This wrte-up is split in two parts. In chronological order the first one deals with the Uprising of the inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto. The second one deals with the Polish Uprising in Warsaw (also dubbed the Warsaw Uprising) that happened a few months later and culminated with the Soviet invasion of the city.
Part I - The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1942-1943)
"I ask nothing of the Jews except that they should disappear" *
The Warsaw Ghetto was founded in October of 1940 soon after the German occupation of the capital of Poland. Over 400,000 people were imprisoned behind the 10 feet barbed wire walls, which enclosed an area deemed suitable for only 160,000 people. Conditions in this settlement were so unbearable that on average in-between 300 and 400 Jewish "citizens" died each day from disease, starvation and malnutrition. The Jews were effectively worked to death in the Ghetto and those who were not slowly saw their family and compatriots disappear, to what we know as Extermination Camps.
The "cleansing" process reached a peak when on January the 20th, 1942 at the Wansee Conference in Berlin the "Final Solution" became official policy. In the following months over 300,000 inhabitants of the Ghetto were rounded up and shipped to Treblinka, one of Himmler's death camps.
It was during this period (Great Aktia) that the Jewish Fighting Organisation or ZOB (the initials of it's Polish name Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) was formed. This party consisted mainly of young adults and teenagers, both men and women, who had no other reason to live than to fight back against their executors. Led by a young 23 year old named Mordecai Anielewicz, these were young people from a middle class background such as you may be, your children may be or any high school student. This brave endeavour takes on even more meaning when you realise that they had no weapons, money, influence or basic training in warfare.
The first surge of the revolt occurred January the 18 1943, when the German soldiers tried to round up the "chosen ones" for resettlement. The group opened fired with the few weapons they had managed to smuggle into the Ghetto. Amazingly they managed to hold off the soldiers for a few days and stall the deportment for the time being. This small victory, and the propagation of the stories of the death camps, fuelled their movement and garnered popular support form the Communists Poles who wanted to clear the path for the Soviet Army.
During the following month's organisation was improved and by the time of the definitive battle they were numbered at over 700 fighters.
The final Uprising
came when on the eve of the first Passover
, the Germans once again tried to round up
the members of the Ghetto
for the last transport. The operation
was meant to last three days
, but fighting tooth and nail
with gasoline bombs
, homemade grenade
and the few weapons they had managed to procure the ZOB
held of the soldiers for nearly a month
When the Germans marched in on April the 19th at 4.00am they brought in tanks, armoured vehicles and light cannons. To observers they looked like they were going to war. That night only short bursts of fighting where heard, but over the next 10 days things elevated to a climax. The Germans were, despite their weapons, unequipped to deal with the resistance who would come out for short periods and disappear again into the sewers or the intricate tunnels that lay beneath the Ghetto.
In the end however, after suffering heavy casualties the ZOB was left with no weapons or supplies to carry on the battle. They retreated to the sewers and basements to cover for the fleeing masses behind them. The final defeat came when armed with fresh ammunition the soldiers flooded the sewers and the houses with poison gas. Out of 65,000 Jews only a handful survived and exile to safety in various parts of Europe. Most of the leaders of the ZOB to refuge in the bunker on Mila street number 18, know as Mila 18, and commited sucicde rather then let the Germans find them alive. Those who remained wounded or unable to reach safety where burnt down when the Germans exploded the Synagogue and started the fire that would rapidly consume the remaining structures.
The estimated casualties for the final clearing of the Ghetto included 7000 Jews shot on sight and a remaining 56,000 captured and sent to Treblinka. The German numbers according to Polish sources are 300 wounded and 1000 killed.
The German reports are slightly different, 56,015 Jews killed whilst 16 Germans were killed, 85 wounded and 17 Missing in Action (No, these are not typos).
In the period that followed the uprising the 22,000 estimated Jewish refugees that remained on the area formed a rescue and support team, as well as helping the Polish Army as much as possible, despite their past animosity.
A few Jews fought when the Polish Uprising began but many scattered in confusion and shock. This was effectively the end of the Jewish Community in Poland.
Part II - The Polish Partisan Warsaw Uprising (1944)
By summer of 1944, the Red Army was advancing from the east, and the Germans were on the defensive in Poland. The Soviets were actively encouraging the Polish Home Army (for elegance sake named here as the Polish Army), legal successor to the Polish Army, who was under direct command of the London based Government-in-Exile), to take control of Warsaw. The only trouble this gave the Polish partisans is the fear that the Russians would leave a pro-Communist civil authority as they had done in their advance towards the capital. This was one of the main reasons the Uprising began when the Russians were still a few days away from the capital, they were there for support but the attack itself would be led by the Polish. In this move the London based government also hoped to gain popularity for their return.
This was an important issue since the Soviets at the time of fighting were seizing Polish land, did not recognise the exiled government in London or maintained any diplomatic contact with the Polish authorities.
On August the 1st the commander in chief of the Polish Army General Tadeusz, along side General Bor-Komorowski commander of the army, led a force of around 50,000 partisans to war. The objective of the Uprising was to liberate the occupied Warsaw, save the city from destruction and the population from mass extermination at the moment the front line passed the city.
At the outbreak
of the Uprising the total of German soldiers around and in Warsaw
well armed well equipped soldiers
The partisans were mostly barely armed and under trained
Due to the lack of communication
and organisation the order
of attack only reached about 25,000
Polish soldiers and for this they immediately suffered heavy casualties
As the battle raged on the civilian militia joined in. By August the 4th they had control of most of the city. But German reinforcements were quick to arrive, S.S. police units, a brigade of Russian ex-prisoners, ex-convicts all of the men Hitler had taken of the front due to their excessive brutality. With this renewed vigour on the German part the Polish Home Army was soon fragmented and weak. During this period the Germans the burnt down houses, flooded sewers with gas and, managed to kill of virtually all of the Polish Home Army. Acting on Hitler?s direct orders during the fighting there begun a mass execution of Polish citizens with any area that was seized, POW?s captured were also killed.
During the sixty-three days the battle raged, the Russians camped within site across the river Vistula, never moved a muscle. They refused permission to the British and Americans to use their airfields to drop ammunition and relief supplies, which meant they had to fly back to Italy and their efforts where as good as nil.
Meanwhile the Germans were enjoy a strong hold on the airfields on the outskirts of the city, they were well armed and had the infinite advantage of being able to bomb Warsaw from the air.
The first area to fall was the Wola, in the western part of the capital; the next to go was the Old City (Stare Miasto) near the Vistula.
At this point the Soviets had only a small headland and were cut off from the river. Together with the Polish Home Army they liberated the district of Praga (14 September, 1944). This was to be last major advantage for the resistance. Once they lost all control of the river the rest of the liberated areas were quick to fall and on October 2, 1944 the Uprising commander decided to lay down arms.
During the Uprising 20,000 insurgents were killed, 25,000 injured and about 16,00 were taken as prisoners of war. The civilian death toll reached 150,000 many of them killed in the massacre carried out in the first days of fighting. The Germans lost 10,000 men, 7,000 were reported missing and 9,000 were injured.
During the hostilities 25% of the buildings of the city were destroyed, after the surrender the Germans resettled the 500,000 remaining civilians of Warsaw and took to the methodical destruction of the city in much the same way they had done with Jewish Ghetto, with this they reduced a further 35% to rubble. All in all by the time the Soviets conquered Warsaw in January of 1945, 85% of the city lay in ruins.
* - Quote attributed to Hans Frank, Gauleiter of occupied Poland (1941)
and many more from google.com
Refrences from the book ? Memoirs of a warsaw Ghetto Fighter (Simha Rotem) ? ISBN 0-300-05797