WARSAW, Poland — Boruch Spiegel, one of the last remaining survivors of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising by poorly armed Jewish insurgents against the powerful Nazi German force that occupied Poland, has died. He was 93.
Spiegel died May 9 in Montreal, where he had spent the past four years in a nursing home, his son Julius Spiegel said Tuesday.
With Spiegel’s death, the tiny group of survivors of the legendary World War II revolt that was crushed 70 years ago this month grows even smaller.
Spiegel was one of about 750 Jewish fighters who on April 19, 1943, launched an uprising that took the Germans off guard. The fighters were overwhelmingly outnumbered and outgunned and the revolt never had a real chance of victory, but the fighters still managed to hold out for a month, longer than some countries invaded by Hitler.
Their struggle endures as a symbol of resistance against the odds and a desire to maintain human dignity in the worst of possible conditions.
Ultimately, though, the German revenge was brutal and involved burning the Warsaw ghetto down building by building. A few dozen of the Jewish fighters survived by escaping the ghetto through underground sewage canals to reach the so-called "Aryan side" of the Polish capital. Spiegel and his future wife Chaika Belchatowska were among them. Others were sent to camps, where most died.
After surviving the ghetto uprising, Spiegel and his future wife joined the Polish partisans and also took part in the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, a larger city-wide revolt against the occupying Germans.
"He was essentially an ordinary guy forced by circumstances to do things that were out of character," Julius Spiegel told The Associated Press.
It’s not clear how many of the fighters are still living, but the number is certainly small.
When Poland held national ceremonies last month marking the 70th anniversary of the start of the ghetto uprising, officials in Warsaw said they believed there could be four survivors left. Only one, Simha Rotem, was visibly present at the ceremony, giving a speech and accepting a high state honor from the Polish president.
However, Havi Dreifuss, a historian and Holocaust expert with Tel Aviv University and Yad Vashem, the Jerusalem-based Holocaust research institution and museum, warned against trying to put a number on how many fighters remain, in part because it’s sometimes hard to distinguish fighters from other resisters.
She noted that aside from those with weapons, there were others who were entrenched in hiding places and refused to obey Nazi orders to show up for transportations to labor or concentration camps, and that an appreciation has grown over time for their resistance during the uprising.
Spiegel is survived by his son, Julius, a retired parks commissioner for Brooklyn, daughter Mindy Spiegel of Montreal, and four grandchildren. His wife died in 2002.