Polish Jews mark doomed uprising
In April 1943, a small group of poorly armed Polish Jews began the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
The revolt ended in death for most of the fighters, yet left an enduring symbol of Jewish resistance.
At Warsaw’s town hall, three Holocaust survivors, Helena Birenbaum, Krystyna Budnicka and Marian Turski, were given honorary citizenship of the capital.
Israeli dignitaries usually attend major ghetto commemorations, but they mostly remained at home because it coincided with major celebrations in Israel marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the controversial state in 1948.
One of the few survivors of the Warsaw ghetto still alive has described his sense of dread at the rise of nationalism in Poland.
Marian Kalwary, 87, speaking on the 75th anniversary of the Jewish uprising, said he feared a return of the rhetoric that had allowed Adolf Hitler to take power. “I can see nationalism being glorified and put on a pedestal as something noble,” Kalwary said. “Nationalism is being confused with patriotism.”
Sirens sounded and church bells tolled across Warsaw calling on people to remember the Jews who died fighting in the 1943 rebellion instead of waiting to be rounded up and sent to the Treblinka death camp.
Nearly a year after invading Poland in 1939, the Nazis created a special ghetto in the city for its roughly 480,000 Jews. Tens of thousands would die from hunger and disease and 300,000 were eventually sent to Treblinka to be killed.
Hundreds attended an “independent” event by Poles to criticise the Law and Justice (PiS) government for allegedly promoting anti-Semitism.
Open Republic, a group which opposes anti-Semitism and xenophobia, said it was organising the ceremony in opposition to what it called the “hollow nationalist pomp” of PiS, recalling how the prime minister this year had paid tribute to a Polish wartime insurgency unit that had collaborated with the German occupiers.
Their observances began with Yiddish singing at the monument to a Jewish envoy in London, Szmul Zygielbojm, who committed suicide after the revolt was suppressed, in protest at international indifference to the Holocaust. The Polish Jewish community was Europe’s largest before the Holocaust.
The uprising broke out when about 750 young Jewish fighters armed with pistols and Molotov cocktails attacked the formidable German forces.
In their wills they said they knew they would fail but wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing.
The uprising held out for nearly a month.
About 40 insurgents managed to escape the ghetto through the sewerage system.
The 1943 uprising went down into Jewish lore. Picture credit: Wikimedia