We Remember the Bialystok Uprising!
A Bialystoker Survivor and a Fighter Speaks...
There Was a Revolt!
By Ewa Kracowska
Ramat Gan, May 2003
Translated from Hebrew by Vera Golani, courtesy of the Bialystok Landsmanschaft in Israel.
Letter addressed to Dr. Sarah Bender
Since the paper "Haaretz" did not publish the letter - my answer to a part of your article concerning Bialystok, (Sheleg Yair: "Each and Every Year are Told Again Stories about the Revolts that Were Not" Based on Information Supplied by Dr. Sarah Bender, Haaretz April 29th, 2003) I decided to send it to you.
You have been very successful in hurting the feelings of the few survivors that are still alive.
There is no need for an answer or additional explanations, since I still do understand the writing.
To The Editor,
Letters of "Haaretz" Readers to the Editor,
Re.: Reaction to the article of Mr. Yair Sheleg - "Each and every year are told again stories about the revolts that were not" (Haaretz, 29 April 2003) based on information supplied by Dr. Sarah Bender
Iam aware of the fact that the historian Dr. Bender wrote for years and with great dedication her doctoral thesis on the Bialystok ghetto. Her book: "Facing Death, the Jews of Bialystok in the Second World War 1939-1943", published by Am Oved in 1997, is well known. I was therefore astounded by her "revelations", apparently untrue and hurting harshly the memory of those who fell during the revolt of ghetto Bialystok thus not being able to testify, as well as the gross injury to the historical text.
Since the fallen cannot testify and the few survivors of the revolt are not alive anymore - I feel it is my personal duty to respond. My reaction stems from the fact that I am a survivor of the Bialystok ghetto, a fighter who took part in the revolt and a partisan who has survived the Holocaust. I was in person a member of the underground movement of the Bialystok ghetto. I became part of the underground only after February 1943 and my brief testimony hereunder is personal and trustworthy.
At first, Dr. Bender failed in presenting facts that are unauthenticated:
Since the underground in Bialystok was a secret matter in view of the gloomy reality of the ghetto's life, it was not well known. The unification of the political sections happened after the first Aktion, ('Aktzia'), namely about 3 months before the total extermination. The activity of the underground focussed on two central issues:
In order to prepare the revolt and send partisans to operation assaults, it was vital to get hold of weapons. Therefore, in the basements of the ghetto, many were secretly busy preparing Molotov bottles, improvised grenades and, by unconventional means, secure weapons from outside the ghetto.
On the morning of 16.8.1943, as a rank and file member, I was positioned with two other young men active in the underground, at a combat spot near the Smolena street wall. The wall was burnt but nobody was leaving as the ghetto was already surrounded by German tanks and soldiers. At the place where I was positioned, there were about 80 young men and women having among them some 20 rifles and many Molotov bottles as well as a few improvised grenades. The Germans went into the ghetto after 9 o'clock in the morning reaching Smolena street. I have not enough words to describe the hell that erupted. Among the Germans, I saw a number of soldiers killed and others wounded. On the other hand, there were almost no Jewish defenders left. The Germans captured a small number of Jewish defenders who got trapped in Smolena and parked them in the "garden" of the Judenrat leader in order to shoot them before the eyes of the ghetto residents who were being led to the ghetto's gate.
Is a combat with weapons a myth and/or epic as stated by Dr. Bender?
Personally, it is difficult for me to explain how the two young men succeeded to take me out of the ghetto and hide in an attic, where we remained for more than two months. During the first week, we heard at night a lot of shooting and we were told that small groups of underground fighters were still attacking Germans who guarded the ghetto.
The remainder of the last groups of the ghetto rebels did also set on fire various factories located in the Polish sector bordering the ghetto and we saw many fires raging. To my utter sorrow, the two young men that were with me did not survive and died later. Mr. Mitek Yunish blessed his soul, fought also with us among the partisans and took part in the revolt of the Bialystok ghetto; he died in Israel a few years ago. At present, I am probably the only one who remains alive and can voice my reaction. Personally, I survived and fought with a group of partisans whose very existence was made possible thanks to the activities of the underground movement in the ghetto.
In the article on the "Revolt in the Bialystok Ghetto" (see brochure "j", edited by Kibbutz Ha'meuhad - 1994), based on original German documents (that are being kept at the Yad Vashem archives), it is possible to find many details and numerous proofs supporting my declaration.
In view of the above mentioned, I wonder what right Dr. Bender has to show disrespect for the underground movement in the Bialystok ghetto as it is obvious from the publication of her remarks? Is this the way Dr. Bender chooses to become famous - through "new discoveries"? Freedom of speech and academic freedom allow people the elementary right to express their views, and Dr. Bender's right to express herself in whichever way she wishes is welcome. But this freedom does not allow, first and foremost, distorting the facts and, obviously, does not allow History to be rewritten.
Ramat Gan, Israel
Yad Vashem: This Month in Holocaust History "August 1943":
August 15-20: Bialystok Ghetto Liquidated
The last Aktion (Akcja), the Jews herded to the square near the the Poleski train station, before deporicacars to death in Treblinka.
Photographed by a Pole from the roof of his house, 16 August 1943.
"On the night of August 15-16, 1943, the Bialystok Ghetto was enveloped in three tight rings of Wehrmacht and SS forces-armed with heavy and light weapons and artillery-and by Ukrainian auxiliary forces. The chairman of the Judenrat was informed that the ghetto inhabitants would be relocated to Lublin. Some 30,000 Jews, exhausted, spent, and burdened with whatever possession they could carry, streamed toward the evacuation point. At that precise moment, the Jewish underground in the ghetto launched an uprising. Flyers were disseminated to the population to disobey the German evacuation order. For five days, fierce battles raged in the ghetto between forces that were vastly unequal in size, training, and equipment. A large detachment of German soldiers and police, backed by armored vehicles and tanks, was brought into the ghetto, and the main bunker of the underground was surrounded on August 19. The Germans shot all the underground fighters, except one, that day. There is no firm information on how the commanders of the uprising, Mordechai Tenenbaum-Tamaroff and Daniel Moszkowicz met their death, but it appears that they committed suicide.
Deportations from the ghetto began on August 18 and went on for three days, in the course of which most inhabitants of the ghetto were sent to extermination in Majdanek and Treblinka. The 2,000 Jews who were left behind were deported three weeks later."
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Last Updated June 28th, 2003