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Yitzhak Zuckerman was born in Vilna in 1915. After leaving the Hebrew High School he joined the Zionist youth movement and by 1936 was working at head office in Warsaw. A socialist, Zuckerman was elected secretary general in 1938.
When the German Army invaded Poland in September 1939 he moved to the Soviet Union. In April 1940 he returned to Poland in order to promote underground resistance to the Nazis.
Zuckerman attempted to unite Marxist and Zionist forces in Poland by forming the Ha-Shomer Has-Tas'ir. On 22nd December 1942, Zuckerman, Gole Mire and Adolf Liebeskind took part in an attack on a café in Cracow that was used by the Schutz Staffeinel (SS) and the Gestapo. Mire and Liebskind were both tracked down and killed but although shot in the leg he managed to escape.
Zuckerman also joined Mordechai Anielewicz, the leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943 and the Polish uprising in August 1944. Zuckerman survived the war and in 1947 emigrated to Israel where he established the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz and the Ghetto Fighters' Museum.
Yitzhak Zuckerman, who appeared as a witness at the Adolf Eichmann trial in 1961 died in Israel in 1981.
Do not go willingly to your death! Fight for life to the last breath. Greet our murders with teeth and claws, with axe and knife, hydrochloric acid and iron crowbars. Make the enemy pay for blood with blood, for death with death?
Let us fall upon the enemy in time, kill and disarm him. Let us stand up against the criminals and if necessary die like heroes. If we die in this way we are not lost.
Make the enemy pay dearly for your lives! Take revenge for the Jewish centres that have been destroyed and for the Jewish lives that have been extinguished.
What we have experienced cannot be described in words. We are aware of one thing only; what has happened has exceeded our dreams. The Germans ran twice from the ghetto.
Perhaps we will meet again. But what really matters is that the dream of my life has come true. Jewish self-defence of the Warsaw ghetto has become a fact. Jewish armed resistance and retaliation have become a reality. I have been witness to the magnificent heroic struggle of the Jewish fighters.
Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman
Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman, Zionist youth leader and a founder of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB). He fought in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Place and date uncertain.
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Yitzhak Zuckerman - History
There is a striking difference between the photographs of women in the Warsaw Ghetto as they appear in books and on websites and the written descriptions of women in memoirs and histories. Visually, the women appear frightened, passive, often in a state of surrender. And no wonder, since the photographers were Germans documenting their version of the defeat of the 1943 Ghetto Uprising. But in written sources, women appear decisive, constantly devising strategies for living, as Halina Birenbaum put it, "where death had its hands full." 1 Irene Sendler, a Christian who knew the Ghetto well, wrote, "Every day, every hour, every minute of the long years spent in that hell was a battle." 2 "Every five minutes," Helen Foxman remembered, "there was something else." 3
Reading the memoirs, I was reminded of that nineteenth century hymn with lyrics by James Russell Lowell. "Once to every man and nation, comes the moment to decide/ In the strife of truth with falsehood, for the good or evil side&hellip." Lowell was, of course, protesting the 1848 Mexican War and the expansion of slavery, a defining moment of conscience for many Americans. In the Warsaw Ghetto, however, there was often not one defining moment, but many and these often signaled fundamental values of who you were. Jewish resistance leader Yitzhak Zuckerman wrote, "Sometimes you learned about a person in a single moment as if he were illuminated in a single flash." 4
These decisions may be organized in three ways: 1) measured decisions, thought about but eventually forcing choice 2) role-playing decisions which fit the persona being played and 3) spontaneous decisions, the "single flash" that Zuckerman described. Yet it was not only Jewish Polish women who had to make choices in the ghetto. The late Stephen Feinstein, of the University of Minnesota Holocaust and Genocide Center, urged me to include non-Jewish Polish women in this essay. Members of the Polish underground group AK (Armeia Krajowa) had a subgroup designed to aid Jews, Zegota. 5 For its members, the era also meant a testing of conscience, opportunity, and resourcefulness.
Why the Warsaw Ghetto and not others—Vilna, Krakow, Lodz? Warsaw was the largest ghetto, at the beginning holding about 400,000 Jews, with an increasingly more diverse population as German Jews and Gypsies, Dutch, Greek, Romanian, Hungarian, Russian, and near by Polish Jews moved into the city. It was also a place where Russian, German, Austrian, Ukrainian, Latvian, Italian, and British military forces played parts in Warsaw's fate. Within the ghetto itself, in its early day from 1940 to 1942, some twenty or more newsletters circulated from different Jewish groups. Israel Gutman, a resistance member and later historian, wrote that "Warsaw symbolized all that was both sublime and tragic during the war—and the ghetto was the heart of the tragedy." 6 And women, as Gutman knew, were an important part of it all.
Each day presented measured decisions, a bit, Leah Silberstein said later, "like playing Russian roulette." 7 Just take the daily task of going for bread. Who went to get it? If men went, they were often subjected to physical harassment or forced labor. In the beginning, at least, women chose to go, protecting the men, trying to obtain the meager rations allotted (Jews one/tenth that of Germans) or to find smuggled goods. What could be taken to bargain with smugglers what would a fair price be? Should the women of the family try to smuggle through the walls or send their children on such dangerous missions? Or even to steal? One desperate mother beat her son on the street because he did not learn to steal bread from passers-by. 8
By 1942, squads of German and Jewish policemen tried to fulfill deportation quotas of people to send from Warsaw to Treblinka, a death camp. Women and children became increasingly vulnerable to attack and the major question each morning became "What is it like out today?" 9 As Naran Zelichower put it, "Danger could swoop down like a hawk." 10 So a woman had to chose her route carefully. A particularly sadistic German nicknamed "Frankenstein" controlled a narrow passage between parts of the ghetto. He delighted in killing people or wounding them to watch them bleed to death. Another consideration in planning a route was the likelihood of meeting beggars who might steal or stretch the limits of compassion. Uri Orlev remembered his mother refusing to go out into the street because "she couldn't stand the sight of all those children begging for bread when she had none to give them." 11 Sandra Brand found "I was riddled with guilt," passing starving people because her family tradition was one of charity. 12 The family member sent for bread had to be the one strong enough to resist robbery or sympathy.
Once the food was securely home, mothers had to decide how the bread was divided. Some crusts, particularly in the early days of the ghetto, might be set aside to pay for a son's tutoring or for concerts or plays. As the starvation diet became more severe, mothers had to decide where to hide food and how to divide it. Many mothers were reported as diminishing their portion so their children could get more. Her healthful activity, however, was often the center of the family's survival, so the choice was hard. Perhaps one of the most poignant descriptions of an attempt to keep others alive is the small beggar girl who, given a small dried fish, broke it in two to give part to the sickly baby she held in her arms. 13 In the early days of the ghetto, there were less heartbreaking choices. Women were involved in soup kitchens for the poor, nursing school, theatricals, children's education, painting, and poetry. The building of a wall around the ghetto, the bringing in of non-Warsaw Jews, the decreased chances for smuggling, and a terrible typhus epidemic increased the vulnerability of a "wrong" decision.
Beside daily decisions, there were also long range measured ones. One major question was whether or not to try to escape from the ghetto. There were limited choices in early 1940. Poland, after its defeat by Germany, had been split between Germany and the Soviet Union. Many Jews left western Poland to go to the Soviet east where, in theory at least, Jews would not face discriminatory laws. One Warsaw woman, Wanda Wasileska, for example, escaped to the Soviets, became a Red Army colonel, and had the ear (some say the bed) of Stalin on Polish issues. 14 Reports, however, came back of Soviet confiscation of property and the deportation of thousands of Jews who, by refusing Soviet citizenship, were sent to Siberia and Central Asia. Conditions were so unstable in the USSR zone of Poland that, when given a brief chance, 70,000 Jews signed up to go back to Warsaw. 15 Religious mothers, fearing Soviet "godlessness," were often reluctant to take their daughters to Russia. Later, standing in a selection line for deportation, Stefania Staszewska's mother told her, " Yes, Stefcia, you were right. All we needed was a backpack and some good shoes, and we could have saved ourselves back in 1939 and gone to Russia. But we stayed and took our chance in this terrible lottery." 16 So many Poles died in Soviet cattle cars carrying them to Siberia, however, that, as one Zionist leader put it, it was only a choice "between a death sentence and life imprisonment." 17
Others, particularly younger, single Jewish women, might choose to go to Germany—which may seem an unlikely choice. With fairly Aryan Polish looking features, a woman might volunteer as one of the 1.6 million Poles acting as laborers in Germany. For men, a physical examination might reveal circumsion and therefore such labor was not generally an option. As conditions in the ghetto worsened, women would even accept the harsh conditions of war munition plants, field labor, or domestic service in increasingly bomb torn Germany. 18 A few lucked out and were maids in luxury hotels and passed a tense, relatively well-provisioned war.
The most likely option for escape from the ghetto was going over to the non-Jewish side of Warsaw. Yet this choice had to be weighed against many considerations. What were her chances of survival from the blackmailers and Poles of German descent who made money off of escaped Jews? First, did she have an Aryan appearance? If Jewish looking, where could she find a hiding place as opposed to living openly as a Pole? Who could be trusted to hide her—friends, receivers of money, or underground contacts? How would other family members react? Women in the family supported Mary Berg's decision to leave, but male members and her boy friend tried to stop her from going. 19 Sandra Brand was told by her brother that she was "selfish" to leave. 20 Others, even when friends offered assistance, chose not leave their families or, as in the case of Ewa Rechtman, felt "I can't endanger you like that." 21 No one expected life to be easy outside the ghetto, but Alicia said her departure was "as if I was on a train and I was going to jump off." 22
If the woman herself did not chose to leave the ghetto, what about sending a child of the family? For Vladka Meed, a resistance courier, there was no sight more heartbreaking than the tears of mothers who entrusted their children to her to take them away. 23 Much went into such decisions. For some, religion was the primary consideration. Helena Szevszcusha was told by one woman "I'd rather see him among the dead than see him betray his religion." 24 Another woman held different views, "I would rather have her become German than go to death at Treblinka." 25 If the child were given up, there were no absolute guarantees of well-being or of being raised as a Jew. The child, just to pass in a non-Jewish world, would need to learn Catholic prayers and proper church behavior.
There is little evidence in the memoirs that the mother's own survival played a decisive part in sending the child outside the ghetto. But it was the case that a woman with a child at selections was generally doomed. Children almost always went with the mother, not the father, so she would be the parent immediately taken to the gas chambers at Treblinka. Most mothers stayed with their children, but not all. One of the doctors in the ghetto went to the deportation point after the trains left to collect children abandoned by their mothers. 26 Some may have been hidden by their mothers, but others were deliberately abandoned. Grandmothers offered to take children to save their daughters since women over 35 or 40 were generally sent to the doomed side. Children, aware of the fates involved, would try to separate themselves from their mothers to save them. In one case, bystanders watched heartbroken as a ten-year-old boy tried to run away from his mother to save her. Even though a guard tried to hold her back, she still ran after her son. 27 They were both sent to Treblinka. The bond between mother and child was thus often tragic. Mrs. Igdal refused to send her daughter with rescuers, despite an opportunity. "What happens to me, will happen to my child," she said. Both were caught in the deportations. 28
For young, unmarried Jewish women one of the major choices was whether or not to join the underground and to decide on which party fit their ideology best. 29 To join such groups, the woman separated herself from her family and joined tight-knit groups who lived in close proximity to each other. Anne Heilman, very sympathetic to underground work, felt her first duty was, however, to her family. 30 Zivia Lubetkin, like others, chose the underground, but later realized that if she had had a child, she never would have joined the resistance. 31
- Pictured here are German sappers assigned to blow up the bunkers where the Jews were hiding, together with Jews that had been removed from one of the bunkers apparently on May 8, 1943.
Copyright ©2004 Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
Though Lubetkin was in leadership positions in the Jewish Fighting Organization (Zhidorwka Organizatsia Boyora: ZOB), most women in the underground were couriers. 32 Women couriers are generally much praised in histories of the ghetto, but the term "courier" implies a transmitting of messages and not the complicated set of duties most couriers faced. 33 Zivia Lubetkin detailed more of their duties couriers: "encouraged, organized, searched for safe sites, distributed newspapers, gave oral reports, accompanied, set up partisan bases, developed programs, obtained guns." 34 They also gave comfort and security. Yitzhak Zuckerman, one of the resistance leaders, wrote he always felt safer traveling with one of the women couriers. 35 The amount of decisions being made in their jobs—from emotional to logistical support—made the choice of being a courier a particularly demanding one, since many of the tasks were public. 36
When things went very wrong, one of the decisions women had to consider was suicide. More than a few women carried cyanide tablets with them, though as one woman said, "I really didn't know how I would behave." 37 Some women chose suicide over deportation and elderly couples took poison together. One of the underground couriers stationed outside the ghetto, Franja Batus, killed herself after so many of her colleagues were killed in the Uprising of '43. Others, like Mira Fucher at Mila 18, had discussed suicide as a statement, uniting their fates against the Germans with those of the famous Masada Jews who killed themselves rather than become Roman slaves. Not all approved of such suicides. Resistance leader Marek Edelman, for example, said, "You don't sacrifice a life for a symbol." 38
A contrary argument, the importance of the survival of the Jewish people, led others to consider survival beyond the ghetto, but how good was the woman as an actress? Many decisions were improvisations and involved several considerations. Did the woman have a "Polish" look, blonde and blue-eyed preferred? " Happy" eyes might get you through with marginally "Polish" features. Parents told their children leaving the ghetto, "No sad eyes." 39 1 One Jewish courier was stopped by a German who claimed she had "Jewish" eyes, but then she laughed, flirted with him, and he let her go. Along with eyes, Germans and blackmailers looked for hand gestures as a give away. Until she got acclimated the other side of the wall, Sandra Brand used a muff instead of mittens to keep her hands still. 40
Language was another important issue. Most of the Jews in Warsaw (80%) spoke Yiddish, but girls were more likely to speak Polish than boys. Parents would try to send their sons to Hebrew schools while girls were sent to public, or even Catholic, schools. If woman could not speak Polish, she had to find a hiding place or pretend to be a deaf mute. Since Yiddish was relatively close to German, she also had to act as if she did not understand when questioned in German. The courier Lonka Lozibrodska was so blond and had such excellent German, however, that she often pretended to be an arrogant wife of a German officer. She could, therefore, travel on German trains and be much less likely to be searched. 41
Playing the blonde courier, however, was risky. "The most challenging and dangerous role I would ever play," said Chaika Raban Folman. 42 She learned to throw friendly, coquettish smiles at questioners. Vladka Meed surprised some of her Jewish contacts by her rakish hats and her off-the-shoulder blouses. 43 Others played their roles differently. Chaika Grossman tried indignation "Why are you creeping at me like a smelly dog?" she told one pursuer. 44 It was dangerous to be too good looking as Polish women were taken off the streets for labor service in Germany. Further, German soldiers frequently saw Polish women as sexual fair game. A Gestapo pamphlet warned German troops that Polish females "were a great danger&hellipthe most experienced and dangerous of all European women." 45 Rapes and sexual harassment did, however, continue. Underground leaders tried to exploit the attraction of their blonde couriers for some of the most dangerous missions. In one of the most extreme examples, in the dying days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Devorah Batan was ordered to go first out of a bunker in hopes her beauty would distract Germans long enough for others to come out firing. 46 As Adina Szwajger wrote, "Those with 'good' looks were supposedly the lucky ones. They were able to walk the streets, buy all the necessary things, a few of them even work. But in reality, they were threatened at every moment." 47
Beside role-playing decisions, women had spontaneous choices for which they could not have prepared. One of these was falling in love. 48 Most of the memoirs of the ghetto are written by women who were fourteen to forty at the time of the Uprising. Females younger or older mainly died at Treblinka. For the young, as Mary Berg put it, "having a close friend helps us conquer dejection." 49 Vladka Meed mentioned how important her future husband Benjamin Meed was in sustaining her amidst the loneliness of the non-Jewish side, especially touching when he brought her lilacs. 50 For women brought up in strict Jewish homes, sexual attraction posed a dilemma when there seemed no future for them. One young woman came to Bernard Goldstein wondering if it would be "immoral" for her and her boy friend to have sex. "Take your sweetheart without shame and be happy," he advised. The couple later died in the deportations. 51
A day might bring love and attraction or something else. As resistance leader Moredi Aienelewicz said, "All that happened around us in those days was a matter of chance." 52
Germans came Jews were hidden a baby cried. Several autobiographies mention a mother smothering her child to save the rest of the group. As Ukrainian troops near the Children's Hospital, does the doctor let the children be taken or does she administer morphine to spare them the trip to Treblinka? Adina Szwajger administered the morphine, but from that day on, she said, "I was always different from everybody else." 53
Other decisions made on the spot concerned saving lives. Tosia Altman, one of the couriers, was wounded and her colleagues planned to carry her through the sewer from the burning Ghetto. Her choice was to let them or to endanger the speed of the journey by their efforts. She refused to go. The truck at the sewer opening was loaded with escapees, but there were more people yet in the tunnel. Zivia Lubetkin raised a gun to prevent the driver from leaving, but then her colleague Simha Roten pulled his and insisted all lives would be at risk unless they left immediately. Halina Birenbaum was so shocked by her being selected for the "wrong" side, that she indignantly protested, "Me?! A guard thought she was so funny that he sent her over to the labor side. 54 Indignation did not always work. One woman caught smuggling protested to the German soldier, "What are you going to do, shoot me?" And he did. 55
In such an arbitrary world, Adina Szwajger felt, "there was no god, only chance." Zivia Lubetkin, on the other hand, believed that fate could be faced with a "just do it" spirit. When her future husband Yitzhak Zuckerman was indecisive, she told him, "You don't know what to do? Kick yourself in the behind and yell "Hooray!" 56
Jews and Germans were not the only ones making decisions about the ghetto. Ethnic Poles also had to decide about their conscience and the terrible reports circulating concerning the Holocaust. There were, however, many arguments against support for the Jews. One was that Poles generally had undergone several major catastophes in the years 1939-41, (the major deportations to Treblinka began in October, 1942). 57 One historian has concluded that in those years, non-Jewish Poles had been murdered at a ratio of 10:1 to murdered Jews. 58 There were casualties from fighting the Germans deaths from the German deportation of Poles from western Poland 15,000 officers and policemen killed by the Soviets thousands of deaths from the deportation of 330,000 Poles to Siberia by the Russians. Further, both the Soviets and the Germans practiced what historian Yehuda Bauer has called "selective genocide" by arresting and executing Polish professors, teachers, priests, labor, and business leaders. 59 Auschwitz was originally built to imprison the Polish establishment. 60 Further, over a million and a half Poles were taken to Germany as essentially slave laborers. Polish women stormed the trains with Polish children being taken to the West to be "Germanized" and adopted by German families. 61 The Poles escaping abroad continued their fight militarily against the Germans, often suffering heavy losses in the Italian and D-Day campaigns. In the Battle of Britain, 1940=41, ten per cent of the RAF pilots were Poles. Thus a reason for not helping the Jews was, "We Poles had enough on our own with the brutal way we were being treated." 62
Many Poles did not know Jews personally. Speaking Yiddish and living in segregated Warsaw neighborhoods, Jews seemed to some not to be truly "Polish." A Polish underground member said that before the war, Jews wanted nothing to do with him, but during the war," they wanted my help." 63 Much of this segregation, however, had to do with the long-standing anti-Semitism endemic in Poland, particularly with the Catholic emphasis on Jews as "Christ-killers."
This anti-Semitism was deepened by the response of some Jews to the Russian takeover of Eastern Poland. Many Jews welcomed the Soviets, seeing them as less prejudiced than other Poles and certainly the Germans. Jews were often placed by the Soviets in security forces (NKVD) positions since the Soviets did not trust non-Jews with such authority. In the eyes of many Poles, Jews had collaborated with Poland's "second enemy" and were not actively offering resistance to either the Soviets or the Germans. 64
Against their two enemies, Poles tried to set up an underground led by what remained of Polish leadership. Most of these Poles also had relatives in labor camps, prisons, missing, or fighting abroad so they were already at risk by their involvement. As historian Stefan Korbonski has stated, the history of the women involved in this underground has yet to be written. 65 Women were eighty per cent of the couriers they often acted as "aunties" to shepherd and protect downed Allied airmen, or, like Maria Pyttel, planned escape routes to the West. Later in the Uprising of 1944, women were ten per cent of the fighting forces. To take on the rescue of Jews would doubly increase danger for both the underground people and the Jews. Some families engaged in both activities, but others turned down Jewish friends because they were already hiding guns or people at risk.
Further, the punishment for hiding Jews was particularly high in Poland. In France a person doing so would be arrested in Germany sent to prison but in Poland not only would the person be killed but also her/his family. An estimated 3000 Poles were killed for aiding Jews and thousands more were arrested and sent to labor or concentration camps. Yet people did so. A "secret city," to use historian Gunnar Paulsson's term, was set up in Warsaw in which 70,000 to 90,000 people helped, in one way or another, 28,000 Jews to live outside the ghetto. 66 Zuckerman wondered about these people, "Why was the proportion of [Aryan Polish] women so especially large?" 67
Some women made measured decisions to help Jews as a continuation of the war against Germany. Many were wives or daughters of Polish officers missing, dead, or prisoners of war and chose to join the Armia Krajowa (AK or also known as the Home Army). A branch of the AK called Zegota was designed to help rescue Jews. Some women were members of political groups and had shared views with participating Jews. Irene Sendler was a socialist and had protested against anti-Semitism in Poland. At the university, for example, she had deliberately sat with Jews in segregated lecture halls. A former social worker, Sendler had the necessary contacts on the Aryan side to save eventually over 2500 Jewish children. On the other hand, one of the founders of Zegota—Zofia Kossak—had earlier written anti-Semitic literature. The suffering of the Warsaw Jews led her to change her mind dramatically. She published a pamphlet "Protest" in which she called for Catholic Poles to help Jews. "We are all Pilates! God demands this protest (against Jewish discrimination) from us!" 68 Another Catholic woman, Irene Adamowizc, was leader of the scouting movement and her involvement added to the couriers available to Zegota.
Also seeing a religious responsibility for the Jews were Catholic nuns, some of who were expelled from their convents or arrested. Generally, convents were organized with the nuns' right to vote on significant issues so the decision to take in Jews was a joint one. Mother Superiors could, however, have a major impact on the vote. Sister Wanda Garczynska chose a reading, John15: 13-17—on the necessity of laying down your life for another—just before one vote was taken. The sisters sat in silence, realizing that their lives and the continuation of the convent were at stake. Then, according to Sister Maria Ena, they voted without discussion and went to the chapel where "we felt light and joyful, though we realized the gravity of the situation. We were ready." 69 Some of the most Jewish looking children were taken to convents where there might be more hiding nooks available. Though Zegota had an understanding with Jewish parents that the children's religion would not be changed, some nuns were tempted to "save souls" and the sheer necessity of the children's learning prayers and church behavior had an impact on some children. 70
Once the measured decision was made to aid Jews, Christian Polish women also had to decide how to play their roles. Even Mother Superiors learned to—if not directly lie—obfuscate. When a German officer pointed out to one mother superior that she had "a lot of different faces" in the children present, the nun replied in perfect German, "What else do you expect?" 71 One beautiful nun even resorted to flirting with a German to distract him from the egg basket she was carrying, one with a false bottom and a Jewish baby below. 72 As one Polish woman said about flirting with the Germans, "If you are only a girl, this is how you destroy the enemy." 73
Physical disguises were also chosen. Sofia Korbanski recalled, "Never before have I seen oversized busts as in Poland at this time." 74 Tucked into their bodices, Polish women put underground newspapers, identity papers, food, military orders, and even grenades. 75 Zegota couriers had a particular money problem. Funds from Britain and the United States arrived by various underground routes, but then the money had to be taken from a central drop-off place to hundreds of apartments hiding resistance members and Jews. Brief cases were likely targets of searches, so Zegota members had to pretend to be pregnant with sacks of money at their waist. They had to learn to dress, act, and walk as if they were on the edge of birth. Another role they learned to play was that of a "loose woman," the sort to have different men arriving at their apartment for their favors or engaging in loud parties. Anything to distract from the serious underground contacts being made. As even young teenagers were couriers, they too learned how to dissemble. Panina Wywiad said that she "playacted" to overcome her fears by imagining being part of the neighborhood where she met Jewish escapees from the ghetto. 76
Some of the most striking rescue acts for non-Jewish Poles were spontaeous ones. Jewish memoirs often contain instances of those single moments of character illumination that Zuckerman described. A few examples among many may illustrate how quickly women decided to help Jews. A Jewish woman, passing as non-Jewish at a governmental office got flustered and signed her real name to a false identity card. The female clerk quietly told her that card was "smeared" and found her another blank one. 77 A young Jewish smuggler was chased by the Germans, but a Polish woman upset her apple cart in front of the pursuers to allow his escape. 78 When Marysia Szpiro was pointed out as a Jew in a market, most of the crowd yelled to the police, no, she was Polish. One of the women customers offered to walk her home. As they rounded several corners, she said, "I know you're Jewish, go wherever you need to go." 79 As Morris Wyszogrod tried to escape from a labor camp, he slipped into a Polish labor detail where a woman vouched for his presence. Once they are further along, she told him, "Now that you are out, run like hell I know that you are a Jew." 80 Another Jewish man chased by police, rushed into a building and then turned as if coming out of the dentist office. The pursuing policeman asked a woman exiting if the man had been inside. The woman said, "yes." Jan Nowak, one of the underground couriers, commented on this anonymous woman, "She understood in an instance that someone's life was at stake." 81 Sometimes the Poles did more than react to an immediate situation. Janina Bauman and her mother found refuge several times in their hiding by simply knocking on doors and finding someone to take them in. 82 In all these situations, the Polish women were at risk if their stories had been checked.
There were, however, also times of instant betrayals by women. It was a woman who yelled "Jews" and forced resistance fighters to leave behind some members trying to escape in the sewers from the ghetto. With quick insight, women blackmailers might pick out the vulnerable or raise the rents for hidden Jews. As Zuckerman put it, "One swine could betray 100 Jews to the Germans. But to save one Jew you needed the participation of 100 Poles." 83
Sometimes all the Christian Poles could offer were their prayers. Penalties for protesting arrests were high one Polish woman was killed by a policeman when she cursed him for killing a Jewish child smuggler. 84 Therefore, women could often only show their support by weeping publicly or even kneeling to say a prayer. Contrary to Czeslaw Milosz's poem "Campo dei Flori" about Poles cheerfully riding a merry-go round outside the burning ghetto, Zuckerman remembered, "I saw Poles crying, just standing and crying." 85
Books on the Warsaw Ghetto frequently end with the destruction of the ghetto. But there is much more to the complicated history of Jewish and Christian women and their entangled fates. Jews, about 1000 of them, were part of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising against the Germans, among them ZOB women like Lubetkin. 86 Zegota members became couriers, nurses, and soldiers in the fight to liberate Warsaw, daily expecting support from Soviet troops just across the Vistula River. Women, as major participants in the Polish Home Army, took the same pledge as male soldiers. Indeed, when the Poles were defeated and the Soviets still waited, Polish women soldiers insisted on being treated officially as prisoners of war. 87 Their later story, some sent to Ravensbruck and some to Stalag Vi at Oberlangen, is a long and bitter one. 88 Some Jewish women, like Chaika Raban Folman, survived by being embedded with these Polish women. Women civilians were either part of the 240,000 Poles killed in the battle of 1944 or of the thousands deported by the Germans from Warsaw.
The Warsaw Jews who survived generally left Poland after 1945 because anti-Semitism increased after the war with the Soviet take-over of Poland. Most eventually found their way to Israel or the United States. 89
Zegota members were considered part of the Polish Home Army, which the Soviets were determined to crush either by imprisonments or executions. Zofia Kossak was forced into exile, even though her organization had saved relatives of the new Soviet security director, Jacob Berman. Irene Sendler, who had been arrested and tortured by the Gestapo, was told to keep a low profile and her children were refused university study. Other Zegota members were imprisoned. Their treatment was a major historical example of the ironic thought, "no good deed goes unpunished." It was not until after the fall of the Soviet regime that a monument was finally erected to Zegota in Warsaw in 1995 and, in 2000, a movement began to nominate Irene Sendler for the Nobel Peace Prize. 90 One of the earlier Nobel Prize winners, Albert Camus, in his novel The Plague, wrote a line about his characters, which might apply, to Zegota. "While unable to be saints, but refusing to bow down to pestilence, [they] strive their utmost to be healers." 91
After the defeat of the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Wladyslaw Szpilman, known later for his book and the movie "The Pianist," wandered about the ruins of the city. There he saw the body of a blond haired woman soldier, her armband showing her AK status. He reflected on her courage, then thought of his two sisters taken in 1943 in the deportations. At least, he thought, the Polish woman would eventually get a burial, but where did he search for the ashes of his sisters? 92 According to historian Gunnar Paulsson, one-fourth of the Christian population of Warsaw and ninety-eight percent of the Jewish residents died in World War II, making its losses of 720,000 the "greatest slaughter of a single city in history." 93
Yet some women did survive, often by navigating between choices that were either bad or worse. Yehuda Nir ends his memoir about these years with a description of his sister Lala who managed to arrange her, his, and their mother's survival. He dedicated his book to Lala for "her quick wit, audacity, intelligence, and above all her courage." 94 The same might be said for many of the women of Warsaw.
Much contemporary history writing reflects a commitment on the part of scholars to give voice to the voiceless, such as marginalized genders and other groups. For this reason, one of the premier world history sites is the Women and World History site at George Mason University (http://chnm.gmu.edu/wwh/). The story of the Women of the Warsaw Ghetto adds thrust to this effort, particularly emphasizing Eastern European women's history (see virtual exhibitions at http://lii.org/cs/lii/view/subject/12811 and also http://www1.yadvashem.org/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto/home_warsaw.htm. But it is also a story that easily can enliven a classroom. It certainly can be used as a short supplement to the Holocaust memoirs or stories written by men (for example, Elie Wiesel's memoir Night (first published n 1958) is widely used in world history courses.). It can also stand alone as a story of inter-cultural relations (Jews and non-Jews in Poland) and the complexities of resistance to tyranny. The emphasis on a "moment to decide" may also influence students to consider how quickly their decisions may put themselves and others at risk or benefit—that an individual's actions do matter. A select bibliography intended to assist students engaging in their own investigation into those issues in regard to the Warsaw Ghetto follows.
Marjorie Wall Bingham received her Ph. D. in American Studies from the University of Minnesota. For many years, she taught history at St. Louis Park High School in Minnesota and at Hamline University. Active on several national history committees, including the Bradley Commission, she was the founding vice-president of the National Council for History Education. With Susan Gross, she wrote a series of thirteen books on women in world cultures and founded the Upper Midwest Women's History Center. Her most recent publication is An Age of Empires: 1200-1750 for Oxford University Press (2005). Her involvement in Holocaust studies includes a summer seminar with the AFT-Jewish Labor Committee, studying in Israel at the Ghetto Fighters' House and Yad Vashem. There she met two of the Warsaw couriers mentioned in the article, Vladka Meed and Chaika Folman Raban, to whom this essay is dedicated.
1 Richard Lukas. Did the Children Cry? Hitler's War Against Jewish and Polish Children 1939-1945. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2001.
For on-line stories and testimony relating to the Warsaw Ghetto with unforgettable images, maps and graphics, please go to:
2 "The Valor of the Young." Dimensions 7/21: 21.
3 Brana Gurewitsch (Editor). Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1998: 38.
4 Yitzhak Zuckerman. A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Berkeley: University of California, 1993: 343.
5 The Polish Underground was the only European resistance movement to have a specifically designated branch for Jewish aid.
6 Israel Gutman. Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991: xi. Gutman's books contain more descriptions of women's actions than in most others, perhaps because he, and Zuckerman who also includes women, were actual participants in the Ghetto Uprising.
7 Nechama Tec. Resilience and Courage: Women, Men, and the Holocaust, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
8 Samuel Kassow. Who Will Write Our History? Emanuel Ringelbaum, the Warsaw Ghetto and the Oyneg Shabes Archive. Bloomington: University of Indiana, 2007:259.
9 Michal Grynberg (editor) Words to Outlive Us: Eye Witness Accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto: New York: Henry Holt, 1988: 46.
11 Uri Orlev. The Island on Bird Street. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981: viii
12 Sandra Brand. I Dared to Live. Rockville: Shengold Books, 2000: 18.
14 Her career, helping to form the Soviet Polish Brigades and wining Stalin prizes in literature, is an exceptional one. The Poles, however, see her largely as a traitor to Polish freedom. For more see: Marci Shore: Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's: Life and Death, 1918-1968. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
15 Not all made it back to Warsaw and these were seen as suspect by the Soviets and deported to Siberia. A German, seeing some of the 30,000 or so who were on the trains returning to Poland, called to them, "Jews, where are you going? Don't you realize that we will kill you?" Some Jews did leave the train after the warning. Jan Gross. Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002: 206.
18 Chaim Lazar. Muranowaska 7: The Warsaw Ghetto Rising.Szereszewska Tel Aviv: Massada P.E. C. Press, 1966: 59.
19 Mary Berg. The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing Up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Oxford: Oneworld, 2007: 158.
22 Lenore J. Weitzman, "Living on the Aryan Side in Poland," in Women in the Holocaust. Edited by Dalia Ofer and Leonore J. Weitman. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991:191. Alicia's last name is not given in the text.
23 Vladka Meed. The Other Side of the Wall. New York: Holocaust Library, 1979: 111-113.
24 Szereszewska, Helena. Memoirs from Occupied Warsaw 1940-45. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1997:6.
25 Ruth Altbaker Cyprys. A Jump for Life: A Survivor's Journal from Nazi-Occupied Poland. New York: Continum, 1999:84.
26 Adina Blady Szwajger. I Remember Nothing More: The Warsaw Children's Hospital and the Jewish Resistance. New York: Touchstone, 1988: 52.
27 Alexander Donat. The Holocaust Kingdom. New York: Holocaust Library, 1978: 92.
29 To describe the choices of competing Jewish organizations is beyond the scope of this essay. Popular choices were between Dror and Hashomer Hatzair, Zionist groups, or the Bund, a Jewish socialist group emphasizing international cooperation.
30 Heilman later had her chance at underground activity when she was in on the plot to blow up the crematorium at Auschwitz.
31 A member of the Bialystok resistance expressed another sense of lack of awareness of what her choice might mean. Her family was killed and she wrote later, "I was not at their side in the last and worst moments of their lives. Since then, I have searched for them in every mound of earth that covers the soil of the former death camps in the Polish territory." Bronka Klibanski. "In the Ghetto and in the Resistance." Ofer: 177.
32 One of the best sources for couriers in their roles in several ghettos is: Leonore J. Weitzman. "Women of Courage: The Kashariyot (Couriers) in the Jewish Resistance During the Holocaust." in Lessons and Legacies IV: New Currents in Holocaust Research. Edited by Jeffry M. Diefendorf. Evanston: Northwestern University, 2004.
33 Emmanuel Ringelblum. Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto. Berkeley: Publisher's Group West, 2006:273-4. His praise for the courier's "heroic" activities is often repeated.
34 Zivia Lubetkin, In the Days of Destruction and Revolt. Ghetto Fighters House: Israel, 1981: 79.
36 These women deserve a book just on their activities. Here are a few of the Warsaw women mentioned in histories for their particular bravery: Vladka Meed, Chaika Raban Folman, Frumke Plotnizka, Tema Schneiderman, Chaika Grossman, Tosia Altman, Leah Perstern, Reginka Justman, Mira Fucher and Lonka Kozybrodska. There were also couriers in other Polish cities and Polish women during the "44 Warsaw Uprising.
37 "Irena," in Barbara Engleking, Holocaust and Memory. London: Leicester University Press, 2001: 128.
38 Hanna Krall. Shielding the Flames: An Intimate Conversation with Dr. Marek Edelman. New York: Henry Holt, 1977:6.
42 Jehoshua Eibeshiz and Anna Ellenberg-Eibeshitz. Women in the Holocaust, Vol. I. Brooklyn: Remember, 1993: 124.
44 Chaika Grossman. The Underground Army: Fighters of the Bialystok Ghetto. New York: Holocaust Library, 1987: 115. Grossman is primarily associated with Bialystok but the incident took place in Warsaw where she came for meetings.
45 Simon Wiesenthal. Krystyna: The Tragedy of the Polish Resistance. Riverside: Ariadne Press, 1992: 191.
46 There are several versions of this incident. Lubetkin's (page 25) is that she survived this attack, but was killed the next day. Other versions state that Batan was killed immediately.
48 Here are some of the couples mentioned in histories of ZOB: Zivia Lubetkin/Yitzhak Zuckerman Rachel Foelman/Dov Berger Frumke Plotnizka/Hirshke Korsher Miriam Heinsdorf/Yosef Kaplan Tema Schneiderman/Mordechai Tennebaum Mira Fucher/Mordechai Snielewicz Rivka Saperstein/David Nowodworski Frany Beatus/David Shulman Rivka Moszkowicz/ Tuvia Borzykowski Sara Biderman/Adam Granach Luba Gewisser/Jurek Grossberg Ada Margolis/ Marke Edelman Vladka Meed (Feygl Peltel)/ Benjamin Meed.
51 Bernard Goldstein. Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto. Edinburgh: AK Press/ Nabat, 2005:82.
52 Miriam Marianska Peleg and Mordecai Peleg. Witness: Life in Occupied Krakow. New York: Routledge, 1991: 19.
55 Danny Dor. Brave and Desperate. Israel: Ghetto Fighters House Museum, 2003: 52.
56 Zuckerman: 238. Lubetkin's career, both in Poland and Israel, continued to show spirit and it's probably no wonder that their granddaughter was Israel's first woman combat pilot.
57 Historian Phillip Rutherford referred to this era as a "battle of nationality." Phillip T. Rutherford. Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles 1939-41. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2007:11.
58 Ewa Kurek. Your Life is World Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German Occupied Poland 1939-45. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1992:17.
59 Yehuda Bauer. A History of the Holocaust. New York: Franklin Watts, 1982: 285.
60 Laurence Rees. Auschwitz: A New History. New York: Public Affairs, 2005:17-30.
61 For more on Polish and German women's' roles in these "Germanization" programs, see: Elizabeth Harvey. Women and the Nazi East: Agents and Witnesses of Germanization. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2005.
62 Irene Gut Opdyke. In My Hands: Memories of a Holocaust Rescuer. New York: Dell, 1999: 84.
65 Stefan Korbonski. The Jews and Poles in World War II. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1989: 172.
66 Gunnar Paulsson. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw 1940-1945. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002:5.
68 Wladyslaw Bartoszewski. The Warsaw Ghetto: A Christian's Testimony. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987:27.
70 The commander of the ship Exodus, for example, noticed Jewish children from convents saying their rosaries as they traveled to Palestine. Yoran Kanik. Commander of the Exodus. New York: Grove Press, 1999:110. For the complications in child's life hidden in a convent, see Janina David A Square of Sky: A Wartime Childhood from Ghetto to Convent. London: Eland, 1992. For example, David resented as a child the poor food the children received at the convent. Only later was she told that the Germans had restricted convent rations because the mother superior had refused to release the older girls for forced labor in Germany.
75 Jewish courier Chaika Folman Raban described carrying grenades in her underpants and wondering what would happen if some gentleman asked her to sit down. Havka Folman Raban. They Are Still With Me. Israel: Ghetto Fighters Museum, 1997:82.
76 Eva Fogelman. Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of the Jews During the Holocaust. New York: Anchor Books, 1994:229.
80 Morris Wyszogrod. A Brush with Death: An Artist in the Death Camps. Albany: University of New York, 1999:35-36.
81 Jan Nowak. Courier from Warsaw. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1982: 169.
82 Janina Bauman. Winter into Morning. New York: Free Press, 1986. The Polish women who hid Bauman and her mother illustrate the cross-section of Poles involved in protecting Jews. Among them were: a countess, drug addict, mother of an underground leader, storekeeper, a husband and wife team also hiding weapons, a pianist, midwife/abortionist, elderly retired teacher, canteen manager, sculptor, and a peasant woman.
83 Adam Polonsky. "My Brother's Keeper?": Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust. Oxford: Routledge, 1990:148.
84 Abraham Lewin. A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1988: 44.
86 The most complete history of these events is Norman Davies. Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw. New York: Viking, 2003. The author describes the valor of many Polish women.
87 This POW status seems to have been the first time in history that women soldiers were so designated. There were three important reasons for POW designation: 1) their rights were to be protected under the Geneva Convention. Polish women previously had been used for medical experiments (injecting typhus into their legs) at Ravensbruck concentration camp. 2) As POWs they were not supposed to be used for labor which supported the war industry, a patriotic point since other Polish women had been forced to labor in German munitions factories. 3) They could then receive Red Cross food packages that made their survival more possible. Some Jewish women's memoirs mention that the food shared from these packages also sustained them.
88 The website on the Polish resistance and the AK (www.polishrestisnce-ak.org) includes helpful articles on this topic, including: Janina Skrzynska. "A Brief Outline of Women POWs from the Polish Home Army (AK) Held in Stalag Vic at Oberlangen After the Warsaw Uprising" and Marke Ney-Krawicz. "Women Soldiers of the Polish Home Army."
89 Two members of ZOB who did stay in Poland were the doctors Marek Edelman and Adina Swajger and both later supported the Solidarity movement, which eventually toppled the Soviet regime.
90 Sendler died May 12, 2008, and Al Gore won the year she was nominated.
91 Albert Camus. The Plague. New York: Vintage, 1948:308.
92 Wladyslaw Szpilman. The Pianist. New York: Picador, 1999: 186.
94 Yehuda Nir. The Lost Childhood: A World War II Memoir. New York: Scholastic Press, 2001:284.
Women and the Warsaw Ghetto: Selected Bibliography
Aaron, Frieda W. Bearing the Unbearable: Yiddish and Polish Poetry in the Ghettos and Concentration Camps. Albany: State University of New York, 1990.
Ackerman, Diane. The Zookeeper's Wife. New York: W.W. Norton, 2007.
Aly, Glutz. Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial Wars and the Nazi Welfare State. New York: Henry Holt, 2005.
Andrzejewski, Jerzy. Holy Week: A Novel of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2007.
Arad, Yitzhak, Yisrael Gutman and Abraham Margallot (editors). Documents and the Holocaust. Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1981.
Angress, Ruth. An Estate of Memory. New York: Feminist Press, 1986.
Bart, Michael and Laurel Corona. Until Our Last Breath. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2008.
Bartoszewski, Wladyslaw. Warsaw Death Ring 1939-1944. n.c.: Interpess Publishers, 1968.
_____The Warsaw Ghetto: A Christian's Testimony. Boston: Beacon Press, 1987.
Bauer, Yehuda. Flight and Rescue: Brichah. New York: Random House, 1970.
_____ A History of the Holocaust. New York Franklin Watts, 1982.
_____and Nathan Rotenstreich, Editors. The Holocaust As Historical Experience. New York: Holmes and Meier, 1981.
Bauman, Janina. Winter into Morning. New York: Free Press, 1986.
Baumel, Judith Tydor. Double Jeopardy: Gender and the Holocaust. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 1998,
_____"You Said the Words You Wanted Me to Hear But I Heard the Words You Couldn't Bring Yourself to Say": Women's First Person Accounts of the Holocaust." Oral History Review 27/1: 200.
Berg, Mary. The Diary of Mary Berg: Growing Up in the Warsaw Ghetto. Oxford: Oneworld, 2007 (1945).
Bialoszewski, Miron. A Memoir of the Warsaw Uprising. Evanston: Northwestern University, 1977.
Binney, Marcus. The Women Who Lived for Danger. New York: Harper Collins, 2002.
Birenbaum, Halina. Hope is the Last to Die: A Coming of Age Under Nazi Terror. London: M.E. Sharpe, 197l.
Birenbaum, Michael. A Mosaic of Victims: Non Jews Persecuted and Murdered by the Nazi. New York: New York University Press, 1990.
Blatman, Daniel. For Our Freedom and Yours: The Jewish Labour Bund in Poland 1939-49. London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003.
Blaustein, Orah. War of the Doomed. New York: Holmes and Meir, 1984.
Block, Gay and Malka Drucker. Rescuers: Portraits of Moral Courage in the Holocaust. New York: TV Books, 1992.
Borodziej, Wlodziemierz. The Warsaw Uprising of 1994. Madison: University of Wisconsin, 2001.
Borowiec, Andrew. Destroy Warsaw!: Hitler's Punishment, Stalin's Revenge.
Borzykowski, Tuvia. Between Tumbling Walls. Beit Lohamei Hagettaot., 1976.
Botwinick, Rita Steinhardt. A History of the Holocaust from Ideology to Annihilation. Upple Sadale River: Prentice Hall, 1996.
Brand, Sandra. I Dare to Live. Rockville: Shengold Books, 2000.
Bryan, Mark. Rescued from the Reich. New Haven: Yale University, 2004.
Callahan, Kerry. Mordechai Anielewica. New York: Rosen Publications, 2001.
Chodakiewicz, Marek Jan. After the Holocaust: Polish-Jewish Conflict in the Wake of World War II. New York: Columbia University, 2003.
Cooper, Lee. In the Shadow of the Polish Eagle: The Poles, the Holocaust and Beyond: London: Palgram, 2000.
Costanza, Mary. The Living Witness: Art in the Concentration Camps and Ghettos. New York: Free Press, 1982.
Cyprys, Ruth Altbeker. A Jump for Life: A Survivor's Journal from Nazi Occupied Poland. New York: Continuum, 1999,
Czerniakow, Adam. The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow. New York 1979
David, Janina. A Square of Sky. New York: W.W. Norton, 1964.
Davies, Norma. Rising '44: The Battle for Warsaw. New York: Viking 2003.
Dor, Denny.(Editor). Brave and Desperate. Beit Lohami Haghetaot. 2003.
Dembowski, Peter F. Christians in the Warsaw Ghetto: An Epitaph for the Unremembered. Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame, 2005.
Edelman, Mark. "The Uprising." Dialogue and Universalism. Vol. 3, no. 4 , 2003.
Eibeshitz, Jehoshua and Anna Ellenberg, (eds.) Women in the Holocaust, Two volumes. Brooklyn: Remember, 1993.
Engelking, Barbara. Holocaust and Memory. London: Leicester University Press, 2001.
Erdman, Mary Patrice. "The Grasinski Girls: The Choices They Had and the Choices They Made. Athens, Ohio: Ohio. University Press, 2004.
Felstiner, Mary Lowenthal. To Paint Her Life: Charlotte Soloman on the Nazi Era. New York: Harper Collins, 1994.
Freman, David K. The Holocaust Heroes. Springfield: Enslow Publishing, 1998.
Friedlander, Albert. Out of the Whirlwind: A Reader of Holocaust Literature. New York: Schocken Books, 1960.
Fuchs, Esther (Editor) Women and the Holocaust: Narrative and Representation. New York: University Press of America, 1999.
Gabriel, Severin. In the Ruins of Warsaw Streets. Jerusalem: Gefen Books, 2005.
Garlinski, Jozef. The Survival of Love: Memoirs of a Resistance Officer. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
General Federation of Labor. The Dream, the Revolt, The Vow: The Biography of Zivia Lubetkin Zuckerman 1914-1968, Israel, 1983.
Gray, Martin. For Those I Loved. Charlottesville: Hampton Roads, 2006.
Goldberg, Zosia. Running Through Fire: How I Survived the Holocaust. San FranciscoMercury House, n.d.
Goldstein, Bernard. Five Years in the Warsaw Ghetto. Edinburgh: AK Press/Nabat, 2005.
Gotfryd, Gina. "Somehow Life Went On: The Holocaust Personal Accounts. Edited by David Scase and Wolfgang Mieder. Burlington: University of Vermont, 2001.
Gray Martin. For Those I Loved. Boston: Little Brown, 1971.
Gross, Jan. "The Jewish Community in the Soviet-Annexed Territories on the Eve of the Holocaust, in The Holocaust and the Soviet Union, edited by Lucjan Dubroszycki and Jeffrey S. Guroth. Armonk: M.E. Sharpe, 1993.
_____Revolution from Abroad: The Soviet Conquest of Poland's Western Ukraine and Western Belorussia. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2002.
Grossman, Chaika. The Underground Army: Fighters of the Bialystok Ghetto. New York: Holocaust Library, 1987.
Gruber, Ruth. Exodus 1947. New York: Union Square, 2007.
Grynberg, Michal, editor. Words to Outlive Us: Eye Witness Accounts from the Warsaw Ghetto. New York: Henry Holt, 1988.
Gurdus, Luba Krugman. The Death Train: A Personal Account of a Holocaust Survivor. New York: Holocaust Library, 1987.
_____Painful Echoes: Poems of the Holocaust. New York: Holocaust Library, 1985.
Gurewitsch, Brana, editor. Mothers, Sisters, Resisters: Oral Histories of Women Who Survived the Holocaust. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1998.
Gutman, Israel. The Jews of Warsaw 1937-1943: Ghetto Underground Revolt. Bloomington: University of Indiana, 1982.
_____Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Harvey, Elizabeth. Women and the Nazi East. New Haven: Yale, 2005.
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Holocaust Resource Center. To Save One Life. Queensborough: Queensborough Community College, n.d.
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Korbonski, Stefan. The Jews and the Poles in World War II. New York Hippocrene Books, 1989.
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Kurek, Ewa. Your Life is Worth Mine: How Polish Nuns Saved Hundreds of Jewish Children in German Occupied Poland 1939-45. New York: Hippocrene Books, 1992.
Kurzman, Dan. The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-Eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. New York: Putnams, 1976.
Lacey, Kate. "Driving the message home": Nazi propaganda in the private sphere," in Lynn Abrams and Elizabeth Harvey, Editors. Gender Relations in German History. Durham: Duke University, 1997: 189-210.
Lanchkoronsky, Karolina. Michelangelo in Ravensbruck: One Woman's War Against the Nazis. Cambridge: DaCapo Press, 1991.
Landou, Elaine. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. New York: New Discovery, 1992.
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Langer, Lawrence. Admitting the Holocaust: Collected Essays. New York: Oxford, 1995.
Lazar, Chaim. Muranowska 7: The Warsaw Ghetto Rising. Tel Aviv: Massada P.E.C. Press, 1966.
Lewin, Abraham. A Cup of Tears: Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991.
Lewin, Rhoda. Witness to the Holocaust: An Oral History. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
Lifton, Betty Jean. The King of Children: A Biography of Janusz Korczak. New York: Farrar, Straus, 1988.
Lubetkin, Zivia. In the Days of Destruction and Revolt. Israel: Ghetto Fighters' House, 1981.
Lukas, Richard C. Did the Children Cry? Hitler's War Against Jewish and Polish Children 1939-45. New York: Hippocrene Books, 2001.
Meed, Vladka. "Jewish Resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto." Dimensions, vol 7/2.
_____On Both Sides of the Wall. New York: Holocaust Library, 1979.
Miles, Rosalind and Robin Cross. Hell Hath No Fury: True Profiles of Woman at War from Antiquity to Iraq. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2008.
Milton, Sybil, translator. The Stroop Report. New York: Pantheon Books, 1979.
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Nir, Yehuda. The Lost Childhood: World War II Memoir. New York: Scholastic, 2001.
Nowak, Jan. Courier from Warsaw. Detroit: Wayne State University, 1982.
Ofer, Darlia and Lenora J. Weitzman, Editors. Women in the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998.
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Orlev, Uri. The Island on Bird Street. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981.
Paulsson, Gunnar. Secret City: The Hidden Jews of Warsaw 1940-45. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002.
Peleg, Marianska, Miriam and Mordecai Peleg: Witness: Life in Occupied Krakow. New York: Routledge, 1991.
Pinchuk, Ben-Cean. Shtetl Jews Under Soviet Rule. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 199l .
Polonsky, Anthony. "My Brother's Keeper?" Recent Polish Debates on the Holocaust. Oxford: Routledge, 1990.
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Pruszynski, Xavier. Poland Fights Back: From Westerplatte to Monte Cassino. New York: Roy Publishers, 1944.
Raban, Havka Folman. They Are Still With Me. Israel: Ghetto Fighters Museum, 1997.
Rees, Laurence. Auschwitz: A New History. New York: Public Affairs, 2005.
Ringelblum, Emmanuel. Notes from the Warsaw Ghetto. Berkeley: Publishers Group West, 2006.
Robertson, Jenny. Don't Go to Uncle's Wedding: Voices from the Warsaw Ghetto. London: Azure, 2000.
Ritvo, Robert A. and Diane M. Plotken. Sisters in Sorrow: Voices of Care in the Holocaust. College Station: Texas Am and M University, 1998.
Roland, Charles G. Courage Under Siege: Starvation, Disease, Death in the Warsaw Ghetto. New York: Oxford, 1992.
Roten, Simha (Kazik). Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter: The Past Within Me. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1994.
Rutherford, Phillip T. Prelude to the Final Solution: The Nazi Program for Deporting Ethnic Poles 1939-1941. Lawrence: University of Kansas, 2007.
Samuels, Klara. God Does Play Dice. Philadelphia: BainBridge Book, 1999.
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Segal, Sheila. Women of Valor. West Orange: Behrman House, 1976.
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Shore, Marci. Caviar and Ashes: A Warsaw Generation's Life and Death in Marxism, 1918-1968. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006.
_____"Gendered Entanglements in the Time of Nazism: The Friendship of Wasilewska and Janina Broniewska in a Man's Revolution." East European Studies Discussion, March 27, 2002 archive no. 262 at http://www.wilsoncenter.org/index.cfm?topic_id=1422&fuseaction=topics.publications&doc_id=14147&group_id=7427.
Sikorski, Wladyslaw. The Dark Side of the Moon. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1947.
Skrzynska, Janina. "A Brief Outline of the History of Women POWs from the Polish Home Army (AK) Held in Stalag Vic at Oberlangen After the Warsaw Uprising." www.polishresitance.ak.org.
Slowas, SalomonW. The Road to Katyn: A Soldier's Story. Oxford: Blackwell, 1992.
Snyder, Timothy. The Red Prince: The Secret Life of a Habsburg Archduke. New York: Basic Books, 2008.
Stargardt, Nicholas. Witnesses of War: Children's Lives Under the Nazis. New York: Knopf, 2006.
Stevens, Michael. Remembering the Holocaust: Voices of the Wisconsin Past. Madison: State Historical Society of Wisconsin, 1997.
Strzctelski, Stanislaw. Where the Storm Broke: Poland from Yesterday to Tomorrow. New York: Roy Slavonic Publications, 1942.
Stypulkowski, Z. Invitation to Moscow. London: Thames and Hudson, 1951.
Suhl, Yuri. They Fought Back: The Story of the Jewish Resistance in Nazi Europe. New York: Crown, 1967.
Szende, Stefan. The Promises Hitler Kept. New York: Roy Publishers, 1943.
Szcrescewshka, Helena. Memoirs from Occupied Warsaw 1940-45. London: Vallentin Mitchell, 1997.
Szpilman, Wladyslaw. The Pianist. New York: Picador, 1999.
Szwajger, Adina Blady. I Remember Nothing More: The Warsaw Children's Hospital and the Jewish Resistance. New York: Touchstone, 1988.
Tec, Nechama. Dry Tears: The Story of a Lost Childhood. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982.
_____Resilience and Courage: Women, Mean, and the Holocaust. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003.
Tendyna, Bernasdita. "The Warsaw Women Who Took on Hitler." London Telegraph,July 17, 2004.
Trillon, Germaine. Ravensbruck: An Eye Witness Account of a Women's Concentration Camp. Garden City: Anchor Books, 1975.
Tomaszoewski, Irene and Tecia Webowksi. Zegota: The Rescue of Jews in Wartime Poland. Montreal: Prince Patterson, 1994.
Tzouliadis, Tim. The Forsaken: An American Tragedy in Stalin's Russia. New York: Penguin, 2008.
Tzur, Eli. "From Moral Rejection to Armed Resistance: The Youth Movement in the Ghetto." Ruby Rohrlich Editor. Resisting the Holocaust. New York: Berg, 1998.
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Liberation and Survival
World War II ended in May 1945, after six years of bitter fighting. There were victory celebrations throughout the streets of Europe. The first of the Nazi camps to be liberated was Majdanek, in July of 1944, and the rest of the camps were liberated by the spring of 1945. At first glance one might assume that after all the suffering, liberation would be a moment of great joy. However, the immense difficulties and pain of the Jewish survivors presented a different reality.
The story of how those who survived the Holocaust managed to return to life after liberation is not a happy ending to a tragic story it is actually the final chapter of the tragedy. After years of terror, physical and mental abuse, and constant fear, the survivors finally came face to face with the fact that the world they had once lived in, along with their families, friends and communities, had been irretrievably lost. Somehow, they had to manage to pick up the pieces and begin new lives.
What Was Liberation?
During World War II, Jews who lived in Germany or in countries that had been occupied by Germany were imprisoned in labor camps, concentration camps, and death camps. They were liberated from these camps by Soviet, British and American soldiers in 1944 and 1945.
The first concentration camp to be liberated was Majdanek. The prisoners in Majdanek were liberated by Soviet troops in July 1944. Soon thereafter Soviet troops reached other Nazi camps, and freed their inmates. British and American troops reached Nazi camps in the spring of 1945, liberating tens of thousands of prisoners.
These prisoners had been living under extremely harsh conditions. Many were starving and others were very sick. Many of the people who had been liberated had survived "death marches," forced to march over long distances. The death marches occurred towards the end of the war as the Allies advanced on the German army and the Nazis tried to move prisoners further west into Germany. The German leadership believed that the Third Reich would survive the war. They therefore attempted to move concentration camp prisoners within Germany's borders, so that they could still be exploited for slave labor. Upon entering Auschwitz-Birkenau, Soviet soldiers found only 7,650 prisoners. Most of the 58,000 remaining camp prisoners had been sent on death marches at the end of 1944. Prisoners were abused and sometimes killed by the guards accompanying them on these marches. Approximately 250,000 concentration camp prisoners died on death marches.
Other than survivors of the camps, some of those liberated had been hidden during the war or had masqueraded as Christians with false identity papers. Still others were surviving ghetto fighters, partisans and those who had fled to the forests.
Colonel Lewis Weinstein, a member of the US Army, liberated Jews who were in Nazi camps. He recalls:
"… We had heard all kinds of rumors and stories, but they were so horrible that they were indescribable we just couldn't believe them. I had a great guilt feeling when I actually found out about what happened in these camps. I had talked in terms of possibly a few thousand having been murdered, but thinking in terms of six million. murdered - I was obviously very much taken aback."1
Father Edward P. Doyle, a chaplain in the US Army during WWII, participated in the liberation of Nordhausen. He recalls:
"I was there. I was present. I saw the sights. I will never forget. You have heard the story many times before. On the night of April 11, 1945, my division, of which I was the Catholic chaplain, took the town of Nordhausen. The following morning, with the dawn, we discovered a concentration camp. Immediately the call went out for all medical personnel that could be spared, to be present. […] On that morning in Nordhausen, I knew why I was there. I found the reason for it - man's inhumanity to man. What has happened to that beautiful commandment of the Decalogue, the commandment of God to love one another?"2
Eva Goldberg was deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau and Horneburg camps, and was liberated at Salzwedel, Germany, by American soldiers. She recalls:
"And what I remember most is the convoys of Americans who were standing on both sides of the road and looking at us. They did not believe what they were looking at!"3
- How do Colonel Weinstein and Father Doyle describe their experiences of liberation?
- What does Eva's testimony add to your understanding of Colonel Weinstein's and Father Doyle's testimonies?
Notes for the teacher:
Note the palpable shock of Colonel Weinstein, even after the event. Recall this is a man who has seen combat. Liberator testimony is another angle in describing this moment of liberation. The question of how these liberators would see - literally and figuratively - as well as treat the survivors was crucial, as this was a tremendous junction for the survivors, who had just endured the Holocaust. That they were suddenly receiving initiated treatment - on this, see below - was a novelty in and of itself. Note the ethical angle that arises in both accounts.
What Did Liberation Mean for Jewish Survivors?
Liberation should have been a happy day for the survivors. Finally they were free of the constant fear of death they had lived with for so many years. For the Jewish survivors, however, liberation had come too late. Entire communities in Eastern Europe, especially, had been wiped out and all their Jews exterminated. Over 90% of the Jewish community in Poland, the largest in Europe, had perished.4
In Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and the Balkan States, the outcome was nearly the same. The Jews of Western and Southern Europe also suffered terribly, though the proportion of those exterminated was lower. In many cases, whole families had been slaughtered, and only single members were left. A survey taken by the Organization for Jewish Refugees in Italy, for example, found that 76% of the Jewish refugees had lost all of their immediate families and all of their relatives, and were the sole survivors from their families.5
More than anything else, however, with liberation the survivors were struck suddenly by the immensity of their losses. Up until liberation, survivors had expended all their efforts on the struggle to survive: they scavenged for food, they tried to protect themselves, they lived from minute to minute. This struggle to survive didn’t leave room to focus on the world they had lost: their family and friends, their occupations and habits, their neighborhoods and their possessions. Suddenly they were confronted with a new reality. Their families were gone, and their lives would never be the same. An almost superhuman effort was needed to pick up the pieces of their broken lives and to start over again. While the rest of the world was counting the dead, the Jews were counting the living.
Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman, a member of the underground who fought, among other battles, in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, testified:
“That day, 17 January, was the saddest day of my life. I wanted to cry, not from joy but from grief. [..] How could we be happy? I was completely broken! You'd kept yourself going all the terrible and bitter years, and now. we were overcome by weakness. Now we could suddenly allow ourselves to be weak [..] Ultimately there is an end to war. We had lived all that time with a certain sense of mission, but now? It was over! What for? What for? [..] I had never cried they had never seen me depressed, not once I had to live strongly, but on 17 January… it’s not easy to be the last of the Mohicans." 6
Yosef Govrin was born in 1930 in Romania. He was deported to various ghettos and camps in Transnistria. Yosef was liberated by Soviet soldiers in December 1944. He recalls:
"The devastation caused by the war and the fact that I was an orphan came to me very forcefully on Victory Day. I saw the destruction that the war had wrought much more realistically, I suppose, than I had before. The destruction had been all around me day and night, but only on Victory Day did I notice it on the street where I was walking…It was then, as a boy, that I grasped the full scale of the destruction…and really, Victory Day is engraved in my memory to this day as a day of…not as a day of celebration!"7
Eva Braun was born in 1927 in Slovakia. During WWII she was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau, and liberated by US soldiers. Eva recalls:
"You were praying all those months to be liberated and then it hits you all of a sudden - here you are free. But after it sank in, the freedom - I am speaking for myself - I realized that I was hoping the whole time that I would see my father and maybe, hope beyond hope, my mother, although I knew that this was not a realistic hope. But my father, I was sure I would meet him. I was positive. But still there were doubts, and I realized that I had to start thinking about the fact of what would happen if I would not. Freedom is relative. Very much so. The thought of the future weighed very heavily on me. Obviously we knew that it was no longer our problem but still we have to make a future for ourselves and how would we make that future?"8
"[..] The great crisis had not yet hit us. It began when my cousin came home a few days later. I barely recognized him, because that kid, that big slob, had two big ears, a big nose and two cavities for eyes. He began to recover from his "Musselman" condition. For the first time I cried, I fell on him and I cried at how he looked, because then I suddenly woke up. He was the start of my crisis, of the crisis of ours as a whole. He embraced me and said only this: "You should know one thing, don't wait for your father and your brother." He repeated that many times [..] "Now we began to realize the enormity of the loss, we began to understand that Grandfather and Grandmother and hardly any of our relatives had returned, only that one cousin, and his father also returned later on. People said we shouldn't wait for them, but the truth is that we waited all the time for my father. And I only want to say that I often look around, as though I am still searching. not for Father, it is my brother for whom I am still looking all the time. I know it is completely unrealistic, because formally I am not searching, I.. I cast about with my eyes. "9
- Why do you think Yitzhak Zuckerman, Yosef Govrin, Eva Braun and Miriam Steiner did not feel that liberation day was a day of celebration?
- Many prisoners survived the Nazi camps by focusing only on their most immediate daily needs, and thinking about almost nothing else. How do you think this situation affected their experience of liberation?
- One of the greatest difficulties that liberated survivors faced was intense loneliness. Prof. Hanna Yablonka, a Holocaust historian and the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, describes her mother's sentiments upon graduating from nursing school, a few years after the Holocaust. According to Hanna, her mother was elated that she had finished her degree, and yet plagued with an overwhelming sense of loneliness - she truly had no one with whom to share her news. What do you think is the difference between the loneliness that we all sometimes experience and the loneliness that Holocaust survivors felt after liberation?
The Allied soldiers cared for the survivors they had liberated. They fed the survivors and gave them the medical attention that they so desperately needed.
Ephraim Poremba was born in Poland. Ephraim was deported to several Nazi camps, and he was liberated by the US Army at the age of twenty. He recalls:
"The Americans organized a hospital, they started doing tests, they set up tents with water and showers. We washed, they gave us soap. When did I last wash? I couldn't remember…First of all hot water whoever saw hot water? It was a dream. As much hot water as you want, to wash with soap, with soap! You could even wash your head, your body, it was heaven, it was heaven on earth!"10
What Did the Survivors Do Following Liberation?
By the end of 1945, those Jews who had managed to survive forced labor camps, concentration camps, extermination camps, and death marches, or who had survived in hiding, in forests, or with the help of local individuals (later to become Righteous Among the Nations), wanted only to go “home.” Some found that they had no homes or families left. Others found that going home involved a dangerous journey through chaotic, post-war Europe. Those who succeeded in reaching their old homes had to confront a new reality: the local populations in their homes, particularly in Eastern Europe, were antisemitic and hostile toward Jews, and saw their return as unwelcome.
“I went home. I didn’t have anywhere I could stay. The gatekeeper was living in the house and wouldn’t let me go in. I also had aunts and family. I went to see all their apartments. There were non-Jews living in every one. They wouldn’t let me in. In one place, one of them said, ‘What did you come back for? They took you away to kill you, so why did you have to come back?’ I decided: I’m not staying here, I’m going.”11
“After some initial difficulties, I got what I needed and set out on the one thousand kilometer journey, which took three weeks or more. I arrived in my town, and just as I got off the train I met a man, a Christian acquaintance, whom I had gone to school with. I asked, “How are you?” He said, “Your sister arrived a week ago.” I knew where she lived. I went on foot. My clothes were half military and half civilian. I didn’t have any other clothes but one shirt – just my rumpled pants and an army jacket. This is how I came home. I walked into my sister’s house. I met her there, and she asked, “Who are you looking for?” Two years before, we said goodbye – now she doesn’t know me. I was skin and bones, with no hair. I looked like I could be ten years old and I could be eighty. I spoke with her a few minutes – I wanted to know what was new. Then, we burst out crying.”12
Shmuel Shulman Shilo was born in Poland in 1928. He lived in the Lutsk Ghetto, and immigrated to Israel in 1946. He testified:
“Suddenly I’m standing in the middle of the city [..] and I ask myself, “So what? Home – gone, family – gone, children – gone, my friends are gone, Jews – gone. Here and there would be a Jew I hardly knew. This is what I fought for? This is what I stayed alive for? Suddenly I realized that my whole struggle had been pointless, and I didn’t feel like living.”13
Note again the common sense of sadness or despair after the moments of liberation we saw before. What new challenges do we see here?
Note the difference between not knowing whether you have a home, and/or a family left, and finding out that you don’t. In Shoshana Stark, testimony, the rejection by locals in coming back to what had been the survivors’ homes, was a different, external, blow. Shmuel Shulman’s testimony conveys the loss not just of family but of community, of some kind of anchoring to a “normal” life, and what the realization that it’s no longer there - implies.
The Displaced Persons (DP) Camps
Understanding that the Jewish survivors could not, in most cases, be repatriated to their homes, Allied forces and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), an organization created in anticipation of a great refugee crisis when World War II ended, cared for them in improvised shelters throughout camps in central Europe known as Displaced Persons' (DP) camps. Conditions in these camps, especially at the beginning, were very difficult. Many of the camps were former concentration camps and German army camps. Survivors found themselves still living behind barbed wire, still subsisting on inadequate amounts of food and still suffering from shortages of clothing, medicine and supplies. Death rates remained high. Yet, despite the wretched physical conditions, the survivors in the DP camps transformed them into a flurry of cultural and social activities. More than 70 Jewish newspapers were published. Theaters and orchestras were established.
Educational institutions were set up. Commemoration projects were initiated. The survivors had a strong drive that led them to try to find new meaning in their lives.
An emissary from Palestine described the DP camps as follows:
"There are always people out in the narrow street, usually young men, wandering around and looking for something. I feel that they are looking for some meaning in their lives. They get up in the morning and don't know why. The day passes and night falls, and another day and another night passes by. And if you should once look into the eyes of one of these young men, and knew how to read his soul -- you would understand that his soul is still wandering in his past, he is remembering the past and yearning for tomorrow. The present is unnecessary, serving only to bridge the gulf between the old life and the future. The sense of impermanence is tangible in every step. There is no stability -- neither material nor spiritual. Yesterday was spent in hell on earth, tomorrow will be in a heavenly paradise -- and in between there is nothing but emptiness and inaction.
The camp is full of posters -- here a wall newspaper and there an announcement board. Endless posters, flags and slogans. To the stranger who enters, life here seems active and full of culture and spirit. But on closer inspection, you will shudder at the terrible abyss opening at your feet. There is something special in the sounds of music, the dances and the cafe life, a sort of frightened and irritable undertone.
Everything is seen in too sharp a light and is heard too loudly. Everything is beyond the human scale and if you have breathed that air, you will understand that here live people who have already experienced their deaths long ago. Camp eyes are still saturated with the visions of suffering, camp lips smile a cynical smile, and the survivors' voices cry, 'We have not yet perished'."14
More than anything else, though, the Jewish survivors had a deep desire for human relationships in order to banish their despair and loneliness. Many of the survivors were young men and women between twenty and thirty years of age, who were all alone in the world. They formed couples and married quickly. One DP who had lost his family proposed to another DP with these words, “I am alone. I have no one, I have lost everything. You are alone. You have no one. You have lost everything. Let us be alone together.”15
The survivors were in a rush to have children and to raise new families as the symbol of the future – their own future and that of the Jewish people. In the DP Camp at Bergen Belsen alone, 555 babies were born in 1946.16 The birth rate in the camps was among the highest in the world. Eliezer Adler was born in 1923 in Belz, Poland. He spent most of WWII in a forced labor camp in the Soviet Union. After the war Eliezer spent three years in DP camps. He recalled:
". This issue of the rehabilitation of She'arit Hapleta ("surviving remnant"), the Jews' desire to live, is unbelievable. People got married they would take a hut and divide it into ten tiny rooms for ten couples. The desire for life overcame everything - in spite of everything I am alive, and even living with intensity.
When I look back today on those three years in Germany I am amazed. We took children and turned them into human beings, we published a newspaper we breathed life into those bones. The great reckoning with the Holocaust? Who bothered about that. you knew the reality, you knew you had no family, that you were alone, that you had to do something. You were busy doing things. I remember that I used to tell the young people: Forgetfulness is a great thing. A person can forget, because if they couldn't forget they couldn't build a new life. After such a destruction to build a new life, to get married, to bring children into the world? In forgetfulness lay the ability to create a new life. somehow, the desire for life was so strong that it kept us alive…"17
In this quotation, Abba Kovner, a leader of the Jewish underground and partisan movements in Lithuania, reflects on the activities of survivors after the liberation:
"Nor would I have found it surprising if they had turned into a band of robbers, thieves, and murderers […]. They had come forth hungry, dressed in tattered rages, broken and defeated, and the first thing they wanted was to seek the basic things: bread, shelter, and work. All of this could have deteriorated into the misery of their so-called rehabilitated lives."18
In the camp, despair at what the survivors had just gone through reside side by side with a flurry of social and cultural activity. Why do you think that is?
Abba Kovner notes how he would not have been surprised had the survivors turned into criminals, in attempting to survive. Can you speculate why you think this did not happen?
One can see the flurry of activity as a response to a need created by the very same loss. The loss of one’s previous life, and the realization thereof, did not in all cases mean the extinction of those needs - for community, for cultural life, for something to strive for - that are natural to most of us. One can only speculate on the second question, but we may consider that the care, however bare-boned and threadbare, that the survivors received in DP camps, played a role. At this point they were not, as it were, completely abandoned - in stark contrast to how many had felt during the Holocaust.
The Bericha: Emigration from Europe
The survivors in the DP camps in Europe focused their efforts on emigration from Europe to build new and productive lives elsewhere. Though they may have hoped to return to their homes, the rampant antisemitism and attitude of the local populations forced them to reach the conclusion that there was no longer any place in Europe for the Jews. Many of the DP camp residents strongly declared their intention to move to Palestine. The movement of the Jewish survivors out of Europe and towards then-Palestine was called the “bericha”, Hebrew for “escape.” At this time, however, Palestine was under the British Mandate. Highly restrictive immigration policies remained in effect until May 1948, when Israel became a state. Many of the survivors were forced to try to reach Palestine illegally. Some were intercepted by the British, as described in the testimony of Rachel Ben-Chaim. Rachel Ben-Chaim was born in Hungary in 1926. During WWII she was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau and the Stutthof camp. Rachel survived a death march, and in January 1945 she was liberated by Russian soldiers. Rachel immigrated to Palestine in January 1946. She recalls:
"We crossed the borders using several strategies, at least four or five borders. Twice we were given forged papers. We crossed one border on foot. I was carrying someone's child. We crossed another border in a goods train. They put us in one or two wagons and closed us in. The empty goods train crossed the border to bring in goods, and we were in the wagons. Later we reached Villa Emma in Italy, and we were there for a long time without doing much. We left there later, and this is how it was: they loaded us onto lorries and tied down the tarpaulins over us. The Brigade soldiers [Jewish soldiers from Palestine, who technically belonged to the British Army but tried to help the Jewish survivors reach Palestine] closed off the road, saying that only the army could go through, and we were the 'army'. They took us to the harbor. they almost threw us [onto the ship], because it was all very urgent. We had to get into the ship's hold very quickly, more than nine hundred of us. They just poured us into the ship.
. When the ship anchored off the coast of Palestine the English discovered us. Warships surrounded us and then something happened that I shall never forget, even though 47 years have gone by since then. We dropped anchor in the middle of the sea, we hoisted the national flag [the blue and white flag with the Star of David, later adopted as the flag of Israel] to the top of the mast, and we felt that the entire Jewish people was standing on the Haifa shore, because the deck was full. you don't forget something like that, it gave us the strength to endure many difficulties".19
One third of the liberated survivors chose to emigrate to countries other than Israel. They moved, by and large, to the United States, Canada and other Western countries.
The stories of liberation, and the events that followed in the lives of Holocaust survivors, do not have a simple, happy ending. The trauma experienced by those who were subjected to the Nazi regime was so great that it remained with them, and continues to accompany them in one form or another, throughout their lives.
Finding Common Ground
Not long after the Nazis occupied Poland, many Jews began to realize that the political, social, and religious differences that separated them before the war were no longer meaningful. As Emmanuel Ringelblum reminded them, “The Germans did not distinguish between the Zionists and the Bundists. They hated the former and the latter as one, and wanted to annihilate them both.” Although Jews in Warsaw and other cities agreed on the need to oppose the Germans, they disagreed on the “right” way to do so.
No issue divided the Warsaw Ghetto more deeply than the question of armed resistance. On July 23, 1942, the second day of the Great Deportation, sixteen Jews met secretly in the ghetto. They represented political and religious groups ranging from the Orthodox Agudat Israel to the Communists. Among them were a number of individuals who did not represent a particular group but were known and respected by almost everyone in the community. In his autobiography, Yitzhak Zuckerman recalled the meeting:
First, they talked about the question of what could be done. Should we defend ourselves? Presenting the problem like that required dealing with it. [Historian Yitzhak] Schipper, for example, said he had information that [the deportation] concerned taking only 80,000 Jews! He spoke of historical responsibility: it’s true, he said, these people might be executed, but can we endanger the lives of all the other Jews? Schipper was a good speaker. He said that there are periods of resignation in the lives of the Jews as well as periods of self-defense. In his opinion, this wasn’t a period of defense. We were weak and we had no choice but to accept the sentence.
. . . . I proposed that those present and their comrades, the community leaders (we could assemble a few hundred Jews) demonstrate in the streets of the ghetto with the slogan: “Treblinka Is Death!” Let the Germans come and kill us. I wanted the Jews to see blood in the streets of Warsaw, not in Treblinka. . . . That was the direction of my thought. I explained it like this: we have no choice. The world doesn’t hear, doesn’t know there is no help from the Poles if we can’t save anyone—at least let the Jews know! So they could hide. I also said that we had to attack the Jewish police. If we had worked in this spirit, we might have prolonged the process, made it hard for the Germans to carry it out. . . .
Alexander-Zysze Friendman, one of the leaders of Agudat Israel, was weeping as he said words of love and respect to me: “My son, the Lord gives and the Lord takes.” Since we couldn’t save anyone, perhaps, that should have been our answer too, since in the situation the Jews were in, what difference did it make who went to his death first? But we thought we could save some. We thought that if people saw blood, if they knew that going meant death, murder, and if they knew it not from afar, not behind fences, but if they saw it with their own eyes, they wouldn’t go willingly. . . 1
In the end, Zuckerman reported that the group chose to take no action. Instead they “pleaded for patience and held that we should still wait. How long then? Until the situation was clarified.” Zivia Lubetkin, a leader of Dror, writes:
We saw that we were facing an impenetrable wall. Again we asked ourselves: “What can we do?” . . . We made another attempt. We called a meeting of [the Zionist workers’] parties . . . and the Bund Socialist Party. . . . Yitzhak Zuckerman outlined the situation, presented the information we had at our disposal and proposed the formation of a Jewish Fighting Organization. . . . When Yitzhak finished speaking, Maurici Orzech, the well-known Bund leader, rose to his feet, looked disdainfully at him and replied: “You’re still a very young man, and your evaluation of the situation is too hasty. The Germans simply wouldn’t be able to destroy all of us—three-and-a-half million Polish Jews. You’re an alarmist. Thousands of Poles . . . are being killed as well. We have to wage our struggle together with the Polish working class for a better world, for the redemption of mankind. We will not participate in an all-Jewish organization.” 2
The leaders of the pioneering Zionist youth groups decided to meet on their own. Six days after the deportations began, they agreed “to organize for defense and struggle for our honor and the honor of the Jewish people.” But they disagreed on other issues, including where the fighting ought to take place. Some argued that from a military point of view, the ghetto was no place to wage a war against the Nazis. They wanted to join the partisans, fighters who hid in the forests and harassed the enemy. Zuckerman, Lubetkin, and others agreed that the ghetto was not the ideal place to wage guerrilla warfare. But they feared that if they left, there would be no one to defend the ghetto. They asked, “Could we abandon our parents, our children, the helpless among us, our ill, the place where we were formed? May we leave them helpless and defenseless in order to seek out a war where there are better chances for life and victory and where there is a chance for greater contact with non-Jewish movements?”
In the end, the majority decided to remain in the ghetto and organize the Jewish Fighting Organization. The ZOB, the initials in Polish of the new group, would consist of Jewish soldiers led by Jews fighting in and for the Jews of the ghetto. Mordecai Anielewicz of Hashomer Hatzair was the commander of the ZOB and Yitzhak Zuckerman second in command. But in reality, no one person was in charge. Decisions were made jointly by representatives of the various youth groups.
Ba-geto uva-mered. 1985.
Sheva' ha-shanim ha-hen: 1939-1946. 1990 as A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, 1993.
Sefer Milhamot ha-geta'ot: Ben ha-homot, ba-mahanot, baye'arot, with Mosheh Basok. 1954.
Ketavim aharonim: 700-704, with Shelomo Even-Shoshan and Itzhak Katzenelson. 1956.
Kapitlen fun izovn, with Shmuel Barantchok and Re'uven Yatsiv. 1981.
"The Road Leads Far Away: A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Yitzhak Zuckerman" by Irving Howe, in New Republic, 208 (18), 3 May 1993, p. 29 "Ghetto Fighter: Yitzhak Zuckerman and the Jewish Underground in Warsaw" by Michael R. Marrus, in American Scholar, 54(2), Spring 1995, p. 277.
Although Yitzhak Zuckerman was not a prolific writer on the Holocaust, his contribution to Holocaust remembrance is not to be overlooked. Zuckerman was an organizer of and a commander in the Żidowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB Jewish Fighting Organization), and his work offers Holocaust scholars invaluable insider information into an operation that was superbly organized but doomed to fail. This failure was not due to the fact that these fighters were young, middle-class, and inexperienced in battle they were outnumbered in manpower and in weaponry. The spirit of the ghetto fighters, however, surpassed all comprehension that the Germans had of Jews. They had not suspected that a "non-resistant, weak people" would be capable of going up against a clearly more powerful Nazi army. Indeed, in spirit these ghetto fighters were the true victors, and their bravery is a tribute to the extraordinary potential that more often than not lies dormant in most people.
When studying the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, one must also keep in mind that at this time the fighters had an extremely difficult time recruiting others in the ghetto to join their cause. Many knew it would be a fruitless effort many others had already resigned themselves to the fact that the ghetto was the place they were supposed to be. Understanding the meaning of "ghetto mentality" is imperative in gaining an even stronger understanding of just what these young fighters were up against—not only the Nazis and the Judenrat, with its fair share of informants, but a resistance of the inhabitants to fight against what they perceived to be the fate that had been dealt to them.
Zuckerman's mainstay in his life was his wife, Zivia Lubetkin, who, even though a shy, middle-class woman from a small village, became a central figure in the organization of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Her work In the Days of Destruction and Death provides an overview to many others' contributions to the organization of the uprising and can be read in addition to Zuckerman's Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising is only a small section of the entire Holocaust experience, and it is many times passed over in favor of the "larger picture" of the Holocaust. But the significance of this resistance cannot be denied. As stated in the foreword of Surplus of Memory, simply entitled "Antek," Barbara Harshav states, " … in that Hell they [the fighters] lived in, they've maintained a human image. Because they stared down the reality of their situation directly in the face and took control of their own lives, holding onto their definition of who they were and what they valued—difficult enough in the best of circumstances well-nigh impossible under Nazi occupation." Not many of the leaders of the uprising survived that nearly month-long period from 19 April to 16 May 1943, and among those killed was the leader of the ŻOB, Mordecai Anielewicz. Many of the fighters committed suicide rather than face what punishment the Nazis had in store for them. Zuckerman led many to safety out of the Warsaw Ghetto through the underground sewer system. He continued rescuing Jews during and after the war. In 1946, when massacres of great numbers of Jews in the town of Kielce commenced, Zuckerman and Lubetkin were there to lead survivors to safety.
Zuckerman was also the editor of a newsletter called The Fighting Ghetto. He and Zivia established the Kibbutz Lohamei Haghetaot (The Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz), whose members are all Holocaust survivors. He continued paying tribute to the uprising by establishing a museum, Beit Katznelson, at his kibbutz. The 12 archives and more than 60,000 volumes and documents in the museum made its collection larger than that of the U.S. Holocaust Museum.
To the end of his life Zuckerman continued his tribute to the resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. He fervently worked in his kibbutz and maintained the Beit Katznelson for many years. The entire ordeal of his youthful days, however, had indeed taken a toll on his health. He died of a heart attack in Galilee on 17 June 1981.
Icchak Cukierman testifies for the prosecution during the trial of Adolf Eichmann.
Icchak Cukierman (December 13, 1915 in Vilnius – June 17, 1981 in Lohamei HaGeta'ot, Israel), also known by his nom de guerre "Antek", or by the anglicised spelling Yitzhak Zuckerman, was one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 1943 and fighter of Warsaw Uprising 1944 both heroic struggle against Nazi German terror during World War II.
Cukierman was born in Vilnius, partitioned Poland (then part of the Russian Empire) into a Jewish family. As a young man he embraced the concepts of socialism and Zionism.
After the German and Soviet invasion of Poland in 1939 he was in the area overrun by the Red Army and initially stayed in the Soviet zone of occupation, where he took active part in creation of various Jewish underground socialist organisations. In the spring of 1940 he moved to Warsaw, where he became a leader of the leaders of the Dror Hechaluc youth movement, along with his future wife Zivia Lubetkin.
In 1941 he became the deputy commander of the ŻOB resistance organisation. In this capacity, he served mainly as the envoy between the commander of ŻOB and the commanders of the Polish resistance organizations of Armia Krajowa and Armia Ludowa. On December 22, 1942, he and two accomplices attacked a café in Kraków that was being used by the SS and Gestapo. Cukierman was wounded and narrowly escaped, and his two comrades were tracked down and killed.
In 1943, he was working on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw to procure guns and ammunition when the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising erupted. Unable to enter the ghetto to join his comrades in battle, he nonetheless proved a crucial link between resistance forces within the ghetto and the Home Army on the "Aryan" side. Along with Simcha "Kazik" Rotem, he organized the escape of the surviving ZOB fighters through the sewers to safety. During the later Warsaw Uprising of 1944, he led a small troop of 322 survivors of the Ghetto Uprising as they fought the Germans in the ranks of the Home Army.
After the war he worked as part of the Berihah network, whose operatives smuggled Jewish refugees out of Eastern and Central Europe to Mandate Palestine. In 1947 he himself made that journey, settling in what would soon be Israel. There he and his wife Zivia, along with other veterans of the ghetto undergrounds and former partisans, were among the founding members of Kibbutz Lohamei HaGeta'ot and the Ghetto Fighters' House (GFH) museum located on its grounds, commemorating those who struggled against the Nazis. GFH has a study center named for Zivia and Yitzhak Zuckerman.
In 1961 he appeared as a witness at the trial of Nazi war criminal Adolf Eichmann in Israel. He died in 1981, in the kibbutz he had founded.
A record of a lengthy interview he gave in 1976 was expanded into the book Sheva ha-Shanim ha-Hen: 1939-1946 [Hebrew: Those Seven Years] published in Israel in 1991, later translated into English and published as A Surplus of Memory: Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
His granddaughter Roni Zuckerman became the Israeli Air Force's first female fighter pilot.
In 2001, the tale of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was turned into a made-for-TV film entitled Uprising, with actor David Schwimmer portraying Zuckerman.
A Surplus of Memory : Chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
In 1943, against utterly hopeless odds, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto rose up to defy the Nazi horror machine that had set out to exterminate them. One of the leaders of the Jewish Fighting Organization, which led the uprisings, was Yitzhak Zuckerman, known by his underground pseudonym, Antek. Decades later, living in Israel, Antek dictated his memoirs. The Hebrew publication of Those Seven Years: 1939-1946 was a major event in the historiography of the Holocaust, and now Antek's memoirs are available in English.
Unlike Holocaust books that focus on the annihilation of European Jews, Antek's account is of the daily struggle to maintain human dignity under the most dreadful conditions. His passionate, involved testimony, which combines detail, authenticity, and gripping immediacy, has unique historical importance. The memoirs situate the ghetto and the resistance in the social and political context that preceded them, when prewar Zionist and Socialist youth movements were gradually forged into what became the first significant armed resistance against the Nazis in all of occupied Europe. Antek also describes the activities of the resistance after the destruction of the ghetto, when 20,000 Jews hid in "Aryan" Warsaw and then participated in illegal immigration to Palestine after the war.
The only extensive document by any Jewish resistance leader in Europe, Antek's book is central to understanding ghetto life and underground activities, Jewish resistance under the Nazis, and Polish-Jewish relations during and after the war. This extraordinary work is a fitting monument to the heroism of a people.
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A SURPLUS OF MEMORY: Memoirs of a Resistance Leader, 1939-1946
A valuable, remarkably full memoir by the last commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization, who helped lead the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the Polish Uprising, and subsequent efforts to rescue Jews . Читать весь отзыв
A surplus of memory: chronicle of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising
Zuckerman, known by his underground name, Antek, was one of the leaders of the Jewish Fighting Organization who directed the uprising, from the outside, in the Warsaw ghetto in 1944. He remained in . Читать весь отзыв
(1915–81). Yitzhak Zuckerman was a hero of Jewish resistance to the Nazis in World War II. During the Holocaust, the Nazis rounded up Jews in German-occupied Europe and confined them in city districts called ghettos. The Nazis ultimately sent the Jews of the ghettos to be killed in death camps. In 1943 Jews in the ghetto of Warsaw, Poland, fought the Nazis in an armed resistance known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Zuckerman was one of the few survivors of the uprising.
Zuckerman was born in Warsaw in 1915. He was active in a federation of young Zionist organizations, Hehalutz. He early favored armed resistance to Nazi violence against the Jews. Zuckerman was quick to interpret the first mass executions of Jews as the beginning of a systematic program to kill all the Jews. Perceiving the full scope of Nazi plans and realizing that they had nothing left to lose, Zuckerman and resistance leaders such as Abba Kovner and Mordecai Anielewicz found the determination to resist and to risk their lives.
At a meeting of Zionist groups in March 1942 Zuckerman urged the creation and arming of a defense organization. Others feared that resistance would provoke the Nazis to greater violence. In July the Nazis began shipping Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the death camp at Treblinka, Poland, at a rate of more than 5,000 people a day. On July 28 Jewish leaders accepted Zuckerman’s view and created the Jewish Fighting Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa ZOB). Anielewicz was its leader, and Zuckerman became one of his three co-commanders. Zuckerman also helped lead a political affiliate founded at the same time, the Jewish National Committee (Zydowski Komitet Narodowy). With numerous contacts in the Polish underground resistance groups outside the ghetto, Zuckerman obtained pistols, grenades, and a few rifles for the ZOB. He smuggled them, along with messages, into the ghetto through the Warsaw sewers.
When the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out, Zuckerman was outside the ghetto. He did what he could to spread the word of the plight of the ghetto’s remaining Jews. He also smuggled in to the ZOB any additional guns and grenades that could be found. After 20 days of battle, Anielewicz and his companions died when the Nazis overcame their command bunker. Zuckerman returned to the ghetto to take charge. Before the end of the 28-day battle, he led some 75 ZOB fighters, including his future wife, Zivia Lubetkin, through the sewers and into underground havens outside the ghetto.
Zuckerman continued to lead a Jewish band of guerrillas in the Polish underground and to alert Jewish leaders elsewhere to the situation of Jews inside Nazi Europe. At war’s end he organized underground transportation for Jewish refugees from Europe to Palestine, where he and Zivia settled in 1947. There, north of Haifa, they helped found a kibbutz (collective settlement) named Lohamei Hagetaot (meaning “The Ghetto Fighters” in Hebrew) and a Holocaust memorial museum named Ghetto Fighters’ House. Zuckerman and his wife were prosecution witnesses in the 1961 trial of Nazi leader Adolf Eichmann. Zuckerman also wrote the book A Surplus of Memory (1993 originally published in Hebrew, 1990).
Zuckerman was recognized as a hero for his efforts, but his heroism gave him little comfort. He began drinking after the war, and he suffered mental anguish. He told one interviewer, “If you could lick my heart, it would poison you.” Zuckerman died on June 17, 1981, in Tel Aviv, Israel.
The Jewish Hero History Forgot
SEVENTY years ago today, a group of young men and women fired the shots that began the largest single act of Jewish resistance during the Holocaust.
The Warsaw Ghetto uprising is rightly commemorated — through books, memoirs and movies — as an extraordinary act of courage in the face of near-certain death. Those who fought in the ghetto provide the iconic image of heroism, and an antidote to images of Jews being led to the gas chambers.
The uprising was indeed extraordinary. But the manner in which it has been remembered over the years — in Communist Poland, in the West and in Israel — says more about the use of history for contemporary purposes than the uprising itself. The true nature of the uprising cannot be understood through its postwar commemorations but only through its wartime origins.
In the fall of 1940, the Nazis, having defeated Poland, began the herding of nearly half a million Polish Jews into a ghetto in Warsaw. The Nazis forced them to build a wall and then sealed them inside. Children began to die of cold, disease and hunger. Emaciated bodies and corpses lay on the streets.
A Jewish council, headed by Adam Czerniakow, was made responsible by the Germans for organizing the ghetto’s Jews for slave labor, requisitions and soon worse. On July 22, 1942, the Germans began mass deportations to the death camp at Treblinka, about 60 miles to the northeast. They ordered the local Jewish council to prepare the daily deportation lists. Czerniakow knew the transports meant death. He did not call for resistance. Instead, on July 23, he swallowed a cyanide capsule.
Marek Edelman, a commander of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, declared many years later that he held only one thing against Czerniakow: that he made death his own private affair. “It was necessary to die with fireworks,” Edelman said.
During the summer of 1942, the Germans sent more than 265,000 Jews from the ghetto to the gas chambers, and shot thousands more. It was not easy to organize a Jewish resistance. The Jews had been uprooted, demoralized and impoverished, stricken by typhus and hunger. The Jewish council urged accommodation with the Germans. Reports about the fate of those who had been deported reached the ghetto, but were often not believed. Even as late as 1942, the Final Solution was beyond most imaginations.
But not all imaginations. It was predominantly young, secular men and women who began to organize. After the deportations began, Zionists of various persuasions formed the Jewish Combat Organization and began to procure arms. They were later joined by Communists and members of the Bund, a secular, socialist Jewish workers’ movement, which called for national-cultural autonomy for Jews within a Polish state. The Zionist far right formed its own resistance group, the Jewish Military Union.
In October 1942, the Jewish Combat Organization carried out its first death sentence, assassinating a Jew serving as a policeman in the ghetto. They had to send a message: there was a price for collaboration. By early 1943, most Jews of the ghetto had already been gassed. Those who remained were often young and alone, having lost their families. On Jan. 18, Jewish fighters surprised the German forces entering the ghetto with gunfire. Faced with resistance, the Germans soon ceased deportations.
But three months later, on April 19, they came back. Members of the resistance fired revolvers and threw grenades. The Star of David and the Polish flag were raised side by side on the ghetto’s tallest building. On April 23, Mordekhai Anielewicz, the uprising’s leader, wrote to his socialist Zionist comrade Yitzhak Zuckerman, “Things have surpassed our boldest dreams: the Germans ran away from the ghetto twice.”
The ghetto fighters were poorly armed, but determined. It was an incredible — and hopeless — battle. The Germans set fire to the ghetto. Anielewicz and his unit hid in a bunker. On May 8, when the Germans surrounded them, most of the fighters committed suicide. On May 16, the Nazi SS general Jürgen Stroop reported, “The former Jewish quarter in Warsaw no longer exists.”
The number of Jews who burned to death in the fire is unknown. More than 56,000 Jews were reported captured, about 7,000 of them were shot and 7,000 more were sent to Treblinka. Most of the others were sent to concentration camps and shot in November 1943.Image
“The only way out was the sewers,” Edelman testified at Stroop’s 1951 trial. Edelman had led the last surviving ghetto fighters to freedom through water that reeked of feces and methane. They were trapped underground for days and some suffocated to death. Perhaps 40 survived. Edelman, together with his fellow survivors Zivia Lubetkin and Yitzhak Zuckerman, went on to fight the Germans again the following year with a division of Polish Communist partisans.
The ghetto uprising was important to Poland’s postwar Communist government. A heroic act was a useful foundation myth for an unpopular regime fighting a civil war against the remnants of an anti-Nazi resistance that had turned against the Communists. In appropriating — and de-Judaizing — the Warsaw ghetto uprising, the Communists also sought to suppress the legacy of another anti-Nazi revolt: the 1944 Warsaw uprising. In August 1944, the Polish Home Army, an anti-German resistance connected to the Polish government in exile, rose up against the Nazis for 63 days while the Soviet Red Army remained camped across the river watching the city go up in flames. In postwar Poland, Communists seeking to discredit the Home Army and obscure Moscow’s ignominious role hung posters side by side reading “Glory to the heroic defenders of the ghetto” and “Shame to the fascist servants of the Home Army.”
The ghetto uprising was even more important to the nascent state of Israel, which sought to monopolize the history as a battle for the new Jewish state. The desire was understandable: for a long time Israelis — like Jews elsewhere — preferred to identify only with that tiny fragment of the Jewish population who fired shots during the Holocaust.
Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day was established in 1953 to mark the anniversary of the uprising. “Some Israeli leaders looked back on the Holocaust with fear and sometimes with shame,” wrote the Yad Vashem historian Israel Gutman. “The only usable past, the only history of that period that they adopted for the image of the future was the heroic chapter of resistance.” The struggle for a Jewish state, Gutman explained, was cast as an extension of the uprising.
IN the Israeli version, the uprising was carried out by Zionists — that is, by “New Jews,” who were vigorous, muscular and productive. The diaspora had produced the pale yeshiva boy bent over his books, who was unable to defend himself, and the Jewish council, who, confronted with Hitler’s Final Solution, could do nothing but continue a long tradition of accommodation and hoping for the best.
By contrast, the New Jew envisioned by the Zionists would be bound to his own land and capable of working it himself. He would overcome the emasculation and degradation of the diaspora. It was this New Jew who could transform a humiliating past into a proud future and redeem a unified Jewish nation.
But there was no unified nation, and the ghetto uprising was not a purely Zionist affair. The Jews who found themselves sealed within the ghetto, like the millions of other Jews living in Eastern Europe, were deeply divided — by language and religiosity and class, by national identification and political ideology. Inside the ghetto were Polish speakers and Yiddish speakers Orthodox, Hasidic, secular Jews assimilated Jews and nationalists. The Zionists ranged from radical right to radical left. And most politicized Jews were not Zionists some were Polish socialists, some Communists, some members of the secular socialist Bund. A debate raged between Zionists and the Bund over the issue of “hereness” versus “thereness” — and the Bund believed firmly that the future of the Jews was here, in Poland, alongside their non-Jewish neighbors.
Today, the teleological deceptions of retrospect make it seem a foregone conclusion that the Zionists would win that debate. Yet in the 1920s and 1930s, the Bund’s program seemed much more grounded, sensible and realistic: a Jewish workers’ party allied with a larger labor movement, a secular Jewish culture in Yiddish, the language already spoken by most Jews, a future in the place where Jews already lived, alongside people they already knew. The Zionist idea that millions of European Jews would adopt a new language, uproot themselves en masse, and resettle in a Middle Eastern desert amid people about whom they knew nothing was far less realistic.
In 1942, it took time before Bundists and Communists joined Zionists in the creation of the Jewish Combat Organization. They organized themselves into fighting divisions according to political party. Even then, the better-armed Revisionist Zionists — the Zionist far right — remained apart, and fought the Germans separately during the ghetto uprising. The parties had very different ideas about the political future. But the uprising was less about future life than present death.
Edelman, who had survived by escaping through the sewers, was the last living commander of the uprising. After the war, in Communist Poland, he became a cardiologist: “to outwit God,” as he once said. In the 1970s and ’80s he re-emerged in the public sphere as an activist in the anti-Communist opposition, working with the Committee for the Defense of Workers and the Solidarity movement. He died in 2009, and to this day, he is celebrated as a hero in Poland.
He is remembered with more ambivalence in Israel. “Israel has a problem with Jews like Edelman,” the Israeli author Etgar Keret told a Polish newspaper in 2009. “He didn’t want to live here. And he never said that he fought in the ghetto so that the state of Israel would come into being.” Not even Moshe Arens, a former Israeli defense minister and an admirer of Edelman, could persuade an Israeli university to grant the uprising hero an honorary degree.
After the war, Yitzhak Zuckerman and Zivia Lubetkin, who had survived with Edelman, founded a kibbutz in Israel in memory of the ghetto fighters. Edelman remained close to them until they died.
Zionism, however, remained unappealing to him. Nor did he fantasize about reviving the diaspora nationalism of the Bund. He believed the history of Jews in Poland was over. There were no more Jews. “It’s sad for Poland,” he told me in 1997, “because a single-nation state is never a good thing.”