Posted by: distributorcap | April 15, 2008

65 years to Never Forget – Passover 1943 and 2008

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on April 19, 1943 — which was the first night of Passover in 1943. By luck of the calendar (Hebrew and Gregorian) the first night of Passover in 2008 is also April 19th, the 65th anniversary of this historic moment in time.

For nearly three years the Nazi machine had rolled unscathed over almost all of Europe and was at its peak of territorial occupation in early 1943. From Rouen to Russia, from Norway to North Africa, from Belgium to Bulgaria, Hitler’s military had mercilessly destroyed everything in its path on their march toward world domination and lebensraum.

Once the Nazi military captured any country, the SS and Gestapo were right behind them to begin dealing “with the Jewish problem.” This of course meant rounding up all the Jews and throwing them in overcrowded and unsanitary ghettos. Here they were forced to live in squalor and misery until they were told they were being “transported to the east” where jobs and a better life awaited them. Many times the job of the SS was made considerably easier by the willing natives eager to please their occupiers as well as rid their country of the Jews. Needless to say, the efficiently organized and insidious Nazi plan to exterminate the Jews was well underway.

When Germany occupied Poland in September 1939, nearly 3.3 million Jews fell under the rule of the Nazis and SS. By spring 1943 hundreds of thousands, if not millions, had already perished in the fully operational gas chambers and ovens of Treblinka, Sobibor and Chelmno. Jews from the ghettos of Lodz, Bialystock and most famously Warsaw were being sent to their deaths under a brilliantly devised guise of promises of labor, food, reunions with family and ultimately a clean shower. And for the most part, they went silently and without a fight – often described as lambs to their slaughter.

When the first deportations from Warsaw commenced in 1942, the Judenrat (or Jewish council) did not fight the orders. But by 1943, when the second wave of large-scale deportations began, many of the Jews of Poland had learned what their ultimate fate was at the “labor” camps in the east. And they decided to resist.

The first armed resistance to the German occupiers was in January 1943. It slowed the deportations down, but did not stop them. Over the next few months, the resistance movement in the ghetto smuggled in any arms they could get – rifles, pistols, explosives and even some machine guns. They devised homemade incendiary devices bombs and whatever other arms they could patch together from a trickle of material and weapons snuck inside the ghetto walls. Children were recruited to help procure whatever they could from friendly Poles in the Aryan part of Warsaw.

The major part of the uprising began on April 19, 1943 — 65 years ago this Saturday – the first night of Passover 1943, the first night of Passover 2008. With the help of some Polish resistance fighters, the Jews succeeding in pushing back German tanks and soldiers under a barrage of fire and bullets. Molotov cocktails, grenades and sniper fire was aimed at the incoming German SS – and the mighty German military was forced to retreat. Other counterattacks around the ghetto managed to destroy some German equipment. The small, under-trained, under-manned, under-equipped Jewish resistance movement managed to hold back the mighty German machine for the first time.

It didn’t take long for the Germans to call in the reserves. The rag-tag soldiers of the Jewish underground were no match for the efficient Nazi destruction machine. Within 10 days – April 29th, organized resistance had all but collapsed, with just pockets of the uprising continuing onward. The remaining Jews went into hiding or tried to escape to the Aryan portion of Warsaw through the sewers. The Germans used tear gas and grenades to force Jews out of hiding. But the fighters did not go like lambs this time – many fought back as they were forced to abandon hiding spots.

By May 16th it was all but over – almost all the leaders had been captured or killed. 13,000 Jews died during the uprising. As for the 50,000 Jews remaining in Warsaw after the uprising – their fate was sealed. They were shipped to Treblinka where extermination awaited them. The number of German causalities varies – but it probably was well under 100. Most of the remaining buildings inside the ghetto walls were razed and leveled. Several resistance fighters did survive and escape — and continued to be part of the underground for the remaining two years of World War II. By the time the Nazis surrendered in May 1945, of the 3.3 million Jews in 1939 Poland, less than 300,000 survived the war. Over 90% of the Jews in Poland had perished. An entire culture was wiped off the earth forever.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising was an act of desperation, but also and act of incredible bravery and fortitude — the Jews of Warsaw knew they faced a choice between dying in battle with only a slim hope of escape, or certain death via deportation to an extermination camp – they chose to fight. While resistance in this case may have been futile, the survival and bravery demonstrated by the Jews in Warsaw was anything but futile.

So on this Passover 65 years later — instead of putting a chair out for Elijah (since he has yet to show for dinner) – I put a chair out for the Jews of Warsaw who fought back. For three years the Nazis had systematically tried to destroy the humanity, psyche and existence of an entire population. While the Jews in 1943 Warsaw were ultimately overwhelmed, for one brief and heroic moment they did not let the power of German venom and directive of national anti-Semitism destroy their collective dignity and soul.

So this April 19th — 65 years later, we must never forget how cruel and destructive humans, even civilized societies, can be.

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Responses

  1. What a splendid post about an epic act of defiance.However, that New York Times page is a fake. Click on it to get a larger view and read the top line.I don’t know who made the fake or why, either. The Times has been some disappointing things now and then, but anti-Semitic and pro-Nazi aren’t two of them.

  2. Thanks for the great post. I’ve always been moved by this great act of defiance.

  3. The pictures make me weep, thank you for this.

  4. Bravo!The strength of the human spirit will never be extinguished by the forces of evil.

  5. Thank you -this is powerful and moving post about a most significant moment in history.

  6. Heavy stuff- captures the Dylan lyric- “When you’ve got nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose”The Polish standing up for their rights & dignity was a noble thing to do.Although the current regime does not have gas chambers, I consider Gitmo to be a sort of gulog of the 21st century. People being held in another country with no due process. We don’t know what really goes on there & that is just the way this regime planned it.

  7. Thanks, D-cap. I’ve been planning a post about the HBO movie Conspiracy for some time now, a historical fictional drama about the Wannsee Conference. I just haven’t been sure how to proceed. I hope to have it posted sometime this week.

  8. Another great post. Evil may ‘win’ but the idea of good can never be extinguished.

  9. Incredibly moving post, especially Elijah’s chair.

  10. Wonderful job putting this together! It is horrible that there are still some who would say this never happened.

  11. A beautiful and inspiring post, DCap. Nice work.

  12. A true mitzvah of a post.Nicely done, D-Cap.

  13. Excellent post, DC. Perhaps two extra chairs would be in order.

  14. When I read stuff like this, I think two things. First, would I have the emotional fortitude and determination to fight back to the death? Second, I had a really shitty day today. After reading this, I’m feeling pretty damn fortunate.

  15. I will be sure to mention this at the table on Saturday. I often wonder what we as a race have learned in the course of the thousands of years of “civilization”. Here we are in the 21st century and we still have similar crimes happening, in an age when we should all know better, do better, and treat each other better. The spirit of defiance described in your post continues to this day – what have we learned?Thanks for the powerful post.

  16. Wow. Wow, wow, wow, wow, wow. I totally agree with Karen, a true mitzvah of a post. And the Elijah’s chair part? Brilliant. From henceforth that is how I shall see it. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  17. DCap, thank you so much for sharing this history lesson. Wow. You are a hero for re-telling it.

  18. thank you for this, dcAp. my grandparents came from warsaw, and they lost over 20 immediate family members in the holocaust. i don’t know why it never occurred to me to wonder if any of them were in the resistance. perhaps, when you pull out that chair, one of my great aunts or uncles will take a seat.beautiful tribute to very brave people, dcAp.

  19. thank you all for your comments and thoughts — believe it or not, this was actually pretty rough to write — as i kept reading more and more, i kept getting sadder and sadder — even tho the story is incredibly inspiring.i guess because we havent learned that much since 1945…. i cross posted at dailykos (only because i thought those people need something other than candidate diaries and could use a good history lesson) and someone left me an incredible passage that i will use at the sunday seder (and i am as about as unreligious as you can get — but this is not about religion it is about humanity)http://www.dailykos.com/comments/2008/4/15/74740/6457/36#c36

  20. Thank you SO much for this post. As a Polish Jew myself, on my mother’s side (I’m non-religious and from a mixed Jewish-Christian family), I am painfully aware of this dark anniversary. But these are the things we can’t forget, no matter how much we may wish to. Thank you – this was wonderful.

  21. Saw this at Kos and recommended it, because it is an excellent post.

  22. Excellent post.

  23. amazing post….thank you for blogging this….

  24. DCap..this gave me goose bumps. It is rare that I get goosebumps reading a blog post. Thank you for a stunning history lesson.

  25. PAISAN:You made me cry.We showed their sorry asses in Warsaw and we showed their sorry asses in Lodz. And don’t ever forget how the the Ethopians showed their sorry asses at El-Alamein.We showed their sorry asses how to do it at the Canadian border during Volstead.From time to time there are Arab states who are our OPPONENTS.But we know who the ENEMY is, don’t we?

  26. Most excellent post – thanks so much for writing it.

  27. Anonymous:Cuidate, pue’…estas al borde de un lechugo de problemas en tu vaina de bloggeador. Un discurso educado entre desconocidos sobre la polemica de raza y poder e historia siempre vale la pena. Y a mi me encanta la polemica pero hay limites, si o no?Y tu has cruzado un limite mio a la vez no ha pasado ni nada que no se puede arreglar, oiste? NADA del post de DISTRIBUTORCAPny tenia nada que ver con ni la verga de competiciones de quienes had sufrido mas los muertos ni los lastimados ni la pinga de estos. Tiene orgullo en su gente igual como el orgullo que tengo yo. Nos sentimos la falta de parientes NO NACIDOS igualmente como nos sentimos pa’ los muertos y los danados. La lucha no debe seguir entre los distintos pueblos lastimados y destruidos sino dedbe setuir con todo el mundo junto contra nuestra tendencia a la violencia y el sadaismo, oiste?Tal vez jefe si sigas en esta vaina que pueda hacer salvo responderte “FUCK YOU ASSHOLE MAYBE ONE JEW IS WORTH 100 TRILLION RWANDANS y entonces, que tengamos? Otra lucha y nada mas.Que proposito sirve esta vaina? Dime la verdad, pue’SO, IN THE SPIRIT OF GOOD FELLOWSHIP, READ D-CAP’S WORDS ONCE MORE AND APPLY THEM TO RWANDA. OR DARFUR. OR ARMENIA. OR THE SLOW MOTION BLACK HOLOCAUST IN THE UNITED STATES. I CAN’T WRITE ON D-CAP’S BEHALF, BUT PLEASE DON’T BRING THAT KIND OF IGNORANCE ONTO WHAT’S HALLOWED GROUND FOR ME, OK?

  28. Mi Brother:It’s your blog and I’d never presume to tell you what to do with it. But it’s rare to see such blatant ignorance and bile as was briefly on displayin the comments here. I’d always rather be polite than hostile which was the point of my comment to “anonymous” but if “anonymous’s” hate is indicative of some rancid anti-semitism out there, I think it’s worth keeping around, if for no other reason than to reaffirm for each other WHY we do this and WHY one person’s pain and each person’s pride is everyone else’s.

  29. suzi – thanks…. we must never forget thispiny — you are too kind, and thanksgrant – t-q…… i would much rather laugh at your stuff, but sometimes you gotta do the dilligenceenigma — as i have said – never ever forget…and maybe we can learn something from thisdusty — thanks, and that is a ditto to you for all your lessons to mekelso — i got plenty of tissues for you. we need more and more stories of human courage — and we have less and lesscandace — thankskelso — i thought about leaving it – but you know, on this day i just couldnt — i dont bury my head in the sand about people who are either ignorant or downright evil — as anonymous was. i am so not religious as you know, but this isnt about religion, this is about human spirit, something sorely lacking right now — and i just couldnt let that hate (especially about the blacks) stay posted

  30. D-CAPny:Quite frankly, I didn’t understand a word of what the person wrote. None of it made any sense at all. Which was why I chose to write back in a language I was fairly sure “anonymous” wouldn’t understand.No matter the person’s intentions, I read HATE at a level I don’t read often. Anger? Sure. You see it all the time. HATE is something different. That post was hateful. But it was so hateful that it seemed to remind what my brothers and sisters were doing in Warsaw and Lodz. And why the Danish resistance was a small but so potent chapter in the history of man at his best.I respect your decision.Shabbat shalom.

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