World War II started on September 1, 1939, when Germany attacked Poland. During the German occupation there were two distinct uprisings in Warsaw, one in 1943, the other in 1944. The first took place in an entity, less than two square miles in area, which the Germans carved out of the city and called "Ghetto Warschau." Into the thus created Ghetto, around which they built high walls, the Germans crowded 550,000 Polish Jews, many from the Polish provinces. At first, people were able to go in and out of the Ghetto, but soon the Ghetto's border became an "iron curtain." Unless on official business, Jews could not leave it, and non-Jews, including Germans, could not enter. Entry points were guarded by German soldiers. Because of extreme conditions and hunger, mortality in the Ghetto was high. Additionally, in 1942 the Germans "resettled" 400,000 to Treblinka where they were gassed on arrival. When, on April 19, 1943, the Ghetto Uprising commenced, the population of the Ghetto had dwindled to 60,000 individuals. In the following three weeks virtually all perished as the Germans fought to put down the uprising and systematically destroyed the buildings in the Ghetto. The heroic but unequal battle continued until May 10 when the last known Jewish fighters perished at the hands of the Germans.
This exhibit seeks to convey some sense of the massive suffering and inhumanity of these events. We welcome your comments regarding whether we have successfully met that challenge.
The Ghetto Uprising is frequently confused with the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. The latter commenced on August 1, 1944 when the Polish underground, the so called Home Army, aware that the Soviet Army had reached the eastern bank of the Vistula, sought to "liberate" Warsaw much as the French resistance "liberated" Paris as the Allied Armies fanned out across France. Because the last thing the Soviets wanted to deal with was an armed and victorious Polish non-communist military force, they halted their offensive. They remained on the opposite bank of the river but provided no assistance or aid to the Uprising. Instead they gave the Germans free reign to suppress it. It is estimated that during the ensuing 63 days, 250,000 perished in the ruins of Warsaw. Eventually, the Home Army surrendered to the Germans. After the Germans forced all the surviving population to leave the city, Hitler ordered that any buildings left standing be dynamited. In the end, 98% of buildings in Warsaw were destroyed.