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Warsaw Uprising remembered

April 19, 2013

European and Israeli dignitaries and ageing survivors have marked the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Uprising. The Jewish armed revolt from inside a ghetto in 1943 against occupying Nazi troops was crushed after a month.

Cantor Joseph Malovany from New York sings the "El Malle Rachamim" prayer during a ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, in Warsaw April 19, 2013. Photo: REUTERS/Kacper Pempel
Image: Reuters

Sirens rang out and bells tolled during Friday's Warsaw ceremony to remember about 750 mostly young Jews who choose to die during their uprising rather than going to gas chambers operated by Nazi Germany under Adolf Hitler during World War Two.

Only a small number of Jewish fighters and ghetto detainees survived the 1943 uprising. Around 7,000 died, most of them burned alive. The Nazis sent 50,000 remaining in the ghetto to the Treblinka death camp.

Komorowski - hell on earth

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said the Warsaw Ghetto became "hell on earth" as the Nazis "executed the death verdict against Jews." He bestowed one of Poland's highest honors on Simha Rotem, an 89-year-old survivor of the uprising.

Visiting Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron recalled more than 6,000 Polish non-Jews who risked their own lives to rescue Jews. "They were like candles of humanity in the dark night," Piron said, referring to Poles such as sewer workers who guided the Jewish escapees to the surface.

Poland remembers Warsaw ghetto uprising

Friday's ceremony was also attended by European Parliament President Martin Schulz. In Berlin, the German Bundestag parliament held a minute's silence in memory of the victims.

On Friday night, searchlights set up in front of the museum will cross their beams in the sky as a tribute to those who fought in the Warsaw Ghetto and all those who perished in the Holocaust.

Rounded up

The Nazis had set up and sealed off the Warsaw ghetto in 1940 and cut off medical and food supplies. Tens of thousands were sent by train to gas chambers. Residents were also decimated by hunger and disease.

The uprising, Europe's first open urban revolt against Hitler's occupying forces, broke out on April 19, 1943, when the Nazis decided to liquidate the ghetto.

The fighters "knew that they had to die, but they wanted to leave a trace of their existence, hence those acts of heroism, a testimony to honor," said Jakob Gutenbaum, an 83-year-old survivor.

Suburb built on rubble

The Germans razed the neighborhood. Poland's post-war communist regime later built housing quarters directly on the rubble.

Warsaw was also due on Friday to open its new Museum of the History of Polish Jews to document 1,000 years of Jewish life before the Second World War. Poland and notably Warsaw was once Europe's Jewish heartland, forming a focal point of Ashkenazi Jewish culture and the Yiddish language.

The museum, the first of its kind in Poland, is on a street that used to be part of the Warsaw ghetto. At the front, the building's undulating walls split apart, to symbolize the rupture of the Holocaust.

Ninety percent of Poland's 3.3 million pre-war Jews were wiped out by 1945. A census conducted in 2011 showed that only 7,500 Jews live in Poland. Estimates of the number of Poles with Jewish origins are put at 50,000.

ipj/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, epd)