September 1939 and the German invaders of Poland confine almost 400,000 Polish Jews to a 5.5 km sqr area which would normally house 250,000 people. The “ghetto” was sealed off with a 10-foot-high wall and anyone caught leaving was shot on sight. Worse still, the Nazis strictly controlled the amount of food that was allowed into the ghetto, forcing the captured Jews to live on a bowl of soup a day. By July 1942, about 80,000 Jews had starved to death.
July 22, 1942 and Heinrich Himmler ordered that Jews be “resettled” to work (extermination) camps, such as Treblinka. Just two months later, more than 300,000 Jews had been sent to the gas chambers. Less than two years after internment in the ghetto, only 60,000 Jews remained. 1942 was a severe winter and a shortage of trains prevented the SS from deporting more Jews to death camps but if it hadn’t been quite so severe more would have surly died.
From those who were left a Jewish Fighting Organization; ZOB emerged who managed to smuggle in weapons from anti-Nazi Poles from outside the ghetto. So armed, they were able to resist further deportations for a time by attacking the occupying German troops from rooftops, cellars, and attics.
Spring 1943 brought the Nazi response.
On April 19, 1943, Himmler sent more than 2,000 Waffen SS soldiers to crush the Heroic Jewish resistance. The German tanks, howitzers, machine guns, and flamethrowers were combated with Jewish pistols, rifles, homemade grenades, and Molotov cocktails. Astonishingly the Jews, who by now had no food were able to fend off the German assault for 28 days.
Eventually in a final attempt to deal with the resistance, SS General Jurgen Stroop set the entire ghetto block, now reduced to an area 1,000 meters by 300 meters, on fire and blew up the synagogue. By May, 56,065 Jews were dead. It is estimated that the Germans lost 300, with 1,000 wounded.
The Nazis chose their date carefully indeed; Passover. Jewish history is littered with accounts of Pogroms and Jewish Martyrs who would not convert from Judaism to another religion. Jewish people had gained a reputation for non-resistance of martyrdom, certainly not for fighting back like the ZOB did. But these earlier deaths were concerned with outsiders forcing Jews to become something other than Jews. If the Jew converted they could live in essence or the Jew would be moved-on and live.
The Holocaust was rightly recognized at the time as being different. This was an extermination, nothing less. Jews were not offered an alternative to death. So they fought, they resisted, they resisted for over a month. The Rabbis in the ghetto encouraged the resistance as important, as a way of saving Jewish life, of somehow trying to prolong it, a precious thing.
The Germans often chose Jewish festival days for their actions, they not only wanted to kill the people, they wanted to kill Jewry altogether. Passover, a time of peace should be remembered by Jews and non-Jews alike for these reasons.
Jewish Orthodoxy can be a difficult thing to understand. Observant Orthodox Jews can be very unwelcoming to the Goyim who may be interested in Judaism (I know this from personal experience). Never-the-less I have a moment of personal remembrance for the events in Poland and feel the pain, nothing like the pain felt by those affected and their families thereafter. I will never feel the pain of being Jewish but we should recall non-the-less and learn from the experiences and collective knowledge that to try to wipe-out a whole people will and should be met with resistance. The resistance should and must be supported, even if we don’t or cant understand the notion of what is being exterminated.
I make no apologies for supporting the actions of ZOB and hope that they are fondly remembered for a long time to come.