The month-long Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on April 19, when Nazi authorities in Warsaw began the final “action” to remove all Jews from the ghetto to the death camps at Treblinka and Auschwitz. It was the culmination of a process of increased restriction, isolation, persecution, starvation, and deportation that had begun with the German occupation over three years earlier. By April of 1943, Warsaw’s Jewish community, which had been Europe’s largest and most vibrant before the war, had been reduced to a tiny, increasingly concentrated remnant.
Beginning with a brief account of the German invasion of Poland and the start of World War II, the author presents an overview of Jewish life in Warsaw during the interwar period. He then proceeds to a description of the new and different existence which evolved from German occupation, emphasizing the unenviable actions of Adam Czerniakow, the chairman of the Judenrat, the Jewish organization created and appointed by the Nazis to enforce their policies against the Jews. Czerniakow had committed suicide rather than participate in the first massive deportation which began in June of 1942. In the months following the first deportation, as all hope vanished when Jews realized they had been deceived by German reassurances, the Jewish fighting organization known as ZOB took form. This organization, led by Mordecai Anielewicz, consisted mainly of young Jewish men and women of different political and religious opinions and practices, who were energized by their desire to reject traditional Jewish passivity and take up arms as a means of redeeming Jewish honor and its spirit of resistance against insurmountable odds.
The heroic actions of the Jewish fighters of the Resistance demonstrated to the world that the submissive, passive image of the Jews was wrong. They were instead the young warriors who inspired the fighters who played a vital role in the creation and maintenance of the State of Israel. The importance of Jewish resistance is demonstrated in the name of Israel’s most important memorial day: Holocaust and Resistance Day. Gutman’s book is an invaluable account of the victory of the human spirit over unimaginably deplorable conditions, and is indispensable in maintaining our collective memory of the Holocaust.