Seventy years ago today,a group of young men and women fired the shots that began the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was an extraordinary act of courage in the face of certain death.
In 1940, the Nazis herded over half a million Polish Jews into a ghetto in Warsaw. The Nazis forced them to build a wall, and then sealed them inside, using them for slave labor and worse. Many began dying from cold, and disease from lack of proper medicines, then in 1942, the Germans began daily deportation to the death camp in Treblinka.
It was not easy to organize a Jewish resistance from inside the Ghetto wall under the extreme circumstances, but somehow guns and ammunition were smuggled in piece by piece, and an organized group of men and women dedicated to fight to the death were formed.
By early 1943, most Jews of the Ghetto had already been gassed. Those who remained were often young and alone, having lost their families. In January, 1943, Jewish fighters surprised the German forces entering the Ghetto with gunfire, and the Germans soon ceased the deportation. The Star of David and the Polish flag were raised side by side on the Ghetto’s tallest building. Three months later, the Germans set fire to the Ghetto. Those who did not burn in the fire were shot, or sent to concentration or death camps. When the Germans surrounded them, many of the fighters committed suicide.
The only way out was the sewers, and one young man, Marek Edelman, led the last surviving Ghetto fighters to freedom through the horrors of ancient sewers. They were trapped for days underground, and many died on the way. Only about 40 survived the terrible trip through the sewers. Edelman was the last living commander of the uprising, and after the war, he continued to fight the Germans with the Polish Communists.
After the war, Edelman became a cardiologist: “to outwit God”, as he once said. He is still celebrated as a hero in Poland.
((This information was taken from an article by Marci Shore, associate professor of history at Yale University.)