1943: Polish Ghetto Stages Last-ditch Revolt

Jewish fighters barricaded themselves in bunkers in Czestochowa, forcing the Germans to pursue them into the ghetto.

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Shelled Warsaw Square (now Ghetto Heroes Square, circa 1944) after the Czestochowa Ghetto uprising.Credit: Wikimedia Commons

On June 26, 1943, as the final liquidation of the ghetto in the Polish city of Czestochowa got under way, the Organization of Jewish Fighters began a last-ditch but all-out demonstration of military resistance. The revolt ended with the killing or arrest of all the rebels, but not with the razing of the ghetto, which had several factories, for which additional Jews were brought in as laborers from another Polish town.

On the eve of World War II, the population of Czestochowa, in the south-center of the country was approximately 138,000, making it Poland’s eighth largest city. Some 45,000 of them were Jews, who began to populate the town in about 1700. Jews were represented in every economic stratum of Czestochowa, as industrialists, craftsmen, merchants and also the poor. It was also a center of learning, and the community was well-organized with self-help organizations.

German forces occupied Czestochowa on September 3, 1939, two days after the start of the invasion. The following day, the occupying forces carried out a massacre, killing about 1,000 people, the majority of them non-Jewish civilians. They also destroyed the city’s Old Synagogue.

On April 9, 1941, a ghetto was established in Czestochowa, into which were crammed some 48,000 Jews at its peak, from there and surrounding towns. Many were forced to work as slave laborers in a military foundry within the ghetto, or in other workshops.

Deportations from the ghetto to Treblinka began on September 22, 1942, and went on for more than two weeks. At the end of this first wave of expulsions, only 5,000-6,000 Jews remained, and they were forced to move into what was called the Small Ghetto. Most of them were young, chosen so that they could work in the Hugo Schneider munitions factory. It was among this group that the Jewish Fighters Organization came into existence, led by Mordejai Zilberberg.

The first act of resistance took place on January 4, 1943, following a “selection” and killing of some 25 Jews. It was followed by other acts of insurrection, each of which elicited a German response in which some dozens or even hundreds of Jews were shot. Small-scale deportations took place through this period as well.

The final Czestochowa Uprising began on June 26 (by some accounts, June 25), after what was meant to be the final liquidation was initiated. The Jewish fighters barricaded themselves in bunkers on Nardrzeczena Street, forcing the Germans to pursue them into the ghetto. The fighting and subsequent massacres led to the killing of some 1,500 Jews. Another 500 were burned to death within the Small Ghetto.

By June 30, the uprising had been quashed. Some 3,900 Jews who had escaped were rounded up by the occupiers, and sent to a variety of concentration or labor camps.

In the latter part of 1944, however, the Czestochowa Ghetto received some 10,000 new Jewish residents, brought there either from the liquidated Lodz Ghetto or from camps that had been shut down. These people were also put to work in the ghetto industries. About 3,000 of those who survived until January 1945 were deported to camps back in Germany, where they died or were murdered . Another 5,200, however, lived to be liberated from the ghetto, in addition to 3,000 earlier deportees who survived the Nazi concentration or death camps.

Of the Jews who returned to Czestochowa, which is the city depicted by Art Spiegelman in his comics work “Maus” as the home of his father, all left after a post-war pogrom in nearby Kielce , which took place July 4, 1946

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