On 22 July 1942, the Jewish Council of Warsaw published a Nazi notice to the ghetto, stating that almost all of its inhabitants would be deported to camps in the east, regardless of age or gender. Mass deportations began, and by 12 September 1942 approximately 300,000 of the ghetto’s inhabitants had been deported to the Treblinka extermination camp or murdered. Roughly 50,000 people remained in the ghetto.
When the deportations halted in September, the utter despair felt by many Jews throughout the mass deportations hardened into growing resistance. As the historian Emanuel Ringelblum, who was incarcerated in the ghetto, noted ‘it seems to me that people will no longer go to the slaughter like lambs. They want the enemy to pay dearly for their lives. They’ll fling themselves at them with knives, staves, coal gas…they’ll not allowed themselves to be seized in the street, for they know that work camp means death these days’ [The Journal of Emanuel Ringelblum, Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto, Jacob Sloan (ed.) (McGraw-Hill Book Company, USA, 1958), p.326].
Inhabitants of the ghetto had heard rumours of the extermination camps operating in the east, and many guessed what fate awaited them. Determined not to be taken to their deaths, preparations were made to resist the Germans should any more deportations take place. These preparations were led by a variety of resistance groups, such as the Jewish Combat Organisation and Jewish Military Union.
At 6am on 18 January 1943, deportations from the ghetto were resumed. As the Germans began to gather Jews, the remaining inhabitants in the ghetto surprised the Nazis by defying orders, hiding, and putting up an armed resistance. Several Nazi soldiers were injured, and, by 21 January 1943, the deportations ceased. Between 5000 and 6500 Jews were taken to be deported to camps in the east.
Following this resistance, Jews built bunkers and hideouts for a defensive battle, assuming that the Nazis would soon retaliate. They continued to collect weapons and bullets through connections with the Polish underground, and prepared for an attack.
On 19 April 1943, the Nazis began their attack, led by SS General Jürgen Stroop. Within fifteen minutes, Jewish fighters retaliated, many with handmade weapons, initially forcing the German troops to retreat on the first day.
The Nazis changed tact, and slowly destroyed the ghetto, building by building, forcing Jews remaining in hiding to appear or be killed. 27 days after the initial April attack, on 16 May 1943, the uprising was crushed by the Nazis, and the ghetto destroyed. The 42,000 survivors of the uprising were deported to concentration camps and extermination camps in the east.
Whilst the uprising ultimately failed, it was an extremely significant display of resistance from Jews in Warsaw. It delayed the Germans timeline of deportations, and inspired other resistance movements across the German-occupied areas.