75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

“I go out into the street, it is burning! Everything around is on fire. Whole streets! Miła, Zamenhofa, Kurza, Nalewki, Lubeckiego. Shortly put, all the streets are burning. Appartments are burning, workshops, warehouses, stores and entire buildings. The entire ghetto is a sea of flames. There is a strong wind, which blows out sparks from the burning houses to the ones which do not burn yet. The fire immediately destroys everything. A stunning sight. The fire expands so fast that people don’t have time to flee the houses and perish inside in a tragic manner.”

From: “Hell has Come to Earth” An Anonymous Woman’s Diary from the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

Seventy-five years ago, on April 19, 1943, a few hundred Polish Jews entrapped in the Warsaw ghetto stood up against the German occupier.

In the spring of 1943, Heinrich Himmler, the Reichsführer of the German Schutzstaffel (SS), the key organizer of the Aktion Reinhard (Operation Reinhard) and the creator of the first German extermination camps in occupied Europe (Aktion Reinhard camps: BełżecSobibór, and Treblinka), ordered to liquidate the Warsaw Ghetto and to send the remaining Jews to the death camps.

To escape their fate, several hundreds heroic fighters decided to took up arms against Nazi Germans and to start an insurgence, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. They preferred to die fighting instead of in gas chambers at the Treblinka or Auschwitz death camps where the Nazis had already sent hundreds of thousands of Warsaw Jews. A total of 13,000 Jews were killed at the hands of Germans during the revolt, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated. The Uprising symbolizes today both Jewish courage and Jewish suffering.

Only few survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising are still among us today. One of them is Janina Dawidowicz, born in 1930 in Kalisz, Poland, who was then 12 years old. She managed to escape the ghetto and survived the war in hidding, among others in the Convent Orphanage led by Polish nuns. Years after the war she wrote to Tekla Budnowska and Zofia Olszewska, Franciscan Sisters of the Family of Mary, who were her rescuers and early years teachers in the Convent: “I will never forget how much I owe both of you and I can not repay you for the protection and warmth that the Honored Mother showed me then”. Dawidowicz is an author of a three-volume ­autobiography “A Square of Sky”, “A Touch of Earth” and “Light over the Water”. She lives in UK today.

Another survivor, who is still alive, is Simcha Rotem, nom de guerre ‘Kazik’. Born in 1925, Rotem was a member of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ŻOB), a World War II resistance movement in occupied Poland, which was instrumental in engineering the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. When it became clear that after few weeks of uprising the insurgents lost the fight against Germans, Rotem was assigned the task to evacuate the Jewish fighters through the town sewers. Together with Zivia Lubetkin, he managed to evacuate dozens of fighters to the Gentile side and then to the forests outside of Warsaw. In August 1944, he took part in the Polish Warsaw Uprising. After the war he emigrated with his family to Mandate Palestine. He lives today in Jerusalem.

The Polish Underground was instrumental in delivering the weapons and military training to ŻOB. In November 1942, ŻOB officially became part of and subordinated its activities to the High Command of the Polish underground army, Home Army (Armia Krajowa). The Polish Catholic nuns risked their life to rescue the Jewish childern smuggled by members of Żegota, the Polish Council to Aid Jews, from the Warsaw ghetto to the Catholic convents. But today, the anti-Polish narrative prevails, with manistream media focusing on isolated cases of szmalcowniki, the people who blackmailed Jews or Poles who protected Jews during the German occupation. The Polish Secret State considered szmalcownictwo an act of collaboration with the occupying Germans. The Home Army punished it with the death sentence as a criminal act of treason.

If there were Poles during the WWII who did not help Jews, they did so because they could not help. Or they could not help because the price for helping would have meant death to themselves and to their families. Both Poles and Jews were being terrorized, robbed of their property, executed, expelled, in short: dehumanized. Everybody was trying to save his/her own family – or what was left of it. Poland was under brutal occupation! An occupation very different to that of France, Belgium, or Norway.

But, it is the Polish people today who are falsly accused of anti-Semitism by the U.S. or Israeli media, by some Jewish leaders or, what is most upsetting, by members of the Polish opposition parties, who still haven’t recognized the loss of power in 2015 and who try to regain it by spreading obvious lies in Brussels and elsewhere. It is not the people in France, Great Britain or in Germany, where the synagogues must be protected around the clock by armed policemen or soldiers and where anti-Semitism proliferates at a fast pace. Also in the United States the acts of anti-Jewish violance shock the public almost every day. According to the Anti-Defamation League anti-Semitic incidents in U.S. rose nearly 60 percent in 2017.

President Andrzej Duda, top-ranking government officials and parliamentary leaders will take part in the commemorations of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising today. The Polish Minister of Culture Piotr Gliński announced the opening of a Ghetto Uprising museum within the next 5 years.

We applaud the engagement of Polish officials in commemoration of the Polish Jewish heroes who fought against German monsters in April 1943, but at the same time we miss a powerful voice from President Duda, Minister of Foreign Affairs Czaputowicz or Minister Gliński against stereotyping Poles as anti-Semites and against the anti-Polish hysteria in the mainstream media. Please stand up not only to anti-Semitism, but also to anti-Polonism!

Picture: A patrol of German SS men in Warsaw ghetto on Nowolipie street. Source: Wikipedia (public domain).