Obit of the Day: Started the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising officially began on April 19, 1943 but the foundation for the first urban rebellion against the Nazis was laid months earlier.
Having already deported or killed 300,000 Jews in the summer of 1942, the Jewish residents of the segregated ghetto would not sit idly by and allow the Nazis to simply ship more men, women, and children to death camps. Several resistance group came together to create the Jewish Combat Organization (or Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa in Polish).
Boruch Spiegel, just 23 at the time, joined the fight.
On January 18, 1943 as the Nazis came to round up another group of residents for deportation, members of the ZOB, armed with pistols, secretly joined the Jews who were rounded up. As they neared the gates of the ghetto, the armed fighters attacked the German soldiers. This allowed the deportees to to scatter. Although approximately 6,000 Jews were still taken from the ghetto, the resistance forced the Germans to halt all deportations beginning on January 21.
They would return.
On April 19, the day before Passover, the Germans marched to the ghetto with plans to liquidate it. But the resistance had learned of the Nazi plans and were ready. As the Germans approached the ghetto Mr. Spiegel was on guard duty and gave the signal to attack.
Armed with some guns taken from soldiers in January, some 750 members of ZOB hid in attics and bunkers and attacked the Germans. The army was forced, again, to retreat.
The Germans’ new plan was to simply burn the ghetto down, building by building. The organized resistance collapsed within days. But it would take until May 16, 1943 for the Germans to completely take control of the ghetto. The Jews of Warsaw had held the German army at bay for 28 days. (For perspective, Poland fell to the Nazis after 26 days in September 1939.)
The Jewish fighters did not win, though. Seven thousand were killed during the Uprising. Seven thousand more were captured and sent to Treblinka where they were immediately gassed. The remaining 42,000 residents of the ghetto were rounded up and deported to various concentration camps. The ghetto was razed and Warsaw’s Jews were gone.
Mr. Spiegel, and 60 other fighters, managed to escape Warsaw through sewage tunnels and joined the Polish resistance. Spiegel, who would see his father die of malnutrition in the ghetto and also lose his mother, two sisters, and a brother, would fight the Germans until the end of the war in 1945. This included another uprising throughout the entire city of Warsaw in 1944.
Mr. Spiegel, who married fellow ZOB fighter Chaike Belchatowska, was one of three resistance members remaining at the time of his death of May 7, 2013 at the age of 93. According to his son-in-law, Eugene Orenstein, a retired professor of Jewish history, there are only two members of the Ghetto Uprising still living: Mr. Simka Rotem and Mrs. Pnina Greenspan, both of whom live in Israel.
(Image of Boruch Spiegel, taken prior to the September 1939 invasion of Poland when he was 19 years old, is courtesy of the LA Times)
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