Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Anniversary Poster, 1948
The poster, written in both Yiddish and Hebrew, was created by Polish-Jewish artist Henryk Hechtkopf to commemorate the fifth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The artist was himself a native of Warsaw and a Holocaust survivor.
The poster depicts two people fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The fighters, a man and a women, are holding weapons, while attempting to break through the barbed wire fencing. The poster is a testament to their fight for freedom during the Holocaust. The man in the foreground is slumped an still holding his weapon, he seems to have been killed in the struggle against the Nazis. The woman looms large behind him, her eyes focused on a distant target. The text in Hebrew and in Yiddish reads:
“They fought for our honour and our freedom.”
The second possibility can be gleaned by looking at the positions of the two fighters. The man in the foreground is slumped, and whilst still holding his weapon, seems to have been killed in the fight against the Nazi armies. In contrast, the woman behind him looms large over his prostrate body, eyes focused on a distant target. In addition to paying tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto struggle for freedom, it is possible that Hechtkopf was also attempting to send a subtle message to the emerging Jewish forces in the Land of Israel who were still fighting the War of Independence, encouraging them to take strength from others who had fought against those seeking to destroy them.
It is also significant that Hechtkopf chose the date April 19, the date that the Uprising began, as the date to commemorate the Uprising rather than May 16, the day the Uprising was finally crushed.
The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during the Second World War. It existed from October 1940 to May 1943, and more than 400,000 Jews were imprisoned within it. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place just before the Ghetto was completely cleared of its Jewish population. Mass deportations began on July 22, 1942, and by the time they finished two months later on September 21, over 250,000 Jews had been sent to the Treblinka extermination camp.
A new resistance organisation was established by representatives of Zionist youth movements, political parties, and other individuals under the leadership of Mordechai Anielewicz. The uprising began on April 19, 1943, as the fighters resisted the Nazis attempt to transport the remaining 60,000 Jews in the Ghetto. It lasted over a month and was ended by the German tactic of burning down the entire Ghetto.
The poster was designed by Henryk Hechtkopf, a Polish-Jewish artist whose artistic talents were evident from an early age and whose work was selected to appear in exhibitions of the Jewish Society for Promotion of Art. He also created several films about Jewish life before the Holocaust. He was captured by the Russians during the war and returned to Poland after the war to find that his whole family had been massacred in the Holocaust. Hechtkopf's drawings in the weeks following his return to Warsaw portrayed the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto and the surrounding city. In 1949, Hechtkopf designed the first Polish stamp commemorating the Holocaust.
History teachers could use this resource to discuss the to talk about the Warsaw Jewish community, the Warsaw Ghetto, the Uprising and the Jewish resisitance fighters.
This poster could also trigger a discussion about the different ways that the Holocaust and its victims are remembered.
In Jewish Studies lessons this poster could trigger a discussion about the tensions in Israel regarding the different ways of commemorating the Holocaust and its victims.
Jewish Studies teachers can also show this poster when discussing Yiddish and other Jewish languages.
Who designed this poster?
Describe the figures in the poster.
What are they doing?
What do we learn from the expressions on their faces?
What is written on the poster?
Reading Between the Lines
Why did the artist depict a man and a woman?
Why was it considered important to commemorate the Uprising in 1948?
The artist who designed this poster was Henryk Hechtkopf.
Who was he and what was his connection to the Holocaust?
Why did the Israeli Government decide to commemorate the Holocaust on the anniversary of the Uprising rather than the Liberation of Auschwitz?
Design a modern poster to commemorate the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
They fought for our honour and our freedom
Five years since the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising