In January the Germans had tried to close the Warsaw ghetto but had met some resistance. Now they tried again. The remaining residents were ordered to report for deportation on the 19th April at 9am. Those who did not report at 9am would be shot. Only a small number of Jews were given permits to remain and dismantle the factories.
Some decided to stay and fight it out, better to die fighting than die in the gas chambers in Treblinka. They had few weapons to mount such a fight, which would inevitably be a desperately unequal struggle. But at least they would be fighting back. Samuel Zylbersztejn was one of the young men amongst them:
Our group consisted of seventeen men; we had seven revolvers and four grenades. We stationed ourselves in three separate hiding places. All was quiet once everyone had left.
Just before sunrise, Czarny had come to deliver the news: “Get ready comrades! This is where it’s going to start – here, in our building, with us! It’s going to start with us! Rufinow is still inside the factory; he has a permit from the SS.”
I ran up to the attic where I could watch. I had to be there, I had to witness the jewish fighters avenging their nation, avenging the blood that had been shed.
I wait at my post anxiously but not for long. I cock my ears and hear the heavy tread of the uniformed killers. A detachment of murderers is marching down Zelazna toward Leszno, into the ghetto: one-two, one-two, more blood, more blood.
But then comes the most beautiful moment in my life. A tremendous explosion rends the air. Crash! They’re falling to the ground. Again, Crash!
All of a sudden the Ukrainians are rolling in puddles of blood. Blood for blood! The murderers disperse in a wild panic, seeking shelter in the entranceways.
Shots and flames, on the right and on the left, start spewing from buildings on both sides of the street, Aryan as well as Jewish.
Bullets go whizzing over my head. I have to retreat. I race through the secret attic corridor that runs from house to house down the entire length of the street, an emergency lane for saving jewish lives.
I want to make it back to the shelter, but the stairs seem to snake on a long way ahead of me. More bullets whiz by I feel hot, my leg is bleeding, I have been wounded.
From: The SS and Police Leader ( SS-und Polizeifuehrer ) in the Warsaw District
Progress of the Ghetto Aktion on April 19, 1943:
Closing of ghetto commenced at 03.00 hrs. At 06.00 hrs. the Waffen-SS was ordered to comb out the remainder of the ghetto at a strength of 16/850.[16 officers, 850 men.]
As soon as the units had entered, strong concerted fire was directed at them by the Jews and bandits. The tank employed in this operation and the two SPW [heavy armored cars] were attacked with Molotov cocktails. The tank was twice set on fire. This attack with fire by the enemy caused the units employed to withdraw in the first stage. Losses in the first attack were 12 men (6 SS men, 6 Trawnicki men [auxiliary police recruited from Ukrainians and men from the Baltic states.]).
About 08.00 hrs. the units were sent in again under the command of the undersigned. Although there was again a counterattack, in lesser strength, this operation made it possible to comb out the blocks of buildings according to plan. We succeeded in causing the enemy to withdraw from the roofs and prepared elevated positions into the cellars, bunkers and sewers. Only about 200 Jews were caught during the combing-out operation.
Immediately afterwards shock-troop units were directed to known bunkers with orders to pull out the occupants and destroy the bunkers. About 380 Jews were caught in this operation. It was discovered that the Jews were in the sewers. The sewers were completely flooded, to make it impossible to remain there.
About 17.30 hrs. very strong resistance was met with from one block of buildings, including machine-gun fire. A special battle unit overcame the enemy, and penetrated into the buildings, but without capturing the enemy himself. The Jews and criminals resisted from base to base, and escaped at the last moment through garrets or subterranean passages.
About 20.30 hrs. the external closure of the ghetto was reinforced….
The Jews were not entirely alone, the Polish Resistance made one attempt to come to their assistance on the 19th:
In the evening the sappers of the Warsaw Commandos (non-Jewish Polish Underground unit), under Captain ‘Chwacki,’ were given the order to blow an opening in the wall of Bonifraterska Street opposite Sapiezynka Street in order to provide direct access to the beseiged fighters.
Approaching Bonifraterska Street, the group started firing at the German troops guarding the wall. Immediately, German reinforcements came running from the direction of Krasinski Park. A pitched battle ensued, and it soon became clear that it would be impossible to reach the wall against such overwhelming odds. Two members of the group were killed in the battle, ‘Orlik’ and ‘Mlodek.’ Three others were seriously wounded.
Julian Eugeniusz Kulski, from ‘Dying, We Live’ see Felsztyn.