The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on April 19, 1943, after German soldiers and police entered the ghetto to deport its remaining Jewish inhabitants. Less than one thousand ghetto fighters were able to hold out against well-armed German forces for nearly a month, but by mid-May, the SS had managed to crush the resistance. Of the more than 56,000 Jews captured, about 7,000 were shot, and the remainder were deported to camps.
After the uprising was put down, the ghetto itself was razed. It still lay in ruins when Black American sociologist, author, and civil rights activist W. E. B. Du Bois1 visited the site in 1949. The visit had a profound effect on Du Bois' views of the fight for racial justice in the United States. In the featured essay, Du Bois describes the impact that viewing the ghetto ruins had on his thinking. Composed as "a tribute to the Warsaw Ghetto fighters" and published in 1952, Du Bois titled the piece, "The Negro and the Warsaw Ghetto."2
Despite being immersed in the problems posed by racism during the Depression years,3 Du Bois was neither insensitive nor indifferent to the growing threat posed by Adolf Hitler. He used the pages of The Crisis4 to express the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People's (NAACP) denunciation of German fascism and Nazi anti-Jewish policies. These sentiments were echoed in a resolution drafted by Du Bois for the organization's 1933 summer convention condemning "the vicious campaign of race prejudice directed against Jews and Negroes by the Hitler Government."5
World War II and the Holocaust caused Du Bois to rethink his previous admiration for European culture in general and—German traditions in particular.6 He abandoned his previous belief that antisemitism and white racism differed in their origins, and he moved towards a new "unitary theory of prejudice" that understood both as forms of scapegoating and aggression.7 For Du Bois, the Holocaust was a "slaughter so vast and cruel that we will not be able to realize what happened to six million human beings in Eastern Europe during the Second World War until years have gone by."
Recalling his trip to the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto, he described the "complete, planned and utter destruction" he saw there. Du Bois wrote that "nothing in my wildest imagination was equal" to the desolation. This experience led him to take a more global view of racial oppression and to consider what measures would be required for "civilization...to triumph and broaden in this world."