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It’s Holocaust Memorial Day, And The 70th Anniversary Of The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
April 8, 2013
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Holocaust survivors light six candles to represent the six million at Yad Vashem memorial Sunday night (Photo: AP)

Israel's annual Holocaust Memorial Day began at sunset last night, and continues today.

This year's event coincides with the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, an event that has become a symbol of Jewish resistance to the Nazis during the Second World War.

A memorial service last night was disrupted when several rockets were fired from Gaza into Israel, disrupting the event. No one was hurt, but Israeli TV showed footage of people running in search of cover. The border crossing is closed until further notice.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres began today's commemoration by laying a wreath at a commemoration ceremony at the Yad Vashem memorial in Jerusalem.

Benjamin Netanyahu lays a wreath at Yad Vashem (Photo: AP)

Later in the morning, people across the country observed two minutes of stillness in honour of the occasion as sirens wailed in memory of the dead.

Israelis observe two minutes of stillness as sirens wailed across the country today (Photo: AP)

The Warsaw ghetto uprising, which took place in 1943, was the first large-scale rebellion against the Nazis in Europe. It was also the largest act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust, according to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM).

Soldiers question Jews after the uprising in May, 1943 (Photo: Getty)

The roots of the uprising can be traced to 1942: Between July 22 and September 12 of that year, German authorities deported or killed 300,000 Jews in the Warsaw ghetto. Only 35,000 Jews were granted permission to stay, and another 20,000 remained there in hiding.

In July, 1942, in the midst of the deportations, two armed groups formed in the ghetto: the Jewish Combat Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa; ZOB), and the Jewish Military Union (Zydowski Swiazek Wojskowy; ZZW). They eventually decided to work together to oppose German attempts to destroy the ghetto.

On January 18, 1943, SS troops and police units tried to resume mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto. A group of Jewish fighters armed with pistols surprised the Nazi soldiers, and managed to disrupt the Germans' plans. Most of the Jewish fighters were killed in the ensuing battle.

After the attack, the Germans seized 5,000-6,500 ghetto residents to be deported, but suspended their deportations on January 21. Encouraged by their apparent success, members of the ghetto started building underground bunkers and shelters to prepare for an uprising, should the Germans return and deport the remaining people in the ghetto.

On April 19, 1943, German forces entered the ghetto, intending to clear it out. They found the streets deserted, with everyone who lived there in bunkers or other hiding places.

Then the attack began, with ZOB fighters stunning the Germans. They used pistols, grenades (some of them homemade) and a few automatic weapons to drive the German troops out of the ghetto.

Captured Jewish civilians forced to march after the uprising (Photo: Getty)

German forces returned the next day and began razing the ghetto to the ground building by building. Although the majority of the organized resistance was destroyed within days, some fighters managed to keep hiding and fighting the Germans for nearly a month.

Thousands of ghetto residents were killed in the fighting, and thousands more were sent to Treblinka death camp where they were executed.

But the Warsaw uprising became a potent symbol of resistance, inspiring similar actions in ghettos across Europe. You can read the full story at the USHMM site.


THE LIST: After The Holocaust

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