By Frank J. Dmuchowski
Seventy years ago on April 19, 1943 the remaining Jews in the devastated Warsaw Ghetto rose up and fought the Nazis until the Nazi German General Jurgen Stroup stated on May 8, 1943: “The former Jewish quarter in Warsaw no longer exists”. While the ghetto no longer existed the resistance of the Polish Jews has become a great symbol and inspiration for Israel and Jews worldwide. Even beyond it being the largest Jewish act of resistance during the Holocaust. The uprising is commemorated each year in many different venues. One of the venues for this year’s 70th anniversary was at Wayne State University on May 8, 2013.
There were many dignitaries who gave brief remarks on the uprising and its significance. There was classical music and songs in tribute. Perhaps the most moving part of the ceremony was the coming to the stage of 27 survivors of the Holocaust, some of whom survived the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Movingly there were seven candles lit on a table by different survivors.
In alphabetical order the first name of the survivors mentioned was that of the 86 year Mr. Zygie Allweiss who was accompanied by his daughter Esther Allweiss-Ingber and Urszula Czachor whose grandparents Maciej and Zofia Dudzik protected Mr. Allweiss and his brother Sol. Her grandparents are recognized as two of those who are part of the “Righteous Among the Nations” at Yad Vashem. In interviewing Urszula and the Allweiss family, one could easily see the special relationship that existed between them. It was touching to see. For Mr. Allweiss it was his birthday. Because of his health it required a special effort for him to attend the commemoration. Upon mention of the role of Ms. Czachor’s grandparents there was applause of appreciation from the audience.
Comments of various speakers
There were ten major speakers in the program. Each spoke briefly and thoughtfully. Because of space constraints and with regrets I will quote only a few. The commemoration began with several words of welcome and remembrance from Dr. Margret Winters who is Wayne State University’s Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for academic Affairs.
Ms. Maya Kamerly, Acting Deputy Consul General representing the State of Israel in the Midwest – stressed the importance of educating the youth to understand what happened during the Holocaust so that “It will never happen again”. She also quoted from the famous Polish-Jewish historian Emmanuel Ringelblum who took responsibility for the collecting and saving of diaries, documents, and letters etc. which were part of the doomed Jewish community of the Warsaw Ghetto. Much of what he saved in milk cans and tin boxes was discovered about 1950 in Warsaw. He himself was ultimately captured and executed by the Nazis. He felt that every voice was important and made every effort to preserve as much as he could. He once wrote of the Jewish communal leadership in Warsaw ghetto that their objective was “To live with honor and to die with honor”. Many examples of this philosophy can be found at the Yad Vashem website by typing the words “To live with honor and to die with honor”
Robert Rusiecki, Deputy Consul General of the Republic of Poland spoke of the tragedy of the Jews in Nazi occupied Poland. He also addressed the question of the interconnectivity of the historical relationship between Jews and Poles in Poland over the past 700+ years. He poignantly said: “There is no history of Poland without the Jews and no history of the Jews without Poland”. When I heard these words I recalled the image of the World War II photograph of two flags flying simultaneously over one of the highest points of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Uprising. One was the future flag of Israel and the other was the red and white flag of Poland.
Fred Hoffman, Honorary Consul General of Germany spoke of “the courageous who stood up and rebelled against the barbaric and oppressive regime of Germany at that time”. He then went on to tell the story of the former West German Chancellor Willi Brandt who fell to his knees before the Warsaw Ghetto Memorial on December 7, 1970 during a state visit to Poland. When asked why he did what he did Chancellor Brandt replied: “I had to do something, I did what people do when words fail”. This simple act helped the reconciliation process between Germans and Jews.
Resistance – Comments by Professor David Weinberg
In his remarks Professor David Weinberg who is the current director of the Cohn-Hadow Center for Judaic Studies at Wayne State University addressed the question of Jewish resistance to Nazi Germany’s genocidal onslaught. While acknowledging the importance and significance of the armed uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto he also spoke of the many ways in which the Jews resisted the Nazis. He illustrated his central premise by quoting from the famous Israeli poet, journalist, novelist and filmmaker Haim Guri (aka Chaim Gouri) who wrote the very well known Israeli poem which begins “Resistance is”. I would like to present the entire English version of this significant poem which is translated from Hebrew.
To smuggle a loaf of bread – was to resist.
To teach in secret – was to resist.
To gather information and distribute an underground newsletter – was to resist.
To cry out warning and shatter illusions – was to resist.
To rescue a Torah scroll – was to resist.
To forge documents – was to resist.
To smuggle people across borders – was to resist.
To chronicle events and conceal the records – was to resist.
To extend a helping hand to those in need – was to resist.
To dare to speak out, at the risk of one’s life – was to resist.
To stand empty-handed against the killers – was to resist.
To reach the besieged, smuggling weapons and commands – was to resist.
To take up arms in streets, mountains and forests – was to resist.
To rebel in the death camps – was to resist.
To rise up in the ghettos, amid tumbling walls,
in the most desperate revolt humanity has ever known …
Haim Guri and Monia Avrahami
Faces of the Uprising (original Hebrew: P’nei ha-Mered)
Members of Polonia in Attendance at the Commemoration
In the audience of several hundred there were a number of members of Polonia in attendance at the Warsaw Ghetto Commemoration. Among them was Marciń Chumięcki who is the Director of the Polish Mission at the Orchard Lake Schools. In addition there were two founders of the Piast Institute, Professor Thaddeus Radziłowski and Virginia Skrzyniarz. Also in attendance was Andrzej and Zofia Ładak. Of course there was Urszula Czachor whose grandparents saved Zygie Allweiss and his brother Sol. Finally I would be remiss in not mentioning a great friend of Polonia and the Polish Mission and that is Mike Smith of Wayne State University.
One of the speakers at the commemoration was Michael Traison, an attorney in international law who has spent much time in Poland and the United States for his employing firm, Miller Canfield. He thanked and acknowledged the contribution of so many people who came together to make this event so successful. After his comments there was a reception which provided for everyone to interact.
I would like to close with several comments by Michael Traison who was in Warsaw during its 2013 commemoration of the Ghetto Uprising. In a special report to the Polish Mission of the Orchard Lake Schools he wrote:
“One might conclude that this week marked a transformational series of events in Poland, the relationship of the Jewish and Polish narratives and, hopefully, the relationship between Jews and Poles. Until now the Ghetto uprising was a Jewish event, apart from Polish history but integral to Jewish history. That is changed. It appears the events of April 19, 1943 are now part of Poland’s own national narrative of World War II”.
He goes on to say “One also senses that these events may have opened new windows through which Jews may now view Poland and Poles in a different light…” It is fitting that on these words of hope for a better future of understanding between Poles and Jews that we conclude this article.