Uprising in the Vilna Ghetto of Poland
Vilna was a typical ghetto in Northeastern Poland. The Jews housed there experienced brutality, starvation and deprivation. When Hitler first came across the community, it contained sixty to seventy thousand Jews. He decided that there would be two ghettoes made from that
community. The first ghetto would be for the skilled and "useful" Jews, while the second
ghetto would be "a pen attached to an abattoir, where the human cattle are kept in readiness for the slaughter of the fields" (Eckman 18).
German troopers came in to flick their whips and swing their clubs in the ordinary public places of the ghetto. The daily murders that started on September 6, 1941, started the formation of the ghetto. On Yom Kippur
1700 Jews were selected for extermination. But, the Jews agreed to
stand up for themselves.
The grouping for extermination, brought on the first act of collective
resistance in the ghetto. The Jews selected for the slaughter staged
a sit-down strike. They simply refused to march to the death
chambers at nearby Ponany. Of course this simply act did not stop
their subsequent extermination but, they were able to stand
up for their rights as a human.
Then the Judenrat and Jewish Council were formed. The leaders tried to make life somewhat more pleasant for the Jews by establishing schools, art lectures, and other cultural events, but he resistance continued.
Between November, 1941 and January 1942, a nucleus of activists came together to organize the resistance. The goal was to oppose the Germans
militarily. A man named Itsik Wittenberg would emerge as the commander for such a battalion. The nucleus formed the United Partisan
Organization (UPO) and divided into two battalions, each consisting of 6-8 units. (Eckman 25)
One of the problems of the battalions, was the lack of weaponry.
When there were no guns, the fighting had to go on with knives,
sticks, or whatever else they could find at that moment. Commanders
were never passive. Weapons were taken as spoils from the German
troops during their battles. Their ultimate goal was to wait for
sufficient arms for the masses of ghetto people and then blow
up the ghetto and the Nazi ammunition dumps, then lead the
Jew into the forest where other partisans were already waiting.
(Eckman 27) There were also groups and individuals in the
ghetto who did not join the UPO, and resisted on their own. These
groups included the Yehiel Sheinbaum group and the Kvuzath
Ha-Mavak group. (Eckman 28)
At times the Jewish Police would get involved into the uprisings and the partisans would have to fight "Jew against Jew". The German police would also come and fight. They made arrests and deportations.
The final plan of the partisans in Vilna was formed after the untimely death
of the leader Wittenberg. The new commander, Aba Kovner, and the
rest of the Jews decided to escape into the sewers where they would
have a stash of machine guns waiting for them. The final liquidation
of the Jews in the ghetto was ordered on September 23, 1943,
and the public had witnessed the hanging of three Jewish defense
partisans knew that the time was apparent for action.