The 74th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Before the war Warsaw was in 1/3 a Jewish city.

Wide getto
Jan Jagielski

We walk around the streets of Muranów in the April sun. We can hardly imagine that 74 years ago the bloodiest fights of the ghetto uprising took place here. We look at photos that present burning buildings and we cannot believe that ghetto fighters were jumping of these buildings choosing death in fight. We read diaries written in bunkers in April and May 1943 and even more we cannot understand how possible was the existence of such atrocities that affected hundreds of thousands of Polish Jews, residents of our city.

Before the war Warsaw was in 1/3 a Jewish city. From the beginning of the occupation it was decided to isolate the Jewish population. A few months after the war broke out, already in December 1939, Jews were ordered to wear on right shoulder white armbands with a blue Star of David. The next step was to designate an area where Jews had to live. The Jewish district was marked as at risk of typhus epidemic. Approximately 115,000 Poles had to move out of the area, while from Praga and other parts of Warsaw transferred were about 150.000 Jews.

On the 15th of November 1940 the ghetto was closed. On area of 307 ha (which accounted for 2.7% of the area of Warsaw)370,000 Jews were imprisoned.

In 1941, in the Warsaw ghetto there were already about 500,000 Jews, concentrated here from small towns. On the 22nd of July 1942 began deportation of Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp. As part of the so-called big liquidation of the ghetto action until the 15th of September 1942, 300,000 people have been transported.

On the 18th of January 1943, the German police undertook in the Warsaw ghetto another deportation campaign. However encountering resistance of the Jewish Combat Organization groups on 30 Gesia Street and on the corner of Dzika and Niska streets, the Germans withdrew from carrying out deportations.

On the 19th of April 1943, at dawn, into the ghetto through the gate on Nalewki Street entered the SS troops. At the corner of Nalewki and Gęsia and Zamenhof and Mila, the Jewish Combat Organization fighters attacked the Germans with grenades. Surprised Germans began to withdraw from the ghetto, and the command was taken by the general Jurgen Stroop. Here is how the first day was recalled in “Conversations with an Executioner” the interviewee of Kazimierz Moczarski, Jurgen Stroop:

On the 19th of April 1943, at dawn, into the ghetto through the gate on Nalewki Street entered the SS troops. At the corner of Nalewki and Gęsia and Zamenhof and Mila, the Jewish Combat Organization fighters attacked the Germans with grenades. Surprised Germans began to withdraw from the ghetto, and the command was taken by the general Jurgen Stroop. Here is how the first day was recalled in “Conversations with an Executioner” the interviewee of Kazimierz Moczarski, Jurgen Stroop:

The first day of fights was for us extremely hard. (…) The tank and two armored cars I placed behind the front line and I ordered to surround them with infantry of the SS. However a few bottles of gasoline were thrown at them. These fighters, which threw cocktail shad to be Jewish-trained athletes, because the distance was considerable, and the bottles spattered near the tank and cars.

In February and March of 1943, fighters of the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Association conducted a few actions in the Warsaw ghetto. In result a few German policemen and SS-men were killed. In March, members of the Jewish Military Association set fire to the SS warehouses at 31 Nalewki St, and a group of Jewish Combat Organization set the fire under the brush machines at Umschlagplatz.

In the following days fierce fight in glasted in a reasof shops at streets: Leszno, Nowolipie, Nowolipki and Smocza, and also at Muranowski Square. Despite the heroic struggle of the insurgents,the Germans managed to score next bunkers, burn apartments and kill found Jews. The drama of the ghetto fighters’ struggles, their determination and heroism describes another excerpt from the Moczarski’s book:

I have repeatedly seen these facts: a Jew jumped from the burning walls. His clothing was already caught fire. Movements and gestures of a crank. Grimy face. Hair matted and partly burned. He waited for a moment. He breathed with hot but fresh air. When he saw us,he shouted something, shook his hand, he made an obscene gesture, he shot to the SS-man with his gun and went back into the fire. He preferred such death,in his walls,in his red-hot crematorium, than to get into our hands.

After the German planes dropped incendiary bombs on the ghetto, the Jewish insurgents came out by canals to the Aryan side near Ogrodowa 8. On the 8th of May, the Germans wont he bunker at Mila 18. Its commander was Mordechai Anielewicz. Commander of the Jewish Combat Organization head quarters with a group of hiding with him Jews committed suicide. The commander of the German troops recalls the day in the passage:

It was a quite large and well-fortified underground shelter. It had several entrances and connections to the sewage system and the labyrinth of underground communication tunnels built by Jews. Battles for the bunker were long and heavy.The Jewish Combat Organization fighters have been furiously defending themselves, and my soldiers felt insecure in close combat.

Responsible for the bloody suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was Jurgen Stroop. In his raport (known as Stroop Raport) he noted a significant sentence:Es gibt keinen jüdischen Wohnbezirk in Warschau mehr!On that day not only the Jewish district in Warsaw, but also one of its most important buildings The Great Synagogue at Tłomackie St ceased to exist. The destruction of the synagogue was a symbolic act of triumph over the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is how Jurgen Stroop recalls that day:

In this situation I decided to end the Big Action on the 16th of May 1943 at 8:15 P.M. A beautiful official closing of the Great Action was blowing up the Great Synagogue at Tłomackie Street. The preparations lasted for 10 days. Its interior needed to be emptied out and hundreds of holes for explosives were drilled in the foundations and walls. The synagogue was a solid building. Thus, to blow it up with only one explosive, sapper and electric works had to be conducted.

And in the next part here is how he describes the last breath of the ghetto:

From the painting and theatrical perspectives – a phenomenal view! We stood with my staff quite far from the synagogue. The officer of sappers, responsible for correct blowing up of the synagogue, handed me through Max Jesuiter, atriggered with an electric engine wiring simultaneous detonation of explosives in the walls of the synagogue. Jesuiter ordered a general silence. In the glow of burning buildings stood my tired and grimy brave officers and soldiers. I prelonged the waiting moment. Suddenly, I called out Heil Hitler! and pressed the button.

A terrific explosion brought flames right up to the clouds. The colors were unbelievable. An unforgettable allegory of the triumph over Jewry. The Warsaw Ghetto has ceased to exist. Because that is what Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler wanted.

What results from the report of Stroop, in the uprising murdered or caught and transported to camps were 56,065 Warsaw Jews:

Stroop thought to himself. (...) To 56,000 add more or less 10,000 suicides, burned, poisoned by futes in holes, crushed, etc. and 2,000 up to 3,000 caught or killed after the 16thof May, 1943, and moreover add approximately 2,000 Jews captured by our police units outside the walls of the ghetto, on the „Aryan” side of Warsaw and suburban neighborhoods.

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