Director: Jon Avnet.
Starring: Leelee Sobieski (Tosia Altman), Hank Azaria (Mordechai Anielewicz), David Schwimmer (Yitzhak 'Antek' Zuckerman), Jon Voight (Maj. Gen. Jurgen Stroop), Donald Sutherland (Adam Czerniakow), Stephen Moyer (Simha 'Kazik' Rotem), Sadie Frost (Zivia Lubetkin), Radha Mitchell (Mira Fuchrer), Mili Avital (Devorah Baron), Eric Lively (Arie Wilner), Alexandra Holden (Frania Beatus), John Ales (Marek Edelman), Andy Nyman (Calel Wasser), Nora Brickman (Clara Linder), Jesper Christensen (Gen. Kruger).
uprising in the Warsaw ghetto
Spoiler Warning: below is a summary of the entire movie.
1943. Warsaw ghetto uprising.
1939. Warsaw, Poland.
September 1 -- Germany invades.
September -- Poland surrenders.
350,000 Jews moved to the ghetto.
Tosia Altman's father is beaten for being in a non-Jewish bread line, while she is able to get the bread because she looks less "Jewish". A Jewish policemen working for the Nazis, Calel, pays a call to Mordechai Anielewicz to tell him the he is wanted for a work detail. Mordechai is a bit of a rebel and he talks back to Calel. The situation escalates and Mordechai ends up subduing the policeman. Mordechai then heads outside to be with his friend Yitzhak. They both run into another friend, Kazik, who is the driver for the head of the Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow. Mordechai and Yitzhak try to get Kazik to introduce them to Czerniakow. On a farm outside of Warsaw Mordechai leads a group of young students in their preparations for a possible emigration to Palestine.
The Germans demand that all Jewish people must wear a star of David armband on their right arm. Any Jew found illegally on the Aryan side is to be executed. Mordechai sets out to the border in preparation for the students crossing but is betrayed by his guide and is caught.
Czerniakow is to meet with the Nazi leadership. He learns that the Germans will charge them for just about everything, including the gasoline the Germans used to burn down a Jewish synagogue. Czerniakow becomes so disgusted that he wants to resign but is told that it would be "inadvisable".
Tosia gets stopped on the street. The policeman forcibly takes her hidden bread from her. When she begs him to give it back for the sake of her ill father, he throws the bread on the ground and steps on it. Back with her father, she learns from him that he knows that her mother is sewing for rich Polish women.
The Germans are holding 23 Jews hostage. They charge the Jewish Council a lot of money to get the hostages back. Czerniakow tries hard to raise the money but is still 80,000 zlotys short. So he gets Rabbi Lebowicz to help him. He goes with the Rabbi to speak to the owner of a fancy brothel. The owner gives the money to the rabbi, but the owner tells Czerniakow that if he brings the rabbi around again to his place, he will kill him (Czerniakow). Czerniakow goes to see Commissar Auerswald to free the Pawiak hostages, but the Commissar has gone for the day. The head of the Jewish Council is extremely concerned because he is worried about not being able to meet the deadline. He feels tricked and betrayed when he is told that he need not worry about the deadline because the hostages have already been executed in the morning.
After being captured, Mordechai is tortured. Being a very smart fellow, however, he is able to get the gun away from his torturer and escape.
November 1940. This month there have been 4,000 deaths in the ghetto from starvation and typhus. The total lost so far has been one-third of the total number of Jews in the ghetto. Even so, the Jewish ghettoized population is now almost 450,000. And now the Jews are being charged for the construction of the very ghetto wall that enslaves them.
Kazik joins the resistance. Yitzhak has received a nasty beating. Mordechai is still trying to get into see Czerniakow, but the man refuses to see him. Czerniakow will not support the resistance.
November 1941. Tosia's father dies. The Jewish underground has set up underground soup kitchens and schools.
Yitzhak learns of the mass killings in the village where his parents live. Since the report is that everyone there has been killed, he has to face the reality that he has now lost both his parents. And yet still the Jewish Council actively opposes the resistance. The Germans break up a musical performance presented by the underground. After the break-up, three German soldiers harass some of the Jewish musicians. Mordechai and Kazik watch the soldiers as they brutalize the musicians. When they can take no more, they surprise the soldiers and kill all three. In retaliation the Germans break up the offices of the underground.
News arrives that deportations of the Jews to "work camps" will begin. Czerniakow speaks with the Commissar. He wants to know if at the camps the deportees are killed as he has heard. The Commissar says there is no truth to the rumors. About 6,000 people a day wi'l be deported to the east. The Commissar tries to get Czerniakow to sign a document agreeing to the deportations, but he refuses.
July 22, 1942. The deportations begin. Tosia's mother and sister are deported. The underground sends a man to follow the trains to find out definitively where they go and what happens to the deportees. Czerniakow kills himself.
September 1942. The man sent to find out what was happening to the deportees returns from the Treblinka concentration camp. Crying, he tells his comrades that the deportees are gassed and then burned. By now about 300,000 Warsaw ghetto residents have either died or have been deported. The Jewish Polish policeman joins the resistance, but Mordechai does not trust him. They will give him small tasks to see if he will perform them without informing.
Tosia agrees to go on trips outside the ghetto to smuggle weapons. She is also given the assignment of getting the map of Treblinka to England. She is grabbed by a German soldier and told to go into a shack. There she is told to strip naked. She leaves her shoes on because the map is in the left shoe. At the last second, Calel is able to get Tosia's interrogator out of the shack and her enough time to get dressed and escape. She continues on her mission. Kazik meets her and later they meet with Michael Klepfisch and Arie Wilner.
Mordechai is told that Calel passed the test. So he is given the task of handling his boss Captain Szerynski.. Calel knocks on the man's door and when he opens it Calel shoots him dead.
ZOB, the Jewish Fighting Organization. Tosia gives dynamite to Marek. Kazik asks Mordechai to let him work with the brushmakers because he has taking a liking to brushmaker Devorah Buron.
January 9, 1943. Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler and General Kruger tour the Warsaw ghetto. Their guide Colonel von Sammern tells them that there are only 30 to 40 thousand Jews left in the ghetto and is told that the number is too many. They want him to be completely rid of the "vermin".
January 18, 1943. The news arrives that "It's a blockade! We are surrounded." The uprising now has to start. The Jewish fighters start killing German soldiers. They have some success. Mordechai tells them: "For the first time, we have stopped the deportations."
Arie and Tosia become boyfriend/girlfriend. Soon after Arie is caught and tortured. Frania will escort Yitzhak to the Aryan side to replace Arie. Jewish headquarters bribes the Gestapo agents to get Arie out. Arie is brought to headquarters.
Colonel von Sammern is replaced by Major-General Jurgen Stroop. Dr. Fritz Hippler comes with him to film the crushing of the uprising. News arrives at Jewish headquarters that German soldiers are massing by the hundreds just outside the ghetto.
April 19. Stroop gets a message from Himmler saying that Warsaw is to be free of Jews by the time of Hitler's birthday, tomorrow. The Germans meet stiff resistance at the brushmakers factory. After another setback, the Germans finally bring in tanks and artillery to bring down the ghetto buildings.
Headquarters receives the news that their hoped-for weapons did not make it through to the ghetto.
Easter Sunday. Mordechai learns that the Germans have blocked all exits. Tosia arrives from the Aryan section. Yitzhak tries and fails to get arms from the Polish resistance. They are saving their limited resources for bigger projects.
Mordachai is introduced to Schmuel Asher who is now in charge of a large underground area. The area becomes the new headquarters. The place has five entrances and five exits. Mordechai sends Kazik to Yitzhak in the Aryan sector through the tunnel at Muranowska. Zivia and Marek are sent to find an exit through the sewer canals. Kazik is able to get to Yitzhak.
Major-General Stroop says that something is wrong. The Jews now only fight them at night. Later Stroop asks Hippler to tell him more about his film The Eternal Jew. The film was suggested by Himmler himself who thought that the Germans were not anti-Semitic enough. Stroop mentions that the women Jewish ghetto fighters have been very fierce warriors.
The Germans now send gas into the underground network. Many of the ghetto fighters are killed. But Toscia finds a way out through the sewer system and some of them are saved. Kazik comes up from the sewer back into the ghetto. He can hardly believe his eyes. Almost everything has been destroyed and flattened to just one continuous heap of rubble. He starts to lose hope when Tosia arrives. He tells her: "I thought I was the last Jew in the ghetto." Tosia asks him to show her and the other survivors the way out through the sewer system. In the sewer system the group of around sixty-five survivors runs into Marek and Ziva who, on their task to find an exit, lost their way.
General Kruger informs Stroop that some of the ghetto leaders are still alive. He is very disappointed with Stroop.
Yitzhak tries to get a truck to get the last survivors out of Warsaw. The Germans placed barbed wire in the canals. They then start flooding the sewers using water hoses. Yitzhak blows up the water line to stop the sewer flooding. Kazik and Yitzhak hijack a truck. They have the truck driver drive the truck to the sewer exit. The group of Jewish survivors come out of the sewer and get onto the truck. They have to leave some of the survivors behind because they have to leave before the Germans catch them. General Kruger tells Stroop that he may receive a commendation for his work, but between the two of them Kruger knows that Stroop let the "bandits" get away.
The last scene is of the Jewish ghetto survivors safe in the forest outside Warsaw.
Zachariah Aretenstein and his group of fighters lived underground in the ghetto and continued fighting for months. Stroop was convicted of war crimes and hanged on the former site of the Warsaw ghetto. General Kruger committed suicide. Dr. Hippler was found not guilty due to the lack of evidence.
Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin established the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz in Israel and raised two children there. Marek Edelman remained in Poland and became a renowned heart surgeon. He became a national hero during the Solidarity Movement. Tosia Altman was captured a week after her escape. She died in the custody of the Gestapo. Kazik cared for thousands of Jews in hiding until the war's end. He went to Israel, got married and had children. He then became CEO of a supermarket chain.
Good movie. It felt wonderful when the Warsaw ghetto fighters finally started killing German soldiers. They fought bravely and heroically, partly motivated, of course, by the feeling that they were all going to be killed by the Germans anyway in one way or another. At least they took out quite a few Germans before they were killed themselves. And at least some of the ghetto residents got out alive. These holocaust movies are hard to watch and it's good to see the Jews give it to the Germans for a change.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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