Guns and Gear

Guns & Politics: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Susan Smith Columnist
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Following on the heels of last month’s visit of our 45th President and his gorgeous family, the magnificent Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their gorgeous family have been welcomed as VIP guests to the remarkable nation of Poland in Eastern Europe.

I guess some Western leaders are finding it necessary to get to know one of the few European nations that will be left after the majority of them, mostly in Western Europe, commit suicide, as they are currently in the process of doing.

Poland is remarkable not only because of its resiliency, and its courage through unimaginable difficulties, but because of its steadfast people, and its magnificent history. You will see that significant parts of both the American and the British visitors’ schedules were trips to sites of examples of some of the immense tragic occurrences in Polish history.

The one that will really break your heart is the story of the Ghetto Uprising in the capital city of Warsaw toward the end of the Second World War. As the war developed in Poland, little by little, then progressively more aggressively, the Jews of Poland were forced into the relatively small space of a section of Warsaw that became known as the ghetto. Eventually half a million Jews were crowded by the Germans into an area of several city blocks and a wall was built by the Nazis around it to keep them in: “at the time this was done, the Germans were still debating what to actually do with them.”

It was further speculated that “…as they (the Jews) were an administrative problem, genocide became the preferred option to deal with them. The ghetto itself made it easier for the Germans to herd them together quickly, and onto trains, which ‘resettled’ them in the camps.”

Most of the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto who were ‘resettled’ were gassed at the concentration camp known as Treblinka.

By the time the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto realized they had no hope, but only a choice of whether to die in the Nazi extermination camps, or in a battle against the Nazis in the ghetto. They decided, hopeless though it was, to fight.

Jewish resisters first went to members of the Polish underground for help in the form of weapons, and were completely rebuffed. The members of the partisan movement of the Polish underground were so unsympathetic to the Jewish fighters that they not only didn’t lift a finger to help them, they refused to “take Jews into the partisan movement.”

The Polish Jews had always thought of themselves as Poles, rather than Jews, up until that point. Then they knew what they were to the rest of Poland.

When, in the spring of 1943, certain members of the ghetto learned that the “Germans were going to make one last major sweep and transport the last fifty thousand survivors to Treblinka,” it was this news that triggered the uprising. Two resistance organizations, known as the ZZW and ZOB, took control of the ghetto, and built “dozens of fighting posts.” They were also responsible for executing “a number of Nazi collaborators, including Jewish police officers,” and built a prison within the ghetto to “hold and execute traitors and collaborators.”

They had to make their own weapons “of differing calibers and sometimes only a few bullets per gun.” They…made “extensive use of Molotov cocktails, knives and bare fists,” using whatever they could to fight the Nazi forces; “they died in the thousands but held off the Germans for many weeks even though the ghetto was virtually destroyed. It was an incredible achievement.”

Being meticulous record keepers, the Nazis provided, and left behind, well-documented reports of the event, this one formulated by Jürgen Stroop, who led the German troops assigned the problem of the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The following comprised the record of the entirety of the weaponry and materiel that were recovered once the Jewish fighters had been annihilated:

7 Polish rifles
1 Russian rifle
1 German rifle
59 pistols of various caliber
Several hundred hand grenades, including Polish and home made ones
Several hundred incendiary bottles
Home made explosives
Infernal machines with fuses

The final fighting of the doomed enterprise took place in Warsaw’s sewers, and “in the many dugout hiding places hidden among the ruins of the ghetto, referred to as ‘bunkers.’” The Germans used dogs to look for such hideouts, then “usually dropped smoke bombs down to force people out.” Sometimes they “flooded these so-called bunkers or destroyed them with explosives; on occasions, shootouts occurred.” A number of captured fighters, “especially the women, lobbed hidden grenades or fired concealed handguns after surrendering.”

The loquacious Stroop provided further information:

“180 Jews, bandits and sub-humans, were destroyed. The former Jewish quarter of Warsaw is no longer in existence. The large-scale action was terminated at 20:15 hours by blowing up the Warsaw Synagogue…total number of Jews dealt with 56,065, including both Jews caught and Jews whose extermination can be proved…apart from 8 buildings (police barracks, hospital and accommodations for housing working-parties), the former Ghetto is completely destroyed. Only the dividing walls are left standing where no explosions were carried out.”

Stroop also penned a particularly memorable rendition of the utter rapture his Nazi heart experienced when he personally pushed the detonator button to demolish the century-old Great Synagogue of Warsaw:

“What a marvelous sight it was. A fantastic piece of theater. My staff and I stood at a distance. I held the electrical device which would detonate all the charges simultaneously. Jesuiter (a German officer present) called for silence. I glanced over at my brave officers and men, tired and dirty, silhouetted against the glow of the burning buildings. After prolonging the suspense for a moment, I shouted: Heil Hitler and pressed the button.”

It was later said of this effort: “Doomed from the start, it has gone down in history as a stunning statement of sacrifice against tyranny.”

It was the largest single revolt by Jews during World War II.

13,000 Jews were killed in the ghetto during the uprising, some 6,000 among them burned alive or died from smoke inhalation.

Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped east to concentration and extermination camps.

The Uprising lasted 4 weeks.

One of the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Yitzah Zuckerman, who had miraculously survived the conflict, was asked on the 25th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising what was the military lesson that could be learned from the uprising. He replied:

“I don’t think there’s any real need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn’t a subject for study in military school…if there’s a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youth after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers, and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.”

A truly remarkable people, the Poles: after their nation serving as a battlefield, and their people as cannon fodder, for both the Germans and the Russians in World War 1; after surviving Nazi occupation followed by Soviet domination during and following the Second World War; they were still the nation who led, started by the Solidarity movement and a courageous Polish Pope, the nations behind the Iron Curtain in destroying the evil and destructive Soviet Union. The people of this nation are further demonstrating their astonishing resolve to survive by refusing to relinquish their national sovereignty and borders to the suicidal such demands of the European Union and European elites.

I am certain recent Western visitors to this great Eastern European nation were honored to have become exposed to some extraordinary aspects of its proud history.

Susan Smith brings an international perspective to her writing by having lived primarily in western Europe, mainly in Paris, France, and the U.S., primarily in Washington, D.C. She authored a weekly column for Human Events on politics with historical aspects. She also served as the Staff Director of the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Children, Family, Drugs and Alcoholism, and Special Assistant to the first Ambassador of Afghanistan following the initial fall of the Taliban. Ms. Smith is a graduate of Wheeling Jesuit University and Georgetown University, as well as the Sorbonne Nouvelle in Paris, France, where she obtained her French language certification. Ms. Smith now makes her home in McLean, Va.