Plucked out of oblivion
Claves: Judío, judaísmo, nazi, nazismo, Hitler, racismo, exterminio, Holocausto, Shoa, matanza, cámara, gas, Zyklon, Auschwitz, Polaca, Polonia, tren, pueblo, raza, nación, odio, blanza, predominio, poder, gueto, Varsovia, levantamiento, 1942, abril, Pesaj, Pascua, heroismo, Anilevich
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By Moshe Arens
The uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto was not one of the World War II's largest or most decisive battles. It was neither a Stalingrad nor the invasion of Normandy. Nevertheless, the ghetto uprising became a symbol of the resistance of the few against the many, a desperate war with no hope of victory.
"Retour sur le Ghetto de Varsovie" ("Return to the Warsaw Ghetto") by Marian Apfelbaum, Editions Odile Jacob, 328 pages
The uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto was not one of the World War II's largest or most decisive battles. It was neither a Stalingrad nor the invasion of Normandy. Nevertheless, the ghetto uprising became a symbol of the resistance of the few against the many, a desperate war with no hope of victory, a battle for human dignity and for history.
The most significant fighting in the ghetto took place in April 1943, during the period that Churchill called "the end of the beginning" - after Montgomery's victory over Rommel in the Western Desert, the landing of American forces in North Africa and the surrender of Von Paulus in Stalingrad. At the same time, German cities were being pounded day and night by British and American bombers. There was no longer any doubt as to the future victory of the Allies over Nazi Germany.
During this period, the Nazis were running their extermination machine at full steam, but the world preferred to turn a blind eye to the genocide of the Jewish people in Europe. In August 1942, Gerhard Riegner, a representative of the World Jewish Congress in Switzerland, gave the American deputy consul in Geneva a cable to be passed on to the United States, stating that he had obtained reports of German plans to exterminate all Jews in the territories under their control. In Washington, the cable met with incredulity and indifference.
In November 1942, Jan Karski, a member of the Polish underground, arrived in London and Washington after escaping from Poland. Before his journey, he spent a few hours in the Warsaw Ghetto after the large-scale deportations of that summer, when some 300,000 Jews had been deported from the ghetto to be exterminated. Karski was stunned by what he saw and heard in the ghetto, and upon his arrival in London, met with the British foreign secretary Anthony Eden and in Washington with the U.S. president, Franklin Roosevelt, to report to them on the tragic situation of the Jews in Poland. He demanded the Allies take action to end the wholesale murder of Jews. Both Eden and Roosevelt were noncommittal in their response. Nothing was done.
Terrible and desperate time
When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising - the first rebellion against the German occupation forces in Europe - broke out on April 19, 1943, it did not command any special attention in the capitals of the Free World. England, the U.S. and the Soviet Union sent no assistance to the young Jews fighting against the German forces under the command of Juergen Stroop. The insurgents were not even given a sign of recognition or awareness of their struggle. They were unknown and isolated soldiers in every sense of the word. Only after the war did their struggle merit recognition, becoming a symbol of courage and valor.
What really happened in the Warsaw Ghetto during that terrible and desperate time in April and May of 1943? The reports of the uprising that the world eventually received came mainly from three leaders who survived: Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin, members of the Dror-Hehalutz movement, and Marek Edelman, a Bundist. It was only natural for the three survivors to report on the battles led by the Fighting Jewish Organization - the Zydowska Organizaja Bojowa or ZOB - under the leadership of Mordechai Anielewicz, of which they too had been leaders. But there was another organization that fought in the uprising: the Jewish Military Organization, the Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy or ZZW, made up mainly of Betar members. (Its name was patterned after the underground organization, the Irgun Tzvai Leumi [National Military Organization], in pre-state Israel.)
The ZZW's three leaders, Pawel Frenkel, David Apfelbaum and Leon Rodal, were killed in the uprising and for many years, the role played by Betar members in the uprising remained in doubt.
Political and ideological considerations were apparently the reason the role played by the ZZW in the uprising was consigned to oblivion. The Communist regime in post-war Poland had no interest in revealing the Polish archival sources that referred to the role the Betar members had played in the uprising. In Israel of the 1950s and 1960s too, there was no real desire to touch the legend of Anielewicz and his fighters from the "workers movement." On May 24, 1944, a report was sent from Warsaw, signed by Zuckerman, Adolf Berman and others that included the following statements: "The struggle in the Warsaw Ghetto and in other ghettos and detention camps was initiated, organized and carried out by our organizations, first and foremost the workers' movements and the youth federation of labor in Eretz Israel - Hehalutz, Dror, Hehalutz Hatzair, the youth of the Poalei Zion movement, Hashomer Hatzair, Poalei Zion and Poalei Zion Left. These federations organized and carried out the battles, contributed most of the fighters and made the greatest sacrifice in blood. Let the workers' movement throughout the world know that the organizer of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and its leadership was the workers' movement for Eretz Israel, and that hundreds of fighters struggled and fell, inspired by this idea. Their death will serve as one of the foundations for a socialist future for the masses in Eretz Israel."
`Gang of porters'
In his book, "Retour sur le Ghetto de Varsovie" ("Return to the Warsaw Ghetto"), Marian Apfelbaum, a well-known French physician, quotes an interview Polish journalist Anka Grupinska conducted with Marek Edelman in the spring of 2000. When she asked if they could discuss the ZZW, Edelman responded: "Why do you want to talk about those fascists?" Later in the conversation, Edelman demonstrated contempt for the role played by the ZZW in the uprising, calling the Betar organization "a gang of porters, smugglers and thieves."
In his book, Apfelbaum, a relative of David Apfelbaum, one of the leaders of the ZZW, tries to set the story straight. His book discusses the establishment of the ZZW just weeks after the German army marched into Warsaw, the large-scale deportations in the summer of 1942, the foundation of the ZOB after the deportations, the preparations for the uprising and the uprising itself, during which, maintains Apfelbaum, the ZZW did most of the fighting.
This conclusion runs counter to the accepted account of the uprising, according to which most of the fighting against the Germans in the ghetto was carried out by the group led by Anielewicz, with the Betar members seemingly playing only a minor role. Many will certainly take exception to Apfelbaum's portrayal of the events, the copious documentation he provides in his book notwithstanding. There is apparently no disagreement over the facts concerning the establishment of the early cells of the ZZW, just months after the German army invaded Poland in 1939, and that among its commanders were fighters who had served as officers in the Polish army, such as David Apfelbaum, who participated in the battles against the German army in September 1939, and that some of the Betar members were given arms training in the Irgun cells that had been established in Poland before the war.
Also commonly accepted is the view that the ZZW was equipped with a larger amount of weapons and of a higher quality than the ZOB. These arms were brought into the ghetto over many months, some through a tunnel dug to connect the headquarters of the ZZW at 7 Muranow Street with the cellar of a building across the street, just outside the walls of the ghetto (Jan Karski entered the ghetto through this tunnel, accompanied by ZZW fighter David Landau).
But what about the actual fighting during the uprising itself? Joseph Kermish, the former director of the archives at Yad Vashem, wrote in the introduction to a book of documents, "To Live with Honor and Die with Honor! ... Selected Documents from the Warsaw Ghetto Underground Archives ": "Concerning the course of the uprising itself and the actual preparations for it, the Jewish and Polish sources unfortunately do not provide enough information. They do not encompass all the aspects of the uprising ... Even the four-day battle in Muranow Square (a fierce battle raged there on the fourth day of the uprising, on April 22, when the Germans captured the Jewish and Polish flags) are described only briefly in the Jewish sources ... The lacunae in the Jewish and Polish documentation about what happened during the uprising must necessarily be filled by using German sources, written by the enemy himself. The reports written by SS Brigadefuehrer and Major General of Police Juergen Stroop during the course of the events, and which were first published by the American prosecutor during the international trial at Nuremberg, should be viewed as among most important of the German documents about the uprising in the ghetto."
In his concluding report on the suppression of the uprising in the ghetto, Stroop called the ZZW unit that fought in Muranow Square, which hoisted the Jewish and Polish flags from the building of their headquarters at 7 Muranow Street, "the main Jewish battle group" (see Joseph Kermish, "The Warsaw Ghetto Revolt as Seen by the Enemy"). While Stroop was incarcerated in a Warsaw prison before his execution, Marek Edelman met with him. In answer to Edelman's question, "In which places besides Muranow Square were fierce battles held?" Stroop said: "At present I can no longer say it with the same certainty as I can for Muranow Square. I also recall the brush factory, but I cannot describe the details precisely."
The hoisting of the flags had enormous symbolic effect not only on the Germans. A German officer, SS Untersturmfuehrer Dehmke, was killed trying to take them down. The flags could be seen in Warsaw from a great distance, a sign for the Polish population that the ghetto was resisting. Alicia Kazynska, a Polish woman who lived at 6 Muranow Street, outside the ghetto walls across the street from ZZW headquarters, describes the event in her book, "At the Gates of Hell," published in 1993: "On the roof just across, we could see people walking around, all carrying arms. At a certain moment we witnessed a unique sight - they hoisted a blue-and-white flag and a red-and-white flag. We burst into cheers - Look! Look! The Jewish flag! The Jews have captured Muranow Square! ... We embraced and kissed one another."
The battle in Muranow Square was apparently the largest battle in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. It was one of the battles fought by the ZZW. David Apfelbaum was killed in that battle.
In the introduction to his book, Marian Apfelbaum writes: "This book charges the enormous and venerated literature about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising with lies - and above all, lies of omission." His book makes an important contribution to correcting the picture.
Moshe Arens was minister of defense in the governments of Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir and Benjamin Netanyahu
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