On this day in 1943, Waffen SS attacks Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto.
Shortly after the German invasion of Poland, in September 1939, nearly 400,000 Polish Jews were confined to a 3.5-square-mile area that normally housed about 250,000. The “ghetto” was sealed off with a 10-foot-high wall. Anyone caught leaving was shot on sight. As if this weren’t bad enough, the Nazis strictly controlled the amount of food that was brought into the ghetto, forcing Jews to live on a bowl of soup a day. By July 1942, about 80,000 Jews had died.
On July 22, 1942, Heinrich Himmler ordered that Jews be “resettled” to extermination camps, such as Treblinka. Two months later, more than 300,000 Jews had been sent to the gas chambers. Less than two years after the internment in the ghetto, only 60,000 Jews remained. But those who survived formed a Jewish Fighting Organization, called ZOB, which managed to smuggle in weapons from anti-Nazi Poles. Armed, they were able to resist further deportations by attacking Germans from rooftops, cellars, and attics. A severe winter and a shortage of trains also prevented the SS from deporting more Jews to death camps.
But spring brought Nazi retaliation. On April 19, 1943, Passover, Himmler sent more than 2,000 Waffen SS soldiers to combat the Jewish resistance. German tanks, howitzers, machine guns, and flamethrowers were met with Jewish pistols, rifles, homemade grenades, and Molotov cocktails. The Jews were able to fend off the German assault for 28 days. Finally, SS General Jurgen Stroop set the entire ghetto block, now reduced to an area 1,000 yards by 300 yards, 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.