The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising -- Secular Symbol of Jewish
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
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
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
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
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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