This past Friday, April 19th marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, the largest act of Jewish armed resistance during the Holocaust. This heroic act of defiance against the Nazis and their collaborators began as the complete liquidation of the ghetto was initiated on Passover eve in 1943. This year, to commemorate 70 years since the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began, Yad Vashem’s International Institute for Holocaust Research held a seminar with leading researchers and guest lecturers discussing various topics ranging from the hardships of life in the ghetto to the rise of Jewish resistance against deportation and almost certain death.
For nearly a month, many Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto fought the Germans and their collaborators despite the odds heavily stacked against them. The Jewish fighters in the ghetto faced a strong enemy and were forced to fight in atrocious conditions with a serious lack of arms and ammunition. However, what stood out most for me during the seminar was not just the establishment and armed opposition of the two central resistance groups in the Warsaw Ghetto: the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union, but the massive scale of spontaneous resistance by Jews, unaffiliated with either of those two groups, who heroically fought from the many bunkers they had prepared.
As Hersh Wasser recalled and better summarized in his book, Melech Nischt: the Destruction and Rebellion of the Jews of Warsaw,
“The will to resist has been sparked among thousands of men and women, elderly people and children, a will which conquers the natural anxiety and the fear of death and hardship. The masses have understood that by resisting surrender they are fighting the enemy in a unique way, hindering his deeds of destruction...”
The Research Institute’s seminar at Yad Vashem commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of 1943 offered those in attendance a glimpse into the level of sacrifice by those many Jews who actively took up arms against an incredibly powerful, well-equipped army despite the impossibility of success. Even though the uprising was cruelly suppressed, in no way is the meaning behind the struggle of the many fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto diminished, as their heroism and the justness of their cause is still remembered and honored 70 years after the brutal silencing of their will.