What was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The "final solution" that eliminated Jewish people was not something immediate.  It took time.  Over that period of time, Nazi leaders issued directives and orders that called for the elimination of Jewish people who lived in designated ghettos. In October 1942, Heinrich Himmler authorized the liquidation of all remaining people in the Warsaw Ghetto.  It was in this backdrop that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was a response to the Nazi embrace of "the final solution."  Jewish resistance forces who lived in the ghetto very clearly understood that their fate was not to be sent to work camps or to simply live as slave labor for the Germans.  Jewish resistance forces recognized that they were going to be eliminated.  Some of these resistance forces armed themselves with pistols.  Upon being seized by German forces who though they were escorting defenseless Jewish people, they shot at German soldiers who were in charge of transport.  At the same time, many organized underground bunkers and escape routes that could be accessed in order to evade German troops who sought to liquidate the remaining members of the ghetto.  Members of the Jewish resistance surrounded Nazi officers with grenades and pistols. The uprising consisted of challenging Nazi officers in an almost guerrilla warfare type of manner.  Naturally, Nazi officers were able to crush the resistance, liquidating the ghetto and everything and everyone in it.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was important for a couple of reasons.  The first was that it spoke to how Jewish people actively displayed resistance during the Holocaust.  The narrative of the Holocaust is one in which history tends to focus on how victimization happened without any type of defiant action.  The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising challenges this notion.  Additionally, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising demonstrated how the Nazis recognized that the ghettos were no longer sustainable.  From events such as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, extermination in camps such as Treblinka became understood as Nazi policy.  It was at this point when there was a sad acceleration of the killing in the Holocaust. 

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moustacio | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 1) Valedictorian

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The occupation of Poland by the German troops brought Warsaw, the capital city of the country , under the authority of the Nazi government, which enforced their rule through the General Government. Under the Nazi Jewish policy, Polish Jews were segregated from the Polish population and forced to move into ghettoes located in the poorer and older areas of the city, where they were to live as separate communities and to be utilised as slave labour for important heavy industries needed to sustain the German war machine. Housing, sanitation and the public facilities available in such ghettoes were poor or inadequate and Jewish families were often compiled to share a room with each other in cramped living conditions. The ghettoes were, however, never meant to be a permanent solution to the Jewish problem. As evidently witnessed in the implementation of the Final Solution, the Nazis aimed to create a Germany and Europe that was Jew-free and thus sought for the total elimination and extermination of the race enemy.

The uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto was led by the Jewish Combat Organisation or the ZOB and was one of the first instances of Jewish armed resistance against mass deportations in German-occupied Europe. The organisation itself was established by several Jewish underground resistance groups in response to information filtering into the ghetto that Jews who were being deported were being gassed to death in huge numbers in death camps, rather than being sent to work in labour camps as purported by Nazi officials. As orders were dropped from the higher authorities to liquidate the ghetto and to have all its Jewish residents deported, resistance forces emerged to resist against the destruction of the ghetto by German troops. Despite being severely outnumbered and outgunned, the ZOB were able to disorientate the German forces sufficiently enough for liquidation efforts to be halted temporarily. The strong resistance put up by the Jewish fighters also forced the Germans to adopt a systematic policy of burning the ghetto down to force the remaining Jews out of hiding and prolonged fighting for over more than a month. While most of the resistance fighters were eventually captured, deported or shot, their efforts inspired other Jews to stand up against the Germans in other ghettos, such as Bialystok and Minsk.  

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