During 1942, the Nazis began night raids on homes within the Warsaw ghetto in order to carryout out deportations to Treblinka extermination camp. They also called on the Judenrat to provide lists of ghetto inhabitants for deportation. Those within the ghetto began to panic as a result of the rumours, from people deported to Warsaw from other ghettos, of mass killings at Treblinka and other extermination camps.
In July 1942, the SS increased the number of deportations. As a result Czerniakow, the Judenrat chairman, committed suicide. By the end of the summer some 300,000 Jews had been deported, more than 250,000 to Treblinka. Just 60,000 Jews remained in the ghetto.
In January 1943, the Nazis launched another campaign of deportations from Warsaw. During the spring of 1942, the young Jewish political activists had started to discuss armed resistance. However, they didn’t act until the majority of the Jews had been deported. The various Jewish defence groups had organised into a single ZOB fighting organisation led by 24 year-old Mordecai Anielewicz. They knew that they must fight to the death; the alternative would be certain death at Treblinka.
On the eve of Passover, the Jewish festival of freedom, 19 April 1943, the Germans began the final liquidation of the ghetto. The group of heroic young Jewish men and women, with very little ammunition, held out against a far superior German force. The Germans responded by systematically burning down the buildings. The Jewish defenders of the ghetto fought on for a month until the Germans finally succeeded in gaining control.
There were very few survivors.
As news of the Warsaw ghetto uprising spread, it served as an example for Jews in other ghettos and camps. There were many uprisings in the camps and ghettos of Eastern Europe.
Anielewicz died along with his people. This is an extract from his last letter:
‘I cannot describe the conditions in which the Jews are living. Only a few will hold out; the rest will die, sooner or later. Our fate is sealed. In all the bunkers where our comrades hide, you cannot light a candle through lack of air…The main thing in my life’s dream has come to be. I had the privilege of seeing the Jewish defence of the ghetto in all its greatness and glory.’
For Mordechai Anielewicz the very act of resisting, fighting back against the Nazi war machine was highly significant. The fact that the ghetto fighters had held out for a month against the brutality of the German Army was success itself.