'An honor in the annals of the Jewish people'

‘We won’t die as slaves’: Early account of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising emerges

Newspaper article on revolt, printed underground by Jewish resistance group and distributed in September 1943, describes ‘determined’ militia ‘fighting to the last’

In the heat of battle during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (Courtesy of the USHMM)
In the heat of battle during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (Courtesy of the USHMM)

One of the earliest accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, penned by a Jewish resistance journalist, printed by an underground press, and distributed during the Holocaust, was publicized on Thursday and will soon be put up for auction.

The release of the 76-year-old “Arbeiter-Zeitung” (Worker’s Newspaper) article came as Israel marked its annual Holocaust Remembrance Day, which coincides with the anniversary of the iconic revolt.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out April 19, 1943, on the Passover holiday,  when about 750 young Jewish fighters armed with just pistols and fuel bottles attacked a much larger and heavily armed German force that was “liquidating” the ghetto, meaning sending its inhabitants to the Treblinka death camp.

In their last testaments, the fighters said they knew they were doomed but wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing. They held out nearly a month, longer than some German-invaded countries did.

The remains of the Warsaw ghetto, which the German SS dynamited to the ground in 1945 after slaughtering some 60,000 Jews. (AP Photo)

The Germans razed the Warsaw Ghetto and killed most of the fighters, except for a few dozen who managed to escape through sewage canals to the “Aryan” side of the city. They blew up the Great Synagogue in a symbolic victory gesture.

To this day, the Jewish revolt endures as a powerful symbol of resistance central to Israeli national identity.

One of the earliest accounts of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, dated September 1943, was printed by the Jewish resistance “Arbeiter-Zeitung” paper (courtesy of the Kedem Auction House)

“In July 1942, the order came to ‘eliminate the ghetto,'” according to the Yiddish-language article dated September 1943, five months after the uprising. “The deportations and mass exterminations began immediately afterward. Of the 600,000 Jews who were crowded there, just 35,000 remained… the rest were exploited for various forms of forced labor.

“At the same time, those that remained were aware that their neighbors’ fate awaited them as well… The date was set for April 20, 1943. Their answer to the final decree was: ‘Enough. We won’t die as slaves.’

“When the SS came to carry out their abhorrent mission, they found themselves facing a determined and armed militia that was [willing] to fight to the last… destroyed houses transformed into fortifications, and reactions with fire and pride,” the article said. “The resistance continued for six days. To overcome the strong determination of the revolt, the Gestapo was forced to use cannons, tanks, flamethrowers.

“Dead Gestapo men lay on the streets, and many others were injured. They fought until their last bullets, and then they fell between the crumbling, destroyed houses of the ghetto.”

It concluded: “The battle in Warsaw is an honor in the annals of the Jewish people.”

The Arbeiter-Zeitung article said its writer was based in Switzerland. The printing address was in Grenoble, France, and was likely where the clandestine printing operations by the Poalei Zion group were centered, according to the Kedem Auction House.

An iconic image from the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, during which Jewish resisters temporarily staved the Nazis’ plans to deport the population to death camps (public domain)

The Jerusalem-based house said the article, and another account of the revolt dated October 1944, would be put up for sale next week.

In December, Simcha Rotem, the last surviving fighter of the uprising, died at the age of 94.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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