On April 19, 1943, a rebellion within the Warsaw Ghetto became one of the most lasting examples of Nazi resistance. The revolt, which lasted nearly a month, became known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
This year marks the 71st anniversary of the Uprising. During last year’s 70th anniversary commemoration, Yad Vashem made the significant anniversary a major focus of its Yom HaShoah memorials. The Holocaust trust put together a series of exhibits and testimonies to speak to the Uprising, in a program called “Defiance and Rebellion During the Holocaust.”
As part of that theme, Yad Vashem invited Peretz Hochman, a Warsaw Ghetto hero, to light one if its six torches at an opening ceremony. Hochman passed away the week before, just days before he would have participated. His widow Sima lit the torch in his memory.
Yad Vashem also put together an online exhibit for users, “Voices from the Inferno.” The exhibit included excerpts from video testimonials, first person accounts from former combatants, extensive photo coverage from the Uprising, a section on the last Passover in the Ghetto, and preserved artifacts to browse.
The virtual exhibit also included academic commentary, including an introduction by Dr. Havi Dreifuss, a senior lecturer of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University.
“In time, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising came to be one of the most well known events in the history of the Holocaust,” she wrote. “For both Jews and non-Jews this event has become the symbol of the desperate heroism and resolute struggle of the Jewish spirit.”
The Uprising followed months of deportations, which marked the second round of deportation for prisoners living within the Ghetto’s walls. Minor clashes broke out from January to April, the first instances of armed insurgency.
The night before the Passover holiday was set to begin, however, Jewish insurgents within the Warsaw Ghetto launched a systematic resistance. As SS guards entered to complete deportations, they were met with handmade grenades, Molotov cocktails and petrol bombs.
Hundreds took part, including women and children, participating in what they no doubt believed to be their last chance for survival against being taken to the camps.
Ultimately, the 27-day uprising resulted in 13,000 Jewish deaths. The remaining 50,000 were mostly sent to nearby death camps like Treblinka. Sixteen Germans were killed, and 85 wounded.
Though their ultimate fate was indeed deportation and, for most, death, the nearly month-long resistance was seen by many as a heroic sign of perseverance no matter how bleak the circumstances.