Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Commemoration

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising that started on April 19, 1943, was one of the most significant events in modern Jewish history. It represented a break from the old version of the Jew as a passive object of other people's decisions, and the determination at the most basic level to organize and fight for Jewish survival and independence, even against insurmountable odds. The Israel war of independence only 5 years later, also against apparently insurmountable odds, was fought as a continuation of the Warsaw Ghetto revolt and was motivated by an absolute need for Jewish sovereignty in our ancient homeland.
At a ceremony on Wednesday (held early to avoid Passover), commemorating the 65th anniversary of the uprising, at the Memorial in the Ghetto Square in Warsaw, Israeli President Shimon Peres spoke in Hebrew about the fighters of that most asymmetric conflict. It represented an affirmation of the rightness of their decision to fight, and the fact that this year Israel celebrates its 60th Anniversary is a token of ultimate success. Whereas after WWII Poland was still actively and violently anti-Semitic, now President Kaczynski of Poland spoke about the bravery of the Ghetto fighters, and the Polish armed forces stood to attention and saluted their actions with a volley of shots, indicating how much the world has changed for the better.
From the depths of despair, from the residue of a destroyed people, they fought back, and made it possible for us to holds our heads high and to live our lives in dignity. The fact that the uprising was on the eve of Pesach and that those who fought chose to do so rather than repeat the old incantations, made it possible for later generations to continue the age-old customs. But, now we have our guns at the ready and some of our young men stand guard all the time so that the history of our people will continue.
The ceremony today in Warsaw was impressive. The Chief Rabbi of Poland said a prayer in Hebrew and a cantor sung the prayer for the dead. The Polish soldiers looked smart and as well as the two Presidents a few survivors of the Ghetto fighters and some Israeli youths laid wreaths at the Memorial.
Maybe it represents a new age, an age of acceptance of Jewish struggle as part of the greater struggle of Europe for democracy and human rights. But, before I get carried away we must remember that anti-Semitism is on the rise again in Europe, and that there are armies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria and Iran that are plotting again to wipe us out. And these days there is fighting in Gaza and yesterday three IDF soldiers were killed. It never stops. But, among these conflicting signs there is at least some comfort in the thought that the Ghetto fighters did not die in vain.
PS. Note there will be a break for Pesach. Chag Pesach sameach to all my readers.


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