Remembering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the people who fought back

Relatives share family stories of loss and survival during the Holocaust and the monthlong fight against the Nazis in Warsaw, Poland.

By Dana Bash and Anna Brand, CNN

Published April 19, 2023

On April 19, 1943, a group of Jews living inside the Nazi-created Warsaw Ghetto in Poland began an armed uprising against Hitler’s occupying forces. The monthlong fight represented the largest and most robust retaliation against SS troops who were systematically murdering millions of European Jews.

As part of the Nazis’ plans to annihilate the Jewish people, they created ghettos, forcing thousands of Jews into small, cramped parts of major cities and limited access to food and supplies. The Warsaw Ghetto, bound by a 10-foot wall and barbed wire, was the largest — sealing 400,000 Jews inside its 1.3 square mile area by 1942, according to the United States Holocaust Museum.

After the Nazis began liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942, sending tens of thousands of Jews to be murdered in concentration camps, a group of Jewish resistance fighters began a plan to retaliate, gathering arms from anti-Hitler forces in the Polish military underground.

On the eve of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, there were between 50,000-60,000 Jews in the ghetto. About 700 young Jews began their fight against SS officers the day after the Jewish holiday of Passover, 80 years ago today, and it lasted almost a month. It ended on May 16 when the Nazis leveled the ghetto, ultimately bringing the Jews who did not die in the battle to concentration camps where they would be killed.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest uprising during World War II and inspired other resistance movements across German-occupied Europe. Around April 19, we observe the Days of Remembrance, commemorating the courage of those who took part in the uprising as well as all victims and survivors of the Holocaust.

My great-grandparents and aunt were all murdered in concentration camps. My grandparents escaped Nazi Europe — among the small group able to get into America. For years, not knowing what happened to her parents, my grandmother said the “Kaddish,” the Jewish prayer honoring those who died, on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, because she did not know when else to do so. —Dana Bash