The Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union

In the summer and autumn of 1942, various new underground organizations were established, while those already in existence intensified their operations; the most important of the former was the Jewish Combat Organization, and of the latter – the Jewish Military Union.

Weapons were collected, the first attacks were carried out against collaborators, and attempts were made to recruit and train new members. Contacts were also established with the Polish resistance.

The Jewish Military Union was an underground military organization which fought in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was probably established in the autumn of 1942, around a core of pre-war activists of the Jewish national movement that operated, among others, under the banner of Betar, a far right Zionist youth grouping. Due to the fact that practically no members of the Jewish Military Union survived the war, information available about this organization is at best fragmentary, and has – unfortunately – undergone manipulation over the years. It is known that it was headed by Paweł Frenkel and Leon Rodal. However, we know next to nothing about the first of these men. We do not know when he was born, where he came from, or what he did in the pre-war period. He probably died after the Ghetto Uprising, on the so-called Aryan side, with gun in hand. Whereas Leon Rodal was a journalist from Kielce, a member of Betar and the New Zionist Organization, which had been founded by Zeew Żabotyński, a Zionist-revisionist.

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Jewish Military Union numbered approximately 150 fighters. Their actions were co-ordinated with the Jewish Combat Organization, which was the main force in the ghetto, however the Union decided to maintain its autonomy. It did not have any delegates in the Jewish National Committee or the Co-ordinatory Commission, which represented all of the remaining political factions active in the ghetto.

After the Second World War, due to the lack of documents and witnesses, the story of the Jewish Military Union was either passed over or marginalized and subjected to numerous manipulations. Attempts at reconstructing the organization’s history were made by Dariusz Libionka and Laurence Weinbaum in their book “Bohaterowie, hochsztaplerzy, opisywacze”.

The Jewish Combat Organization was established in the Warsaw Ghetto on 28 July 1942, assuming its final shape in December of the same year. Its objective was to put up active resistance and conduct an armed struggle against the Germans. The consolidation of the organization was closely connected with the commencement of the so-called Grossaktion a few days earlier. It was created by young people originating from three groupings: Hashomer Hatzair, Dror, and Agudat Hanoar Haiwri “Akiba”, which were all seated in the building at No. 34 Dzielna Street. They realized only too well that they stood no chance of actually winning the fight against the excellently trained and well-armed German SS units. Thus, the emphasis was placed on simply opposing the invader with weapon in hand. The founding members of the Jewish Combat Organization included Mordechaj Anielewicz, Icchak Cukierman, Cywia Lubetkin, Mordechaj Tenenbaum, Arje Wilner, and Józef Kapłan. Over time, it set up field branches in Białystok, Częstochowa, Sosnowiec and Będzin. In Kraków, no “Jewish Combat Organization” was formally established as such, however those united in the resistance operated under the name “Jewish Organization of HeHalutz Youth”. In the autumn of 1942, the organization was joined by members of the Bund, Poale Zion, and the Communists. Mordechaj Anielewicz, pseudonym “Aniołek”, became the commander of the Jewish Combat Organization in Warsaw. Its organizational department was headed by Icchak Cukierman, pseudonym “Antek”, with Jochanan Morgenstern supervising intelligence affairs. Outside the ghetto, the Jewish Combat Organization was represented by Izrael Chaim Wilner, pseudonym “Jurek”.

The members of the Jewish Combat Organization carried out assassinations of collaborationists and spies, killing, among others, Jakub Lejkin, a Jewish policeman and deputy commandant of the Jewish Order Service (Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst),  and Alfred Nossig, who was suspected of being an informer. In fact, one of the first such operations was organized less than a month after the formation of the Jewish Combat Organization. On 20 August 1942, Izrael Kanał made an assassination attempt (ultimately unsuccessful) on Józef Szeryński, the commandant of the Jewish police in the Warsaw Ghetto. Smaller-scale actions were also carried out, such as bringing people out of the ghetto or setting fire to workshops and sabotaging their activities.