The largest Jewish ghetto set up by Nazi Germany was in Warsaw, also known as the Warsaw Ghetto. It was built between October and November 1940 where over 400,000 Jews were forced to “live” on a surface of 3.4 km2. Because of the lack of food, hygiene and the regular deports to concentration camps, the ghetto population has decreased to 70,000. In 1943 several revolts started in the ghetto and the most significant one was on April 19.
The straw that broke the camel’s back
At the beginning of 1943, the SS Reichsführer, Heinrich Himmler gave an order to demolish the Warsaw Ghetto and all its inhabitants would be deported to the Treblinka concentration camp. Until then, most Jews abstained from an armed uprising mostly because of their religious beliefs. However, when the last deportations began, a few hundred young Jews decided to face their destiny with weapons. They armed themselves with guns, bullets and improvised bombs but it wasn’t enough. In March 1943, The Jewish Fighting Organization has signalled the problem to the Polish Underground State: they had 49 guns and ammunition only for 36.
On April 18, after four months without any deportations, the German troops entered the Warsaw Ghetto to organize a new deportation. During the procedure, almost 600 Jews were shot. This was probably the final trigger for The Jewish Fighting Organization. They started to revolt and they achieved a first success by expelling German troops and taking control of small areas from the ghetto. Meanwhile, the armed confrontation hastened Himmler to order the demolition of the ghetto.
The revolt lasted three weeks
The next day, German troops arrived to the ghetto, with the plan to complete the deportation, but they encountered unusual resistance. Young Jews knew how weak are their chances because of the lack of food and weapons, but they ambushed the German troops with Molotov cocktails and hand grenades. The Germans suffer 59 casualties and two of their combat vehicles were set on fire. It was unacceptable for the Germans to lose a battle with some young Jews without weapons, so they planned to organize a better ground attack (initially Sammern-Frankenegg proposed a bomber aircraft). Somehow the Jews managed to resist until May 8. This day is known as the beginning of the end for Jewish resistance.
Several prisoners were forced to reveal hiding places, leading the German troops to discover the hideout of the Jewish Fighting Organization. The Germans killed almost all of the members from the organization. Terror was a too small word for the Jews and made some of them to commit group suicide. The ghetto was in flames, in the ditches Jews were thrown and buried. The revolt had ended
Warsaw Ghetto is completely destroyed
Jurgen Stroop, the SS fuhrer responsible with the suppression of the revolt, reported that 56,065 Jews were killed and very few survived during the uprising. When the revolt was over, the Germans destroyed the ghetto. According to Himmler’s desire, the ghetto was shaved from the face of the earth. About 3,500 workers have fulfilled Himmler’s desire, finishing the entire job in approximately one year.
Jewish resistance against Nazi crimes was almost absent. Despite the fact that stories from extermination camps circulated, most of them hardly believed the possibility of a mass extermination plan. However, when newspapers started to write about the Hitler’s extermination plans, local uprisings started to take place. The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the biggest from the Holocaust.