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80th Anniversary of the Outbreak of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

The Warsaw ghetto was sealed off and separated from the rest of the city on 16 November 1940. At the peak moment, in the spring of 1941, approximately 460,000 Jews were crowded into an area of roughly 307 hectares. Over 90,000 of them died as a result of overcrowding, starvation and disease.

In the summer of 1942, the Germans conducted the so-called Great Action and deported about 260,000 Jews from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp, while scores died within the ghetto itself. Following these events, about 50,000 people remained within the district and its area was reduced. In July 1942, the Jewish Combat Organization (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB) was established, under the leadership of Mordechaj Anielewicz. There was another resistance organization in the ghetto – the Jewish Military Union (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, ŻZW), headed by Paweł Frenkel.

In January 1943, having heard about further deportations, the fighters mounted armed resistance, which caused the Germans to stop the transports. Emboldened by this outcome, the members of the ŻOB and the ŻZW spent the next few weeks preparing for combat: they collected weapons, created hiding places and built bunkers.

The uprising broke out at dawn on 19 April 1943, when the Germans proceeded to liquidate the ghetto. The occupiers assumed that the action would take several days, but they encountered a fierce defence. Thus, the greatest act of armed resistance by Jewish population during World War II and the first urban uprising in occupied Europe began.

The fighting in the ghetto lasted several weeks. The greatest battle took place from 19 to 22 April 1943 in Muranów Square, which no longer exists. Two flags became the symbol of resistance: a white and red one and a white and blue one, which the insurgents managed to put up on the roof of the tenement house at 7/9 Muranowska Street. The fighters repelled attacks for a long time, also in the ghetto’s sweatshops.

The occupiers combed the area building after building, leaving corpses of civilians and smouldering ruins in their wake. On 8 May, they discovered the bunker at 18 Miła Street, housing the headquarters of the ŻOB with Mordechaj Anielewicz. A lot of those who were taking shelter there chose to commit suicide rather than be captured, others were killed.

The Germans declared that the uprising had ended on 16 May 1943, when they blew up the Great Synagogue on Tłomackie Street. However, the following days still saw some skirmishes. Most of the buildings in the ghetto were torched and the district was razed to the ground.

The reverse of the gold coin shows civilians during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, with the Star of David and the brick wall separating the district from the so-called “Aryan side” in the background. The reverse of the silver coin features a figure of a boy with his arms raised. The images of the people were designed on the basis of photographs taken by the Germans during the liquidation of the ghetto.
The obverses of both coins depict an outline of the borders of the Warsaw ghetto, the biggest one to have been created by the Third Reich in occupied Europe.

Martyna Grądzka-Rejak, PhD
Warsaw Ghetto Museum