Battle for the Warsaw Ghetto
Report from the Jewish Workers Underground Movement
22 June 1943
What follows is an excerpt from a report by the Jewish Labour Underground of Poland, which reached the American representatives of the General Jewish Workers Union of Poland – the Bund – through underground channels via London. It is dated 22 June 1943.
A characteristic trait of this new extermination campaign waged by the Germans against the Jews is armed resistance on the part of the Jews. During the previous wave of extermination such acts of armed resistance were seldom dared. Once in a while we would receive word about such desperate deeds from one small town or another. Now the entire situation has changed radically. The leading role is being played by the Ghetto of Warsaw.
The first clashes on the streets of the Warsaw Ghetto occurred from 19 until 23 January 1943. That was the beginning of the battle between the armed German Police, SS men and the Jewish Armed Resistance Organisation, which made its first appearance at that time. The January clashes were an embarrassing surprise for the Germans, and were very promising for the future – a prelude of events to come.
Unfortunately lack of space prevents us from describing the historic events that occurred in the Warsaw Ghetto after the January clashes with the precision and esteem that even the smallest detail deserves. This must and shall be done at some future date.
The fight between the Jews and Germans in April and May 1943, that which has been termed the “Battle of Ghettograd” (Ghettograd – reminiscent of the stubbornness of Stalingrad), eclipses everything that has ever occurred in the annals of the Jews or any other people. The methods and means of the fighting, forced on the belligerents by the special circumstances in the Ghetto, varied in accordance with the various phases of the Battle.
The heart-breaking picture of the Ghetto in flames – shrouded in smoke, the noise of machine guns, cannons, field artillery, mine explosions, the destruction of blocks of buildings, the hell that was unleashed on our people – will forever remain in our memory. No man of letters, no painter will ever be able to recreate the greatness of the events we witnessed, nor the emotions that overwhelmed us during those tragic and historic days.
The Battle that began on 19 April lasted about a month, however, even at the end of May there was still some resistance.
The backbone of the entire battle was the Jewish Armed Resistance Organisation, which led the people into the fight. The organisation is the armed body of the Co-ordinating Committee, which comprises an equal number of representatives of the Bund and the Jewish National Committee. Neither the Revisionists (a Zionist Group), nor the Agudah (religious Jews) belonged to the Jewish Armed Resistance Organisation.
The Revisionists organised a small “Organisation for vengeance,” of their own which ceased to exist after the second day of the Battle. Workers and youth formed the majority in the Jewish Armed Resistance Organisation. The youngest was Lusiek, thirteen years of age, a member of the Bund youth group, Skif the oldest member of the organisation was forty.
All the members of the resistance organisation were idealists, adherents of various political trends. Their fraternity in battle (Bundists, Chalucym, Shomrim and others) was exemplary. The general attitude of the inhabitants of the Ghetto towards the idea of resisting the Nazis changed radically from what it was a year ago.
It would be wrong and unjust to presume that the heroic spirit and determination of the defenders of the Ghetto was but a result of despair. Many a fighter had ample opportunity to rescue himself by leaving the Ghetto. However, the fighters were full of a noble sense of duty, a soldier’s duty, of a powerful desire to carry on the fight for honour, for human dignity.
They were anxious to take revenge on Fascism, on the enemy of their people, on the enemy of mankind. The precautions of the Germans bordered on cowardice. The prolonged heroic resistance of the Ghetto banished the legend of the invincibility of the German Army, showed the Polish nation its vast possibilities in resisting the Nazis and strengthened its self-reliance. The “Jewish – German War” lent strength to the splendid spirit of resistance against the Germans, with which the Polish Underground had already been marked.
Being perfectly aware of this situation, the Germans gave vent to their rage and fury by turning the entire Ghetto into one mass of ruins. On the fifth day of the Battle, the Jewish Armed Resistance Organisation published a manifesto addressed to the Polish Underground, and to the inhabitants of our capital, conveying greetings from the Jewish Underground fighters.
Various sectors of the Polish Underground Labour Movement immediately responded with messages of solidarity and admiration. On the whole, the attitude of the Polish Underground towards the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto was marked with respect for the fighters and with esteem for their daring.
However, this attitude varied in accordance with the different viewpoints on the Jewish problem of the various parts of the Polish Underground. The capital city of Poland, as well as the entire country, seethed with excitement because of the Battle of the Ghetto.
During the Battle the Co-ordinating Committee of the Bund and the Jewish National Committee issued daily communiqués on the Battle, which appeared in Polish clandestine publications and were broadcast abroad by the Polish clandestine radio station Swit.
The result of the Battle was: several thousand Jews were killed, burnt alive, suffocated by gas and about twenty-five thousand were deported to the concentration camps of Trawniki, Poniatow, Majdanek and Lublin.
Only the ruins of buildings, destroyed by mines, cannons and fires remain where the Ghetto once stood. The Warsaw Ghetto is now one big cemetery. Somewhere in the catacombs hundreds and perhaps thousands of those who survived the battle are still living in agony.
Only two days ago, for example, a thirteen – year old boy appeared from this subterranean world with a message dated 10 June, informing us about “life” in the modern catacombs. The entire bombardment of Warsaw in 1939 caused the destruction of 75,000 homes, while the present Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto ended with the destruction of one hundred and several thousand homes.
Read more here: http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/revolt/warsawbattle.html
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Copyright Carmelo Lisciotto H.E.A.R.T 2011