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Before World War II, Wilner belonged to the
youth movement in Warsaw. When the war broke out in September 1939,
Wilner, along with many other young Zionists, escaped from Nazi-occupied
western Poland to Vilna, Lithuania. However, the Germans invaded Lithuania
in June 1941, and began massacring Jews there. Wilner managed to escape;
instead of running eastward, Wilner returned to Warsaw to warn the Jews
there about the mass murders in Lithuania.
Back in Warsaw, Wilner became a leader of the Jewish underground.
Because of his Polish looks, he was able to travel to other ghettos to
encourage underground resistance activities. During the summer of 1942 the
Germans launched a two-month long wave of deportations. At that point,
Wilner and his comrades decided that armed resistance was the only answer.
On July 28 they founded the Jewish Fighting Organization (
outside the ghetto. He soon made contact with the Home Army, the main
Polish underground militia. The Home Army officially recognized the ZOB and
supplied the Jews with a limited number of weapons, as did the Communist
underground militia (see also Home Guard, Poland).
Although he lived outside the ghetto, Wilner still took part in the ZOB's
important decision making. In January 1943 he participated in the fighting
between the ZOB and the Nazis when the Nazis initiated a short wave of
In March the Germans searched Wilner's apartment on the Polish side of
Warsaw. They found weapons and arrested him, assuming that he was part of
the Polish underground. However, they soon found out that he was Jewish,
and sent him to a concentration camp. Wilner was rescued a short time later
by the Polish Catholic Scouts movement, and he returned to the Warsaw
Ghetto to participate in the last stand against the Nazis---the Warsaw Ghetto
Uprising. When the ZOB headquarters were discovered by the Germans,
Wilner called on his comrades to commit suicide, and he himself died in the