The ghetto in Warsaw was the largest in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War II. The ghetto was designed to contain the large number of Polish Jews in the city and conditions were horrendous. Overcrowding was a huge issue and food rations were tiny, with disease and starvation a constant threat. A huge wall surrounded the ghetto and anyone caught trying to escape was shot on sight. The Jews living here were effectively imprisoned whilst arrangements could be made for their transportation to concentration and extermination camps.
From 1942, the Nazis began to deport Jews en masse from the ghettos to these camps. In response, the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto organised themselves into resistance organisations. When SS and police units attempted to deport a number of Jews on 18th January 1943, resistance fighters hid themselves within the columns of people being forcibly moved to the transfer point.
At a prearranged signal, the resistance fighters broke ranks, surprising the Germans. Lightly armed, the fighters were no match for the Germans and most were killed. However, their actions distracted the Germans and allowed those Jews destined to be transported to concentration and extermination camps to disperse, for the time being.
The occupants of the ghetto then set about constructing hiding places and underground bunkers, in preparation for the possibility that the Germans would soon return to liquidate the ghetto. The Germans did return, on 19th April 1943, but found the streets empty. The renewal of the deportations was the signal for the resistance fighters to take up arms once again, forcing the shocked Germans to retreat behind the ghetto wall.
On the third day of the uprising, the Germans began destroying the ghetto, to flush out those still taking refuge in their hiding places and, later, the Great Synagogue itself was destroyed, as a symbol of the German victory. The vast majority of ghetto occupants were taken to concentration and extermination camps, such as Treblinka.
School groups can visit the Warsaw Uprising Museum on our school history trips to Krakow and Warsaw. These trips give students a great insight into the lives of those that lived in the ghetto, as well as what it was like to take part in the uprising. They will also see the Monument to the Heroes of the Ghetto, as well as fragments of the ghetto wall.
If you would like your students to gain a deeper understanding of the events of the Holocaust and what it was like to live under Nazi occupation, contact us now for information on how we can tailor-make a school history trip designed to do just that.