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1943: Death and Resistance
 pg. 406 
  The significance of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising went beyond battle reports and casualty statistics. News about the uprising inspired Jewish resistance elsewhere, and increased Nazi uneasiness in the aftermath of the German Army's telling defeat on the Eastern Front at Stalingrad, Russia, late in January. As had been the case in the Warsaw Ghetto, however, Jewish resistance--heroic and spreading though it was--usually lacked the outside support necessary to produce more than moral victories.

While the Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place, a Czech Jew named Richard Glazar struggled to stay alive in Treblinka, a camp located 60 miles northeast of Warsaw. Born in 1920, he was sent to that killing center from the Theresienstadt, Czechoslovakia, camp/ghetto in early October 1942. Treblinka's gas chambers claimed more than 800,000 Jewish lives, but Glazar was among the very few who were spared for work. Like Lubetkin, he resisted and survived to tell his story in the book Trap with a Green Fence.

Glazar regularly saw the trains that delivered thousands of Jews to Treblinka. By the spring of 1943, he knew how far Nazi mass murder had reached, for the convoys brought Jews from distant Bulgaria and Greece. While Jews disappeared forever when they reached Treblinka, their possessions did not. Before the deportees were stripped, gassed, and burned, the Germans plundered their belongings. Glazar remembered the camp as "a huge junk store." Everything could be found in Treblinka, he wrote, "except life." Sorting the loot, wrote Glazar, became the routine work that kept him alive. He and his fellow prisoners understood that they were doomed if the sorting stopped.

Despite overwhelming odds, Jewish resistance did exist in Treblinka. Describing how the trains departing the death camp were loaded with loot, Glazar recalls one occasion when the inmates hid two escapees in the bundles so that the world could learn about the killing. Then, in late May 1943, Glazar saw "the most miserable of all the transports that have ever arrived in Treblinka." The people came from Warsaw. So meager were their remaining possessions that there was little to sort. But in another sense, Glazar emphasized, those last Warsaw transports were rich because they brought news about the ghetto uprising. That news made Glazar and his comrades believe that warnings from the Treblinka escapees had helped to incite the Warsaw uprising. In turn, the Warsaw uprising began to stir Treblinka's prisoners, in Glazar's words, to "give up hoping that you will be the last to escape this naked death. Show the world and yourselves...."

At Treblinka, an inmate resistance group had planned since early spring to seize weapons from the SS armory, take control of the camp, destroy it, and flee to partisan groups in the forest. The date set for the Treblinka uprising was Monday, August 2. About 4:00 p.m., before the resistance leaders could gain full control of the arms cache, a suspicious SS officer was killed by a shot that alerted the camp guards and prematurely signaled the inmates to revolt. During exchanges of gunfire, some prisoners torched parts of the camp. As the escapees ran for their lives, most were gunned down from the camp's watchtowers or caught and killed later. On the day of the uprising, the camp held approximately 850 prisoners. Some 750 tried to escape. Glazar was one of about 70 who survived the Holocaust.

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Commander Jürgen Stroop (center) keeps company with his troops during the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Photo: National Archives / United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Photo Archive

1943: Death and Resistance
 pg. 406 
The Holocaust Chronicle
© 2009 Publications International, Ltd.