SS assault troops capture two Jewish resistance fighters pulled from a bunker during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The original German caption reads alternately: "Pulled from a bunker" or "Bandits."
THE WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING 1943
The Warsaw insurgency started in January, 1943 with sporadic fighting by barely armed Jews. By the end of January the Ghetto was actually controlled by two armed Jewish organizations, one led by Mordechai Anielewicz, of Hashomer Hatzair, and Zivia Lubetkin (who survived the uprising) and the other led by Dawid Mordechaj Apfelbaum, a former officer in the Polish army. As Passover began on April 19th, Himmler's birthday present to Hitler also began, with thousands of German, Polish and Ukrainian forces attacking the Ghetto in force. The Nazis moved in at 4 a.m. spreading throughout the Ghetto. They occupied the entire Ghetto within 4 hours, believing that their extermination of the Jews could begin with ease. One can imagine their anticipation of a massacre of helpless Jews. Then, at the intersection of Mila and Zamenhofa Streets, the insurgents struck with a single captured machine gun, ample small arms fire, and many Molotov cocktails. The Germans were completely routed by the Jewish insurgents by 2 P.M., providing Hitler with a major embarrassment for his birthday.
The next day the German, Polish and Ukrainian forces moved in again and took part of the Ghetto, taking their revenge on those left behind in the Jewish hospital. I guess if they can't beat armed insurgents, they needed to make themselves feel manly by murdering infirm hospital patients. Shows how cowardly Nazis are.
The Jews counter attacked and drove the Nazis back once again. The next day the German general decidded to set fire to the Ghetto in an attempt to burn the problem. But the uprising continued, though more as a guerilla war rather than the pitched battles of the first two days of Passover. Mordechai Anielewicz was killed by a German assault on May 8. On May 16th the Germans declared victory over the now completely destroyed Ghetto. But attacks and assassinations continued as the Jews refused to give up. Fighters continued to exchange gunfire with Germans all the way into September. In October the rubble of the Ghetto was removed, leaving nothing behind.
But even after that, Jewish survivors of the 1943 Warsaw uprising, including Zivia Lubetkin, participated in the wider, predominantly Polish uprising in August 1944.
The bodies of Jewish resisters lie in front of the ruins of a building where they were were shot by the SS during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The original German caption reads: "Bandits killed in battle."
THE UPRISING IN BRIEF
On April 19, 1943 the Nazis decided to wipe out the ghetto completely.
The move sparked an uprising by hundreds of young Jews who decided to fight rather than face near-certain death in the Nazis "Final Solution".
The revolt lasted for almost a month, as 3,000 Nazi troops battled the insurgents and burned down the ghetto.
The Nazis marked their "victory over the Jews" by blowing up Warsaw's main synagogue on May 16.
Around 7,000 Jews died in the revolt, most of them burned alive, and more than 50,000 were deported to the death camps.
Estimated Nazi losses were 300, dead and injured combined.
A German gun crew in action during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
HOW THE BBC REPORTED IT
1943: Germans crush Jewish uprising
All resistance in the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw has ended after 28 days of fighting.
In his operational report, the local SS commander, Brigadier Juergen Stroop, said the uprising began on 19 April when SS, police and Wehrmacht units using tanks and other armoured vehicles entered the ghetto to take Jews to the railway station for transportation to concentration camps.
They were repelled by Jews using homemade explosives, rifles, small arms and "in one case a light machine-gun".
He said his troops were involved in pitched battles day and night with groups of about 20 or 30 Jews - both men and women.
"On April 23 Himmler issued his order to complete the combing out of the Warsaw ghetto with the greatest severity and relentless tenacity. I therefore decided to destroy the entire Jewish residential area by setting every block on fire."
The last battle ended with the destruction of the Great Synagogue today.
Jewish leaders had sent their own reports of the situation during the fighting.
On 28 April the Central Committee of Jewish Labour and the Jewish National Committee in Poland sent a desperate message to the National Council of Poland in London.
It said the SS and German Army have laid siege to the ghetto, attacking the 40,000 remaining Jews with artillery, flame-throwers, high explosive and incendiary bombs.
They have also planted mines in buildings known to harbouring Jewish fighters, while German guards block large drain pipes that have served as escape routes.
"The ghetto is burning," read the message, "and smoke covers the whole city of Warsaw.
"Men, women and children who are not burnt alive are murdered en masse." It said the Jews managed to kill or wound about 1,000 of the enemy and burned down factories and warehouses.
There was an appeal for an immediate response from the Allies. "It is imperative that the powerful retaliation of the United Nations shall fall upon the bloodthirsty enemy immediately and not in some distant future, in a way which will make it quite clear what the retaliation is for."
A second message sent on 11 May said the resistance was nearly over.
Jews captured during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are led by the SS to the Umschlagplatz for deportation. The original German caption reads alternately: "To the Umschlagplatz" or "Deportation of Jews."
AN PERSONAL ACCOUNT
The endgame of the Nazi soldiers in Warsaw was brutally clear: "By 1945, there will not be one Jew left in Europe." Yet, as the residents of the city's Jewish Ghetto began their desperate, doomed 27-day uprising against systematic slaugher, one young woman hiding in a lice-infested, bomb-blasted bunker bagan to record a diary of the last days.
The fate of the woman, thought to have been in her late teens or early twenties, remains unknown. This is her account.
Saturday, April 24, 1943
Quiet until 12 o'clock. "Alert", the Germans are inside our house. It went peacefully. We continue sleeping. Our daily schedule is backwards. We sleep during the day, and cook and eat at night. We're in an air-raid shelter. A deep silence prevails within. It's 8 o'clock. Steps are heard outside. Someone knocks on the judasz [camouflaged opening]. For several moments, there is enormous apprehension.
The people knocking are Mr Rosenheim and Miss Sonia, who warn us that the building is going up in flames. We open the tanks of water and pour it on the apartments above us. We look out the window and see how the ghetto is burning, enveloped in flames.
Monday, April 26, 1943
The house on the Zamenhof Street side, where people were hiding, is also burning. People are escaping and coming to us. It looks like the disaster is drawing near. The shelter is crowded, and many more want to get in. They bang on the door. The people shout and argue. Everyone wants to get into the hiding place. It's hard to give permission to enter.
Because of the smoke and stench, staying in the basement becomes almost impossible. We seal cracks in the door with strips of paper.
I want to go to my brother, who is in another bunker in the second yard, but it's too far and too dangerous.
The air in the basement is terrible. People are nearly choking. Many faint, lose consciousness. The situation is dire. Sleep is not feasible because of the danger of choking.
Tuesday, April 27, 1943
The people who came from other bunkers have no food. They quarrel a lot and make noise. The following decision was made: each day a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee will be distributed to each person. The portions will be distributed by the oldest, those who cook the food.
At 6am everyone lay down in the beds, if you can call them beds. A small boy was put into my bed. He was very restless, throwing himself around in his sleep, to the point that I had pains in my side but, thank God, the day passed quietly.
Suddenly, a bang, an uproar, terrible noise. A hand grenade exploded nearby. The people rise but a deep silence prevails. The enemy is surrounding our house, searching for us.
Day 10 (evening)
Wednesday, April 28, 1943
This is our 10th day in the bunker, 10 days of struggling with our blood-thirsty enemy who intends to annihilate us. [The enemy] started the fighting with grenades and tanks and is finishing it by torching houses. We must survive and hope that we will survive. We are fighting for justice and for the right to live.
Thursday, April 29, 1943
It was a dangerous night. At 4pm, the enemy threw a grenade into our basement. The results were grave. A hole gaped in the front wall. They say that the enemy has buried a bomb. Our neighbour, Sowa, had the same kind of night. At his place, the hand grenade lifted the roof. Thank God, everything ended all right. Today was ordinary [normal]. The level of hygiene is "extremely high".
It won't be possible to exist for a long time in our basement. The air is terrible, lice and overcrowding dominate everything. What else can be done? To leave and risk our lives? Or perhaps die here?
Friday, April 30, 1943
The day passed as usual. There was great apprehension during the night. The enemy is searching for us everywhere. Listening, knocking, circling around us. Our main defence – deepest silence.
Day 14 (morning)
Sunday, May 2, 1943
Our activities begin with cleaning the blood in front of our hiding place. The Germans found people who were living in our house and demanded that they reveal the entrances to the bunkers. Happily, these people knew nothing about it.
I am on guard duty. I have two hours ahead of me. I'll sketch the layout of our bunker, with all the entrances. The idea of building the bunker came up only after the action in January.
We always thought that we had to be well hidden. Even those with papers and authorisations [Ausweis] who appeared on the street during an action, were taken. Only those who hid remained. For this reason, the building of bunkers became common.
The work continued day and night with great fervour. Bunks, floors and stairs were made. A well was dug. The wood needed for building was taken from the [abandoned] apartments. The building continued for six weeks. During the construction, food stores were also prepared for the future. We paid for all this with our health and our nerves, but it's not worth elaborating on that.
To reach our bunker, a hidden aperture must be opened, and this is located in the left wall of the building. The dimensions of the aperture are 30cm x 45cm. After it is opened, you must descend to a depth of 90cm, pass through half a metre in a stooped position and descend several steps, and then you are in our hiding place.
Friday, May 7, 1943
Five difficult and tragic days have passed. In this short time, we have had many experiences. Our living conditions were difficult from the moment we entered our hideaway and they became worse since we have taken in 45 people. Most of them had no food.
At midnight on Monday, the electricity was cut off. We are now faced with a serious problem: how will we cook? We do not have stoves connected to a chimney. The bunker leaders deliberated this problem for three days and, in the meantime, arguments broke out. Brother fought with sister, friend fought with friend and they all fought among themselves. Hunger skipped no one.
The quarrelling was so loud that the echoes were probably heard outside the bunker. The situation was terrible, and dangerous as well.
The emotional state of the people is dreadful. Some of them lie on the ground unconscious. The most vulnerable are the children. We have already been through three days without hot food.
In the end, the problem of the kitchen was solved. But it is preferable to avoid addressing someone in order to maintain the silence because every question brings offensive and coarse replies. The people in the bunker are behaving without courtesy and consideration.
The night was horrific. There was terrible irritability. I witnessed a shocking event when Jews were removed from the bunker in a neighbouring house.
During my night guard duty I lay next to the judasz and listened to conversations going on outside. The conversation between the Germans, full of irony and sadism, made my body go cold and my blood boil. Yes, the Germans are certain that they are justified. We are considered murderers and they want to present themselves as the epitome of morality and humanity. Descriptions of the blind hatred towards us, the persecuted and tortured, made me feel as though salt was being spread on my open wounds. Their words always ended with coarse laughter.
Wham! Boom! The enemy is shooting machine guns and throwing grenades into the bunker. The bunker is partially covered with an avalanche of rubble. The people inside are acting courageously. With complete serenity, they look death in the face.
In silence, we honour the death of the people who are burning in the flames. The Germans are shooting every Jew that they find or taking and burning the bodies on the bonfire in the community courtyard at 19 Zamenhof Street. Hitler's devotees, his dedicated servants and hangmen, who obey their leader's orders, execute everything in accordance with the order which states that in 1945 there will not be a single Jew left in Europe.
Today, silence reigned for a long time. We lay on the bunks until late in the evening after four days of hunger. Everyone was satisfied because we ate something and went to sleep in a better mood.
The appearance of these people, whose cheeks were already sunken, improved, their eyes brightened and a spark of life was once again discernible within them. Now everyone believes that he will be able to hold on.
Surprisingly, we have light again, the electricity is back. Maybe the sun will also shine for us. It's really about time. We are cut off from the entire world, helpless and relying only on our own powers. No one talks about rescue. We are extending our existence with great effort.
Our lives are extremely threatened now, the danger is constant. The living standard is very low. The people are half-naked, dressed in rags, running around morosely on the stone floor. They can't live and they can't die.
I am amazed that in such conditions we have succeeded in surviving for three weeks. We know very well what kind of action this is because they announced it in advance. This is the extermination of Warsaw Jewry and, afterwards, our end.
The Germans usually attacked us at night. Now they are expanding their attacks to the daytime as well. We must maintain absolute silence on our bunks so that the enemy will not discover us.
I am going out into the street. The streets – Mila, Zamenhof, Kurza, Nalewki, Lubecki – all are on fire. Workshops, apartments, stores, entire houses are burning. The ghetto is nothing more than a sea of flames.
A very strong wind is blowing, which fans the fire and carries the sparks from the burning houses to those that have not yet caught fire.
The fire destroys everything. The sight is horrifying, shocking. The fire spreads so quickly that people cannot escape from the buildings and they perish tragically.
People with bundles run from house to house, from street to street. There is no salvation; no one knows where to hide. They search in desperation but there is no deliverance, no refuge, death rules everything.
The walls of the ghetto are surrounded. No one goes out and no one comes in. Clothing is burning on people's bodies. Screams of pain, sobbing. Everyone wants to be saved, everyone tries to save his own life.
People are choking from the smoke. All are begging for help. Most of them, almost all of them, cry out to God: "God, show your power, have mercy on us." God is as silent as a Sphinx and does not answer. And you, the nations, why are you silent? Don't you see that they want to annihilate us? Why are you silent?
Despite the danger, Jews are running through the streets just to save their lives. Everything is engulfed in fire. It looks like the end of the world has come. "Save yourselves if you can!" The situation is horrifying, terrible. Everyone wants to be saved. Hell has come to earth. Dante's Inferno – it cannot be believed and it cannot be described.
A new day is beginning. With the new day, there is a deathly silence. People are in their corners without food or water. A cemetery in flames. The sound of metal falling and of burning walls collapsing is heard.
The ghetto is burning for the fourth day. All we see are chimneys standing and the frames of the houses that burned down. In the first moment, this spectacle arouses a shudder of horror: yes, this is the work of Hitler's vandals, who hope that the entire world will look this way. There is no doubt that they will not succeed in this.
In our thoughts, we return to the past. We've lost many things. The only thing left to us is our hiding place. Of course, it is not a safe place.
We live the day, the hour, the moment.
A woman hangs from a balcony, preparing to drop to the street and the waiting SS.
The SS-men lay in wait for the fighters and civilians forced out of their bunkers by fire, gas, and a lack of water.
SS troops wait at the end of a smoke-filled street for Jewish resistance fighters to exit apartment buildings set on fire on the fourth day of the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
A German gun crew prepares to shell the ruins of a building during the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
Jews are found in a bunker during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in May 1943.
Nazis guard an opening in the ghetto wall with a machine gun during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1943.
The April 28 edition of the Voice of Warsaw (a publication of the Warsaw Committee of the Polish Workers' Party) reported, "The SS thugs set ablaze entire blocks of flats in order to force the population to come out of hiding...the water, gas, and electric supplies were cut off...."
One of the most famous pictures of the Holocaust. German storm troopers force Warsaw ghetto dwellers of all ages to move, hands up, during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April-May 1943.
Jews captured during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are led by German soldiers to the assembly point for deportation.
SS officers interrogate a captured resistance fighter during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which began on April 19, 1943, and ended on May 16, 1943. SS troops suppressed the uprising under the command of General Jürgen Stroop.