Warsaw remembers Holocaust: Fifty years ago hundreds of Jews mounted a desperate ghetto revolt against the Nazis

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The Independent Online
WARSAW - Thousands of Jews held ceremonies in Poland yesterday to mark the 50th anniversary of a Second World War uprising in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto and remind the world of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Visitors from Israel, North and South America, the former Soviet Union and Europe filled Warsaw's only synagogue, which stands on the site of the Jewish ghetto where the rebellion against the Nazis began on 19 April 1943. They were joined by representatives of Poland's dominant Roman Catholic church in a sign of solidarity with the 6 million Jewish victims of the Nazi terror, half of whom were Polish citizens.

The German occupiers imprisoned Warsaw's Jews behind walls of brick and barbed wire overnight on 14 November 1940. Over the next two and a half years, cut off from the world, about 100,000 perished of brutality or starvation. Another 300,000 were deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka.

On 19 April 1943, at the start of the Jewish holiday of Passover, the Nazis moved with tanks and artillery to exterminate the last 40,000 survivors of what had been pre-war Europe's largest Jewish population. The Germans were met by home- made grenades and a courage beyond their imagining. Shocked by the resistance and 200 German dead, they withdrew.

It took them three weeks, using flame-throwers, listening devices and dogs, to empty every hiding place. In the end, the Nazis set the ghetto on fire. On 16 May, they declared the ghetto destroyed and celebrated by blowing up the main synagogue. About 7,000 Jews died in the final conflagration and more than 30,000 were sent to death camps.

Mordechaj Anielewicz, the uprising's 24-year-old commander, committed suicide with 100 other fighters on 8 May, when the Nazis filled their bunker with poisoned gas. Seventy- five other insurgents escaped through sewers. A few survived the war, among them Marek Edelman, a cardiologist in Lodz who is the last living leader of the ghetto uprising.

The fighting in the uprising 'was a symbolic thing', he recalled recently. 'The principle is what matters. Today, when the world is going back to nationalism and chauvinism, the principle from that time should be a warning.' Baroness Thatcher toured the ghetto area on Saturday accompanied by Dr Edelman. Yitzhak Rabin makes the first trip to Poland by an Israeli prime minister today for the anniversary of the revolt.