Tadeusz K. Gierymski: (April 19th, 1998)

Lest We Forget...

"In principle, the most important thing is life.
                     Yet, where there is life, the most important
                     thing is freedom. We give up life for freedom.
                     And then we do not know what is most important."
 
                                           Marek Edelman

Yitzhak Zuckerman - "Antek" - an early and steadfast proponent of armed resistance, co-founder of ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa - Jewish Fighting Organization), and its representative to the Polish Underground, writes in his "A Surplus of Memory," that he intended to return

 
        ... to the ghetto despite my comrades' advice.
        Although I had been gone only six days, I was terribly
        lonely. I hated being in a strange place on Passover,
        for the Seder. So I thought I would go in for twenty-
        four or forty-eight hours: Arye Wilner always did
        that. (p. 350)

Many Jews hiding on the "Aryan" side used to return to the Warsaw ghetto to be with family and friends during Pesah. This time it was different. Because, as Marek Edelman, the Bund's representative in ZOB's command, recalls (tkg's translation) in his "Getto walczy" ("The Ghetto fights," Bund Central Committee, 1945):

 
        On 19 April 1943, at 2 am, our observers begin to
        report that German gendarmes and the Polish blue
        police are encircling the ghetto walls at 25 meter
        intervals. We alert all our battle groups, and they
        take their positions at 2.15 am, fifteen minutes later.
 
        All civilians, also warned by us, immediately withdraw
        to their shelters and hideouts in the cellars and attics.
        The Ghetto is deadly quiet - not a soul is to be seen,
        only ZOB (the Jewish Fighting Organization) keeps a
        look-out.
 
        At four in the morning the Germans, in small groups
        of three, four, or five (so as not to arouse ZOB's
        or civilian population's suspicion), enter the Ghetto
        areas.
 
        Once inside they form platoons and companies. Motorized
        detachments, armored vehicles and tanks roll into the
        ghetto at seven. Artillery positions itself outside the
        walls. (pp. 52-53)
 
On the eve of the April 19, 1943, attack on the Warsaw Ghetto by the Germans and their henchmen, what still remained of the ghetto on that day, that is its greater - Duze Getto (Big Ghetto) - north of Chlodna Street part, was divided into three sections. Israel Gutman in his "Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising" puts it thus:
 
        ...the central ghetto, the large workshop area, and
        the brushmakers' area. The central ghetto was the
        primary focus of the organization, and its
        headquarters, led by Mordecai Anielewicz, was
        entrenched there. The commander of the local force,
        which consisted of nine fighting squads dispersed
        throughout the area, was Israel Kanal. In the workshop
        area, eight squads were led by Yitzhak Zuckerman, and
        in the brushmakers' area, five squads were under the
        command of Marek Edelman. (p. 198)

The April 1943 Uprising was not the Warsaw Ghetto's first act of a r m e d resistance. It was the longest and the most costly, the most tragic, the final one. Recall, please, that on January 18, 1943, when the Germans attempted to resume deportations of Jews surviving the first "liquidation" of 1942, four barricaded ZOB groups fought them in the

 
        ... first big armed fight, at the confluence of Mila
        and Zamenhofa Streets. The best of our organization
        died there. Because of his heroic action Mordchaj
        Anilewicz (sic), the ZOB's commander, miraculously
        survived. It became apparent, that street fighting
        is too costly for us - we are not prepared for it.
        We lack proper weapons. We switch to partisan tactics.
 
        [...] Only five of our 50 groups take part in the
        January action. The others, not concentrated together,
        were caught by surprise, and were unable to reach their
        stored weapons. (Edelman, op. cit. pp. 46-47).

"Antek" was one of the fighters there, and so was "Jurek," i. e. Arieh Wilner. The resistance caused the Germans to suspend deportations - for the time being. Edelman remarks that

 
        What happened resonated loudly both in the Polish and
        in the Jewish communities. For the first time the German
        plans were frustrated. For the first time the German
        lost the nimbus of invincibility and omnipotence. For
        the first time the Jewish community saw that German
        will and power can be challenged.
 
        It is not important how many Germans ZOB bullets
        killed. What is important is that moment of a
        psychological turning-point. It is important that the
        Germans had to interrupt their Aktion, because of,
        yes, weak, but unexpected resistance. (pp. 47-48)
 
Gutman:
 
        Between January and April 1943, the Jewish Fighting
        organization was unified; the hierarchy of personnel
        and the strategic plans were laid down for the
        inevitable struggle. The period between the two
        expulsions was one of marked change and preparation
        for the last battle.
 
        The organization did not delude itself that its
        resistance would prompt the Nazis to give up the idea
        of wiping out the ghetto and to leave them alone;
        instead, the imminent annihilation required swift
        preparations since its was the enemy who would
        determine the date of the battle. (op. cit., pp. 196-197)

According to the available data - he continued - after the January armed resistance there were twenty-two fighting groups composed of members of youth movements, such as Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, Bund, Beitar, Akiva, Gordonia, Hanoar Hazioni, Po'alei Zion C.S., the Left Po'alei Zion, and the Communists from PPR.

 
They were organized, Gutman says,
 
        ... into squads attached to dwelling places, which
        also served as the central posts of their concentrated
        force. There they kept their personal arms and
        trained, maintaining and ambiance of semimilitary
        discipline. Members of the squad were forbidden to
        leave without permission from the officer in charge.
        Yet an atmosphere of intimacy and friendship existed
        among the young men and women who made up these
        squads. (p. 197)
 
Marek Edelman:
 
        Now the SS-men are ready to attack. In closed
        formation, stepping nimbly and loudly they enter the
        seemingly dead street of the central ghetto. Their
        triumph appears to be complete, as if the handful of
        daredevils took fright faced by this excellently armed
        and equipped modern army. As if these immature boys
        suddenly realized the futility of the resistance, that
        they face more German machine guns than they have
        cartridges for their pistols.
 
        But no, we were neither surprised nor afraid. We were
        just waiting for the right moment. It came soon. When
        the Germans encamped at the intersection of Mila and
        Zamenhof Streets, the fighters, barricaded at the
        four corners of the street, opened, as the military
        terminology has it, a concentric fire on them.
 
        Strange projectiles (grenades of our own make)
        exploded, bursts from a machine pistol ripped through
        the air (we must conserve the ammo), rifles sounded
        off further away.
 
        Such was the beginning of our fight. (pp. 53-54)
 
April 19, 1943.  "Why is this night different from all other nights?"
 
   Seder in a bunker at Karme5:
 
        Five armed men keep watch. My father - says Szymka
        Korngold - presides. The wine glasses glow in the
        light of two candles. To us they seem to be filled
      with our blood, we ourselves are today's sacrifice.
        We shudder at the words "Pour out thy wrath..."
        We waited for a miracle - there was none.

Wladyslaw Szlengel wrote his bitter "Kontratak" in the ghetto, after ZOB's January fight. He also anticipated in it the Ghetto's inevitable final struggle.

 
Here are some lines from it.
 
                Slysz niemiecki Boze,
                Jak modla/ sie/ Zydzi w dzikich domach,
                Trzymaja/c w re/ku zlom czy zerdz.
                Prosimy Cie/, Boze, o walke/ krwawa/.
                Blagamy Cie/ o gwaltowna/ smierc.
                Niech nasze oczy przed skonaniem
                Nie widza/ jak sie/ wloka/ szyny,
                Ale daj dloniom celnosc, Panie,
                Aby sie/ skrwawil mundur siny,
                Daj nam zobaczyc, zanim gardla
                Zawrze ostatni, gluchy je/k,
                W tych butnych dloniach, w lapach z pejczem
                Zwyczajny nasz czlowieczy le/k.
 
 
                Hear, O German God,
                The squatter-house Jews at prayers,
                Clutching a crowbar or a scrap of wood.
                We ask you, God, for a bloody battle,
                We beg you for a violent death.
                Spare us, before we die, the sight
                Of slow-receding rails,
                Give us, O Lord, a steady hand
                To stain their bluish tunics with blood,
                And let us see, before mute groan
                Chokes our throats,
                In their haughty hands, their whip-swinging paws
                Our common, human fright.
 
 
(TKG's translation)

Last Updated May 27th, 2004