We have just concluded our celebration of Pesach. At this very time 70 years ago, from the bunkers, apartments, balconies, alleyways and sewers of the ghetto in Warsaw, Jews were in the midst of their desperately courageous armed resistance against the Nazis.
The ghetto uprising actually began that year – 1943 – on the first night of Pesach, April 19. The Nazis rolled their tanks to the ghetto entrance intending to trample through and destroy the largest Jewish ghetto of Europe as a macabre birthday offering to their fuhrer, whose birthday was the following day.
But the starved, emaciated Jews resolved to fight.
As Prof. Dina Porat, Yad Vashem’s chief historian, has written: “Along with members of the undergrounds, all of the surviving Jews in the ghetto resisted the enemy in order to defy their murderers, although they knew they had little chance of survival. These 50,000 Jews, left in the ghetto following mass death by disease and starvation and the deportation of 265,000 men, women and children to Treblinka, took to defence in the bunkers, and fought with utmost courage and resolve. They put up the bravest of resistance for almost a month, until they were brutally suppressed.”
Indeed, the Jewish fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto resisted the Nazis longer than any of the armies of the countries of Europe conquered by the Nazis. Their resistance inspired others.
Remembering the defiance of the Jews of Warsaw will occupy a special place in our commemoration this year of Yom Hashoah v’Hagvurah (Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes’ Remembrance Day).
But defiance and rebellion during the Holocaust took many forms. Porat succinctly, eloquently explains. “In the ghettos and camps, indeed in every place with a Jewish populace and Jewish life, there was some form of protest or resistance to the plot to obliterate the Jewish nation. From flight to hiding, mutual help efforts to educational and creative activities as well as the observance of Jewish rites – even with the scarcest of means and in the most unthinkable conditions – all these acts embodied the relentless struggle of Jewish individuals and communities to counteract the restrictions and dangers raining down upon them – and against all odds, sometimes, to live to see the day of victory.”
The fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto harboured no hope that they could defeat the daily, unceasing onslaught of the relentlessly hateful Nazis. They knew their enemy too well.
They could not imagine, however, that their determination to fight back would ultimately become a universal symbol of bravery and heroism, or one of the inspiring evocations for the Jewish fighters five years hence fighting back against the onslaught of five Arab armies intent on destroying their tiny, nascent Jewish state.
Fittingly, the anthem of that tiny Jewish state is called The Hope.