Josef Olmert
Josef Olmert

19 April — A Day Of Glory and Soul Searching

19 April 1943, first night of Pesach, and an event of epic proportions is about to unfold. The first, largest military organized resistance to the German occupation in a European city. It was not in Paris, it was not in Amsterdam, it was not in Prague, it was not in Athens or Belgrade, it was in Warsaw, and it was the Jewish uprising in the Warsaw ghetto. Yes, the Jews initiated the first organized , full-scale urban resistance to the German killing machine.

This is a day which should have been mentioned by the UN, by the EU, but it is not. It is a day of awe, of glory, of pride, of sorrow , of reckoning. A day which is one of the greatest in our long, national history, and we have so many of those. In the first place though, this is the day in which individuals came into immortality, people like Mordechai Anilewicz, the commander of the Left-Wing Zionist organization , one of the two Jewish groups which fought in the ghetto, whose last recorded words were;”The dream of my life has risen to become fact…Jewish armed resistance and revenge are facts. I have been a witness to the magnificent fighting of Jewish men in battle”. People like Pawel Frenkel and Leon Rodal , the commanders of the other Zionist organization, the one composed of the followers of the great leader and teacher Zeev Jabotnsky, who both left no last written testimony, but a legacy of bravery and glory.

In fact, thousands of people, who had to make their individual decision to die as heroes, rather than as a sheep led to the slaughter. But while it was their moral, personal decision, it was also a national Jewish and Zionist decision. Not all of them were Zionists, some, a small minority belonged to the anti Zionist Bund and the Communist party, but the vast majority of them longed for Eretz Israel, the Leftist Zionists considered themselves part of the Labor Zionist movement in the homeland, The Jabotinsky followers regarded themselves as the Polish section of the Irgun and Beitar in Eretz Israel.

Here is where the process of reckoning should also start. TWO Jewish organizations in ONE ghetto, when it is already so clear, that ALL the Jews were destined to the same fate. Even in the face of death, the two groups could not fully unite. A Jewish tragedy, and not one to be brushed aside in this day of remembrance and memory. This is exactly the day, when we have to confront ourselves with the question of Jewish unity and solidarity, a question to be asked about the tragedy of the fighting within the walls of Jerusalem, when the Romans were waiting to move in and destroy everything and everyone. A question to be asked nowadays, when groups in the US, claiming to be Jewish, invite murderers of Jews to be their guests of honor. Anilewicz, our precious national hero, and his brave comrades received, for so many years, their due honor, admiration and proper historic description.
Frenkel and Rodal with their comrades did not. Years back, the Beitari historian, Haim Lazar-Lita’i wrote about them , and more recently, two great books, by Marian Apfelbaum[Two flags], and Moshe Arens, one of my own political mentors[Flags over the Warsaw Ghetto],were devoted to their organization. It was in Moranowska Square, in the edge of the Ghetto, when for the first 4 days of the uprising, our national flag was waved by the Beitari fighters, alongside the Polish national flag, something which drove Himmler totally nuts. Hopefully, these books finally do justice with ALL the heroes of the ghetto uprising.

National Jewish reckoning in this day, should include also questions about the Polish support or lack thereof, to the Jewish
fighters. The main Polish underground resistance, the nationalist AK[the Home Army], gave just meager support to the rebels, by
smuggling some arms , some other vital supplies.They COULD and SHOULD do more, but we can now, on the basis of more knowledge and documentation, pass a rather more nuanced verdict on Polish performance in terms of helping Jews. Zghota, an organization dedicated to the rescue of Jews, people like Jan Karski and Witold Pilecki, who volunteered to go to Auschwitz , in order to expose and tell the truth, the Zabinski family, the heroes of the great new movie, The zookeeper’s wife, and MANY, MANY other brave Poles risked their lives to help the persecuted Jews.

Then there is the on-going reckoning with the Western world, especially when newly-released UN documentation refers to the knowledge of the Holocaust already in 1942. This is a reckoning which goes beyond just the Warsaw ghetto story, but in this day, of all days, it is so timely to mention it. Reckoning notwithstanding, this day is first and foremost a day of glory and pride. Remember-two years after the destruction of the ghetto, the German Reich was destroyed. Five years afterwards, the Jews renewed their independence in their historic homeland. The heroes of the Warsaw ghetto had the final say-they won. We won. The Jewish people won.

About the Author
Dr Josef Olmert, a Middle East expert, is currently an adjunct professor at the University of South Carolina