The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
In a secret meeting in November 1939, four Jewish officers from the Polish Army met in the home of
Captain Henry Iwanski, to discuss and plan the formation of a Jewish fighting group, which was to
become part of the Polish Underground. By December of that same year, the ZZW (Zydowski Zwlazek
Wojskowy) became battle ready. The initial 39 members each took an oath of allegiance and each was
handed a gun. By 1940, information was being reported to General Sikorski of all developments
concerning this new branch of the Underground. In the following two years ZZW cells were forming
throughout Poland, the strongest positions held in Lwow, Lublin, and Stanislawow.
The German plan for the liquidation of the Warsaw Ghetto was carried out from July 22 to September 21, 1942 in
which over 350,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were sent to the death camps at Treblinka and Majdanek.On July
22, 1942, the Nazis orderd Czerniakow, the leader of the Judenrat, to assemble 5,000 Jews per day for "deportation".
The following day, Czerniakow committed suicide, rather than send his fellow Jews to death. When the Ghetto was
reduced to only 35,000 people, the "Party", that is the Zionist members of the Socialist left-wing party, decided to
establish their own underground organization.
The ZZW had already been active for more than two years and its rank and file increased to over 320 armed
soldiers. They met regularly with the Captain of the Polish Home Army, and received weapons, and instruction on
how to use them. Contact was also maintained by Henry Iwanski, Officer of the Security Corps of the Polish Home
Army, who warned the leader of the ZZW, David Apfelbaum, that the Germans were soon to begin action against the
Ghetto. In the company of Iwanski, Apfelbaum reported the situation to the leaders of the Judenrat but they
adamantly rejected the suggestions for military action. As a result, the ZZW refrained from taking military action in
order to avoid blame for causing a massacre.
On January 19, 1943, after a short interval, the Nazis resumed deportations and entered the Ghetto. They were
surprised when the Jews fought back. The ZZW, numbering 500 fighters, were armed with weapons supplied to them
by the Safety Corpus of the Polish Home Army. In the period from June 1942 to the start of the Uprising in April
1943, the Safety Corpus sent 3 heavy machine guns, 15 automatic guns, 750 grenades, 7 rifles, and 100
handguns,(with an additional 4 machine guns, one light machine gun, 11 automatic guns, 50 handguns, and 300
grenades at the start of the Uprising.) The ZZW also received weapons from other Polish Underground groups.
Despite their small numbers and limited weaponry, the Jewish resistance was a power to contend with...the Germans
had to retreat.
The Germans resumed their attack in April 1943, the first night of Passover. General Stroop sent over 2,000 SS and
German troops into the Warsaw Ghetto backed by Panzer units and police regiments, to put down the resistance and
resume deportations of the Jews. Jewish guerillas were greatly outnumbered - they consisted of only 500 fighters
from the ZOB, and an estimated 250 from other resistance groups. While the Germans were well armed with machine
guns, and light artillery, the Jewish fighters were found to have only 7 Polish rifles, 1 Russian rifle, 1 German rifle, 59
pistols, several hundred homemade grenades, several hundred incendiary explosives, and ammunition. Despite
German military superiority, it took them 11 days of battle with the Jews, before they put on an end to the Ghetto. The
Jewish fighters fought bravely, attacking the advancing Germans with continuous rounds of explosive bombs, but they
were overpowered German flamethrowers.
In his report, Stroop described the battle: "Over and over again new battle groups consisting of 20 to 30 or more
Jewish fellows, 18 to 25 years of age, accompanied by a corresponding number of women kindled new resistance.
These battle groups were under orders to put up armed resistance to the last and if necessary to escape arrest by
committing suicide....During this armed resistance the women belonging to the battle groups were equipped the same
as the men....Not infrequently, these women fired pistols with both hands, or hand grenades (Polish "pineapple" hand
grenades), concealed in their bloomers up to the last moment to use against the men of the Waffen, SS, Police, or
Wermacht....The resistance put up by the Jews and the bandits could be broken only by relentlessly using all our
force and energy day and night...."
After two days of brutal fighting, when Stroop could not defeat the Jews he ordered that the entire Ghetto be
systematically burned to the ground. Jews tried to escape the burning buildings by jumping from its upper stories,
throwing mattresses first to try to cushion their fall. Many were injured, their legs broken, but they tried to drag
themselves to safety to underground bunkers, or into the sewer networks.
On May 8, the Germans gas-bombed the bunker at 18 Mila Street. Trapped inside was the leader of the ZOB,
Mordechai Anielewicz, and other Jewish fighters. One of the insurgents suggested that they blow up the bunker
rather than die of asphixiation. They chose suicide. Anielewicz received the highest military honors, the Virtuti
Militari, awarded posthumously. He spearheaded the first uprising in January during which he prevented thousands
of Jews from being deported.
When the battle was over 6,000 Jews were killed, 56,065 were captured - 14,000 of whom were sent immediately to
the death camps. The Ghetto was razed to the ground.
The ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa), the Jewish Fighting Organization, had the greatest financial support
receiving funds from Arebeter Ringa, a workers organization based in New York, and Dubinski, the Chief of the
American Trade Union, among other source. The Zionists, however, had virtually no financial aid, as they were
abandoned by their own patriots who fled to Palestine. Money was very hard to come by so that other means had to
be taken out of desperation. Jews robbed the Judenrat cash reserves in the hundreds of thousands of zlotys, and
even resorted to kidnapping. They kidnapped the son of Mark Lichtenbaum, the leader of the Judenrat, when he
refused to give money. He finally did give in. The Zionists terrorized rich Jews, and when one Jewish policeman
refused to give money he was shot. After this brutal demonstration, there were no more difficulties obtaining
Despite the financial resources of the ZOB, they did not have a single machine gun. In January 1943, they had
only 2 guns and one grenade and in April 70 guns. None of the men even knew how to use one. During the
Uprising, their numbers were estimated to be around 500 but data report only 200 to 300 men. Conversely, the ZZW
numbered upwards of 1,500 fighters, according to several reports by officers in the Polish Home Army. The reason
for its immense growth was its liberal recruitment policy which did not demand any party allegiance, but accepted all
men irregardless of political ideology.
The ZOB however, did not accept candidates who did not share the same political views. Similarly, other Jewish
underground based on communist or Bund factions were as selective in choosing its membership. The ZOB was
created on the basis of political objectives and no group was accepted without a political affiliation. There were 23
resistance groups among which were the Bund (4), the Communists (4) and the Zionists (15). Their goal was to form
a link with the communist Underground because they believed that they could count on the Soviets for help.
The leadership of the ZZW on the other hand was revisionist, but also included one member from the Bund, one
communist, and one Arudat. Despite overtures by the ZZW, the ZOB refused to merge with them because they were
opposed to any fascists-revisionists. Irregardless, the ZOB did agree to divide the Ghetto with the ZZW into two
military districts, each controlling their sector. Although there was no agreement of cooperation, the ZZW did give the
ZOB some of its weapons, owing to its weaker position. But the problem of weapons shortage was severe, among the
Jewish and Polish Underground groups.
During the first hours of the Uprising, the ZOB succeeded in setting a German tank on fire and killed 20 German
soldiers. After 16 hours of battle the ZOB retreated. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising lasted for 11 days, from April 17 to
April 27. The longest battle took place in the ZZW district on Muranowski Square. The Polish and Jewish flags visibly
marked their territory. A tunnel from its headquarters at No. 7 Muranowski Square led to many sections of the ghetto
through which weapons and ammunition were smuggled. Amidst the fierce battle, Josef Lejbski of the Polish Home
Army, on the night of April 18-19 even transported through the tunnels, a heavy machine gun for the Jewish fighters.
It had given the ZZW new strength in maintaining a strong resistance.
On April 27, squads from the Polish Home Army infiltrated the Ghetto to unite with the ZZW to fight the Germans.
There were many casualties among the underground warriors. Major Iwanski was injured and his sons were killed.
David Apfelbaum was severely wounded and died the next day. On April 29tth, the remnants of the ZZW retreated
and escaped via the tunnel to Michaelin Forest. The battle was over, yet small groups of Jewish criminals, not
affiliated with the ZZW or ZOB continued skirmishes against the Germans. It ended on June 5th.
From April 29 to May 6, the Germans began the destruction of the Ghetto bunkers. The 2,359 remaining Jews who
were in hiding were all discovered and murdered by the Nazis. There were few German casualties.
At the height of the destruction of the Ghetto, a courageous band of ZZW warriors returned to the Ghetto to evacuate
the remaining Jewish civilians. They were all killed in the attempt.
The ZOB found its way out of the Ghetto through the sewer system. In their escape they refused to take Jews who
had no political affiliations.