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Chaike B. Spiegel

Chaike Belchatowska
Chaike B. Spiegel, Who Battled Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, Dies at 81
Published: April 7, 2002

Chaike Belchatowska Spiegel, one of the last surviving combatants of the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis, died in Montreal on March 26. She was 81.

She had been hospitalized for about two years, her family said.

Probably no more than 10 other combatants from the uprising are still alive, said her son-in-law, Eugene Orenstein, who teaches modern Jewish history at McGill University in Montreal.

In January 1943, Chaike Belchatowska joined the Jewish Fighting Organization, known by its Polish acronym ZOB, which had been formed the previous year to resist the deportation of Jews from the ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp by the Nazi forces that had overrun Poland in 1939.

On April 19, the first night of the Jewish feast of Passover that year, a Nazi force, equipped with tanks and artillery and under the command of Col. Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, entered the ghetto to resume the deportations, which had been suspended in January after running into stiff resistance.

This time the Nazis were repulsed from the ghetto altogether, suffering heavy losses at the hands of the ZOB and other resistance groups, all of them poorly armed with only a few smuggled guns, little ammunition and homemade gasoline bombs.

Colonel Sammern-Frankenegg was relieved of his command and replaced by Gen. Jürgen Stroop, who attacked again.

But the Nazi forces found themselves blocked once more by fierce Jewish resistance after several days of vicious street fighting.

The Germans then changed tactics and, using flame throwers, began systematically burning down the houses of the ghetto. The ZOB headquarters fell on May 8, but sporadic resistance continued into June and July.

Meanwhile, Ms. Belchatowska, together with her husband-to-be, Boruch Spiegel, the leader of a ZOB fighting unit, and some 50 other Jewish resistance fighters, managed to escape from the ghetto to the forests outside Warsaw; from there, they continued to harass the Germans until the end of the war.

After the Germans were driven from Poland by Soviet troops, Ms. Belchatowska and Mr. Spiegel moved to Sweden, where they married and where their son Chil, or Julius, was born. In late 1948 they went to Montreal after failing to obtain a visa for the United States.

Chaike Belchatowska Spiegel, who was often known in English as Helen, was born in Warsaw on Nov. 11, 1920. Her parents separated shortly afterward, and she was raised by her mother, who was an active Jewish socialist.

She inherited much of her mother's political philosophy, becoming a member of the Jewish Labor Bund, an organization founded in Czarist Russia to promote a brand of Marxist socialism that would provide cultural autonomy for Jews.

After the first mass deportations from the Warsaw ghetto in the summer of 1942, she encouraged Jews to resist being moved by every means possible.

She helped circulate a Yiddish-language paper warning that their real destination would be Treblinka and that the Nazis were lying when they encouraged volunteers by promising them more food and greater freedom.

In November of that year, she herself was herded onto a train bound for Treblinka but managed to break out of a cattle car and escape back to the ghetto.

After moving to Montreal, Mrs. Spiegel and her husband ran a business making purses and other leather goods. She is survived by her husband; their son, Julius, who is the Brooklyn parks commissioner, and their daughter, Mindy Spiegel of Montreal.