Before World War II, Warsaw was a center of Jewish life and culture in Poland. During the war, the Nazis established ghettos where they forced Jews to live under crowded and miserable conditions. At its height, the ghetto in Warsaw—the largest in Europe—held over 400,000 Jews engaged in a constant struggle for survival.
With a prewar Jewish population of over 350,000, Warsaw was home to Europe's largest Jewish community and a center of Jewish life and culture in Poland.
The city fell to German forces in late September 1939.
Beginning in October 1940, the Germans forced Warsaw's Jews, about 30 percent of the total population, into a ghetto that covered only 2.4 percent of the city.
To prevent movement to and from the rest of Warsaw, the ghetto was closely guarded and enclosed by a wall that was over 10 feet high.
Impoverished ghetto residents struggled for survival.
In 1941 and 1942, Jews from surrounding communities were deported to the ghetto. At its height, the population exceeded 400,000.
In July 1942, the Germans began mass deportations to the Treblinka killing center, about 50 miles northeast of Warsaw.
Ghetto residents were forced to an assembly point and crowded into railroad freight cars. When they arrived at Treblinka, most deportees were killed.
By September 1942, the ghetto population was reduced to about 55,000.
In January 1943, the Germans renewed deportations from the ghetto.
Members of Jewish underground resistance groups inside the ghetto took to the streets to resist the roundups. The Germans deported 6,500 Jews before halting the operation.
During the next few months, resistance groups and individuals constructed bunkers and worked to obtain arms.
When deportations were renewed in April 1943, the vastly outnumbered ghetto fighters fought back in an uprising that lasted nearly a month.
At the end, the Germans burned the ghetto to force people out of their hiding places.
By May 16, 1943, the Germans had crushed the uprising and left the ghetto area in ruins. Surviving ghetto residents were deported to concentration camps or killing centers.