Jechiel’s Experience During the Uprising in Warsaw
It was just another dreary day in April and the Warsaw ghetto seemed to be lifeless. The residents of the ghetto were waking up from their night’s rest and they were getting ready to start their day. The horses were out carrying people along and everyone was getting ready to go to work. Life in the ghetto was boring, but people needed to work a lot to keep their families safe. It was just another ordinary day for some of the residents in the ghetto, but for others, it was hopefully a start to the journey of freedom. One man in particular whose dream was to escape from the horrible Warsaw ghetto was named Jechiel Gorny.
Jechiel was a big, tall Jewish man who had just turned 30 a few days before being put into the ghetto. He lived with his family his whole life and took care of them by working everyday. He was living with them up until they got deported to Auschwitz in 1942, which eventually separated them. He did not know where they were taken after that, but he ended up being put in the Warsaw ghetto. Jechiel didn’t have that many friends because he was always working, but when he arrived to the ghetto, he wanted to change that. He met a few people and a lot of the other residents respected him.
One of his friends he met in the camp was a guy named Mordecai Anielewicz. They met on a hot summer day a few years before in a bar just outside of Warsaw. Mordecai overheard Jechiel talking about the new horses he just got and was looking to buy a new one. Mordecai was a man who lived on a farm and wanted all the animals he could get. Mordecai was well know because of his work ethic in the ghetto. He always listened to the guards and was well behaved. The Nazi guards liked him the most, but Mordecai disliked all of them because they were mean to the others. All of the Jews in the ghetto looked up to him and he was considered as one of the most important workers because of his work ethic. He never gave the guards a hard time and always put in effort when doing different jobs. One of the jobs he did well was clean out the different kitchens provided in the buildings in the ghetto. Although Mordecai and Jechiel had a lot in common, the most important thing they had was that they wanted to start a revolt.
The two men wanted nothing but to escape from the ghetto so they created the ZOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa). The Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa was the Polish name which meant Jewish Fighting Organization. They made the organization in the summer of 1942 and invited other Jewish residents to join it. It eventually included more than seven hundred and fifty people in it and they all had the same goal, to escape from the ghetto and be free. During some of the night’s different people involved with the ZOB would go outside of their bunkers and smuggle weapons from the Nazi bases. They stole all types of weapons and hid them in their bunkers so the guards wouldn’t find them. The people did this for a few nights until they got enough weapons to fulfill their whole entire army.
On April 19th, early in the morning before the guards switched spots the two men brought everyone together for a meeting. Jechiel and Mordecai were the leaders of the organization and they were making sure everyone was ready to go for the day’s event.
“Today will be a day you will all remember for the rest of your lives,” said Jechiel as he was loading his submachine gun.
As he was talking to several of the other men in the ZOB, Mordecai was handing out weapons to each of his fellow soldiers. Jechiel described his plans which were to kill all of the guards currently in the city and find a building to safely protect people.
“Men, today we will split up and your main goal will be to eliminate all of the Nazi guards you see. Be careful because there are a lot of them. We will split of into groups of four and you will stay with those men till the end.”
Soon after, the ZOB went out and took their positions in the camp. One by one, the ZOB started killing each of the guards. Some of the guards saw that this was happening and got in their trucks and drove off. As the guards drove off, the people went and took their spots in different buildings throughout the ghetto where they hid. Jechiel and some of the other men stationed themselves in one of the buildings on the far west side of the ghetto. They went up to the top floor and chose one of the rooms to hide in. Not one of the Nazi guards was around there so Jechiel and his men put down their weapons. As soon as they settled down in the building they went into the village to gather food and supplies. Once Jechiel and the others gathered their supplies, they were on their way back to the building and they heard a loud noise. They turned around and saw some of the Nazi guards firing at them. When they noticed that, Jechiel and the others ran back to their specific buildings and grabbed their weapons.
As they were running, bullets were being fired at them and a few men were hit. Jechiel, stopped and thought about helping his wounded friends. While in the open area with bullets being fired, he felt his heart pound. He was so nervous and knew that at any minute, he could be killed. Jechiel was so terrified and had never done anything like this before. He finally got enough courage and went back to his wounded friend, picked him up and helped carry him all the way up to the top floor of the building they were stationed at. It seemed like there was some kind of battle calm that just came over him which allowed him to see everything clearly. Some of the members tried healing the bullet wounds of the guy when they got back as the others continued fighting against the Nazi guards, including Jechiel. There were about fifty guards and around seven hundred and fifty ZOB members.
The ZOB and the guards fought for a few hours until most of the guards got killed. Although not all of the guards were killed, some of them left the ghetto and went back to their base. When the fighting was over, the men returned to their buildings. Once Jechiel got done fighting, he went back to the building where his friend got shot. He made sure he was alright and helped him for awhile. Everyone was resting and helping their friend when they heard a knock on the door. They thought it was a Nazi guard, but it turned out to be Mordecai.
They let him in and he went right up to Jechiel and said “Ten of our guys were shot and killed, we need more men in our building. Many are injured and we need some help reviving them. Please have a few men come follow me to my building.”
Jechiel then chose five guys to go with Mordecai and help him on the east side of the ghetto.
“Aaron, Hank, George and Daniel, you go with Mordecai to his building. Help them in anything they might need. Once, you do your job of helping them, come back here and you should be rewarded with extra bread and water.”
The four men went on there way and followed Mordecai to his building where many Jewish people were lying on the floor, scared out of their mind. They started helping everyone and comforting the men who were injured. Many men had bullet wounds in their legs and arms from the Nazi guards. They then gathered supplies and helped revive the men. They supplied the injured men with food, water and medicine they found in the basement of the building. Many of the men were healing and were on their feet within a few days. After about a month, the fighting came to an end. Jechiel, Mordecai and about one hundred people in the ZOB were still alive. They were tired and hungry but they weren’t quite giving up on the revolt. Their goal in the beginning was to escape from the ghetto and that is what they planned on doing. They weren’t going to stop fighting until they were free.
It was May 16th and Jechiel and Mordecai were just waking up. To some of the people it seemed like it was just another morning in the ghetto, but to Jechiel, the morning felt odd. It felt odd because some of the people outside were running to where they needed to go instead of walking. He collected his gun and other materials he needed for the day and went to the building where Mordecai was staying. He talked to Mordecai and they both felt odd when they first woke up. They then realized that the guards hadn’t come to the ghetto yet. They usually came around nine in the morning but today, they didn’t. Mordecai and Jechiel then went to the Great Synagogue to talk to all of the people in the ZOB. Everyone in the ZOB gathered there and listened to Jechiel and Mordecai talk about what the plan was for escaping.
Jechiel stated “We are going to pile everyone in the Nazi vehicles outside of this synagogue and leave around midnight tonight. We will then get out of them near the forest and then go into it. Make sure you have your guns and whatever you need to have when you escape. Only bring what you can carry because we can not be slowed down during our trip to freedom.”
The people choked up and some began to cry because of this terrible news. Many people were quickly realizing they would have to leave most of what they had behind.
He went on to say “There will be many of us so we can not be slowed down by one person carrying many items. We will help each other along this journey but if you get sick during it, it will be up to your closest friends to take care of you. Mordecai and I will need to guide all of you on this journey and we can not slow the whole group down if one or two people are becoming ill or are ill. There will be guards all over the city so we will not go that way.”
One of the members asked “Where will we go if we can’t go through the city? There’s nowhere else.”
“We will go into the forest where no guards will be. Throughout the forest, there will be other Jewish residents hiding from the guards. Do not talk to them or invite them to come along with the rest of us.”
“What if we know some of them?” asked a ZOB member. Everyone started talking and agreed with him. If they saw one of their family members, they would want to invite them along.
“They will only slow us down and we certainly can not afford that. If you do so, you will be kicked out of our group. We will be bringing food and water with us, but most of our nourishment will come from the animals we will hunt along the way. We will share what we catch whether you like it or not. This journey will be a long one so be prepared for it. Please meet in the synagogue tonight at eleven thirty to make sure we have everyone.”
After the meeting, everyone went back to their buildings in which they were staying in. About three hours later, they heard vehicles drive up to the buildings and they looked outside of their windows. They saw the German’s marching into the ghetto with soldiers and tanks. They started going into the different buildings and taking the Jewish residents who were not part of the ZOB. Building by building, they started burning them to the ground. Many of the Jews were burned to death and tried to escape. Jechiel, seeing this, ordered the ZOB to go out and fight, but they were outnumbered. The remaining members of the ZOB sprinted to the Great Synagogue and hid there. While the Jewish residents, who were staying in the buildings over the past month were getting burned alive by the Germans, other Jewish residents were trying to escape at that very moment. They didn’t have that much luck and most of them got killed. The tank that the guys saw earlier in the day was heading straight toward the synagogue where Jechiel, Mordecai and the rest of the ZOB were hiding. They were scared out of their mind and knew this was the end.
The tank was coming closer and closer until it finally got close enough that it didn’t have to move anymore. All of the sudden, the guys in the synagogue heard the bullets stop and everything around them went silent.
Holding his submachine gun nervously, Jechiel whispered “On the count of three, we’re going to open the doors and sprint out of here. Run towards the large tree in the back behind the synagogue, there we’ll jump the fence and run for your life!”
“One, two, three!” whispered Jechiel. They all started to run out of the synagogue, but right when they opened a door, they saw the tank shoot at them. All of the people in the front died and some of them made it out alive and went towards the tree. Jechiel unfortunately died when they shot the tank, but he saved the lives of about fifty men and women.
Jechiel helped many of the members of the ZOB escape. Everyone who made it out alive were grateful for Jechiel and all he did for them. They wish he could have lived and will always remember him. May 16th was a sad day for all Jews and everyone in the ZOB. They will remember this was the day that the Nazi soldiers blew up the Great Synagogue and the day Jechiel Gorny died.