Today, in addition to celebrating 70 years of Israel’s Independence we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
One of the questions I constantly heard growing up and was actually asked in one of my first interviews in Poland over four years ago, was “Why didn’t the Jews put up more of a fight? Why did they go like sheep to the slaughter?”
After a four years of literally living the subject, speaking with survivors, saviors and eye witnesses, I can unequivocally say that the Jews fought back.
You see, fighting back isn’t always a physical fight. Fighting back isn’t always attempting to kill your enemy. Fighting back is fighting to stay alive. Fighting back is fighting to keep your traditions and morals alive and fighting for the hope of a better future.
We, as Jews, have always had and will always have a social responsibility. Most of those in the tens of thousands of ghettos all over Eastern Europe fought back by attempting to stay alive. As a father, I can say with complete certainty, that my fight would have been to work as hard as possible to bring a few scraps of food to my family during those horrendous times. If a father or mother wouldn’t have done all they could to bring home meager pieces of food and if they resisted and would have been killed their family would have almost certainly starved to death.
We at From The Depths have uncovered remarkable documentation, that we are working on translating and publishing, which shows thousands of accounts of Jews “fighting back” from eye witnesses. For example, malnourished and downtrodden Jews getting off the trains in the Treblinka concentration camp, after being told this would be a better place, realized that this would be their final stop and they fought back taking, sadly, a futile last stand before they were murdered. Cases of women refusing to be stripped naked, paraded and often raped by their German Nazi tormentors, attacking them and in some counts even killing the German Nazi bastards before they were murdered themselves.
But, perhaps the most harrowing of accounts we uncovered, comes from the Warsaw Ghetto and happened almost 75 years ago to this very day.
A group of Jewish boys, blockaded themselves in a building inside the ghetto and were shooting at Nazis walking past. One of the ways Nazis would enter the buildings of the ghetto would be by using a human shield, one of the survivors told that whilst blockaded in a building they suddenly heard a knock on the door, they sat quietly and heard a sweet old voice call out to them, in beautiful poetic calm Yiddish an elderly Jew cried, “my children, the time has come, I am knocking on this door asking for safe passage. Alas, behind me stands a group of Amalek (evil people), shoot me and then kill them, better I die by the bullet of Jewish heroes then by the bullet of evil.” And the young men did just that, by giving his life, this old pious Jew saved those fighting allowing them to live another day.
When we remember the Holocaust, we must remember those who fought and we too, all these years later, must fight to keep their true memory alive.
This year is unique in the fact that due to Israel going according to the Hebrew calendar and Poland going according to the Gregorian calendar the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and the anniversary of 70 years of Israeli Independence coincide.
When I think of these brave men, women and children who almost entirely unaided from the world took up arms and attempted to fight for their lives and freedom, I think of how proud they would have been had they had survived to see the State of Israel flourish. I think of how proud they would be to know that today, what once befell us as a Nation could simply never happen again, for at last we Jews are no longer bound by the grace or mercy of others, that we have at last a strong, powerful country, the best Army in the world and more important than all we have a safe haven, a Jewish homeland with Jerusalem as our eternal capital.
I chose this year to be in Israel and as I stood on the beachfront in Tel Aviv with my Hebrew speaking children and looked up at the sky with a heart full of pride to see the Israeli Air Force flying overhead, I will think of our future in our tiny little county and I will remember those who were unable to even dream of this reality.
May the memories of all those heroes be a blessing.
May Israel be strong and safe.
May we all pray for a day where we have peace and all war be a thing of the past.