Today marks the 78th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on 19th April 1943.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest Jewish insurrection during World War Two, and the first urban insurgency against the Nazis in occupied Europe. The heroic uprising continued for 2 weeks, until 16th May, however it was ultimately doomed, with almost no outside military support.
The cost to the Jewish residents of the Ghetto was devastating, almost 13,000 lost their lives during the uprising, while the surviving Ghetto residents, estimated to be around 60,000 were transported to death camps.
Lightly armed, and unarmed Jewish insurgents and militants confronted heavily armed German troops. Unfortunately the heroic act of defiance and resistance was doomed to failure with the odds of the insurgents success being close to zero.
The Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto considered that they had no other option than armed resistance against the brutal Nazi occupiers. The Jewish Combat Union (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB) and the Jewish Military Association (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ŻZW) were established to organise the resistance movement.
On 18th January 1943, the Germans commenced a major deportation operation of the Ghetto Jews, but it was met with stiff opposition by ŻOB. The ŻOB resistance helped delay the deportation of the ghetto inhabitants, which gave more time to plan and prepare the later uprising. The ŻZW and ŻOB suffered heavy losses (including some of their leaders), the Germans also took casualties, and the deportation was halted within a few days. Only 5,000 Jews were removed, instead of the 8,000 originally planned.
On 19th April 1943, German troops entered the ghetto to complete the failed deportation operation. This happened on the eve of the feast of Passover. About 500 ŻOB fighters stood against the German forces. Initially, the insurgents were successful, effectively holding the German advance into the Ghetto. Unfortunately, but not unexpectedly, the German’s regained the offensive initiative, gradually overcoming the brave defenders, plundering buildings and killing many resistance fighters.
Surviving fighters and thousands of remaining Jewish civilians took cover in the sewer system and in the many dugout hiding places hidden among the ruins of the ghetto, referred to as “bunkers” by Germans and Jews alike. The Germans used dogs to detect such hideouts, then usually dropped smoke bombs to force people out. Sometimes they flooded these so-called bunkers, set fires or destroyed them with explosives.
The suppression of the uprising officially ended on 16 May 1943, when Stroop personally pushed a detonator button to demolish the Great Synagogue of Warsaw.
Learn More about the Ghetto Uprising and the Daffodil Campaign
The Museum of History of Polish Jews (POLIN), became the centre of remembrance events, however this year, due to the pandemic, the events are largely online.
In 2021, events also commemorate Jewish women who participated in the uprising. In various parts of Warsaw, volunteers will distribute daffodils to passersby. If you are not residents of the capital, you can download a ‘daffodil campaign’ template’ for your social media profile picture, from the POLIN Museum website. ‘The most important thing is remembering the fallen and not allowing history to repeat itself again.’
Yellow daffodils have become a symbol of tribute to the fighters. Marek Edelman, the last leader of the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB) for many years commemorated his fallen comrades with these yellow flowers. It was his gesture that started the tradition we continue today.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is not the Warsaw Uprising
Many confuse the ghetto uprising in April-May 1943, with the city wide Warsaw Uprising which took place in August-October 1944. The heroism of the brave residents of Warsaw in both uprisings, and the devastating consequences and repercussions for the city and it’s residents, are a dark chapter in Europe’s history.
A Scot in Kraków. The founder and editor of Kraków Expats Directory, and our sister site Kraków TV www.krakowtv.pl.
David fell in love with Kraków 23 years ago, making it his home in 2011. In 2020 he was awarded the title of Kraków’s Ambassador of Multiculturalism, by the President of Kraków.
We’re always looking for interesting stories, events, characters or groups to feature. Likewise, if you’d like to join us, as a contributor, please get in touch.