Mordechai Anielewicz

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Mordechai Anielewicz
Mordechai Anielewicz.jpg
Nickname(s)"Little Angel" (Aniołek)
Wyszków, Poland
Died8 May 1943 (aged 24)
Warsaw, German-occupied Poland
AllegianceFlag of ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization).svg ŻOB
UnitZob main unit
Commands heldstart Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Battles/warsWorld War II
  • POL Krzyż Walecznych BAR.svg POL Order Krzyża Grunwaldu 3 Klasy BAR.svg

Mordechai Anielewicz (Hebrew: מרדכי אנילביץ'; 1919 – 8 May 1943) was the leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization (Polish: Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, ŻOB), which led the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising; the largest Jewish insurrection during the Second World War, which inspired further rebellions in both ghettos and extermination camps. His character was engraved as a symbol of courage and sacrifice, and to this day his image represents Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.


Mordechai (Polish: Mordechaj) Anielewicz was born to a Polish-Jewish family of Abraham (Avraham) and Cyryl (Cirel) née Zaltman,[1] in the town of Wyszków near Warsaw where they met during the reconstitution of sovereign Poland.[2] Shortly after Mordechai's birth, his family moved to Warsaw. Mordechai had a brother and two sisters: Pinchas, Hava and Frida. He finished Tarbut elementary with Hebrew instructions in 1933, at the age of 14. Mordechai was a member of the Betar youth movement from 1933 until 1935.[3] He completed the private Jewish Laor Gimnazjum (also La Or, approved by the Ministry of Education).[1] He later switched over to the left-leaning Hashomer Hatzair.[4] At the age of 18 he went to a pre-military Polish training camp.

Fleeing Occupied Poland[edit]

On September 7, 1939, a week after the German invasion of Poland, Anielewicz traveled with a group from Warsaw to the east of the country in the hopes that the Polish Army would slow down the German advance. When the Soviet Red Army invaded and then occupied Eastern Poland in accordance with the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, Anielewicz heard that Jewish refugees, other youth movement members and political groups had flocked to Wilno, which was then under Soviet control.

Anielewicz travelled to Wilno and attempted to convince his colleagues to send people back to other Polish occupied territories to continue the fight against the Germans. He then attempted to cross the Romanian border in order to open a route for young Jews to get to the Mandate of Palestine, but was caught and thrown into the Soviet jail. He was released a short time later, and returned to Warsaw in January 1940 with his girlfriend, Mira Fuchrer. While there Anielewicz saw his father for the last time, who was pressed into forced labor.[5]

Initial resistance[edit]

Monument to the Ghetto Heroes (Aniołek is in the center, wielding a hand grenade)

After returning to Warsaw, Anielewicz organized groups, meetings, seminars, secretly attended resistance groups in other cities, and founded the underground newspaper Neged ha-zerem (Hebrew: נגד הזרם, literally "Counter-current"). At the beginning of April 1940, the construction of the Warsaw Ghetto began. It stretched over an area of 3.4 km2, and gradually a 3 m high wall with barbed wire was built around it. In mid-October, it was officially established, and by mid-November the Germans had driven the Jews from the rest of Warsaw and its surroundings. An estimated 400,000 Jews, representing about 30% of all the city's population, were pushed into an area which took up approximately 2.4% of the city's area.[6] On top of extreme overcrowding, inadequate food supply and disease caused tens of thousands of deaths before deportation even began. In October 1941, the German occupation administration in Poland issued a decree that every Jew, captured outside the ghetto without a valid permit, would be executed.[7]

After the first reports of the mass murder of the Jews spread at the end of 1941, Anielewicz began immediately to organize defensive Jewish groups in the Warsaw Ghetto. His first attempt to join the Polish resistance, subject to the Polish exile government in London, ended in failure. In March 1942, Anielewicz was among the founders of the anti-fascist group. Even it did not have a long duration and eventually it was dissolved.

In the summer of 1942, he visited the southwest region of Poland – annexed to Germany – attempting to organize armed resistance. At the same time German authorities launched an operation which aimed at the liquidation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto into extermination camps. It was announced that 6,000 Jews were to be dispatched each day, irrespective of gender or age, to leave for labor camps to the east in the resettlement program.[8] The first one set off on July 22, 1942, the eve of the Jewish holiday of Tisha B'Av, which is the saddest day of Jewish history.[9] By September 12, 1942, German authorities from the Warsaw Ghetto deported 300,000 Jews. A total of 265,000 of them went to Treblinka where they were murdered. More than 10,000 Jews were murdered by the Germans during deportations and 11,850 Jews were sent by authorities to forced labor camps. After the first wave of deportations in mid-September 1942, roughly 55 to 60 thousand Jews remained in the ghetto.[10]

Warsaw Ghetto uprising[edit]

Warsaw Ghetto boundary marker in Świętojerska Street in Warsaw

In October 1942, the Jewish resistance managed to establish contact with the Polish Home Army, which was able to smuggle a small amount of weapons and explosives into the ghetto. Since the end of September 1942, the Jews started building fortified bunkers and shelters in the Warsaw Ghetto, and there were 600 by January 1943.[11] Each fighter had a gun and several hand grenades (many of them home-made) or Molotov cocktails. There was however a lack of ammunition and heavier weapons – only a few rifles, ground mines, and one machine gun were available.

On January 18, 1943, the Germans resumed deportation. Anielewicz, together with other members of ŻOB and ŻZW, decided to act. Twelve of them joined a group of evacuated Jews, and attacked the German soldiers on the contracted signal. In the subsequent confusion, part of the deported Jews managed to escape. Most of the resistance in the attack died. Anielewicz, who commanded the operation, managed to escape. This first case of armed resistance was of great importance. Among other things, it led to the greater willingness of the Polish underground to provide weapons to the Jewish resistance.[12] Not all weapons, however, came from underground groups. Some of them ŻOB bought from arms dealers. The beginning of the revolt was a prelude to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that began on April 19. During these three months, Anielewicz's leadership underwent intensive preparations for further clash with the Germans. He decided to use the guerrilla way of fighting with a vast network of tunnels, bunkers, roofs and surprise moments. He believed that enough Jews could withstand the ghetto for months. A day after the Germans suspended deportations, he wrote an open letter to the people of the ghetto on the name of the Jewish Battle Organization:

To the Jewish Masses in the Ghetto

On January 22, 1943, six months will have passed since the deportations from Warsaw began. We all remember well the days of terror during which 300,000 of our brothers and sisters were cruelly put to death in the death camp of Treblinka. Six months have passed of life in constant fear of death, not knowing what the next day may bring. We have received information from all sides about the destruction of the Jews in the Government-General, in Germany, in the occupied territories. When we listen to this bitter news we wait for our own hour to come, every day and every moment. Today we must understand that the Nazi murderers have let us live only because they want to make use of our capacity to work to our last drop of blood and sweat, to our last breath. We are slaves, and when slaves are no longer profitable, they are killed. Everyone among us must understand that, and everyone among us must remember it always.[13]

Warsaw Ghetto in flames. Photo taken in the end of April 1943 from an overpass which connect Żoliborz district with Warsaw's downtown

The final destruction of the ghetto and deportation of the remaining Jews began on April 19, at 6 AM, the day before Adolf Hitler's birthday and Passover. SS functionary Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg sent 850 soldiers (German and Ukrainian) to Warsaw with sixteen officers who accompanied a light tank and two armored cars.[14] Members of Jewish resistance groups attacked groups of German soldiers with pistols, grenades, and Molotov cocktails from roofs, balconies, windows, doors and adjoining courtyards. Although the Germans had military superiority, they were not prepared whatsoever for the guerrilla way of fighting they had encountered. On the contrary, Jews had a perfect knowledge of the environment, relied on a number of hiding places, and were difficult to target because of the interconnection of individual houses. After two hours of intense fighting, the Germans withdrew.

Anielewicz and girlfriend Mira Fuchrer in the destroyed Warsaw Ghetto (a painting by Shimon Garmize)

At 11:00 the next morning, soldiers under the command of SS General Jürgen Stroop entered the ghetto, where again they encountered hard resistance from approximately 750 Jewish defenders. Stroop set up artillery and sent soldiers to look for the hiding Jews. In the afternoon of the same day, there was a symbolic event where two Jewish boys climbed to the roof of one of the houses where they put Polish and Jewish flags. Both of them were in the eye of not only to Stroop, but also Himmler. On the evening of the first day, Stroop withdrew his men.

During the following days, the Germans broke the tough resistance with the use of artillery and flame throwers. The smoke and heat from the fire forced a number of Jews to leave their shelters, and some chose to commit suicide by jumping from the windows of burning houses, or they escaped through the sewage lines that were still connected to the Gentile part of the city after the construction of the ghetto. On the third day of the collision, Stroop changed tactics and tried to avoid direct confrontation to reduce the number of German losses. After over four days of fighting, the Jewish headquarters in Muranów fell. Most of the defenders were dead or wounded, and many escaped outside the ghetto.

On April 23, a bunker was built under the house in Miła Street. Until April 25, the Germans captured 25,500 Jews.[5] At the end of the month, many bunkers and hiding places were exposed and most homes were burned to the ground. On May 7, a group led by Zivia Lubetkin set out from the Command Bunkhouse under the Miła Street through a complex sewer system to find an escape route from the ghetto. The same day, however, the bunker was discovered by the Germans – at that time, there were two hundred people[15], including Anielewicz and his girlfriend, and others there. On May 7 Stroop reported the discovery of the bunker of inner 'party leadership' to Krüger, and the following day, he reported to high command that Nazi forces had breached the bunker and the "deputy head of the Jewish military organization ZWZ" (presumably Anielewicz) had successfully been "captured and liquidated"[15] . With no surviving eyewitnesses to confirm Stroop's claims[15], the fate of Anielewicz is unknown; it is assumed that he died on May 8, 1943, alongside his girlfriend and advisors, at the surrounded ŻOB command post at 18 Miła Street. His body was never found and it is believed that it was buried in the ruins of the bunker (covered by the debris of Mila Street) – a site memorialized today as a gravesite – or carried off to nearby crematoria along with all the other Jewish dead. All in all, countless fought to their last breaths amid pure chaos, many succumbing to poison gas or taking their own lives to avoid capture[15]. The Germans had fired into the fortified headquarters with gas hoses to expel the hiding Jewish fighters to the surface. From the bunker, only a handful of them managed to penetrate the sewer network.

Jews from the ghetto captured after the rebellion was suppressed

Several days before the final suppression of the rebellion and shortly after the destruction of the Command Bunker, a rescue operation was carried out, during which about eighty Jewish fighters were transferred to a so-called Aryan section of the city and taken to safety. The event was organized by Yitzhak Zuckerman and Simcha Rotem. Although the Germans planned to destroy the ghetto within three days, the struggles lasted for four weeks and they didn't suppress them definitively until May 16, 1943, when Operation Commander Jürgen Stroop symbolically ended the explosion of the Great Synagogue in Warsaw. Yet, after many months, the remaining surviving Jews were attacking German patrols. Most of those who managed to escape from the ghetto became guerrillas, but were often shot or committed suicide to avoid capture. Many of them later fought alongside the Poles during the Warsaw Uprising in 1944. According to an official German report, written by Stroop, the German army captured 56,065 Jews and destroyed 631 bunkers. He estimated that 7,000 Jews died during the rebellion, and another 7,000 German authorities deported to Treblinka. The remaining Jews, around 42,000, were deported to Majdanek, Poniatowa, Trawniki, Budzyń [pl], and Kraśnik camps. With the exception of several thousand prisoners in the Budzyń and Krasnik camps, the remaining Warsaw Jews from other camps were murdered in November 1943, during Aktion Erntefest.


Anielewicz memorial at Yad Mordechai
General view of Miła 18 memorial, place of death of Mordechai Anielewicz


  1. ^ a b Kowalewska, Aneta (29 April 2008). "Polish-Jewish hero from Wyszków" [Polsko - żydowski wyszkowski bohater]. Tygodnik Ostrołęcki. Wyszków: Polska Press. Wiadomości.
  2. ^ "Mordechai Anielewicz". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 20 October 2017.
  3. ^ "Mordechai Anielevich". Moreshet.
  4. ^ Ainsztein, Reuben (1979). The Warsaw Ghetto Revolt. New York: Waldon Press. pp. 61–3. ISBN 089604-007-0.
  5. ^ a b Plunka, Gene (2012). Staging Holocaust Resistance. Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 49–51. ISBN 978-0230369566.
  6. ^ Gilbertson, David (2014). The Nightmare Dance: Guilt, Shame, Heroism and the Holocaust. Matador. p. 185. ISBN 978-1783064755.
  7. ^ Frucht, Richard (December 22, 2004). Eastern Europe: An Introduction to the People, Lands, and Culture. ABC-CLIO. p. 30. ISBN 978-1576078006.
  8. ^ Dawidowicz, Lucy (June 1, 1976). A Holocaust Reader. Behrman House. p. 98-99. ISBN 978-0874412369.
  9. ^ Astor, Yaakov. "The Final Solution on Tisha B'av".
  10. ^ "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising". United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.
  11. ^ "The Holocaust: Timeline of Jewish Persecution". Jewish Virtual Library.
  12. ^ Shalev, Ziva. "Tosia Altman". Jewish Women's Archive.
  13. ^ "Jewish Resistance: Jewish Fighting Organization Calls for Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto (January 1943)". Jewish Virtual Library.
  14. ^ Arens, Moshe (2011). Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto: The Untold Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. pp. 189–190. ISBN 9789652295279.
  15. ^ a b c d Nazism, 1919-1945. 3. Jeremy Noakes, Geoffrey Pridham. Liverpool University Press. 1988–2001. p. 577. ISBN 978-0-85989-602-3.CS1 maint: date format (link) CS1 maint: others (link)
  16. ^ Gutman, Israel (1994). Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1st ed.). New York: Mariner Books. p. 259. ISBN 0-395-90130-8.
  17. ^ "The Holocaust". Boeliem:The Complete Reference to Israeli Stamps from 1948 and Onwards. 3 January 2009. Archived from the original on 23 September 2015. Retrieved 11 May 2010.


  • Edelman, Marek, and Krall, Hanna. Shielding the Flame: An Intimate Conversation With Dr. Marek Edelman, the Last Surviving Leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Henry Holt and Company, New York, 1986
  • Zuckerman, Yitzhak, A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (A Centennial Book), ISBN 0-520-07841-1

External links[edit]