January 1943: The First Armed Resistance in the Ghetto
Today it will be half a year since our destruction began [July 1942]. Had we but resisted then, at least as much as we resisted during the last deportation [January 1943], the Nazis would not have succeeded so easily in destroying such a large Jewish community. If the Jews had at the very least not gone of their own free will, but stubbornly hidden as they have been doing in the last few days – then the deportation would have lasted for months on end. One shudders to think that it required a quarter of a million Jews to give their lives, for the remainder to understand the reality of the situation and come to the right conclusions.From the diary of Shmuel Winter
On the morning of the 18th of January 1943, German military and auxiliary units entered the Warsaw Ghetto by surprise. The populace expected a total deportation. As opposed to the Great Deportation, during which the Jews had no knowledge of where deportees would be sent, this time the ghetto's population refused to report voluntarily. Only a small number of people responded to the Germans' calls to file into the courtyards and present their papers for inspection. The Germans tried to pick up those Jews who lacked permits, but since most had gone into hiding, they fell back to snatching people up indiscriminately.
That day, a group of fighters was caught, members of the Hashomer Hatzair movement and the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). Together with other Jews they were led to the Umschlagplatz. The youths, who were still armed, albeit meagerly, dispersed among the crowd, and at a signal from Mordechai Anielewicz they attacked the Germans. In the ensuing battle there were German casualties and injuries. All the Jewish fighters were shot, and Anielewicz alone survived the battle. Another group from the Jewish Fighting Organization (members of the Dror and Gordonia movements) laid an ambush for the Germans inside the houses, and shot those who entered. These were the first organized, armed actions undertaken within the ghetto. For the first time in the history of the ghetto, Germans had come to physical harm.
By the 22nd of January only 5,000 Jews had been rounded up, among them the patients from the Jewish ghetto hospital and several members of the Judenrat. These Jews were assembled at the Umschlagplatz and deported by train.
Today we know that the January deportation was intended to be of limited proportions and that the Germans had not planned to deport all the Jews of the ghetto on this date. However, the Jews assumed that the Germans had sought to use the January deportation to empty the ghetto of its residents and send them to their destruction; they believed that their actions succeeded in obstructing this. In this way the January events turned into a watershed moment; members of the Jewish resistance organizations increased their efforts to bring about an armed uprising, while the ghetto populace at large increasingly dug underground shelters in the ghetto territory, in which they hoped to hide from the enemy forces.