Histomat: Adventures in Historical Materialism

'Historical materialism is the theory of the proletarian revolution.' Georg Luk√°cs

Thursday, January 08, 2009

The End of the Warsaw Ghetto [1943]

'The battle of the Warsaw Ghetto lasted for forty-two days and nights, beginning on the first Seder night, April 19, 1943...on that first night all of the forty thousand Jews still left in the ghetto after the wholesale deportations and massacres, went out to fight with weapons in their hands...
The next morning the Germans opened the great battle. The ghetto was surrounded on all sides by tanks and cannon which subjected it to enormous fire. The Germans were determined to bombard the ghetto until it surrendered. In this, however, they failed. The German tanks and cannon were showered with bullets and bombs from the houses and streets of the ghetto. The special suicide squad of the Jews broke through the lines and wrought ruin among the enemy. Disguised in German uniforms they crawled under the German tanks and blew them up with hand grenades, losing their own lives in the fire which killed the Germans. Such was the havoc wrought by this method that the Germans were careful not to place groups of cannon behind tanks. Thus passed the day of the desparate battle. The Germans realised that they would not be able to vanquish the ghetto without heavy sacrifice. Hundreds of German soldiers lost their lives and splinters of German tanks and guns were mingled with the debris of ruined houses at the gates of the ghetto.
The German command then issued an order to have the whole ghetto blown up by incendiary bombs. A night of inferno then descended on the ghetto. All night incendiary bombs rained on it and fires broke out in many places. Houses came crashing down and among their ruins were heard the cries of wounded men, women and children. Many brave fighters perished among those ruins.
In the morning the ghetto stood in a sea of flames. The survivors, numbering some 30,000, began reorganising for defence. The houses on the outskirts were vacated and the arms taken to the centre of the ghetto. Also the food which could still be saved was taken away. Special squads of the fighters fortified themselves again in the remaining buildings. When the enemy again attacked in the morning, he was confronted by stiff and desparate resistance at every step, near every building. The battle lasted all day long, and the Germans had to fight for hours before capturing a single house, even if it but was a ruin. In the evening the Germans managed to penetrate deeper into the ghetto and to capture a few of the taller buildings.
After the Night of Inferno and the ensuing battles on the following morning the leaders of the ghetto saw that the end was near unless no new methods of warfare could be devised. They tried to reach an understanding with the Polish Underground and suggested that the non-Jewish population of the city rise against the Germans thus forcing the Germans to fight on both sides. But the Poles replied that the time had not yet come for a general uprising on their part. Under these circumstances the fighters of the ghetto abandoned their defence tactics for acts of terror and revenge. Groups of fighters went out of the ghetto, attacking and killing German soldiers. The Jewish heroes fought the Germans until they themselves were killed. Other fled to the woods and joined the Polish guerrillas. Many perished on the road, fighting German soldiers. Many others surrendered to the Germans, having hand grenades hidden in their clothes with which they later killed their guards, losing their own lives in the explosions.
After a few more days of fighting the Germans realised that they would have to contest every house in the ghetto. Every building now became an even more fortified stronghold. Whenever Germans appeared in front of a house they were fired on from the windows, from the garrets, from the roof, until they managed to blow up the house, and its heroic defenders perished in the ruins. In the last house were gathered all those who had survived and were still carrying on the fight. During the last few days the situation was horrible. There was hardly any food left and water could not be brought in because it was impossible to go out on the street. The Nazis committed terrible atrocities, bringing captured Jews and hanging them on the posts of the ghetto and otherwise exceeding their own record for brutality in all the years of their occupation.
On the forty second day of the uprising there was only one four-storey building left in the centre of the ghetto over which the blue-and-white flag waved. For eight hours a battle raged over that house and by midnight the Germans captured it. Every floor, every step was hotly contested. When all defenders at the gates fell, the Germans entered the building, encountering the fierce resistance of those on the ground floor. When the first floor was taken, the second floor was contested just as desparately, and so on from floor to floor. The blue-and-white banner held by a young halutz was carried by the survivors from floor to floor. Late at night it fluttered from the top story where a desparate struggle was still going on.
When the shooting was over a crash was heard. The young halutz hurled himself down wrapped in the blue-and-white flag which he had guarded for forty two days and nights. The flag was red with the blood of the martyr, the last fighter of the ghetto, who ended his life in this heroic manner.
The next morning the Germans "triumphantly" announced that the ghetto of Warsaw no longer existed. Thousands of German soldiers paid for that "victory" with their lives. The heroes of the ghetto fought and died like saintly martyrs.'

[From The Extermination of 500,000 Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: The American Council of Warsaw Jews and American Friends of Polish Jews, 1944).

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