In July 1942, the Germans began the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. By mid-September, more than 300,000 had been forcibly removed; most were murdered at the Treblinka death camp. In response to these deportations and to reports of mass murder in the east, some members of the ghetto’s Jewish underground formed a defense force known as the Jewish Fighting Organization or ŻOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bokowa).
Another such unit, called the Jewish Fighting Unit or ŻZW (Żydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy), was created by the Revisionist Party (right-wing Zionists). The ŻOB, under the command of Mordecai Anielewicz, recruited more members than the ŻZW, and made contact with the Polish military underground. Despite initial tension between the two groups, they decided to work together.
In January 1943, the Germans launched a second wave of deportations – the “January Aktion” – but the Jewish fighters were able to disrupt one of the roundups. A group of armed Jewish men planted themselves in a column of Jews being marched to the Umschlagplatz (assembly point) and, on a signal, attached the Germans escorting them. This was the first instance of Jews attacking Germans in the ghetto. Most of the resistors were killed and more than 5,000 Jews were deported in the next three days, but the ghetto fighters were heartened by this first act of armed resistance. Over the next three months, they made preparations for future combat. Ghetto inhabitants built underground bunkers and shelters, established fighting units, and obtained weapons.
The Germans picked April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover, to begin deporting the remaining Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. They entered the ghetto that morning to find the central area empty. The entire population had gone into the bunkers and hiding places. The Jews ignored German orders to come out and fighting erupted in the streets. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was underway and would last almost a month. On the third day, the Germans began burning the ghetto’s buildings, one by one, to force out those in hiding. On May 16, 1943, they burned the Great Synagogue on Tłomacki Street to signal their victory. Though the city lay in ruins, hundreds of Jews remained in the bunkers and some managed to escape to the “Aryan” side. SS General Juergen Stroop, the commander in charge of crushing the uprising, estimated that he captured more than 56,000 Jews and killed approximately 7,000. Almost all those captured were deported to camps.
In Israel and the U.S., the Holocaust is commemorated on Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is the 27th of Nissan in the Jewish calendar. This date was selected because it is around the time of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This year Yom HaShoah falls on Monday, April 17.