Tadeusz K. Gierymski:
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."
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
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
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)
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)
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 Karmelicka 5:
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 "Kontrata" 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.