Warsaw marks 70 years since uprising in ghetto By VANESSA GERA, Associated Press
Simha Rotem, one of the last living Warsaw Ghetto insurgents,speaks in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising memorial, during the revolt anniversary ceremonies in Warsaw, Poland, Friday, April 19, 2013. Sirens wailed and church bells tolled in Warsaw as largely Roman Catholic Poland paid homage Friday to the Jewish fighters who rose up 70 years ago against German Nazi forces in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Photo: Alik Keplicz
WARSAW, Poland (AP) — Sirens wailed and church bells tolled in Warsaw as largely Roman Catholic Poland paid homage Friday to the Jewish fighters who rose up 70 years ago against German Nazi forces in the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
The mournful sounds marked the start of state ceremonies that were led by Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski at the iconic Monument to the Ghetto Heroes. The president was joined by officials from Poland, Israel and beyond as well as a survivor of the fighting, Simha Rotem, to honor the first large-scale rebellion against the Germans during World War II.
About 750 Jews with few arms and no military training attacked a much larger and well-equipped German force that was about to send the remaining residents of the ghetto to death camps. The revolt was crushed the following month, and the ghetto was razed to the ground, most of its residents killed.
"We knew that the end would be the same for everyone. The thought of waging an uprising was dictated by our determination. We wanted to choose the kind of death we would die,"said Rotem, an 88-year-old who is among a tiny number of surviving fighters and was the key figure at the ceremony. "But to this day I have doubts as to whether we had the right to carry out the uprising and shorten the lives of people by a day, a week, or two weeks. No one gave us that right and I have to live with my doubts."
Rotem's uncertainty is in stark contrast to how the world remembers the revolt. Though a clear military defeat, it is hailed as a moral victory for the Jewish fighters, who refused to go without a fight to the gas chambers. It is widely viewed as a model of resistance against the odds and is often celebrated in Israel, part of a never-again ethos that stresses the importance of self-defense.
"The Nazi Germans made a hell on earth of the ghetto," Komorowski said in a speech. "Persecuting the Jews appealed to the lowest of human instincts."
During the ceremonies, Komorowski bestowed one of the country's highest honors on Rotem — the Grand Cross of the Order of the Rebirth of Poland. Later the two of them, along with Israeli Education Minister Shai Piron and Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, a Polish Auschwitz survivor who helped rescue Jews during the war, walked side-by-side to the monument and bowed before it as soldiers laid a wreath for them.
To a military drum, other dignitaries followed them in paying their respects at the memorial to suffering and struggle, including Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk, members of Poland's Jewish community and U.S. Ambassador Stephen Mull along with an American survivor of the Warsaw ghetto, Estelle Laughlin.
Rabbis also recited mournful Hebrew prayers as they were joined by three Polish army chaplains, one Catholic, one Eastern Orthodox and one Protestant. Psalm 130, which starts, "Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord! ..." was recited in Hebrew and Polish.
A man holding a daffodil takes a photo of a wall painting presenting Marek Edelman, the only Warsaw Ghetto 1943 Uprising commander who survived World War II, also holding a daffodil, on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the revolt, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, April 18, 2013. Daffodils, which bloom in April, the month the uprising began, are a symbol of remembrance and hope, and were distributed to visitors viewing the graffiti. Photo: Alik Keplicz
Officials had announced that a second surviving fighter, Havka Folman Raban, would also participate, but she was not featured in television coverage and it was unclear if she actually was there.
Havka Raban (Folman) Ema Marcinek
Throughout Warsaw, national and city flags fluttered from city buses, trams and public buildings as authorities made an unprecedented effort to encourage Poles to remember the ghetto fighters and Jewish suffering during the war. Warsaw city hall said it is the first time that churches in the capital rang their bells to mark the anniversary of the uprising.
Though the Warsaw ghetto uprising is well-known worldwide, it hasn't received the same level of attention among Poles, for whom a separate city-wide revolt in 1944 (The Warsaw Uprising) plays a much more critical role to national identity.
Authorities, however, have been trying to change this and to convince Poles that the Warsaw ghetto uprising is a key moment not just in Jewish but also in broader Polish history.
Newspaper articles in recent days have stressed the Polishness of the Jewish revolt, while officials have encouraged Warsaw residents to get involved in a month of commemorations that ends on May 16. That is the day in 1943 when the Nazis blew up the Great Synagogue, a jewel of 19th-century architecture, to symbolize their crushing of the revolt.
The events Friday followed an evening of commemorations on Thursday featuring the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra.
Israel also marked the anniversary of the uprising on its Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 7, which coincided with the Hebrew date of the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
Julian Rachlin, right, the first violinist with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, plays a Bach sarabande in front of the monument to the fighters of the Warsaw ghetto uprising in Warsaw, Poland, on Thursday April 18, 2013. The performance was part of an evening of commemorations on the eve of the 70th anniversary of the outbreak of the 1943 revolt. Photo: Czarek Sokolowski
AP reporter Monika Scislowska in Warsaw contributed to this report.
A poster of the Jewish Combat Organization in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Yiddish text reads: "All people are equal brothers; Brown, White, Black, and Yellow. To separate peoples, colors, races - Is but an act of cheating!"
German citizens which are forced to watch the dead concentrationcamp bodies and to collect them and bury them. The Americans wanted the German villagers and townspeople nearby concentrationcamps to know what had happened there. From revenge point of view and to reeducate them, by confronting them with what happened behind the barbed wire, watchtowers and walls. I think that these images are taken in Germany.
These images are probably token in Buchenwald or Dachau concentrationcamps, which were both liberated by Americans.
On 29 April 1945 the Dachau concentration camp was officially liberated by U.S. Army troops. The American soldiers forced local citizens of the town Dachau to the camp to see for themselves the conditions there and to help clean the facalities. Many local residents were shocked about the experience and claimed no knowledge of the activities at the camp. Photographs of this event are stored at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria and Natzweiler-Struthof in Northern-France were also liberated by American soldiers in 1945.
An interesting report by a Jewish man who travelled to Poland to attend the ceremony.
Thursday, June 6, 2013
Poland of my youth gone, I return to embrace a changed nation
I stood in front of the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw, Poland, observing the 70th anniversary commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on April 19. That same day, the Museum of the History of Polish Jews opened its doors to the public for the first time. I was there as part of a group of business leaders and philanthropists led by Tad Taube.
As I watched the ceremony with my wife and sister at my side, in the shadow of the ghetto my mother was fortunate to escape, in the country that I called home for the first 23 years of my life, I was filled with emotion. The ceremony was absolutely spectacular. To see the Polish flag flying next to the Israeli flag and to have the president of Poland, the prime minister, the mayor of Warsaw and other dignitaries attend the commemoration — an unprecedented showing of official public support — was something I had never seen before. I’d never heard church bells ring as part of any previous ceremony, but they did that day.
Truthfully, I wasn’t sure I ever would see anything like it; but Poland has changed. It is not the Poland I remember, and it is probably not the one you may have ever heard about.
I will be candid: When I was growing up in Poland, I hid that I was Jewish. We were a secular family, going to temple occasionally, but my parents spoke and read Yiddish and we were Jewish. The secrecy was a remnant of the war, I think; my parents imparted it to us silently, perhaps unconsciously.
When my mother and her younger sister escaped Warsaw in early 1940 to meet their younger brother in Russia, who managed to escape a couple of months earlier, my mother denied their Jewish identity to a German soldier on the train. They made it out because of that denial.
After the war, the denial was less overt but still there. I didn’t talk about being Jewish. I was a typical teenager, athletic and outgoing as I attended high school and then college in Poland, but I had no Jewish friends, at least none that I knew of for sure. I certainly experienced prejudice, but it felt more institutional, coming from the church or the government rather than from people I knew in daily life. I didn’t feel bad about myself, I never thought I wasn’t as good as anybody else, but I didn’t talk about it, either.
What I experienced on the April trip, the public and private recognition and respect, is emblematic of the changes in Poland. I think the unprecedented show of support is a manifestation of the nation’s commitment to democratic ideals and principles. It underscores the importance of respecting the efforts and accomplishments of past generations while recognizing the grave errors that have been made. Cantor Joseph Malovany chants Kaddish at the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw on April 19. photo/courtesy taube philanthropies Cantor Joseph Malovany chants Kaddish at the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw on April 19. photo/courtesy taube philanthropies Some put the entire nation on trial and label everyone anti-Semitic. That is wrong and it was never true — not during the war, not under Communism and certainly not today. No nation, no people can be painted with that broad a brush.
The Poland I saw on April 19 was proud of its Polish and Jewish history. The Poland I saw was supportive in tangible ways that include not only the pomp and circumstance of memorials but also the tremendous public and private effort expended to build the museum.
The Poland of today includes the many young volunteers who handed out yellow paper daffodils as a sign of remembrance. The Poland of today is the thousands of Warsaw residents who proudly wore them. The Poland of today is the wonderful young family we met at the Warsaw cafe with T-shirts from a critical mass bike ride held to educate people about the ghetto uprising and its important role in both Polish and Jewish history.
The Poland I left years ago has changed for the better, and I want to make sure people know about it.
I want to thank Tad Taube, Shana Penn and her team for giving me the opportunity to connect with my Polish and Jewish roots and to celebrate the unconquerable human spirit embodied in the resistance fighters 70 years ago. I am proud of the changes I see in Poland, in myself and in the world at large.
Efforts to remember and understand our history are part of what moves the human race forward. We are never perfect, but we strive to be better, always.
Jerry Brenholz is president and CEO of ATR International, which he co-founded in 1988. He lives in Los Altos.