Recently, Republican presidential hopeful Dr. Ben Carson told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that if Europe's Jews had been armed, the extent of the slaughter would have been "greatly diminished." I mean... maybe. Many people forget that there were several occasions where armed Jews rebelled against the Nazi regime. Uprisings occurred in the Jewish ghettos of Warsaw, Bialystok, and Minsk, among others. Amazingly (and heroically), Jews held in the concentration camps of Treblinka and Sobibor also staged armed rebellions.
The Warsaw ghetto uprising was the first and largest of these armed resistances. After the invasion of Poland, German forces started concentrating the Polish Jewish populations in a few large cities. Hundreds of thousands of people were forced to live in an area of roughly one square mile under squalid conditions. In 1942, about 300,000 Jews were rounded up in Warsaw and deported to the Treblinka concentration camp, where almost all died. 50,000 to 60,000 were left in the ghetto. On July 28, 1942, several Jewish underground organizations created an armed unit they called the Jewish Combat Organization. The Revisionist Party (a right-wing Zionist group) formed another resistance organization—the Jewish Military Union. Together they numbered no more than 700.
Jewish fighters being arrested by German forces via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The uprising can be broken down into three different stages. In January of 1942, a group of men who were being 'escorted' to the death trains broke ranks and, with pistols that had been smuggled into the ghetto, attacked their German escorts. Most of the Jewish men died. However, the act galvanized the ghetto and preparations were soon made to resist the imminent deportations to the death camps. The major part of the uprising occurred in mid-April of 1942. Armed with pistols, grenades, automatic weapons and rifles, the Jewish fighters surprised the Germans and forced them to retreat.
Unfortunately, the victory was short-lived. Backed with reinforcements, the Nazi commanders ordered that ghetto be burned one building at a time. For close to thirty days, the ghetto burned while the remaining Jewish rebels tried to kill as many Germans as they could. About 7,000 Jews died during the uprising (along with a few hundred German soldiers). The survivors, about 40,000 Jewish men, women, and children, were sent to the gas chambers at Treblinka. In mid-May, SS Major General Jürgen Stroop announced that the Warsaw Jewish ghetto was no more. They might have had guns, but sadly and tragically, this was not enough to combat a well organized and well equipped national army.
Featured photograph via United States Holocaust Memorial Museum