"A nation can survive its fools, even the ambitious. But it cannot survive treason from within. An enemy at the gates is less formidable, for he is known and carries his banner openly. But the traitor moves against those within the gate freely, his sly whispers rustling through all the alleys, heard in the very halls of government itself. For the traitor appears not a traitor; he speaks in accents familiar to his victims, and he wears their face and their arguments, he appeals to the baseness that lies deep in the hearts of all men. He rots the soul of a nation, he works secretly and unknown in the night to undermine the pillars of the city, he infects the body politic so that it can no longer resist. A murderer is less to fear." ... Roman statesman and political theorist Marcus Tullius Cicero

Thursday, February 10, 2011

The Warsaw (Poland) Ghetto Uprising - a truly heroic epic

WARNING - There are graphic photos in this article

"War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse."

"The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself."

--John Stuart Mill, (1806–1873) was a British philosopher and civil servant. He was an influential contributor to social theory, political theory and political economy. His concept of liberty justified the freedom of the individual in opposition to unlimited state control.

Hitler’s final solution, the extermination of all Jews, was progressing smoothly until the time came to eliminate the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. Even that went smoothly at first.

Between July and September 1942, Nazi authorities deported or murdered about 300,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. SS and German police agencies deported 265,000 to the Treblinka killing center and 11,580 more to forced-labor camps. Another 10,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto itself during deportation proceedings.

Germans granted 35,000 Jews permission to remain in the Ghetto and another 20,000 stayed behind in hiding. Only 55,000 to 60,000 Jews were left alive.

Two Jewish self-defense organizations formed in 1942 in an effort to halt the deportations and genocide - the Jewish Combat Organization, (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or ZOB and the Jewish Military Union, Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy or ZZW.) Their goal seemed unattainable with a mere 750 fighters opposing the entire German war machine. Nevertheless, during the summer of 1942, the ZOB established contact with the Polish military underground movement known as the Home Army. There they obtained a small number of weapons, mostly pistols and explosives, from Home Army contacts.

German SS and police units tried to resume mass deportations of Jews from Warsaw on January 18, 1943. A group of Jewish fighters, armed with pistols, infiltrated a column of Jews being forced to the Umschlagplatz (transfer point) and, at a prearranged signal, broke ranks and fought their German escorts.

Most of these Jewish fighters died in the battle, but the attack sufficiently disoriented the Germans to allow the Jews arranged in columns at the Umschlagplatz a chance to disperse. After seizing 5,000-6,500 ghetto residents to be deported, the Germans suspended further deportations on January 21. Encouraged by the apparent success of the resistance, which they believed may have halted deportations, members of the ghetto population began to construct subterranean bunkers and shelters in preparation for an uprising should the Germans attempt a final deportation of all remaining Jews in the ghetto.

A few victims of Hitler's genocide.

The Germans wanted to begin liquidation of the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover. But when SS and police units entered the ghetto, the streets were deserted. Nearly all of the residents had gone into hiding places or bunkers. The renewal of deportations was the signal for the armed uprising within the ghetto.

Armed with pistols, grenades (many of them homemade), and a few automatic weapons and rifles, the ZOB fighters emerged from their bunkers and stunned the Germans and their auxiliaries on the first day of fighting, forcing the German forces to retreat outside the ghetto wall. German commander SS General J├╝rgen Stroop reported losing 12 men, killed and wounded, during the first assault on the ghetto. On the third day of the uprising, Stroop's SS and police forces began razing the ghetto to the ground, building by building, to force the remaining Jews out of hiding. Jewish resistance fighters made sporadic raids from their bunkers, but the Germans systematically reduced the ghetto to rubble.

Though German forces broke the organized military resistance within days of the beginning of the uprising, individuals and small groups hid or fought the Germans for almost a month.

Eventually, the Germans won the battle over the Warsaw Ghetto and 42,000 Jews were deported to such notorious killing centers as Tteblinka, where 7,000 Jews were gassed to death almost immediately on their arrival. Most of the remaining 35,000 Jewish survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising were sent to Lublin/Majdanek, Poniatowa, Trawniki, Budzyn and Krasnik forced labor camps. All were eventually murdered.

Instead of the three days the Germans estimated it would take to ship all the ghetto residents to killing centers, the stiff resistance held out for more than 30 days and even after that individual Jews hiding in the ruins of the ghetto continued to attack German patrols.
Most of the statistics in the above came from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

The United States has fielded one of the most formidable armies in world history. An army many feel it would be useless to resist should they ever be turned against our own citizens. What good would a pistol or hunting rifle be against heavy armor, artillery, tanks and jet fighters, they ask rhetorically? Perhaps the answer can be found in the sheer courage and heroism of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance movement and in the website,
What good is a handgun against an Army?

Remember, the German Army in WWII was also formidable with tanks (panzers), a state-of-the-art air force, artillery and an extremely well trained force of foot soldiers. Yet a force of only 750 Jews, armed mainly with handguns, held that army at bay for more than 30 days. Imagine if there had been 100 such groups…



1 comment:

  1. Inspiring story, powerfully written. Thank you for sharing it, I had often wondered if any such Jewish resistance to the Nazis took place.