The Ghettos. The survivors who lived in them remember them as a vividly as if they were still there. To some degree, they still are. Parts of them will never really leave the horrors they witnessed when the Nazis under Adolph Hitler sealed off sections of Warsaw, Poland to create a concentration camp on-the-fly.
Nearly 500,000 Jews had been confined in the ghetto with barely enough food and water to serve less than half that population. Disease and starvation were rampant and the daily transports to the Treblinka concentration camp gave the residents little hope for survival.
“So you lived with strangers,” says survivor Jules Zaidenweber. “different kinds of people, a whole family or more in one room. You were lucky if you found a good room, with nice people you could get along with. There was little food, maybe no heat. The ghetto was boarded up, but Poles would come to the fence with bread that, say, cost one Zloty. They would ask for two Zlotys, jewelry, other things.”
Much to the Fuhrer’s dismay, however, a group of courageous men, women, and children mounted a rebellion that took the lives of over 300 Nazi soldiers. The Jewish Combat Organization—the ZOB—was formed as an underground resistance movement to strike out against the soldiers guarding the 840-acre enclosure. What should be remembered above all is that these were not battle-honed soldiers. These were shopkeepers and bakers and holy men, all seeking to free themselves from oppression.
January 18, 1943. It was just another day for the Nazis who entered the ghetto to begin lining up those who would be transferred to Treblinka when the ZOB ambushed them. The Nazis, wounded and stunned, withdrew.
Nearly three months later, top Hitler aide Heinrich Himmler responded with more than 1,000 elite SS soldiers who were supposed to clear out the ghetto with tanks and heavy artillery. More than 1,000 ZOB attacked with small arms and homemade bombs. The Nazis initially withdrew but then renewed their attack on April 24. The battle would rage daily until May 8 when the Nazis would raid the ZOB’s command bunker. By May 16, mass deportation of the remaining Jews would begin anew.
Of those that made it through the thousands of deaths suffered in the ghetto and were transported to Treblinka, most never left the death camp nestled in the woods near Warsaw.