The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Poland 1943:
Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

May 27, 2013

Seventy years ago, from April 19th to May 10th, 1943, the Warsaw ghetto rose up. The Jewish population, which was penned up there by the Nazis, found the resources to rebel against the barbarism of which it was the victim.

In the month of April 1943, the ghetto had existed for almost four years. In September 1939, 360,000 Polish Jews were brought together. The population was crammed into a 2,200 by 650 yard rectangle, isolated from the rest of the city by a wall of eight feet in height. This was nine times the population density outside the walls. Many died of hunger, disease, the lack of health care, privations and forced labor, before suffering mass deportations toward death camps.

The Nazi regime, which knew that these conditions would stimulate revolt, supported itself on the underlying divisions in the Polish population. It encouraged anti-Semitism, which corrupted the relations between Jews and the majority Catholic Polish population, attempting to remove any support for the Jews. Inside the ghetto, the Nazis supported themselves on a Jewish Council, run by the richest men, to manage social life. Corruption reigned. Members of the police were recruited among the richest layers. Those who were part of these institutions had the illusion of being protected, up to the moment when they were exterminated.

During 1942, 310,000 men, women and children were deported to death camps. The order for the definitive liquidation of the ghetto population was given on August 5th.

Inside the ghetto, there were Zionist, Communist and Socialist (Bund) political movements. They set up a coordinating committee to organize the resistance army. Arms passed secretly into the ghetto, proving that outside support existed despite everything.

When the revolt broke out in 1943, there were no more than 40,000 people in the ghetto. Despite the German army sending tanks and armored cars and the destruction of buildings sheltering the insurgents, battles raged for days. In the end, there only remained 500 to 700 fighters, who took refuge in the sewers, with the army exterminating almost all of them. But during several more weeks, isolated fighters pursued the struggle until death.

The revolt was carried out by very young people, whose courage and tenacity surprised the German soldiers. Above all, it was carried out by militants the exact opposite of the office holders, with their illusions which led them to compromise with the occupation army. These militants, tied to the poorer part of the population, often defended socialist ideals, despite their differences.

In the worst of conditions, in the midst of world war, against the implacable apparatus of the German army and the Nazi power, the memory of the Warsaw ghetto fighters continues to testify that revolt is always better than submission. And when today Israeli officials use it to justify the crimes of their own army of occupation in Palestine, they insult the memory of the ghetto rebels.