A protest, an uprising, a rebellion and a revolution; to an extent all four words of these words mean the same thing, expressing the idea that a group of people is upset with the status quo and the way in which their society is being run. This week in history, we will see two instances where people defied the laws of their country to do what they thought was right. Yet, while their cause may be noble, this does not mean they always win. So let’s dive in!
On April 19, 1775, 154 years ago, the American Revolution began when “the shot heard round the world” was fired at the Battle of Lexington.
In the spring of 1775, tensions between the Thirteen Colonies and the British Crown were reaching new heights, and nowhere was this more apparent than in New England. Boston was already under intense occupation by British troops, while Patriots in turn formed their own militia forces. Hoping to squash any uprising, British troops planned to strike the towns of Lexington and Concord, Mass., to seize the Patriot arsenal and arrest militia leaders, Samuel Adams and John Hancock.
Much to their dismay, the night before, Paul Revere set out on horseback to alert the countryside of the impending British invasion after the two lanterns in the steeple of Old North Church signaled that troops were planning to sail up the Charles River (You know, one if by land, two if by sea).
While Revere gets all the credit for the legendary “Midnight Ride,” there were actually several spies riding through the countryside on that fateful night. And for good reason too; if Revere had tried to do it all himself, his horse would have most likely dropped dead from exhaustion after three or four miles. Yikes!
It should also be noted that while every kid likes to gallop on a broomstick and yell, “The British are coming,” Paul Revere wouldn’t have actually said that. The United States would not exist for another year, after all, so all colonists at the time were British subjects themselves. He most likely shouted, “The regulars are coming,” though I don’t think it has the same ring to it.
Anyways, back to Lexington. On the morning of April 19, 700 British troops arrived at the town green where 77 Patriot minutemen were waiting. A single gunshot was fired, though it is still unknown who shot the first bullet and sent the two sides spinning into war. Several more gunshots rang out leaving eight Americans dead and a handful more wounded.
The British troops continued to Concord, only to be swarmed by hundreds of Patriots and suffer tremendous casualties. As the Red Coats retreated to the safety of Boston, Patriot marksmen along the route shot from trees, bushes and stone walls, leaving British casualties close to 300, while those of colonists did not reach higher than 100.
While this moment was by no means the most intense or bloody conflict of the Revolutionary War, this single bullet was the first instance where a mother country took up arms against its colony, having ripple effects in human history still evident today.
Also on April 19, in 1943, 78 years ago, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began.
The first of several atrocities committed against European Jews by the Nazi regime during WWII began with the establishment of Jewish ghettos in major cities of Eastern and Western Europe. Jewish home and business owners were stripped of their property and funneled into the city slums under intense supervision and restrictions, with the ghetto of Warsaw, Poland being the largest ghetto in all of Hitler’s domain.
Before the war, Warsaw was home to 500,000 Jews, making up approximately 30% of the city’s population. When the Nazis invaded Poland, this same population was forced into just two square miles of the city. Thousands died every month just from disease and starvation, until the Nazis began liquidating the ghetto and sending 6,000 Warsaw Jews to the Treblinka concentration camp every single day. While German troops tried to suppress the rumors, it was not long before word came back to people of Warsaw. An underground militia force called the Jewish Combat Organization (ZOB) formed out of the remains of the Jewish community.
On April 19, it was announced that all remaining Warsaw Jews would be rounded up on April 20, Hitler’s birthday. The 60,000 who remained hid in the Warsaw sewer system or joined the few thousand ZOB members to inflict harm on German forces. Though they were tremendously outmatched, the uprising lasted several days and did not deliver the birthday gift Hitler had hoped for.
This rebellion, however, does not have the same joyous outcome as that of Lexington and Concord, as almost the entirety of the resistance fighters were dead by the end of the war, yet it deserves to be remembered just the same.