1942: The Jews Rise Up in Lachwa Ghetto

On September 3, 1942, the residents of the Lachwa Ghetto began what may have been the first armed uprising by a Jewish population against the Nazis.

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Jews were targeted throughout Europe: A veteran of the ill-fated 1944 Warsaw Uprising, in Poland.Credit: Reuters

On this day in 1942, the residents of the Lachwa Ghetto, in what is today Belarus, began what may have been the first armed uprising by a Jewish ghetto population against the Germans.

The Jewish community in Lakhwa, originally in Poland, had its origins in the 17th century; by the start of World War II, Jews comprised some 2,300 of the village’s 3,800 residents. Initially, the town was occupied by Soviet forces, as a result of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.

Despite Soviet restrictions on Jewish life there, Jews fleeing the Nazi occupation of lands to the west began to pour into Lakhva, increasing its Jewish population by some 40 percent. German forces invaded the USSR in 1941, and occupied the expanded Lakhva on July 8 of that year.

The ghetto was established the following April, but even before that, resistance cells began to organize, the first of them under the leadership of Isaac Rozhyn of the Betar youth movement. In contrast to other ghettos where there was resistance to the Germans, the underground coordinated with the local Judenrat, headed by Dov Lopatin, who had headed Lachwa’s Zionist organization.

When the Germans entered the ghetto on September 3, 1942, they were met with armed opposition, which succeeded in killing six Germans and eight of their Belorussian gendarmes. In total, 1,500 Jews were killed, either in the fighting or in killing pits that had been prepared outside the town. An estimated 1,000 residents escaped from the ghetto, though only 600 survived long enough to make their way into the surrounding forest. At war’s end, only 90 of the Jews of Lachwa were still alive.