April 19, 2014 marked the 71st anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The Warsaw Ghetto was built in 1940; between July 22, 1942 and September 12, 1942, the Germans deported 6,000 Jews a day, many to the Treblinka concentration camp. The sheer numbers are staggering – upwards of 300,000. While the Germans tried to assure those remaining that the detainees were only being sent to work camps, word reached the ghetto that to be deported was certain extermination. An underground resistance organized, and began to acquire weapons, with some help from the Polish military underground, the Armia Krajowa or AK.
In January 1943 the Germans entered the ghetto again, but this time were met with resistance and withdrew. Those left began to build shelters and underground bunkers in anticipation of a German order to fully ‘liquidate’ the ghetto. On April 19, 1943, on the eve of Passover, and in honor of Hitler’s April 20 birthday, the Germans had planned to liquidate the ghetto in three days; Jewish resistance held the Germans at bay for nearly a month, until May 16. Though almost all those who fought died, and the ghetto was liquidated, the Warsaw ghetto uprising was a huge symbolic victory. I read someplace that those left in the Ghetto, finally decided if they were going to die anyway, they were going to die fighting. Thus the uprising was symbolically the most important Jewish uprising, and the first urban uprising, in German-occupied Europe.