Jewish settlement in Warsaw can be dated from the fifteenth century. In the nineteenth century Warsaw became the largest Jewish community in Europe, and in the twentieth century, the second largest in the world, next to New York. From this once flourishing community little remains. Today only a handful of Jews remain in Warsaw. The years 1939-1943 saw the near annihilation of the Jewish population of Warsaw at the hands of the Nazi oppressor. But before the Nazis destroyed the Warsaw Ghetto, they had to face an unprecedented urban uprising. From April 19-May 16, 1943, the remnant of this vital, complex and energetic community held the German army at bay, fully aware of its ultimate fate and the overwhelming odds it faced.
After the occupation of Warsaw in 1939, the strong societal infrastructure of the Jewish community, developed over decades, continued to function through the Judenrat (Jewish council), although its activities were severely limited by the Nazis. Through the values of welfare and mutual aid, Jewish communal institutions persisted in reaching out in any way possible to those in need. However, the cooperation of the Judenrat facilitated the process of destruction.
With the sealing off of the Jewish population into the Ghetto in mid-November 1940, many of these activities continued in the face of the constantly deteriorating conditions of poverty, disease, starvation and death. The question facing the entire Jewish population was best expressed by Dr. Marek Edelman, one of the few survivors of the revolt: "How should we die?" Implicit in this question is the affirmation of life and human dignity against all odds.
The material contained in this book, commemorating fifty years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943, documents this confrontation of life against death and the struggle for human dignity waged on a daily basis by the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto. Its articles, original documents, photographs and other educational materials all testify to this enduring spirit of physical, cultural and religious resistance.
We hope that educators, students, librarians, clergy and anyone with the courage to remember these dark days will find in this volume a useful aid in the commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto and its uprising.
This book is dedicated to the memory of the children of the Ghetto-the smugglers, the couriers, the street peddlers, the innocent victims.