Warsaw marks 65 years since the uprising in the Jewish Ghetto

Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski walk in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes monument during ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in Warsaw, Poland, photo: CTK

This week Warsaw held commemorative events to mark the 65th anniversary of the uprising against the Nazi's in the city's Jewish Ghetto. Politicians from Poland and Israel, as well as Germany, the United States and France were there for the ceremonies but also Holocaust survivors from many countries and many young people, mostly from Israel and the United States.

Israeli President Shimon Peres, left, and his Polish counterpart Lech Kaczynski walk in front of the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes monument during ceremonies marking the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in Warsaw, Poland, photo: CTK
When the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising broke out the insurgents hoisted both the Jewish and Polish flag. By inviting president Shimon Peres to Warsaw for the anniversary events, president Lech Kaczynski wanted to highlight the common history of Poles and Jews. During the ceremony at the Monument to the Ghetto Uprising, they took part in both the ecumenical prayer and the Jewish Kadish

President Lech Kaczyński paid tribute to Ghetto fighters.

‘Glory to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto! Glory to the heroes of all other Jewish risings! The memory of their deeds will never fade away.’

Israeli president Shimon Peres said in his address that the Jewish nation will also always carry a burden of the past in their hearts and spoke of the victory of humanity over ‘human bestiality’.

‘May the names of all heroes of the Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto be elevated and glorified.’

The poignant ceremony included the roll-call of the fallen and the song El Mole Rahamim – Oh Merciful God sung by cantor Joseph Malovany from New York.

For a large group of Holocaust survivors who came to Warsaw despite their advanced age and in many cases frail health the commemoration was a heart-breaking experience. Luba Gawisar had scenes from the Ghetto again in front of her eyes.

‘I can still see the skeletons of people, particularly of hungry children. I have a family, I have grandchildren, I often laugh but all this is in my blood because what happened was out of this world.’

Stanislaw Wróbel also survived the Ghetto.

‘I remember everything in great detail because these are the things one can’t forget.. I’m passing by a decaying human corpse. I only now realize that I have gone through all this. I’m not able to look at films about those events.’

The Uprising in the Warsaw Ghetto was the first civic rising in Nazi occupied Europe. When it broke out, around 450, 000 people were crammed inside its walls. Jewish paramilitary groups held out against the overwhelming Nazi forces for over three weeks. They knew there was no way they could win. Eleonora Bergman, the director of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, says that talking about the revolt of April 1943 it is very important to remember that it came three months after the first clashes with Nazi troops in the Ghetto, which hindered, if only for some time, the deportations of Jews to the Treblinka extermination camp.

‘The Jews were fighting from the very beginning for survival, for keeping human values. The military action was the end of some chain. It was not just of the blue. It was prepared. It was something very important for people in the Ghetto and for the Polish underground outside the Ghetto, the Home Army and it really started some kind of cooperation which helped to get guns or whatever was possible at the time.’

The commemorative events in Warsaw included a concert by the Israel Philharmonic conducted by Zubin Mehta. For him and all members of the orchestra it was a highly emotional experience.

‘I am very glad to be here. It will be good for the souls of the orchestra. I told them: I don’t know how many of your relatives perished in this country but let’s play for their souls. But priority must be to look forward. I’m not looking backward but I’m also for not forgetting. Let’s not forget but let’s move forward’.

The commemoration of the Ghetto Uprising – which started on 19 April - was brought forward a few days this year because of the Jewish Sabbath. But on the anniversary itself Varsovians have been invited by the city’s Jewish community to attend the Passover festival, with traditional Jewish food and music. Eleonora Bergman again:

‘It’s a great idea. It brings people together. It’s also some sort of education – showing people how a very important Jewish festival looks like, in this way people can learn and understand better some part of Jewish culture’.