Underground markets. Escapes through sewers. Friends and neighbors defending their streets from tanks. On the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we look back on a WWII story rarely told, but just as heroic as the Landing at Normandy or the Battle of Britain. On 19 April 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto, a starving Jewish community facing deportation to concentration camps, resisted Nazi authorities in Warsaw, Poland. This was a rare and singular moment in which a Jewish community responded to the Holocaust with armed retaliation. Resistance fighters halted Nazi attempts to liquidate the Ghetto, and the once-quiet neighborhood quickly turned into a battlefront.
One of those resistance fighters was Malka Zdrojewicz, who, along with her friends the Wyszogrodzka sisters, used the sewers to smuggle arms and cross enemy lines undetected. It was the duty of many young girls in the Ghetto to smuggle equipment, relay correspondence, even sometimes fight. During the Uprising, Malka saw men, women, and children all contribute to turn the Ghetto turn into a war-machine. Basement factories made bread and ammunition. Makeshift hospitals traveled apartment to apartment. Teenagers navigated the maze of streets and helped deploy grenades. Malka threw flammable bottles at enemy troops while neighbors defended their homes with whatever weapons they had, down to stones and fists. Mordechai Anielewicz, a leader of the Uprising, said of the fight: “My life’s dream has become a reality. I have seen the Jewish defense of the ghetto in all its strength and glory.”
The Jewish community defended the Ghetto for four weeks. In the end, however, the Uprising was unsuccessful. Nazi forces brought in tanks and bomber planes that set the entire Ghetto ablaze. When the Uprising was over, 13,000 had been killed and over 50,000 deported to concentration camps. Malka and the Wyszogrodzka sisters were taken to the camp Majdanek. Of Malka and her friends, only Malka survived. While the suffering of the Ghetto was immeasurable, the Uprising became part of Poland’s heritage. In the words of survivor Zofia Korbonski, the resistance of the men, women, and children in Warsaw was “in accordance with Polish soul and heart.”
On this special anniversary, you can discover more about the survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and hear their incredible stories:
Voices from the Inferno, Testimonies from survivors