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A forgotten tragedy: the Warsaw ghetto uprising

Seder, Warsaw ghetto

I was going to write about the Mueller report this weekend, but everyone is writing about the Mueller Report. There are very few people writing about what happened 76 years ago in the Warsaw Ghetto. Although we have seen photos of Passover from the Warsaw Ghetto 76 years ago, most don’t know about the Uprising that took place.

At that time, many of the people had already been deported from the Ghetto to Auschwitz and Treblinka, but those left behind decided to die the way they wanted, hence the Uprising.

Easter and Passover are often on the same weekend because both are usually determined by the lunar calendar. The Last Supper was a Passover meal. Although many Jews in Warsaw had already been transported to Auschwitz, they were planning on transporting the final group to the Concentration camps of Majdanek and Treblinka.

According to reports, after the transpiration of Jews in the summer of 1942, groups within the Ghetto began to plan their attack, bringing in (via smuggling) explosives and building bunkers. They knew it was a lost cause, as the Nazis had better and more sophisticated weapons. However, they were determined to not be lambs to the slaughter and to fight back.

It was the eve of Passover in the Ghetto and the Nazis had wanted to burn the Ghetto, street by street. According to Wikipedia, 13,000 Jews in the Ghetto died then, most by burning or suffocation from the fumes. Germans suffered comparatively few losses (and German Propaganda said less people died), with about 150 Germans killed. It turned out to be the largest revolt of Jews in WWII. There is a memorial in Warsaw of the Ghetto Uprising.

The Ghetto began in 1939, and depending on whose figures you read, somewhere between 300,000 to 400,000 people were confined in the Ghetto. Life continued there until the “final solution” was implemented and people were taken off in train cars to their deaths. One of the survivors, Marek Edelman, said the motivation for fighting was “to pick the time and place of our deaths.”

The Passover Haggadah is either traditional or has been updated to reflect modern times. It is often reflective of the need for freedom and the end of slavery. There is a poem, “Blessed is the Match” by Hanna Scenes, who went to Palestine and then went back to Hungary where she was executed by the Nazis:

Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns in the heart’s secret places.
Blessed is the heart that knows, for honors sake, to stop its beating.
Blessed is the match, consumed in kindling flame.

Primo Levi survived Nazi concentration camps, and wrote about Passover: “Under the rags perhaps the prophet is concealed. Let him enter and sit down with us. … Let him consume the bread of affliction. … We will spend the night recounting far-off events full of wonder. … Each of us has been a slave in Egypt. … You too, stranger. This year in fear and shame, next year in virtue and in justice.”

This year, in recognition of the Warsaw Ghetto and the destruction of the Temple (which was not Orthodox and where services were held in Polish, not Hebrew) had its image projected onto a modern Polish building. Because of modern technology, they were able to recreate the building virtually. They also played songs by the cantor who died in the Warsaw Ghetto whose name was Gerszon Sirota. The group that created the sound and the light is a group that fights anti-Semitism in Poland, called Open Republic. It is timely, as we know anti-Semitism is rising in Poland as well as the rest of Europe. A leader of the group, artist Gabi von Seltmann, said: “Awaking memory in Poland to me also means to teach empathy, because when there is empathy there is no fear anymore.”

That the message of this Easter and Passover: acceptance and tolerance. The Warsaw Ghetto should never have happened, and we are still reeling from what we learned about what happened that Passover night.

What should we learn and know about this Easter and Passover? Tolerance for other’s differences, acceptance of others. That is what Passover and Jesus via Easter taught us, and it is well time that we took the lessons of the Warsaw Ghetto and of the time 76 years and apply them. That is what both holidays are about.