It has often been asked why Jews did not resist the Holocaust. Although there were indeed many obstacles to armed resistance – including the demoralisation and deprivation caused by ghetto life, an overwhelming imbalance of military forces, lack of advance knowledge of German intentions, and fear that loved ones could be victims of reprisals – there was in fact significant Jewish resistance. The most prominent example was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May 1943; this was the last letter of its leader Mordechai Anielewicz.

It is impossible to put into words what we have been through. One thing is clear, what happened surpassed our boldest expectations. The Germans fled twice from the ghetto... I feel that great things are happening and that what we have dared do is of enormous significance...

It is impossible to describe the conditions under which the Jews of the ghetto are now living. Only a few will hold out. The remainder will perish sooner or later. Their fate is sealed. In almost all the hiding places in which thousands are concealing themselves it is practically impossible to light a candle for lack of air…

The fact that we are remembered beyond the ghetto walls encourages us in our struggle. Peace go with you, dear friend! Perhaps we may still meet again! The dream of my life has been fulfilled. Jewish self-defence in the ghetto has become a fact. Jewish armed resistance and revenge have become a reality. I have been a witness to the magnificent, heroic fighting of Jewish men in battle.

Mordechai died two weeks after writing this letter. The poorly armed rebels knew that they could not defeat the Nazis but they managed to resist the Germans for a month in what was the first major civilian uprising anywhere in Nazi-occupied Europe. In the months that followed, there were revolts in dozens of ghettos across Poland and the Soviet Union.

Photo: Mordechai Anielewicz; Yad Vashem

Letter: [Maria Kann], Na oczach świata (KOPR, 1943)