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Posts Tagged ‘Warsaw Ghetto’

Holocaust Researcher Yisrael Gutman Dies at 90 in Jerusalem

Tuesday, October 1st, 2013

Warsaw Ghetto survivor and researcher Israel Gutman has died in Jerusalem at the age of 90. He was born in Warsaw, where he was wounded in the Jewish uprising against the Nazis in 1943. He is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.

Gutman survived three concentration and death camps, including Auschwitz, but his parents and all of his brothers and sisters died or were killed in the Ghetto. He survived the January 1945 death march from Auschwitz to Mauthausen, where he was liberated by U.S. forces.

Gutman moved to Israel after the war and spent the rest of his life researching the Holocaust. He was the chief historian at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial and was a professor of history at Hebrew University.

In Memory of Irena Sendler

Monday, July 15th, 2013

Years ago, I first heard the story of Irena Sendler. In the dark world of World War II, she was a tiny light shining brightly; a reminder that there are good people, even in the ugliest of situations. Today is the 8th day of the Hebrew month of Av. We start our days with the setting of each sun – our 24 hours does not stretch from midnight to midnight, but from sundown to sundown and so tonight begins the 9th day of Av. It is, by any calculation, the saddest day on the Jewish calender. What we lost, what was done to us on this day – throughout the thousands of years we have wandered, cannot be measured, nor can our grief.

Tonight we will sit on the floors or our synagogues, our homes, on hilltops and community centers. This is a sign of mourning as we listen to the book of Eicha – Lamentations, as it is quietly read – here in Israel, in our neighborhood, our city, our country, and also around our world. It won’t rain here in Israel; but the heavens will cry with us. And we will wait for some bit of light to come back into our world, some sign that better times are coming.

It seems particularly appropriate to post this guest blog post about Irena Sendler – a reminder that in the darkest of times, a small light of humanity and hope brings forth the greatest hopes.

Tomorrow, wherever you are – please remember that only in the darkest of places, can we see the smallest of lights more clearly. They are a sign, if we have the faith to grasp it. May God bless the memory of Irena Sendler and may she always look down upon Israel, knowing that there are many who live today because of “her” children.

In Memory of Irena Sendler

The recent 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising focused the world’s attention, if only for a few moments, on the unspeakable horror that befell European Jewry just a generation ago. Ceremonies were held and speeches were made but when all is said and done, if our present generation doesn’t take necessary action to ensure that the events of World War II are remembered, the world will blithely and conveniently forget.

Just how easy it is to forget was emphasized by the recent research of a group of Kansas City schoolgirls who reignited interest in a story that had almost been swept into the dustbin of history. In 1999, while researching the Holocaust, the girls heard snippets of a story about a “female Oskar Schindler” who saved over 3000 Jews in Nazi Poland. The girls followed up on the story and due to their interest the amazing tale of Irena Sendler has been commemorated in a project that includes a book, a website and a performance.

Irena Sendler was a Polish social worker in 1939. When the Nazis invaded Poland she joined the Zagota underground and assisted Jews who were trying to escape from the Nazi dragnet. Together with her Zagota comrades she forged identity documents and helped the escaping Jews locate safe hiding places.

In 1941 the Nazis established the Warsaw ghetto and gathered almost half a million Jews into the small ghetto walls. Sendler obtained documents that identified her as a nurse who specialized in infectious diseases and she began to enter the ghetto to bring in foods and medicines.  Sendler quickly realized that the Nazis intended to murder all of the Jews in the ghetto and she developed strategies to move children to the “safe” part of Poland. She started by transferring orphans that she found on the streets but soon started to knock on doors in an attempt to convince Jewish parents to allow her to relocate their children.

When interviewed about her activities 60 years after the events, Sendler admitted that the memories of those conversations still gave her nightmares. “Those scenes over whether to give a child away were heart-rending. Sometimes, they wouldn’t give me the child. Their first question was, ‘What guarantee is there that the child will live?’ I said, ‘None. I don’t even know if I will get out of the ghetto alive today.”

Irena Sendler, We Honor You

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

During World War II, Irena, a Polish Christian woman, got permission to work in the Warsaw ghetto, as a Plumbing/Sewer specialist. She had an ulterior motive. Irena smuggled Jewish infants out in the bottom of the tool box she carried. She also carried a burlap sack in the back of her truck, for larger kids.

Irena kept a dog in the back that she trained to bark when the Nazi soldiers let her in and out of the ghetto. The soldiers, of course, wanted nothing to do with the dog and the barking covered the kids/infants noises.

During her time of doing this, she managed to smuggle out and save 2,500 kids/infants. Read that number again – 2,500 lives…Ultimately, she was caught, however, and the Nazi’s broke both of her legs and arms and beat her severely.

Irena kept a record of the names of all the kids she had smuggled out, In a glass jar that she buried under a tree in her back yard. After the war, she tried to locate any parents that may have survived and tried to reunite the family. Most had been gassed. Those kids she helped got placed into foster family homes or adopted.

In 2007 Irena was up for the Nobel Peace Prize. She was not selected. Al Gore won, for a slide show on Global Warming. Today, we honor her courage, her bravery. She has been recognized as a Righteous Gentile in Yad Vashem.

May God bless her memory.Please share this to honor the sacrifice and courage of this fine human being who gave so much and saved so many.  See also www.irenasendler.org.
Visit A Soldier’s Mother.

The Holocaust Then And Now

Thursday, September 20th, 2012

One of my searing early memories from Israel is a visit nearly four decades ago to the Ghetto Fighters Museum in the Beit Lohamei Hagetaot kibbutz. The world’s first Holocaust museum, it was built soon after the Independence War by survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Despite its posted visiting hours the museum was closed when I arrived. Not yet socialized to Israeli indifference to the yekke virtue of promptness on which I had been raised, I politely knocked on the door. Then I knocked more loudly, and insistently. After a few moments of mounting frustration, I pounded assertively. Finally, a janitor appeared and beckoned me inside.

Directly ahead was a display case with a single tiny pair of child’s shoes. It was hard to imagine a more poignant remnant from the brutally destroyed Warsaw community. Its brave leaders, young men and women in their twenties, had chosen to resist the Nazi onslaught rather than die in gas chambers.

Their desperate but doomed rebellion erupted on April 19, 1943, the eve of Passover. Three weeks later, Szmul Zygielbojm, a member of the Polish government in exile in London, wrote: “I cannot continue to live and to be silent while the remnants of Polish Jewry, whose representative I am, are being murdered. . . . I wish to give expression to my most profound protest against the inaction in which the world watches and permits the destruction of the Jewish people.” Then he committed suicide.

On May 16, after nearly 50,000 Jews were rounded up for deportation to death camps and 13,000 heroic fighters had been relentlessly hunted down and murdered, Nazi commander Jürgen Stroop triumphantly declared: “The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw is no longer in existence.”

Thirty-four surviving fighters escaped through the sewers, among them Zivia Lubetkin, one of the underground leaders of the uprising. After the war, she married Yitzhak Zuckerman, who had commanded the ZOB resistance organization in Warsaw. They were among the founders of kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot, built on memories of Jewish annihilation.

I visited the ghetto museum to pay homage to the 7-year-old Jewish boy from Warsaw, exactly my age at the time, whose iconic photograph was indelibly imprinted in my memory. Standing among a group of Jews “forcibly pulled out of dug-outs,” according to the photo caption from Stroop’s report, his arms were raised in surrender, bracketing his terror-stricken face. Wearing a cap, coat and knee socks, he was properly dressed for his final journey, surely to Treblinka.

As I completed my visit, the janitor approached and had me follow him downstairs. There, in her office, I met Zivia Lubetkin, about whom I knew nothing at the time. She brusquely asked about my background, my reasons for coming to Israel, and my response to the exhibits.

When I mentioned the shoes, her eyes blazed. I was, she sharply reminded me, old enough to remember the Holocaust. I was a Jew. I might have been among those children. With children of my own, she asked pointedly, how could I justify my decision to raise them in galut? I had no answers. I remained silent.

These memories were recently revived while reading Edward Rothstein’s “An Evolving Holocaust Message” in the International Herald Tribune (September 7). The message that Rothstein perceptively illuminated is that Israeli Holocaust museums – most conspicuously Lohamei HaGetaot – have decided to emphasize the “universal lessons” of the annihilation of six million Jews. “Indifference to the suffering of others,” not merely to Jews, must be confronted. The museum director mentioned plans to expand its mission to encourage “tolerance” between Jews and Arabs.

At kibbutz Yad Mordechai, which commemorates the courage of Warsaw Ghetto uprising leader Mordechai Anielewicz, the museum director concurs. She wants it to shift focus from “racism and xenophobia” to “peaceful coexistence” (as though future Nazis and their emulators can be taught by a museum visit to be civilized).

With this shift, Rothstein notes, Israeli Holocaust museums – with the conspicuous exception of Yad Vashem in Jerusalem – are emulating the Museum of Tolerance in Los Angeles. It has become the model for universalizing the Holocaust, while underscoring the fashionable message of multicultural tolerance that its sponsors wish to convey.

That Israeli Holocaust museums should emulate their Diaspora counterpart reveals something profoundly dismaying about contemporary culture in the Jewish state. The Nazis targeted Jews for annihilation; now Israel confronts Muslim nations that are determined to destroy it. Yet despite eighty years of unrelenting Judeophobia, including the slaughter of six million European Jews and the expulsion of 700,000 Mizrahi Jews from their Middle Eastern homes, Holocaust museums are focusing on the necessity to be nice to neighbors rather than underscore the appalling consequences of hating Jews.

The Moral Disgrace Of America’s Aristocracy

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

This year, Holocaust Remembrance Day is the anniversary of two starkly contrasting events of April 19, 1943 – the first day of the gallant but doomed Warsaw Ghetto uprising and of the ignominious Anglo-American Bermuda Conference on the Refugee Problem, which State Department diplomats organized to deflect pressure to rescue Jews from the Nazi death machine.

Most of the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto perished but the American diplomats went on to comfortable, if not highly successful, careers – and to largely avoid the wrath of historical judgment.

One might ask, given all of the articles and books written about the American response to the Holocaust, hasn’t the diplomats’ role been thoroughly examined? Remarkably, the answer is no, not because their conduct has been ignored but rather because it has been submerged in the American collective guilt approach that underpins many historical assessments.

Consider the State Department’s treatment in arguably the most influential book on the subject of the past twenty-five years, The Abandonment of the Jews, by David Wyman, an exhaustive scholarly study of the American response. The 29-page summation chapter titled “Responsibility” (“America’s response to the Holocaust was the result of action and inaction on the part of many people”) devotes less than a page to the State Department, while three full pages are spent on the wartime rivalries of American Jewish groups. The book also contends that “direct proof of anti-Semitism in the department is limited” and that “plain bureaucratic inefficiency” was one explanation for the State Department’s behavior.

These highly educated, patrician diplomats, in fact, rank among the worst villains in American history. They were part of a now all-but-vanished American aristocracy that existed outside the experience or even awareness of most of their fellow Americans.

Sheltered in a hermetically sealed aristocratic archipelago, many went from elite northeast boarding schools to Ivy League educations to diplomatic postings. Imbued with an intoxicating sense of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism, anti-Semitic (sometimes virulently), and mindlessly conformist (at the Groton School, many of whose graduates went to the State Department, nonconformists were waterboarded by fellow students with the approval of the headmaster), they had a heartless indifference to the sufferings of human beings from different ancestries, religions, or economic classes.

In 1940, the head of the Division of European Affairs was Jay Pierrepont Moffat. As a young diplomat in Warsaw shortly after the end of World War I, Moffat had watched desperate refugees flee oncoming Soviet armies: “they sounded like so many cackling geese and generally behaved in a manner that made us pray like the pharisee, ‘Lord, I thank Thee that I am not as other men.’ ”

His successor, Ray Atherton, arranged for an anti-Semitic French Nazi collaborationist to become a governor-general in liberated North Africa (where he continued to oppress Jews).

Loy Henderson, who worked in the State Department on East European issues in the 1940s, blamed “international Jewry” for support of the Soviet Union and, after a visit to New York City, commented of the inhabitants jostling him in the street that “They seemed to have little in common with me.”

William Phillips, an undersecretary of state, in the 1930s described Atlantic City as “infested with Jews.”

William Bullitt, an ambassador to the Soviet Union during FDR’s first term, called an official in the Soviet Foreign Ministry a “wretched little kike.”

Breckinridge Long, a wartime assistant secretary of state, regarded Mein Kampf as “eloquent in opposition to Jewry and Jews as exponents of Communism and chaos.”

They were lethally efficient bureaucratic operators. In 1942, when the first cable reports of Nazi Germany’s genocidal scheme reached the State Department from its legation in Switzerland – “in Fuhrer’s headquarters plan under consideration all Jews at one blow exterminated” – the Division of European Affairs suppressed the information (even from American Jews). Then, in early 1943, when informed by the legation that 6,000 Jews were being killed each day at a single location in Poland, the division’s head, Ray Atherton, and three colleagues instructed the legation “in the future we suggest that you do not accept reports submitted to you” from the legation’s Jewish sources about the exterminations.

Several months later, the division blocked a proposal, endorsed by FDR, to rescue 70,000 Romanian Jews on the ground that these Jews were “enemy aliens” since Romania was a German ally, and that, even if the rescue succeeded, there were no “other areas” to put the Jews.

Finally, at the Bermuda Conference, a “facade for inaction,” as a British delegate admitted years later, Breckenridge Long forbade any proposals that would solely benefit Jews and blocked any meaningful rescue initiatives.

Christian lawyers in the Treasury Department discovered the State Department’s cover-up and battled to save the Romanian rescue plan. Outraged, they considered the diplomats an underground “movement to let the Jews be killed,” “vicious men,” “accomplices of Hitler,” and “war criminals in every sense of the term.” Few historians have rendered such a judgment.

Success Is In The Trying

Wednesday, December 9th, 2009

With Chanukah – the Festival of Lights quickly approaching, Jews the world over are busy planning get-togethers, preparing or buying latkes and donuts, shopping for gifts for children and adults alike and generally looking forward to having fun and a much welcome break from the daily grind of life.

While enjoying our Chanukah festivities, we recite, during bentching and davening the story of Chanukah, reminding ourselves of how the Jews in the time of the Syrian-Greek occupation of the Land of Israel were able to stop the threat of spiritual and physical annihilation by destroying the army of the despot Antiochus – this despite being vastly out-numbered. We celebrate the miracle of “beating the odds” both in winning the battle and having a day’s worth of holy oil last for eight days.

But there is an underlying message in the story of Chanukah that today’s Jews – beset, as we are with so many woes, existential, financial and social – should open our eyes to and internalize. And that is taking it upon ourselves when we have seemingly insurmountable goals, to “make the effort” despite the odds, despite the very real likelihood in failing. So many of us give up too soon, or don’t bother trying at all.

Sadly, people – dismayed and discouraged by whatever challenge they want so badly to overcome, tell themselves, “there is no way I’m going to make this happen” – so they don’t even give it a shot. Or after a few failed attempts, they “throw in the towel” convinced they are wasting their time, money and energy.

This is especially true among singles looking for their elusive mate. After going out with dozens, even hundreds of “potential” mates, after years of attending Shabbatonim or going to singles’ events with no chuppah in sight – they give up. They insist they are done and stop trying.

The same can be said about couples whose infertility remain unresolved; those unemployed who have been job-seeking for a long time; those with serious medical problems; or those simply trying to lose weight. After months, years or even decades of failure to resolve their problem, they just give up.

We need to remind ourselves and absorb the words of Yehudah HaMacabee and his brothers when they heard that an army of 400,000 was coming to stop them and their small band of fighters. They said, “Let us fight unto death in defense of our souls and our Temple.”

They knew they were greatly outnumbered and that the odds were extremely high that they would be wiped out, but they made the decision to try. They did not give up, thinking, “What’s the point of fighting, we’re going to lose.” And then the miracle – they actually won. Had they given up and not attempted to do the impossible – there would be no Festival of Lights – very likely, no yiddishkeit.

Whatever the outcome, no doubt history would have viewed them as “winners” because making the effort is what counts. Giving up, doing nothing, wallowing in self-pity and defeat makes one a “loser.”

When we hear of the handful of Jews who escaped to Massada, and held off the Roman army for years, then killing themselves and their families rather than be enslaved when their fortress was finally breached, we view them as heroes not failures.

We honor their memory and those like them, for example, the starving, broken fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto who took on their Nazi oppressors and held them off for weeks – even though they must have known that they were doomed. We are in awe of them and all others throughout our history who “made the effort” despite the fact that they must have known failure was inevitable. They refused to listen to ” the facts” – shrugging off the logical inner voice that warned, “Don’t even think about it – you’re going to fail” and went ahead anyhow.

Sometimes there is a happy ending despite the cold, hard facts, as with the Maccabbees. Sometimes the older/divorced/widowed single does get an “ezer kenegdoh.” Sometimes health is regained despite a doctor’s grave prognosis; sometimes a couple longing for years for a child finally becomes a family. Sometimes, someone unemployed for what seemed forever gets that elusive job.

And sometimes there is no happy ending. Cherished dreams and goals go unfulfilled. But the lesson of Chanukah is to try, to face possible failure – and defy it. To not take “no” for an answer and when success remains elusive, to take a break, “lick your wounds” and try again.

There may come a time when one has to stop and accept Hashem’s will. When all attempts, all avenues are exhausted. When and if that happens, know that despite this unwanted outcome, you tried, you persisted and you did your best. That in itself makes you the winner.

Newly Translated Book On The Warsaw Ghetto

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

Many books have been written about the Warsaw Ghetto in the 66 years since its destruction. There have been reports, memoirs, studies, albums and movies of all kinds that have tried to tell the story of what happened. But to date for the English speaker the story was never complete.

 

We had bits and pieces of the story, we were able to see parts of the ghetto wall that still exist but the exact location of the complete wall always seemed a mystery. We had excerpts of the Ringelblum Archives but what life was like in the ghetto was still difficult to comprehend for the average reader who did not have a complete library at his or her disposal.

 

The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, published by Yale University Press is a monumental work that brings all the material together in one volume. First published in Polish, the book is now available in English.

 

It took years of research in Poland and Israel, in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Lochamei HaGeta’ot in Israel to painstakingly bring together the full story of the horrific period of the Warsaw Ghetto. Other sources, such as the Polish State Archives and the Warsaw City Archives, were also invaluable in the source material.

 

The authors explore the history of the ghetto’s evolution, the actual daily experience of its thousands of inhabitants from its creation in 1940 to its liquidation following the uprising of 1943. Encyclopedic in scope, the book encompasses a range of topics from food supplies to education, religious activities to the Jundenrat’s administration. Separate chapters deal with the mass deportations to Treblinka and the famous uprising.

 

Even the technical material is brought to life with a number of rarely seen photographs and charts. A series of original maps shows the boundaries of the ghetto with streets shown as they were before the city was nearly destroyed at the end of the war. Present-day streets are superimposed onto the map, and even to one familiar with the area, I was very surprised at the changes shown on the map.

 

We learn the biographies, names of the people, who were activists, archivists, cantors, policemen, actors, musicians, teachers and politicians. These were the heroic residents of the ghetto; people who would not have been remembered in most English language books on the subject.

 

A glossary of terms and concepts is a valuable addition that helps the reader, not only of this volume, but any book on the Holocaust. Terms in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and German are included. From Agudah to ZZW (Zydyowski Zwiazek Wojskowy: Jewish Military Union) the words and terminology are covered with a clear explanation, many of which cannot be found in most other glossaries.

 

A bibliography of sources is also included. Some will think that this section is the most valuable of all the indexes. These 40 pages are full of sources that scholars can look for to further their research on particular interests. The index cites not just published works but records found in various archives around the world with exact referencing. The list of published works is almost a complete list of all the material ever published on the Warsaw Ghetto.


 


 


      The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, is an important work that belongs in any library where there is interest in the Holocaust

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/newly-translated-book-on-the-warsaw-ghetto/2009/07/22/

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