By Susanne Klingenstein

            On September 29,  1939, the Germans arrived in Warsaw.  The harassment and brutalization of Jews in the streets and in their homes began right away.  On October 12, 1940, the eve of Yom Kippur, the Germans announced the establish­ment of a ghetto in the old Jewish section in the north of Warsaw.  Within a year it was filled to capacity: in March 1941, some 450,000 Jews were living in just 14,000 residential buildings, seven or eight people to a room.  On July 22,1942, the day of Tisha be-Av, the deportations began.  Within 45 days, 253,000 Jews had been killed or deported to Treblinka.  On September 12, 1942, the Germans mysteriously stopped their Aktion (initiative).

            Stunned and incapable of feeling anything, the 73,000 remaining Jews came out of their hiding places.  Slowly their souls filled with rage.  Two resistance groups reorganized themselves, tried to buy weapons from the Polish underground and got ready to fight.  On January 18, 1943, the Germans returned to the ghetto.   They were in for a surprise: They were shot at by the Jews, suffered casualties and did not manage to fill their quota of 8,000 Jews.  This had never happened before.  The Germans withdrew and did not return until April 19.  The Jews were ready for them.  Some 750 poorly armed Jews attacked the 2,000 well-nourished Germans who moved into the ghetto with tanks, cannons and flame-throwers. 

In the afternoon of the first day of fighting, two boys climbed onto a roof and unfurled two flags: a red and white one for Poland and blue and white one for the Jews.  The flags didn’t save any lives, but they raised the fighting spirit of the Jews.  It took the Germans three weeks to defeat the Jews.  On May 16, it was all over.  At 8:15 in the evening, the Germans blew up the grand synagogue on Tlomackie Street, a symbolic gesture that signified the end of the Jews of Warsaw.  The commander of the Aktion reported to his superior in Cracow: “The former Jewish quarter of Warsaw no longer exists.”  Of the remaining Jews, 17,000 had been killed on the spot; 7,000 were sent to Treblinka, and 42,000 were sent to Majdanek near Lublin.

The news that Jews had taken up arms against the Germans was of enormous moral and psychological importance to the Jews under Nazi rule and left a legacy of courage that reverberates to this day.

To commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising literary scholar Dr. Susanne Klingenstein (Harvard Medical School), pianist Eugenia Gerstein and mezzo-soprano Sophie Michaux present an engaging program consisting of Yiddish songs and diary texts at three venues.  The program will be first presented on April 17, 6-7:30pm at Congregation Mishkan Tefila (700 Hammond Pond Parkway, Chestnut Hill).  The program is followed from 7:30 to 9:00pm by a symposium  titled “Armed and Moral Resistance,” chaired by Prof. John Michalczyk and moderated by Prof. Lorenz Reibling (both of Boston College). It features a screening of excepts from Roman Polanski’s 2001 film The Pianist, about a Jewish musician who was saved by a German Wehrmacht officer.   Documentary filmmaker Marian Marzynski, who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto as a child will participate in the panel discussion, following the movie. For more information see:

On April 19, 2013, from 6-7:30pm Klingenstein, Gerstein and Michaux will present their narrative and musical program about the Warsaw Ghetto at the Goethe Institut (170 Beacon Street, Boston). Noted cellist Ronald Crutcher, the President of Wheaton College, and Eugenia Gerstein will play a section from “Jewish Life” by Ernest Bloch.  For more information:

On April 21, the program will be presented at Brandeis University (Waltham).  Klingenstein will be joined as narrator by  Dr. Kathy Lawrence, wife of Brandeis President Frederick Lawrence.  Mezzo-soprano Michaux and pianist Gerstein will be joined by Cantor Elias Rosemberg and the Temple Emanuel Choir of Newton, conducted by Eugenia Gerstein. The accompanist is Jeremiah Klarman (New England Conservatory of Music).  The event is held from 4:30-6pm in the Rapaporte Treasure Hall in the Goldfarb Library on the Brandeis University Campus.

A version of this article was previously published in the Shalom Magazine


This post has been contributed by a third party. The opinions, facts and any media content are presented solely by the author, and JewishBoston assumes no responsibility for them. Want to add your voice to the conversation? Publish your own post here.