part. The ZOB was formed in October of 1943, when it became apparent that the Nazis intended to
liquidate the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto, and the only option was manful resistance.
Another Jewish fighting organization, Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy (ZZW), a centrist group
affiliated with the Polish Armia Krajowa, the underground army of the Polish government in exile in London, tried at
first to get Jews to break out of the ghetto and join the Polish army in London.
In early 1943, ZOB managed to
contact the Armia Krajowa and to obtain some arms. The Poles were reluctant to sell arms to Jews, and skeptical that
they would use them. The commander wrote:
After all, Jews from all kinds of
groups, including Communists, are turning to us and asking for arms as though our depots were full. By way of experiment
I gave them a few revolvers. I have no assurance whatsoever that they will use these arms at all. I will not give them
any more arms, because, as you know, we have none ourselves, we are waiting for a new consignment. Inform us what
contacts our Jews have with London.
Yad Vashem Archives, O-25/93.
* This message was sent by General Rowecki, Commander of the AK, to the Polish Government in London on January 4, 1943.
AK Armia Krajowa Fatherland Army: the military arm of the Polish Underground under the orders of the Government-in-Exile
Actually, the arms were sold and not
The fact that ZOB included leftist
groups associated with the USSR did not help. ZOB got about 10 or 20 pistols, not all services and some other small arms
in various shipments. Contacts were maintained through
In January 18, 1943, Anielewicz led an initial Warsaw ghetto uprising. It was sparked by a planned deportation. ZOB
fighters infiltrated the columns of deportees. On signal, they began shooting and other violent resistance. The Germans
"only" managed to deport about 5,000 Jews, and the ZOB considered this a "victory." It is not clear that the Germans had
intended a larger deportation, but the success gained the attention of the remaining ghetto fighters and some support
from the outside world.
Anielewicz and his fighters hid Jews
in underground bunkers. On April 19, 1943, the final Nazi deportation began. The ZOB and ZZW began resistance, and
managed to take a heavy toll of the Nazis. Nazi SS General Stroop wrote:
The number of Jews brought out from
the houses and held during the first few days was relatively small. It proved that the Jews were hiding in the sewer
canals and in specially constructed bunkers. Where it had been assumed during the first days that there were only
isolated bunkers, it proved in the course of the Grossaktion that the whole ghetto had been systematically provided with
cellars, bunkers and passageways. The passages and bunkers all had access to the sewers. This enabled the Jews to move
underground without interference. The Jews also used this network of sewers to escape underground into the Aryan part of
the city of Warsaw. There were constant reports that Jews were attempting to escape through the sewer holes... How far
the Jews' precautions had gone was demonstrated by many instances of bunkers skillfully laid out with accommodation for
entire families, facilities for washing and bathing, toilets, storage bins for arms and ammunition, and large food
reserves sufficient for several months. There were different bunkers for poor and for rich Jews. It was extremely
difficult for the task forces to discover the individual bunkers owing to camouflage, and in many cases it was made
possible only through betrayal on the part of the Jews.
After a few days it was already clear that the Jews would under no circumstances consider voluntary resettlement, but
were determined to fight back by every means and with the weapons in their possession. Under Polish-Bolshevik leadership
so-called fighting units were formed which were armed and paid any price asked for available arms....
...While at first it had been possible to capture the Jews, who are ordinarily cowards, in considerable numbers, the
apprehending of the bandits** and Jews became increasingly difficult in the second half of the Grossaktion. Again and
again, fighting units of 20 to 30 or more Jewish youths, 18 to 25 years old, accompanied by corresponding numbers of
females, renewed the resistance. These fighting units were under orders to continue armed resistance to the end and, if
necessary, to escape capture by suicide.
One such fighting unit succeeded in climbing out of the sewer through a manhole in so-called Prosta [Street] and to get
on to a truck and escape with it (about 30 to 35 bandits)...
During the armed resistance females belonging to the fighting units were armed in the same way as the men; some were
members of the He-Halutz Movement. It was no rarity for these females to fire pistols with both hands. It happened again
and again that they kept pistols and hand-grenades (Polish "egg" grenades) hidden in their bloomers up to the last
moment, in order to use them against the men of the Waffen-SS [military unit of the SS], Police and Wehrmacht.
Anielewicz's last letter
In his last letter, Anielewicz wrote:
April 23, 1943
It is impossible to put into words what we have been through. One thing is clear, what happened exceeded our boldest
dreams. The Germans ran twice from the ghetto. One of our companies held out for 40 minutes and another for more than 6
hours. The mine set in the "brushmakers" area exploded. Several of our companies attacked the dispersing Germans. Our
losses in manpower are minimal. That is also an achievement. Y. [Yechiel] fell. He fell a hero, at the machine-gun. I
feel that great things are happening and what we dared do is of great, enormous importance....
Beginning from today we shall shift over to the partisan tactic. Three battle companies will move out tonight, with two
tasks: reconnaissance and obtaining arms. Do you remember, short-range weapons are of no use to us. We use such weapons
only rarely. What we need urgently: grenades, rifles, machine-guns and explosives.
It is impossible to describe the conditions under which the Jews of the ghetto are now living. Only a few will be able
to hold out. The remainder will die sooner or later. Their fate is decided. In almost all the hiding places in which
thousands are concealing themselves it is not possible to light a candle for lack of air.
With the aid of our radio we heard the marvelous report on our fighting by the "Shavit" radio station. 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 of
Jewish men in battle.
Ghetto, April 23, 1943
[M. Kann], Na oczach swiata ("In the Eyes of the World"), Zamosc, 1932 [i.e., Warsaw, 1943], pp. 33-34.
* Written to Yitzhak Cukierman.
The ghetto was finally destroyed on May 16, 1943, but scattered resistance actually continued
until June 5, 1943.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest and most
famous of the uprisings, but it was certainly not the only one nor the first.
Uprisings occurred in most of the Nazi Ghettos (see Ghetto).
The resistance and heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt mark a tragic period in Jewish history and in the annals of the
Zionist organization, which could do little to help itself and its members from inside Europe, and only slightly more
from outside, through organization of revolts such as these, organization of
parachutists to drop behind enemy lines and help Jews and allies, and
organization of the illegal Aliya Bet immigration, as well
as fighting in the Jewish Brigade.
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Mordechai Anielewicz Hebrew/Arabic pronunciation and transliteration conventions:
'H - ('het) a guttural sound
made deep in the throat. To Western ears it may sound like the "ch" in loch. In Arabic there are several letters that
have similar sounds. Examples: 'hanukah, 'hamas, 'haredi. Formerly, this sound was often represented by ch,
especially in German transliterations of Hebrew. Thus, 'hanukah is often rendered as Chanuka for example.
ch - (chaf) a sound like "ch"
in loch or the Russian Kh as in Khruschev or German Ach, made by putting the tongue against
the roof of the mouth. In Hebrew, a chaf can never occur at the beginning of a word. At the beginning of a word, it has a dot in it and is pronounced "Kaf."
u - usually between oo as in spoon
and u as in put.
a- sounded like a in arm
ah- used to represent an a sound made by
the letter hey at the end of a word. It is the same sound as a. Haganah and Hagana are alternative
'a-notation used for Hebrew and Arabic
ayin, a guttural ah sound.
o - close to the French o as in homme.
th - (taf without a dot) - Th was
formerly used to transliterate the Hebrew taf sound for taf without a dot. However in modern Hebrew there
is no detectable difference in standard pronunciation of taf with or without a dot, and therefore Histadruth and
Histadrut, Rehovoth and Rehovot are all acceptable.
q- (quf) - In transliteration of
Hebrew and Arabic, it is best to consistently use the letter q for the quf, to avoid confusion with similar sounding
words that might be spelled with a kaf, which should be transliterated as K. Thus, Hatiqva is preferable to Hatikva for
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