Women marching to deportation

16th May marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the single largest revolt by Jewish people during World War II. It lasted from 19 April to 16 May 1943; it is reported that around 13,000 people were killed and 57,000 people were deported to various concentration camps, notably Treblinka.

Faced with the horrors of WWII, fifteen-year-old Mary Berg began a diary covering her experiences which became the first ever eye-witness account of life in the Warsaw Ghetto. We’ve picked seven quotes from the book that cover the Uprising in all its bravery and violence.

 

We, who have been rescued from the ghetto, are ashamed to look at each other. Had we the right to save ourselves? Why is it so beautiful in this part of the world? Here everything smells of sun and flowers, and there—there is only blood, the blood of my own people. God, why must there be all this cruelty? I am ashamed. Here I am, breathing fresh air, and there my people are suffocating in gas and perishing in flames, burned alive. Why?

From every window and roof, from every ruined wall, the Nazis were met with a hail of bullets from automatic rifles. The signal for the fight was given by a group of young people who pelted the approaching German tanks with hand grenades. The Nazis returned after lunch with field artillery, and opened a barrage on Nowolipie, Bonifraterska, and Franciszkanska Streets. Then the pitched battle began.

The Jewish women took an active part in the fighting, hurling heavy stones and pouring boiling water on the attacking Germans. Such an embittered and unequal battle is unprecedented in history.

The streets of the ghetto were an inferno. Shrapnel burst in the air, and the hail of bullets was so dense that anyone who put his head out of a window was hit. The Germans used more firing power during the Battle of the Ghetto than during the siege of Warsaw. Nalewki, Nowolipie, Franciszkanska, Karmelicka, Smocza, Mila, Nizka, and Gesia Streets and Muranowski Square were completely destroyed. Not a single house remained in those streets. Even the bare walls of the burned houses were later blown up with dynamite. For many nights, the fire of the ghetto could be seen for miles around Warsaw. “When we left the Pawiak,” one of the newly arrived internees told us from a window of the Hotel Providence, “we saw an enormous mountain of fire and the houses on Dzielna Street shook from the explosions.”

The wallpaper in our rooms is covered with a complicated, dark red design. Once I stared at this paper, and fancied that the red lines on it were merging into long red streams of blood... Thus their blood streamed, merging with the flames. Our blood, our bones, burning to ash. God, why do we have to suffer all this? Uncle Abie, Romek, and the others... Perhaps some of them have escaped?

Even the Germans were amazed at the heroic resistance put up by the defenders of the ghetto. They could not understand where these starved, exhausted people drew so much courage and strength from in their fight for the last citadel of Polish Jewry.

The Battle of the Ghetto lasted for five weeks. Its starved, exhausted defenders fought heroically against the powerful Nazi war machine. They did not wear uniforms, they had no ranks, they received no medals for their superhuman exploits. Their only distinction was death in the flames. All of them are Unknown Soldiers, heroes who have no equals.

Mary Berg as a young girl