On 16 August 1943, 300 fighters of the Anti-Fascist Fighting Organization staged a revolt in the Białystok Ghetto, in what would end up being the second-largest act of armed resistance of Jews against the Nazis.
Białystok, a city near the present-day border of Poland and Belarus came under Nazi occupation in June 1941. Within the first few weeks of Nazi Germany’s occupation, the Einsatzgruppen and local police groups rounded up and killed approximately 6,000 Jews, and subsequently forced approximately 50,000 Jews from the city and nearby areas into the city’s ghetto.
The revolt was sparked by the entry of SS forces into the ghetto, who intended to transfer the residents to concentration camps. While the rebellion’s chance of success was minimal, the rebels believed it was better to die fighting than face deportation.
The insurrectionists were led by Mordechai Tenenbaum and Daniel Moszkowicz, who together acquired about 25 rifles and 100 pistols from Bronka Klibanski, a well-known Jewish resistance member. In an appeal to the Jews of the ghetto, Tenenbaum said, “We shall not go like lambs to the slaughter! If we are too weak to defend our lives – we are strong enough to defend our Jewish honor and our human dignity. We shall fall like heroes, and in our death – we will not die!”
The insurrectionists planned to make a hole in the wall of the ghetto and escape into the nearby forests. However, the Nazis, having experienced the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising several months prior, were well-prepared and were able to extinguish the uprising. According to historian and revolt-participant Szymon Datner, the 300 insurrectionists were severely outgunned by the Nazis, who numbered almost three-thousand and were armed with light tanks and aircrafts.
By the end of the operation, more than one hundred Jews successfully escaped into the forest and joined partisan groups nearby. However, hundreds of others were killed, including 71 members of the resistance discovered together in a bunker. Approximately 10,000 Jews from the Białystok Ghetto would be captured and deported to Treblinka and other death camps.