Today in labor history, on May 16, 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising comes to an end as Nazi soldiers gain control of Warsaw, Poland’s Jewish ghetto, blowing up the last remaining synagogue and beginning the mass deportation of the ghetto’s remaining dwellers to the Treblinka extermination camp, according to history.com.
Shortly after the German occupation of Poland began, the Nazis forced the city’s Jewish citizens into a “ghetto” surrounded by barbed wire and armed SS guards. The Warsaw Ghetto had an area of only 840 acres but soon held almost 500,000 Jews in deplorable conditions. Disease and starvation killed thousands every month, and beginning in July 1942, 6,000 Jews a day were transferred to the Treblinka concentration camp. Although the Nazis assured the remaining Jews that their relatives and friends were being sent to work camps, word soon reached the ghetto that deportation to the camp meant extermination. An underground resistance group was established in the ghetto–the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB)–and limited arms were acquired at great cost.
On January 18, 1943, when the Nazis entered the ghetto to prepare a group for transfer, a ZOB unit ambushed them. Fighting lasted for several days, and a number of Germans soldiers were killed before they withdrew. On April 19, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler announced that the ghetto was to be cleared out in honor of Hitler’s birthday the following day, and more than 1,000 SS soldiers entered the confines with tanks and heavy artillery. Although many of the ghetto’s remaining 60,000 Jewish dwellers attempted to hide themselves in secret bunkers, more than 1,000 ZOB members met the Germans with gunfire and homemade bombs. Suffering moderate casualties, the Germans initially withdrew but soon returned, and on April 24 they launched an all-out attack against the Warsaw Jews. Thousands were slaughtered as the Germans systematically moved down the ghetto, blowing up buildings one by one. The ZOB took to the sewers to continue the fight, but on May 8 their command bunker fell to the Germans, and their resistant leaders committed suicide. By May 16, the ghetto was firmly under Nazi control, and mass deportation of the last Warsaw Jews to Treblinka began.
The resistance fighters killed some 300 hundred German soldiers. The Germans expected no resistance, but preparations to resist had been going on since the previous autumn. The ghetto was almost entirely leveled during the uprising, and according to the official report, at least 56,065 people were killed on the spot or deported to German Nazi concentration and death camps. There were Jewish survivors, including resistance leaders. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising stands a symbol of tremendous courage in the face of extraordinary brutality. As the inscription of one of the monuments at the site reads: “[f]or those who fell in an unprecedented heroic struggle for the dignity and freedom of the Jewish nation, for a free Poland, for the liberation of man – Polish Jews.”
Photo: Captured Jews are led by German Waffen SS soldiers to the assembly point for deportation to Treblinka. (CC)