Author Archives: Yisrael Guttman

Yisrael Guttman

About Yisrael Guttman

Yisrael Guttman, previously Yad Vashem's Chief Historian and Head of the International Institute for Holocaust Research, is Yad Vashem's Academic Advisor. He was a member of the Jewish Underground in the Warsaw ghetto, and he survived Auschwitz.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Reprinted with permission from Genocide: Critical Issues of the Holocaust (Rossel Books & Behrman House).

The idea of organizing armed resistance was first raised among the members of the Zionist Halutz youth movements in Vilna, Poland. Jewish Vilna, "The Jerusalem of Lithuania," numbered 60,000 people before the war and had been notable for its internal unity and strong attachment to Jewish culture, religion, and Zionism.

Report from Ponary

From July 1941 to the end of the year, two-thirds of the Jewish community was uprooted and taken to unknown destinations. A few survivors, who were wounded and shaken to the core, managed to make their way back to the ghetto, where they spread the shocking news that all the deportees had been taken to Ponary, located near Vilna, where they all were shot.

In the first poster issued by the Vilna Halutz movement to the Jews of the city in January 1942, it was stated:

All the roads of the Gestapo lead to Ponary.
And Ponary is death!
Doubters! Cast off all illusions. Your children, your husbands, and your wives are no longer alive.
Ponary is not a camp–all are shot there.
Hitler aims to destroy all the Jews of Europe.
The Jews of Lithuania are fated to be the first in line.
Let us not go as sheep to slaughter!
It is true that we are weak and defenseless, but resistance is the only reply to the enemy!
Brothers! It is better to fall as free fighters than to live by the grace of the murderers.
Resist! To the last breath.

This appeal stated that the events in Vilna were not local, but that Vilna was merely the first step in implementing the plan "to kill all the Jews of Europe." This was the first time that a Jewish source, which did not have any information from either German or other sources, mentioned the total annihilation of the Jewish people.

Moreover, this was the first appeal to call for revolt. For the first time, the demand for Jewish armed resistance was openly stated. In January 1942, the FPO (Fareinikte Partizaner Organizatziye, Yiddish for United Partisans Organization) was established in Vilna.