Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

5 Iyar 5763 - May 7, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- Secular Symbol of Jewish Success

The uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto against the Nazis which began on April 29, 1943 and lasted about a month, just over sixty years ago, is used by secular Jews as a sign and a symbol of what they want to remember: an act of physical heroism and resistance against an overwhelmingly stronger force that managed to hold out and inflict losses on the Nazi forces. They consider that their stubborn resistance, even though it certainly had no material effect on the outcome or course of the war, constituted a moral victory for human dignity and the "honor" of the Jewish people. In fact, the episode was replete with divisiveness and intolerance, and does display the true nature of secular movements when the full facts are known. All this does not take away the basic fact that all died there al kiddush Hashem because they were Jews, but it does affect the lasting lesson for us.

The story of what happened in the Warsaw Ghetto sixty years ago this month was told largely by two senior leaders who survived: Yitzhak Cukierman the leader of the leftist Zionist Hechalutz-Dror and Marek Edelman of the anti-Zionist Bund. They told the story of the ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa) led by Mordechai Anielewicz, and how it was formed in the summer of 1942 by Socialist Zionist groups after the beginning of the "Great Liquidation" in which more than 300,000 of Warsaw's Jews were sent to their deaths in the camps.

The leaders of ZOB were educators and social workers. Anielewicz was a leading member of Hashomer Hatzair in Poland and had no military experience or training. However he was a natural leader and was therefore given command by overall consent. ZOB had minimal connection with the Polish underground and had very few arms at the beginning of the uprising.

In fact, there was another Jewish fighting organization in the Ghetto, made up of right-wing Zionist groups. In a recent article in The Jerusalem Post, Moshe Arens argues that, even though it is barely mentioned in the standard accounts (and Cukierman did not mention it at all in his book), it played a very important role.

ZZW (Zidowski Zwiazek Woskowy) led by Pawel Frenkel, was founded by the end of 1939. Its commanders all had military training and many had experience as officers in the Polish Army. It maintained contact with the Polish underground through the army connections, and received regular arms and assistance. ZZW also had dug two tunnels that provided a channel for communication and arms smuggling into the Ghetto.

It also, according to Arens, was significant in the fighting. It was cited in the reports of the Nazi commander to his superiors and, in particular, the fact that "on the roof of a concrete building they raised the Jewish flag and the Polish flag, as a signal of war against us." The Nazi commander called this "the main Jewish combat group." So it certainly deserves some mention in accounts of those days. In the end, according to official Nazi reports, for whatever they are worth, they murdered or deported 56,000 Jews in that month while suffering 16 dead and 85 wounded.

Why were there two fighting organizations?

"Only those who are acquainted with the fratricidal animosity that characterized the relationship in the years leading up to the war, between the Socialist Zionist parties and the Revisionist Zionist party headed by Zeev Jabotinsky, can begin to comprehend the inability or unwillingness to unite the two Jewish military organizations at that desperate time," according to Arens.

The animosity was so unbridled that even the prospect of mortal combat could not bring them together. And it persisted past the days of combat into the postwar period when the ZOB survivors wrote their accounts of what happened. Maybe it was "inevitable" that the efforts of those associated with ZZW would be forgotten "since none of the leaders of the underground organized by Beitar survived the revolt," according to Arens.

Inevitable? As we mourn in the Sefiras HaOmer the loss of 24,000 talmidim whose fault was infinitesimally smaller than this extreme omission, and recall that the halacha is like Beis Hillel because they always cited the opinions of their opponents before their own, we can only observe that when the full facts are known, the self-chosen symbol of heroism that is to redeem the "honor" of the Jewish people as secular Jews perceive it, exposes the real nature of what would, chas vesholom, happen to us if we did not have our precious Torah.

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