In this Insight blog, the first in a CARR series commemorating Holocaust Memorial Day, Senior Fellow Chris Webb takes a powerful look at the events that led up to the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – including the 1942 Gross-Aktion Warsaw. In particular, he focuses on the January Street Battles – the first time the Jewish Underground killed Germans trying to deport the Jewish population.
At the end of October 1942, a consultation was held at the Ha-Shomer Hatzair headquarters at 61 Mila Street and the Jewish Fighting Organisation (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or ZOB) had been consolidated and enlarged with the addition of youth movements and splinter groups of underground political parties of all persuasions from Zionists to Communists. A ZOB command was formed, and comprised representatives of the founding organisations and the combat groups. At the October 1942 meeting, on the agenda were two key item: 1) a movement to combat the German state and 2) the likely consequences of collaborating with the Germans, aimed at the Jewish police and workshop owners.
The ZOB leadership were convinced that the ghetto could not effectively resist the Germans, as long as it contained a “Fifth Column”, in their midst – collaborating with the Germans and passing on vital information. The ZOB’s first operations were directed at the Jewish Police, in retaliation for its diligence and brutality during the mass deportations, and senior officials of the Jewish Council who were known to be close to the SD / Police and Gestapo. The first person condemned to death by the ZOB was Jakob Lejkin, the deputy commander of the Jewish Order Service. The assassination of Lejkin was planned with great care; three members of the Ha-Shomer Hazair, Margalit Landau, Mordechai Grobas followed Lejkin for some time, charting his regular movements and hours of work, whilst Eliyahu Rozanski was chosen as the assassin. Towards the evening on 29 October 1942, Lejkin was shot dead whilst walking from the police station to his home on Gesia Street. His aide Czaplinski, who was with him, was wounded in the attack. The next attack was directed against Yisrael First, a senior official of the Jewish Council. First had been one of the Directors of the Economic department, but from the earliest days of the Jewish Council he had acted as a liaison officer between the council and the German Security forces and Police, and he played a part during the deportation action. The assassination of First was carried out on 28 November 1942, by David Schlman of Dror He Halutz, on Muranowska Street.
Another prominent Jewish official of the Jewish Council was Dr Alfred Nossig, who according to Czerniakow, was forced upon the Jewish Council, by express orders of the SS. Nossig according to a neighbour who wrote in her memoirs – “It was no secret that he belonged to the Gestapo and worked for the Germans, and his association with the Germans was even proclaimed on his front door”. He was killed by Zacharia Artstein, Abraham Breier, and Pawel Schwartzstein of Dror He- Halutz in 1943. They were selected for this operation by Yitzhak Zuckermann (ZOB).
Heinrich Himmler the Reichsführer SS visited the Warsaw Ghetto on 9 January 1943, and he wrote to Friedrich Krüger – SS Police Leader East, noting that: “40,000 Jews were still living in Warsaw, and 8,000 will be transported out in the coming days”. Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, the SS Police Leader Warsaw, planned to deport the 8,000 Jews to the Treblinka death camp, with the remaining worker Jews being transferred to labour camps in Lublin. According to Polish sources, the Germans sent two hundred Gendarmes, eight hundred Latvians and Lithuanians and light tanks into the ghetto. On 20 January, the third day of the Aktion, two SS battalions surrounded Többens and Schultz’s shops, commanded by von Sammern.
From the first day of the Aktion on 18 January 1943, the ghetto inhabitants were taken by surprise, and many of those captured in the dragnet were the palatzovka workers, who worked outside the ghetto, who were not able to disperse in time. The primary battle in January 1943 took place in the streets, the first group involved was a band of Ha-Shomer Ha-tzair members commanded by Mordechai Anielewicz. Most of the Jewish fighters fell in this battle, Eliyahu Rozanski, who had killed Lejkin, was seriously wounded and died from his wounds. Margalit Landau, who also participated in the Lejkin assassination, likewise fell in battle. Mordechai Anielewicz himself fought until his ammunition ran out, then snatched a gun out of the hands of a German soldier and was saved by the intervention of another quick-witted fighter. Marek Edelman wrote of the incident: “The ZOB had its baptism by fire in the first substantial street battle on the corner of Mila and Zamenhofa. We lost the cream of our organisation there.”
One of the ZOB’s battle groups, still unarmed, was caught by the Germans and was taken to the Umschlagplatz, the infamous collecting area on Stawki Street, where the trains waited to take the Jews of Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp during the Great Deportation Aktion that commenced on July 22, 1942. Shortly before entered the railroad cars, B. Pelc addressed the group with a few words. It was only a short address, but it was so effective that not a single one of the sixty people moved to enter the car. Theo Van Eupen, the commandant of the Treblinka Labour Camp, shot all sixty himself on the spot. This group’s behaviour, however, served as an inspiration that always, under all circumstances oppose the Germans.
The Aktion concluded on the 22 January and the total sent to concentration camps was not substantial; it was equivalent to a single day during the summer Grand Aktion. The Jewish resistance impressed the Poles, the Polish Underground Armia Ludowa, and to a lesser degree Armia Krajowa now provided more aid to the Jewish underground, than in the past. The Jewish underground used the short time they had to consolidate and equip themselves in preparation for the planned Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which subsequently took place in April 1943.
Mr Chris Webb is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Founder of the Holocaust Historical Society. His profile can be found here:
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