Commemorating 70 Years Since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

When Nazi officers and policemen entered the Warsaw ghetto on the morning of Monday 19th April 1943, they found the streets strangely quiet. They had arrived to begin the final liquidation of the ghetto, sending all those still left in the area to Treblinka death camp or labour camps. The residents of the ghetto, however, had other plans.
The Germans were completely taken aback by a sudden attack on them by their prisoners, who had been hiding in buildings and underground bunkers. Two resistance groups - ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, 'The Jewish Combat Organisation') and ZZW (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy, 'The Jewish Military Union') - had been able to make contact with the Polish Home Army, and others, to smuggle weapons and ammunition into the ghetto. On the first day of the Uprising, the Nazi officers were so unprepared for the attack that they retreated from the area.

Although the chances of a successful revolt were always small, the Jews of the ghetto put up an amazing fight against their enemies. On the third day of the Uprising, the Germans took to razing the entire ghetto to the ground, to kill those inside buildings or drive them out. The fighting, however, continued for almost a month; German victory was symbolised by the destruction of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw on 16th May 1943. Nazi officers and policemen were killed alongside ghetto residents; the latter died either in battle or taking their own lives before the Germans had the chance. This included Mordecai Anielewicz, commander of ZOB, who committed suicide on 8th May 1943 when the Germans found the bunker in which he and his fellow Uprising leaders were hiding.

SS General Jurgen Stroop, who led the assault against the Ghetto Uprising, reported that 7,000 Jews had been killed during the fighting and a further 7,000 were deported to Treblinka, where most were gassed to death immediately upon arrival. Another 42,000 Jews that survived the Uprising were also sent to other concentration camps and forced labour camps. This included individuals and small groups who continued their fight against the Germans even after the destruction of the Great Synagogue.

Today, 70 years to the day since the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, church bells rang out and sirens sounded in Poland's capital, in memory of those who fought and died. A ceremony was held at the Ghetto Heroes Monument, which stands in the former ghetto, attended by government ministers from Poland and Israel as well as a few of the remaining survivors that were in the ghetto at the time of the Uprising. Prayers and speeches were made and flames burned on the statue's menorahs.

So, why should we remember such an event?

The first reason is its significant place in the history of the Second World War and of the Holocaust. It was the largest rebellion brought about by the Jews of Europe during this period and sparked uprisings in other ghettos and concentration camps, such as Sobibor. The Nazis believed the Uprising would be contained within three days; the Jews of the ghetto continued the fighting for almost 30.
More than that, however, those who gathered arms and fought against the Nazis probably knew that they would not make it out of the ghetto alive, and if they did, they would probably be murdered in a gas chamber soon after. But this did not deter them; they had chosen to die with dignity and honour by challenging their captors and tormentors, choosing to die with a gun in their hand rather than in the gas chamber of Treblinka. Furthermore, there were those who decided they would choose when to take their own lives rather than let the Nazis kill them first, so that they may not give their enemies the satisfaction of doing so. They showed courage, bravery and determination in the face of adversity and barbarity, and those that fought have taught us valuable lessons about standing up to those that try to oppress and belittle us. That is why the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising should be commemorated for as long as possible.

May all those that lost their lives during or because of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising rest in eternal peace.