The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Uprising: Inside the Warsaw Ghetto, 1943

Remembering a Jewish revolt, with pictures of resistance and doom.

In April 1943, three and half years after seemingly invincible Nazi troops conquered Poland, Jews in the impossibly overcrowded, disease-ridden Warsaw ghetto staged an armed revolt. The rebellion lasted only weeks, but it set the stage and offered a model for a larger, more concerted fight between Germans and Polish resistance fighters a year later. Today, on the 75th anniversary of the start of the uprising, the doomed battle in the ghetto is remembered not because it succeeded, but because it was fought at all. As one of the revolt's leaders put it, Jews fought back "against their destroyers, and determined what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising."

Groundwork for a Ghetto Hugo Jaeger/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images Groundwork for a Ghetto In this photo taken in 1940 by Adolf Hitler's personal photographer, Hugo Jaeger, people in Warsaw line up for water near a sign that reads, in part (in its rough English translation), "Infected Area." The occupying German army used such signs as preparation for establishing ghettos in Warsaw and other Polish cities. In fact, from the party's earliest days, Nazi propaganda associated non-"Aryans" ― and Jews, especially ― with the dual perils of disease and treason. Building an open-air prison as a holding pen before shipping Jewish men, women, and children to death camps was, in its own way, just another logical step toward the the Reich's "final solution" of genocidal slaughter. Slaves to the Reich Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images Slaves to the Reich Here, in 1941, Wehrmacht soldiers transport Jewish men from the Warsaw Ghetto to work as slave laborers in factories and concentration camps elsewhere in the country and other parts of Nazi-occupied Europe. The ghetto was sealed off from the rest of Warsaw in November 1940, 14 months after Germany invaded Poland; streets and other exits and entrances were blocked by an 10-foot high wall topped by barbed wire. Childhood in Hell Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images Childhood in Hell Cold, hungry children in the Warsaw Ghetto, Poland, 1941. According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM): "The population of the ghetto, increased by Jews compelled to move in from nearby towns, was estimated to be over 400,000 Jews. German authorities forced ghetto residents to live in an area of 1.3 square miles, with an average of 7.2 persons per room ... Between 1940 and mid-1942, 83,000 Jews [in the ghetto] died of starvation and disease." By the time the uprising itself was underway, the vast majority of the ghetto's original 400,000 residents had already been sent to concentration camps: Germans deported about 265,000 Jews from Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp alone. Another 30,000 ― 50,000 Jews were killed inside the ghetto during and after the uprising. No Exit Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images No Exit A street ends abruptly at a newly built section of wall, closing the ghetto off from the rest of the city, and from the world. By the autumn of 1940, the Jews in Warsaw were, in a very real sense, alone. Behind those walls, from mid-April to mid-May 1943, the uprising raged. Today, there's a reason the tale endures, and perhaps Marek Edelman, a 23-year-old hospital orderly during the fighting in 1943, captured it best. In 1973, on the 30th anniversary of the revolt, Dr. Edelman, then a heart specialist in Lodz, cited the rebellion as the war's "first armed resistance by the Jews. The ghetto fighting showed that resistance was possible, that our people were willing to fight. They died in the end, anyway, but they died with a different feeling." Vanquished Frederic Lewis/Getty Images Vanquished The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising ended almost before it began ― but its influence on subsequent revolts was out-sized, and lasting. "On April 19, 1943," the USHMM notes, "a new SS and police force appeared outside the ghetto walls, intending to liquidate the ghetto and deport the remaining inhabitants to the forced labor camps.... The ghetto inhabitants offered organized resistance in the first days of the operation, inflicting casualties on the well-armed and equipped SS and police units. They continued to resist deportation as individuals or in small groups for four weeks before the Germans ended the operation on May 16." Pictured: Captured Jewish civilians who participated in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are marched out of the city by Nazi troops, 1943. The Unforgotten Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images The Unforgotten This is one of the most iconic photographs from World War II: a portrait of terrified Warsaw ghetto residents forced from hiding by Nazi troops during the uprising. A 2010 book by Dan Porat, “The Boy: A Holocaust Story," attempted to tell the story of that frightened boy with his arms raised. But as a number of reviewers pointed out, while Porat's book might not have answered all the questions it raised ― Who was that boy? What happened to him, and to the others in the photo? ― that awful mystery at the heart of the photo is a key reason we return to it again and again. Living and Dead Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Living and Dead German soldiers guard prisoners and inspect the dead in Warsaw in the last days of the uprising, 1943. "The SS and police deported approximately 42,000 Warsaw ghetto survivors captured during the uprising to the forced-labor camps at Poniatowa and Trawniki and to the Lublin/Majdanek concentration camp," notes the USHMM. "At least 7,000 Jews died fighting or in hiding in the ghetto, while the SS and police sent another 7,000 to the Treblinka killing center." Where There's Smoke Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Where There's Smoke A patrol of SS men during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1943. Before World War II, Warsaw's Jewish community of more than 350,000 accounted for almost a third of the city's total population. In fact, Warsaw had the largest Jewish population in Europe, and among international cities was second only to New York. No Mercy Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images No Mercy Jurgen Stroop (third from left), a merciless SS commander in occupied Poland who led the suppression of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, watches housing blocks burn during the revolt. Stroop was later captured and tried by an American military tribunal at Dachau concentration camp, where he was found guilty of executing nine U.S. prisoners of war. Two years after the war in Europe ended, in May 1947, Stroop was turned over to the People's Republic of Poland for trial. He was found guilty of mass murder of Poles (Jews and Gentiles) and was hanged in a Warsaw prison in March 1952. And Then There Was One STF/AFP/Getty Images And Then There Was One Nazi troops guard a captured Jewish fighter after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 1943. Nothingness Imagno/Getty Images Nothingness Little but rubble and scorched earth was left of the Warsaw Ghetto after the uprising. Incredibly, for months after German troops destroyed the ghetto, some Jews continued to hide amid the ruins ― and even occasionally attacked Germans on patrol. Thousands more lived in hiding throughout Warsaw, outside the ghetto's old boundaries. They would not stay in hiding for long. Warsaw Resistance: Round II Universal History Archive/UIG via Getty Images Warsaw Resistance: Round II In August 1944, after word came that Soviet forces were massing on the eastern bank of the Vistula, the longest river in Poland, resistance fighters rose up against the Germans ― in an effort to liberate Warsaw, or at least weaken the enemy ahead of a long-expected Red Army assault. "The Soviets failed to intervene," the USHMM notes, and "the Germans eventually crushed the revolt and razed the center of the city to the ground in October 1944." More than 150,000 people lost their lives in the second, citywide Warsaw uprising, including thousands of Jews who fought alongside the rebels or were discovered hiding in various parts of the city. It would be another five months, in mid-January 1945, before the Red Army finally liberated Warsaw from German occupation.