In May 1944, the underground Jewish National Committee in Warsaw sent several documents to London relating the story of the uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto, which had ended a year earlier. Among the documents was a list of the members of the Jewish Fighting Organization (JFO) who had lost their lives during or after the insurgence. The list was compiled from memory by the organization’s surviving leaders – Zivia Lubetkin, Yitzchak Zuckerman, and Marek Edelman – who were then hiding in Warsaw. Number 98 of the 244 names was Adolf Hochberg. The letter D implied an affiliation with the Socialist-Zionist youth movement Dror (»Freedom«), led by Lubetkin and Zuckerman.
The same bundle of documents also contained a report – one of the earliest accounts of the uprising – by Simcha Ratajzer (later Rotem), another member of the JFO. Ratajzer, better known by his nom de guerre »Kazik,« named Adolf Hochberg as a fellow fighter in his unit. As he later recalled in his memoir, the two would end up co-organizing the rescue of the last fighters from the ghetto.
Adolf Hochberg was probably the only member of the JFO of German origin. An early publication on the uprising mentioned that he came from Leipzig. While the author did not specify his sources, he must have heard of Hochberg from those who had personally known him. No trace of Adolf Hochberg can be found in the archives of Leipzig or Saxony more broadly. Other documents, however, suggest that a certain Adolf Hochberg, born in Cologne in 1921, was deported to Warsaw during the war.
It can also be established that Hochberg was among the members of the organization Aliyat Hanoar (»Youth Aliyah«) in Germany. We might speculate that he left his family in Cologne to join a Zionist youth group in Leipzig. Possibly following a deportation from Germany, this group joined Kibbutz Hechalutz (»Pioneer«) in Grochów, Warsaw, to continue preparing for emigration to and settlement in Palestine. This is most likely how Hochberg found his way into Dror, the main movement which operated the farm in Grochów.
Decades later, Masza Glajtman-Putermilch, a former comrade of Hochberg’s, remembered him as short, with bright eyes, »and speaking Yiddish with a German accent.« His time in the ghetto prior to the uprising is obscure. As a member of Dror, one of the movements that formed the JFO, he likely joined the organization in its earliest days during the Great Deportation of summer 1942.
Following the deportation of approximately 350,000 of the 400,000 Jews of Warsaw to the Treblinka death camp, the area of the ghetto was significantly reduced and divided into four separated sections. In one of these sections, known as the Brushmakers’ Area, the JFO was organized under the command of Marek Edelman. Hochberg is known to have joined one of the fighting groups there, consisting mainly of Dror members.
Hochberg’s group was on guard when the uprising broke out on 19 April 1943. After heavy fighting, the Germans set the Brushmakers’ Area on fire. Besieged by the flames and by German artillery, the Jewish fighters decided to break through to the larger Central Ghetto and join their comrades there. Hochberg must have been among them when they crossed the street separating the two sections under heavy fire.
The next time we learn of Hochberg is on 29 April. After ten days of desperate fighting, the JFO decided to search for a way out of the burning ghetto through the sewer canals. The first scouting expedition included Kazik, Friedrich Zygmunt, a certain Lolek, and Hochberg. The first two exited the sewer on the »Aryan side« while the latter two returned to the ghetto.
When Kazik returned to the ghetto after eight days, the JFO headquarters in the bunker at Miła Street 18, sheltering around a hundred fighters and even more civilians, had fallen. Desperately wandering in the canals and looking for a sign of life, Kazik accidently came across another group of fighters. Hochberg was among them. Contact with the »Aryan side« was thus reestablished and the group returned to the ghetto to gather the survivors.
On the night between 8 and 9 May, dozens of exhausted fighters, some severely wounded, went down into the sewer canals. They found their way to the manhole designated by Kazik as the exit point, under Prosta Street on the »Aryan side,« and waited underground for the trucks that would smuggle them out of the city. After about 36 nerve-wracking hours, the cover was finally opened and Kazik hastened them out into a truck parked on the crowded street, in broad daylight.
Zivia Lubetkin then sent two young fighters, seventeen-year-old Szlamek Szuster and Hochberg, back into the canals to gather those remaining there. Glajtman-Putermilch remembered: »Szlamek considered it, Adolf hesitated for a moment too. Then Zivia said: We are waiting for you, go! We got out and Szlamek [and Adolf] did not make it back.« When the first group was already on the truck, »Zivia asked: What about Szlamek and Adolf? She was told: There is another truck. But there was no other truck. And they were lost«.
Later, when Kazik returned to try and rescue those remaining in the sewer, he heard Poles talking on the street: »Some Jews had burst out of the sewer. The German guard had been no more than a hundred meters from the manhole, and when they had sensed something suspicious, they had approached and opened fire. They had shot those coming up to the street as well as those inside the sewer. There had been a struggle and every last one of the Jews had been killed«.
Hochberg was thus killed in action while attempting to rescue his last surviving comrades from the sewer canals. As we gather in Leipzig on 17–19 April 2023 to commemorate the eightieth anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, we shall also remember the 22-year-old Jewish fighter from Leipzig, Adolf Hochberg.The author would like to thank Knut Bergbauer for bringing Hochberg’s name and his connection to Leipzig to his attention.
Tom Navon is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Leibniz Institute for Jewish History and Culture – Simon Dubnow in Leipzig. He recently completed two forthcoming monographs – »Marxist Interpretations of Jewish History« (in Hebrew, Merkaz Zalman Shazar) and »Radical Assimilation in the Face of the Holocaust. Otto Heller (1897–1945)« (SUNY Press) – and is currently organizing the international conference Looking at the Ghetto… The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: Eighty Years in Retrospect | navon(at)dubnow.de.
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