April 2013: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
A new museum commemorating the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising will be opening this month in Poland. The Museum of the History of Polish Jews will chronicle the 1000-year history of Polish Jews. This event will coincide with the 70th anniversary of the uprising.
At the start of World War II, the population of Polish Jews numbered 3 million, with 400,000 living in the city of Warsaw. This amounted to one-third of the city’s total population. Shortly after invading Poland in 1940, the Nazis established the ghetto. All of the Jews in Warsaw were ordered to inhabit a small section of the city. The eleven-mile perimeter was sealed with a 10-20 foot tall brick wall topped with broken glass and barbed wire. Fear of execution prevented anyone from leaving this prison. Sanitary conditions were appalling and the lack of medical and food supplies led to many deaths.
As conditions deteriorated further, and large numbers of Jews were deported, many resistance groups were formed. A Zionist youth resistance group named the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB) grew its membership to 450-500 individuals. These brave Jews were mostly under the age of 25 years. Mordechai Anielewicz, a young man of 23 years, was thrust into the position of Commander of this heroic organization. Their actions represented the first time in WWII that resistance fighters staged an uprising. Although the month long battle ended in the complete destruction of the ghetto, their heroism was inspirational. As Jews, we have learned that we must rely on ourselves for protection and security.
In 1979, as a guest of the Polish Ministry of Health, I travelled to Warsaw to study the efficacy of socialized medicine. I had the opportunity to travel to concentration camps during our time away from the hospitals. While in Warsaw, I spent many hours exploring the city. As I walked in the open field of the Warsaw Ghetto, it was hard to imagine what stood previously on this sacred ground. I developed a deep admiration for those freedom fighters of 1943. Mordechai, like myself, was in his early 20s. I felt fortunate to be living in a different world, sheltered from evil, but my naivety had been tested.
The Prime Minister of Israel, David Ben Gurion and the President of Israel, Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, signed Yom HaShoah, Holocaust and Heroism Remembrance Day into law in 1953. It is a national memorial day in Israel. This solemn day falls on Monday, April 8th. Please light the Yartzeit candle that was so graciously provided by our wonderful Men’s Club. As we remember the six million lives lost in the Holocaust, we honor their sacrifices with our steadfast support of the state of Israel.
Bryan H. Pines