The January Self-Defence

January 1943 marked the moment when the Jewish milieux decided to put up armed opposition against the invader. On 18 January, acting on the orders of Heinrich Himmler, the Germans commenced yet another deportation action.

It was planned that in the coming days a group of Jews considered as no longer fit for work would be sent to Treblinka extermination camp. By 21 January, approximately 5,000 people had been transported. The Germans planned to carry out the deportations in a similar way as in the summer of 1942. Accordingly, they started off by scouring the enclave for persons who did not have documents confirming employment. The hospital at Nos 6–8 Gęsia Street was liquidated. During the first phase of the action, people were driven under escort to the Umschlagplatz, and there loaded onto railway cars. The Jews responded with armed resistance. These actions were spontaneous, however they came as a complete surprise to the Germans. A group of fighters led by Mordechaj Anielewicz mingled with a column of ghetto residents being marched to the Umschlagplatz, and then, at the corner of Zamenhofa and Niska streets, attacked the German policemen. Members of the Dror and Gordonia youth organizations also offered armed resistance. They were poorly armed – they had only a few pistols and a limited supply of Molotov cocktails and grenades of their own production – but the element of surprise more than made up for this deficiency. Even more importantly, however, the Jews broke a unique psychological barrier and squared up to the enemy. They displayed determination and courage, despite the obvious advantage enjoyed by the Germans.

Mordechaj Anielewicz, one of the leaders of the Ghetto Uprising in April 1943, also took part in the fight; other participants included, among others, Marek Edelman, Izrael Kanał, Arie Wilner, Eliahu Różański and Eliezer Geller. It is difficult to estimate the number of those who fought. Accounts concerning the period mention several dozen. Anielewicz and his fellow insurgents rescued a group of Jews who were being led to the Umschlagplatz. The fighting was carried on by small groups, and even by individuals. We do not know how many armed fighters perished, however estimates refer to at least several dozen. According to reports, a dozen or so Germans were killed. Neither do we know the exact losses suffered by the civilian population.

Skirmishing lasted until 21 January.

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