19 April 2011


WARSAW GHETTO UPRISING. Background, courtesy of Wikipedia -- "In 1940, the German Nazis began to concentrate Poland's population of over three million Jews into a number of extremely crowded ghettos located in large Polish cities. The largest of these, the Warsaw Ghetto, concentrated approximately 300,000-400,000 people into a densely packed central area of Warsaw. Thousands of Jews died from rampant disease and starvation even before the mass deportations from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp began.

" .... When the deportations first began, members of the Jewish resistance movement met and decided not to fight the SS directives, believing that Jews were being sent to labor camps and not to their deaths. By the end of 1942, however, it became known to Ghetto inhabitants that the deportations were part of an extermination process. Many of the remaining Jews decided to revolt.

"The Ghetto fighters (numbering some 400 to 1000 by April 19) were armed primarily with pistols and revolvers. Just a few rifles and automatic firearms smuggled into the Ghetto were available. The insurgents had little ammunition, and relied heavily on improvised explosive devices and incendiary bottles [Molotov cocktails]. More weapons were supplied throughout the uprising or were captured from the Germans .... Support from outside the Ghetto was limited, but Polish Resistance units attacked German units near the Ghetto walls and attempted to smuggle weapons, ammunition, supplies and instructions into the Ghetto.

" .... The most significant portion of the rebellion took place from April 19 until May 16, 1943, and ended when the poorly armed and supplied resistance was crushed by German troops. It was the largest single revolt by the Jews during the Holocaust .... 13,000 Jews were killed in the Ghetto during the uprising (some 6000 of them were burned alive or died of smoke inhalation). Of the remaining 50,000 residents, most were captured and shipped to concentration and extermination camps, in particular to Treblinka."

My parents were among the World War II generation, and I grew up steeped in the lore and events of those times. Ironically, it wasn't until I reached age 21 and was a part of my own generation's war (Vietnam) that I learned in depth of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. When I first arrived in country and was sent to my unit's base camp at Phu Loi, I was assigned to the bunk of someone who had just returned to the States, leaving behind a treasure trove of books. Among those books were two which forever altered my understanding of the Holocaust. One was Leon Uris' Mila 18, a novel based on the real events of the Uprising, told from the point of view of a journalist in the Ghetto. The other book was John Hersey's The Wall, told from the point of view of a historian. In both books, the protagonists become part of the Ghetto uprising, and both survive to tell the harrowing story of all those who didn't. Both are highly recommended reading. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was one of the most tragic, and most ennobling, events in human history. We are only 70 years removed from the extremes of barbarism expressed in the Nazi movement and the Holocaust. Lest we forget, lest we delude ourselves into thinking that we have ascended past all that, it is useful to look around and notice that at any given moment, a score of wars are being waged on the planet, with genocide an integral part of human conflict. It is incumbent upon all people of conscience to speak out, and when necessary, to resist crimes against humanity. By any means necessary.

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