Printer Friendly

The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Meaning of the Revolt in the First Year after the Uprising.

On April 23, 1943, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency (JTA) delivered news of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, relaying a report received in Stockholm the day before with the headline, "Nazis Start Mass-Execution of Warsaw Jews on Passover; Victims Broadcast S.O.S." Within two weeks, observers were describing the events as "miraculous," beginning the effort to identify the heroes of Warsaw. In less than two months, calls emerged to make April 19 an annual day to celebrate Jewish heroism. By the first anniversary after the uprising, Jewish communities organized solemn commemorations in New York, London, Tel Aviv, and elsewhere to recall the "Masada of Warsaw" as a "fortress of freedom."

Through an examination of the ways in which the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was reported in April and May of 1943, and subsequently interpreted and commemorated in the first year after the revolt, we can begin to understand how and why the event was transformed into the defining symbol of Jewish resistance, Jewish sacrifice, and Jewish martyrdom during and after World War II. At the same time, representatives from the Jewish Labor Bund and the Zionist movement in the Yishuv disputed both the heroes of the revolt and its political and ideological significance. This article examines the rapid search for heroes, and the concomitant processes of politicization and mythologization of the uprising in the first year after the "battle of Warsaw's Jews." Collective memory of the uprising was shaped almost immediately in its aftermath, well before historical and fictional accounts of the uprising were written, and long before the date for Yom HaShoah ve-haGevurab (The Day of Remembrance of the Holocaust and Heroism) was solidified on the Jewish calendar. By the first anniversary of the revolt, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was seized upon by Jewish communities around the world as evidence that Jews had joined the struggle against fascism, and utilized as a prism for memorializing the destruction of European Jewry. By 1945, when the identities of the Zionist heroes of the revolt became well-known, the uprising had been transformed into part of the struggle for the creation of the Jewish state.

Immediately after the war, Holocaust survivors in Europe continued the process begun in the first year after the revolt, setting Holocaust commemoration activities on April 19. The dates of the uprising have since been linked to annual Holocaust commemoration events in countries around the world. Israel's Knesset selected the 27th of Nisan as the date for Yom HaShoah ve-haGevurah in 1951 to correspond roughly with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (1) The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has also occupied a central place in the history of the Holocaust and of World War II. As a military encounter, its significance may seem relatively minor. Nonetheless, during the war, the small band of Jewish fighters in the Warsaw ghetto, as well as the broad popular defiance of German edicts by the thousands of Jews in Warsaw who refused deportation orders in April 1943, had a major impact on both Jewish communities elsewhere in Eastern Europe and on German military procedures. (2) And, from the perspective of Jewish history, its significance has been tremendous, serving as the counterargument to the myth that the Jews of Europe had been "led like sheep to the slaughter." Conversely, the emphasis put on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising reinforced the mistaken view that it represented the only case of armed Jewish resistance in Europe.

A recent flurry of literature on the subject reinforces a continuing fascination with the topic of Jewish resistance. (3) A 2014 volume edited by Patrick Henry (and to which I am a contributor) on Jewish Resistance against the Nazis begins with a chapter titled, "The Myth of Jewish Passivity," by Richard Middleton Kaplan, that explores the origins and enduring power of the stereotype of Jewish passivity, explaining that "one aim of our volume is to demonstrate definitively that Jews during the Holocaust did not go to their deaths passively like sheep." (4) The historical literature on the uprising itself tends to reinforce the view that the revolt in Warsaw serves as the counterpoint to a history of Jewish passivity. In his definitive history of the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising, Israel Gutman concludes, "The Uprising was literally a revolution in Jewish history." (5) And in his detailed account of the uprising, Dan Kurzman writes that the "military encounter" in the Warsaw Ghetto
   was one of the most stirring, impossible, and important battles in
   history ... the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, more than any other event,
   symbolically ended two thousand years of Jewish submission to
   discrimination, oppression, and finally, genocide. It signaled the
   beginning of an iron militancy rooted in the will to survive, a
   militancy that was to be given form and direction by the creation
   of the state of Israel. (6)


In the historical and popular literature on the revolt, therefore, the tendency is clear: the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt is celebrated as a revolution in Jewish history and as counterproof to the myth that Jews did not fight back, and generally linked to the struggle for the creation of the Jewish state. Peter Novick and others have further linked these ideas to the notion that while American Jews largely failed to respond to news of atrocities during World War II, they exploited the Holocaust awareness that developed in the 1960s for political needs, usually in support of Israel. (7) In response, Hasia Diner categorically refutes the myth the American Jews remained silent about the Holocaust until the 1960s, demonstrating that American Jews publicly and privately commemorated the Shoah in a multitude of ways between 1945-1962; and while she notes that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising became the prism through which American Jews "performed the memory of the six million" she leaves as an open question why this might have been. (8)

We thus still need to answer the question: Why is it that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising became the focal point of Jewish commemorations both during and after the war? (9) What this article will seek to demonstrate is that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, because of the timing of its outbreak, the unprecedented coverage it received, and the dedicated work of ghetto fighters to tell their story, became the focus of widespread attention in America and the Yishuv immediately after it occurred, but that it did little as an event to revolutionize the ways in which Jews perceived their position in the world, instead confirming existing worldviews. For the first year after the uprising, the most celebrated hero of the revolt was the Bundist activist Michal Klepfisz, as the revolt came to symbolize the Jewish contribution to the Allied war effort in freedom's struggle against Nazism and totalitarianism. Only in May 1944, when members of the Zionist underground still in Warsaw were able to smuggle out reports definitely establishing Mordecai Anielewicz as commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization, did the Zionist movement seize upon the event as part of the struggle for the creation of the state.

The Timing of the Revolt

How did the context of April 1943 shape Jewish public reception of the news? Jews in the free world entered 1943 with the news that European Jewry was facing "complete annihilation." In order to break through the apathy of allied countries and fellow citizens, Jewish communities in the United States organized mass protests in an attempt to capture the attention of the public and of political leaders with one last desperate call for rescue. At the same time, growing awareness of the destruction of European Jewry turned such rallies into large-scale memorial ceremonies. Indeed, screaming headlines and memorial pageants like We Will Never Die marked the transition from calls for rescue to calls for commemoration. (10)

Simultaneous with the outbreak of fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto on April 19, 1943, the other major news item that captured the attention of the world Jewish press was the ill-fated Bermuda Conference, convened in response to urgent demands to rescue what was left of European Jewry. Unable to participate at the conference itself, the majority of American Jewish organizations, represented together by the Joint Emergency Committee for European Jewish Affairs, made the text of their appeals sent to the Bermuda Conference public through the press, to "convey to you the anguish of the Jewish community of this country over the failure of the United Nations to act until now to rescue the Jews of Europe" even six months after Gerhart Riegner's famous report as "thousands of Jews continue to be murdered daily." (11)

In this sense, the timing of the revolt was critical: It coincided with a moment of Jewish realization of the mass destruction of European Jewry, anger at the apathy of the surrounding world, an intense feeling of powerlessness to stop the destruction and arouse the conscience of the so-called civilized world, and a transition to memorialization of the destroyed Jewish communities of Europe.

Reporting the Revolt in April and May 1943

When news did begin to spread throughout the world of the remarkable turn of events, however, the coverage varied depending on the political orientation and audience of the publication. (12) The widely varying reactions to the revolt make clear the importance of distinguishing between types of coverage: the JTA, which faced growing difficulties during the war both in reporting the news and in having its stories picked up; mainstream news sources, like the New York Times, which consistently under-reported anti-Jewish atrocities; and the Jewish press, which was segmented according to political ideology. (13)

On April 23, the first JTA report of the revolt noted that the secret Polish radio station SWIAT had broadcast a cry for help from the Jews of Warsaw who were "defending themselves with their bare hands." (14) The story was picked up by almost all of the Jewish press. The Jewish press thus reported what was known, as information traveled circuitously from Warsaw to London to New York and the Yishuv. But such reporting was interpreted and filtered ideologically. For the Forverts, for example, the Holocaust was the story. (15) The Forverts made the beginning of the uprising its lead story on April 23, with a banner headline proclaiming, "Nazis Slaughter Last Jews of Warsaw, Secret Radio Reports the Nazis Leading the Last 35,000 Jews to the Slaughter." The Forverts, like JTA, thus cited the secret radio report, and also noted that the Nazi massacre had begun just as Jews around the world "mark(ed) the festival of freedom." By April 25, 1943, however the Forverts had begun to emphasize Jewish resistance, assuming links to the general Polish underground:
   Those who are currently mounting the resistance, are the healthiest
   and most militant Jews, who remain in Warsaw ... The weapons with
   which the Jews are fighting were provided by the Polish underground
   movement, which also sent trained commanders for this last battle.
   (16)


Initial reporting in the newspaper of the Jewish labor federation in Palestine, Davar, paralleled that of the Forverts, while also emphasizing the continued connection between underground Zionist activists in Poland and the Zionist centers in Geneva and the Yishuv. Davar's headlines described the fighting Jews of Warsaw as both the "sh'erit ha-Pletah" (surviving remnant) of the Jewish diaspora and as rebels (the mitmardim) fighting the Nazis. Like the Forverts, Davar mistakenly reported that trained officers from the Polish underground had been sent to the ghetto to help "manage the Jewish defense there." (17)

On April 30, Davar published a dispatch from the JTA with a message "from well-known leaders of the Zionist movement in Poland" that asked for arms and indicated that "the Jews who still remain in the Warsaw ghetto are putting up a vigorous fight against the Nazis 'for the sake of Jewish honor and the little that has been left.'" The message included an urgent appeal for food, and concluded "with sharp criticism of the Jews in the democratic countries, especially the Jews of America, charging them with indifference. 'While we are being exterminated, they indulge in Olympic calmness.'" (18)

On May 10, the Forverts added a new trope in its coverage by reporting on "the Jewish heroes of Warsaw." The headline on a front-page story that day read: "Open uprising broke out on the 18th of April in the Warsaw Ghetto when Nazis entered to drag Jews to the slaughter --Jews met the murderers with machine guns and hand grenades.... Nazis forced to bring canons, tanks, and aeroplanes to suppress the uprising--Paid dearly for the murders of Jews." Citing the May 10 JTA report (datelined Kyubeshev), the Forverts reported in greater detail on news of the "heroic uprising in Warsaw conveyed to [the] Soviet press by Polish underground reports here." Other Jewish newspapers in New York also began to pick up on the trope of heroism. Samuel Margoshes, editor of Der tog, noted his suspicions of "Nazi propaganda as a pretext for Nazi atrocities," initially dismissing the possibility that unarmed Jews might rise up against the "greatest military machine the world has ever seen ... However, I see now that I was mistaken. There was an upsurge of Jewish resistance in the Warsaw ghetto, and it was one of the miracles of our age." (19)

As reports indicated that the fighting in Warsaw was winding down, and the Jewish press began its search for the uprising's Jewish heroes, coverage shifted to a new focus: the death of the Bund representative to the Polish government-in-exile in London, Szmuel Zygielbojm. (20) On May 14, the Forverts indicated that Zygielbojm had killed himself after learning of the murder of his wife and daughter in the Warsaw Ghetto. The Times included an obituary of Zygielbojm on May 15. The text of Zygielbojm's final telegram to Emanuel Nowogrodsky (secretary of the American Representation of the Bund in New York) made clear, however, that his suicide was not just in response to news of the death of his family. Zygielbojm had acted out of a sense of obligation to all of the Jews of Poland, whom he had left behind in 1940, and as a protest against the inaction of the democratic nations of the world. As he wrote in his final telegram, "Perhaps my death will cause what I didn't succeed while alive that concreet [sic] action should be taken at last to save the less than 300 thousand Jews who remained by now in Poland out of 3 millions and a half." (21)

Speculation in the press soon turned to explaining why Zygielbojm had chosen to take his own life. Set against the backdrop of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which Jews in the free world believed was still underway, the question of whether his suicide was an act of helplessness and despair, or a heroic effort to arouse the conscience of the world--took on great significance, and was subject to interpretation in different segments of the Jewish press, which also scrutinized his last letters, which had been made available.

Zygielbojm's last letter would be printed in the Forverts on June 3, and in the New York Times on June 4. In contrast to the glowing tributes to Zygielbojm in the Jewish socialist press, coverage in the Labor Zionist press was muted and even critical of Zygielbojm's choice to commit suicide, comparing it to that of the head of the Warsaw Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow, who had taken his own life at the start of the Great Deportation. (22)

By the end of May 1943, further details on the dramatic fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto began to emerge. On May 24, JTA reported that Ignacy Schwarzbart delivered to the British Parliament secret reports he and Szmuel Zygielbojm had received from the Jewish National Committee in Warsaw. The Jewish press reported extensively on these two cables, dated April 28 and May 13, adding further detail to the dramatic saga of the revolt, and clarifying that the Jewish fighters in the ghetto had received little support from the non-Jewish population of Warsaw, despite appeals. Many of the Jews in the ghetto had been burned alive by Nazi flamethrowers, but the messages indicated, "about 1,000 Nazis have been killed. Particularly stiff resistance was put up by several thousand Jews who barricaded themselves in the underground storehouses of the ghetto." (23)

On June 1, JTA offered further details on the two cables that had only reached London the week before. The April 28 report was not only an appeal to the conscience of the world and for support. It also began to fill in crucial details on the "heroic fighting," identifying the existence of a "Jewish fighting organization (which) shows great ingenuity and courage" and offering a name: Michal Klepfisz, identified as "an engineer, [and] one of the pillars of the determined resistance," who had "died like a hero." (24) The contents of the April 28 cable were also reported in the Forverts on May 24, with a headline declaring "Warsaw Jews send a report from Ghetto Battle." The Forverts headline announced, "Heroic Jewish fighters send a report from Warsaw in the middle of the battle with the Nazis. Reports of murders and horrible revenge." The Yiddish paper referenced Klepfisz as the "leader of [the] Jewish fighters," who had fallen "in battle," and reported that "the Polish people are amazed by the heroic spirit of the Jewish resistance, while the Nazis are wild with embarrassment and rage." (15) The second appeal, which was sent on May n, thus read: "The heroic resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto continues. Several strongly defended points remain. The Jewish fighting organization demonstrates great fighting ability and courage. The leader of the Jewish 'Bund' Klepfisz, who is one of the leaders of the uprising, fell in the battles like a hero." (16)

In Palestine, news coverage also offered greater details on the end of the revolt, while interpreting its conclusion in slightly different terms. Davar also reported the name of Klepfisz as leader of the revolt on May 24, while the Palestine Post of May 25 reported that "the Jewish fighting organizations earned the admiration of the Polish workers' association." Here, however, the article introduced a new historical parallel to one last desperate stand of overmatched and isolated Jews: Masada. In Davar, a May 28 editorial (likely written by editor Berl Katznelson) interpreted the revolt through a distinctly socialist Zionist lens, as "the finale of the struggle of generations of Polish Jews to integrate and blend the magnificence of Jewish originality into the pride of human uprising."

While specific details on the identities of most of the fighters were lacking, Katznelson explained that the ghetto uprising had been nourished "by the spirit of the great loyalty and the great national creative endeavor that hovered over the great city ... the aura of freedom that enveloped its labor movement, the lust for life that kindled in the hearts of its young and its halutzim--it is from all of these together that the sanctity of the ghetto fighters sprouted." (17) For Katznelson, and the Labor Zionist movement more broadly, it was the strength of the Jewish national spirit that made the rebellion possible.

The Transition to Commemoration

As the names of the heroes began to emerge, and memorial services were organized in both the Yishuv and America, several key questions would influence interpretations of the uprising: Who were the leaders of the revolt--Bundists, Zionists, or others? Was it a popular revolt of all of the surviving Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, a revolt led by the working class, or a battle led by an elite cadre of armed fighters inspired by the pioneering spirit of the halutzim?

On June 6, He-Halutz and Kibbutz Ha-Meuhad held a memorial service at Kibbutz Yagur to remember the "ghetto fighters (who) saved the honor of the Jewish people," singling out specifically Zivia Lubetkin (of the Dror youth movement) and Tosia Altman (Hashomer Hatzair) who were reported to have died in the uprising. (Zivia had in fact survived; Tosia perished two weeks after the revolt.) The eulogists noted that the "ghetto rebels saved the honor of Israel and created with their lives one of the tales of greatest heroism of our time ... [O]n this new Masada generations will be built." The two women, described by Reuters as the two "Joans of Arc," were rapidly transformed into symbols of loss and suffering, as well as models of great self-sacrifice in a manner that was clearly gendered, with Zivia Lubetkin and Tosia Altman standing in for the death and suffering of millions of Jews in a way that male fighters did not. (28)

On June 3, JTA reported that London's Evening Standard proposed making April 19 of every year a so-called Jewish Day:
   April 19, the day when human valor converted the Warsaw ghetto into
   a fortress of freedom should be an honored day among men cherishing
   mercy and tolerance ... Jews are fighting today on all fronts for
   the cause of humanity, and the Jew will be among the proud
   participants of common victory. (29)


A little over two weeks later, the Jewish Labor Committee organized a mass meeting at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the heroes of the uprising and honor Szmuel Zygielbojm, featuring such speakers as the Polish Ambassador; Dr. Stephen S. Wise, president of the American Jewish Congress; and Adolph Held, chairman of the Jewish Labor Committee; along with leaders of the American labor movement. (30)

Historian Lucy Dawidowicz recalled the June 19, 1943, rally in her memoirs:
   We went and we wept, yet there was pride in what the Polish Jews
   had done. For the first time anywhere during the German occupation
   of Europe, a civilian population had taken up arms against their
   German oppressors. Not just any civilian population, but the most
   oppressed, the most helpless, the most desperate ... The events of
   the Warsaw ghetto burned into my consciousness. (31)


In the Labor Zionist publication, Jewish Frontier, Marie Syrkin wrote in July 1943 of a desire to know the identities of the heroes:
   We do not know the names of the heroes, and we cannot pin medals on
   their breasts--even posthumously. But here and there a figure
   emerges. We all know the names of Adam Czerniakow, and of
   Zygielbojm who killed himself in London in protest against the
   indifference of the world. To these names we can now add that of
   Zivia Lubetkin, "The Mother." Zivia, "The Mother," (die mame) was
   not old, nor did she have children of her own. She lost her life,
   at the age of 28, as a leader of the ghetto's final battle. Young
   as she was, she was the "mother," by virtue of strength and
   solicitude, of the crushed, the abandoned, the helpless ... There
   is another circumstance that we must note. The defenders raised a
   flag to fly from the Ghetto wall. It was the Jewish flag--the Star
   of Zion ... The badge of shame became a banner, and the strength
   which transformed it, the strength of Zivia and her comrades, came
   from the most ancient as well as the newest source of Jewish
   strength--Zion. (32)


In August 1943, the World Jewish Congress published Lest We Forget: The Massacre of the Warsaw Ghetto to commemorate one year after the great deportation, which decimated the largest Jewish population center in Europe. While the report focused primarily on what was termed the "massacre of the Warsaw ghetto," it concluded with praise for the heroes of the uprising:
   The ghosts of the heroes of the ghetto battle will forever honor
   the streets Nalewki, Nowolipie, Nowolipki, Franciszkanska,
   Karmelicka, Mila, Niska, Plac Muranowski, Smocza, Gesia, et al. But
   persistent reports in the press in spring and summer 1943 indicate
   that not only their spirit but also their successors survive and
   carry on the fight there. The curtain may not yet have been rung
   down. (33)


Beyond newspaper coverage and rallies, we can also see how over the course of 1943, news about the uprising began to be interpreted in broader public settings. At the same time, the politicization and mythologization--indeed fictionalization--of the heroism of the uprising began to enable diverse audiences to imagine themselves in the same situation.

In October 1943, a few days before Yom Kippur, NBC radio broadcast The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, a play written by Morton Wishengrad as part of the Eternal Light series. (34) The play, which was part of an American Jewish Committee series that confronted anti-Semitism, started with a cantor chanting El Maleh Rahamim, the traditional Ashkenazi memorial prayer. "Hear him with reverence," the announcer instructed. "In the Ghetto, thirty-five thousand stood their ground against an army of the Third Reich--and twenty-five thousand fell. They sleep in their common graves but they have vindicated their birthright ... for they have made an offering by fire and atonement unto the Lord and they have earned their sleep." As historian Jeffrey Shandler notes, this historic broadcast was the first mainstream dramatic representation of the uprising, six months after the battle and just days before the High Holidays. The response was so overwhelming that the program was aired again for Hanukkah in December 1943.

In the radio play, Wishengrad situated the heroic struggle within a religious framework, making use of ritual music, biblical language, and imagery. An unnamed voice likened the victims of the Warsaw Ghetto to the "scapegoats of the centuries" and recalled descriptions from Leviticus of the ritual release of scapegoats into the wilderness; "But for them in the Warsaw Ghetto there was no wilderness ... only the abyss." In advance of Yom Kippur, the play made it clear who the new scapegoat offering this year would be. The protagonist, Isaac Davidson, one of the fictional ghetto fighters in the play explained that after the Great Deportation:
   we no longer asked for rescue and for mercy--we asked for weapons.
   Through the Polish Underground which carried our appeals we asked
   the people of England, Russia, and the United States for weapons.
   And there was silence. You did not answer ... We waited for weapons
   that did not come. Five hundred thousand waited. Three hundred
   thousand waited. One hundred thousand waited. And finally
   thirty-five thousand waited who did not know where to look--but the
   answer came from under their feet--from the sewer under the Warsaw
   Ghetto. (35)


Isaac relates how dynamite, rifles, and grenades were smuggled through the sewers by the Polish Underground to the Jews in the ghetto until April 19, 1943, when 35,000 Jewish men, women, and children stood ready to greet a detachment of storm troopers in light tanks. After wiping out the entire detachment, the Jewish fighters battled SS troops, as "flags of the United Nations ... floated over the roofs of the Ghetto" and Jewish engineers blew up 8000 factories producing material for Germany. Isaac recounted the battle of the few against the many as a modern-day Hanukkah. "The entire ghetto was in flames," but the Jews continued to fight, "after thirty-seven days. A few Jews with guns fighting a Nazi army for thirty-seven days."

In the radio play, as the cantor chants one final el maleh rahamim prayer the voice of the narrator provides a final instruction to the listener:
   Hear him with reverence. For he sings a prayer for the
   dead--twenty-five thousand dead. It is no ordinary prayer and they
   are not ordinary dead ... They were Jews with guns! Understand
   that--and hear him with reverence as he chants the prayer. For on
   the page of their agony they wrote a sentence that shall be an
   atonement, and it is this: Give me grace and give me dignity and
   teach me to die; and let my prison be a fortress and my wailing
   wall a stockade, for I have been to Egypt and I am not departed.


The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto would be rebroadcast annually as part of the Eternal Light Series on NBC radio, usually on the April 19 anniversary of the uprising, with the script unchanged. Three performances in 1943 provoked 10,000 letters. The War Department sent transcripts of the show to be played on Armed Forces Radio around the world. (36)

In the radio drama, Wishengrad highlighted the heroism of the ghetto fighters, who did not despair in the aftermath of the great deportation but resolved to fight back, despite their perceived abandonment by the nations of the world. Without access to information regarding the origins of the Jewish underground or the names of the heroes who led the fighting, Wishengrad provided listeners with the tools to imagine themselves as if "I have been to Egypt and I am not departed." The themes combine religious tropes of sacrifice (azazel), resistance (the few against the many), remembrance (Egypt), persistence (Rabbi Tarfon), and resilience. But they did not just pray: They were Jews with guns! While Wishengrad and his audience did not yet know the details of how the uprising was organized or who its leaders were, the symbolic value of the dramatic events needed to be commemorated, beginning the process of mythologizing the event but casting it in distinctly religious terms.

The We Will Never Die pageant was also updated by Ben Hecht to include a section on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. (37) Between the time of the original performance of the pageant in New York City in March 1943 and its subsequent July 23 reenactment at the Hollywood Bowl, the film composer Franz Waxman, who conducted the LA Symphony at the West Coast performance, added new music for "The Battle of Warsaw" and the song "Battle Hymn of the Ghetto." (38) While the Germans destroyed the last remaining Jews in the Warsaw ghetto, the "Battle Hymn of the Ghetto" declared that today in the ghetto the song of the Jewish ghosts remained; a voice calls out to the "herrenvolk," the "swine-hearted Germans": What is it you hear in the ghetto today?

"The Song of the Spirit that drifts from every one of the stones you conquered. The song of the brave Jews of Warsaw that will outlive your victories." The audio of "The Battle Hymn of the Ghetto" concludes:
   We the scum of human chattel
   We of everlasting flight
   We will rise in fearless battle
   We who cannot live the night
      Tears no longer
      Tears no longer--
   Let them taste the death they deal--
   And--
   Though we die, we die in battle
   NOT beneath the tyrant heel. (39)


Echoing the "Internationale," the updated pageant imagined the Jews of Warsaw refusing to die under the tyrant's heel, joining in a universal fight for freedom.

The Politics of Memory

While artists, writers, and composers sought to dramatize the ghetto revolt, political leaders in the Yishuv, in London, and in New York quickly began to debate its political meaning through the search for its heroes and their sources of inspiration. Jewish leaders in these three places thus played a key role in shaping the collective memory of the event for the Jewish public.

In New York, the Jewish Labor Bund and the Jewish Labor Committee seized on news of the uprising and the leading role played by Michal Klepfisz to highlight the heroism of its members in leading the resistance. Jacob Pat, a Bundist who had arrived from Poland before the start of the war, became secretary-general of the Jewish Labor Committee and played a prominent role in organizing many of the large-scale demonstrations in New York in the year after the revolt. The American Representation of the Bund in Poland, which had been formed in November 1939, began to focus increasingly on "information and propaganda activities" through the vehicle of the party magazine, Unzer Tsayt [Our Time]. (40) The September 1943 edition of Unzer Tsayt thus identified Michal Klepfisz as "the soul of the revolt":
   The outside world does not know yet who were the heroes of the
   revolt, its inspiration and leaders. Still one name is
   known--Engineer Klepfisz. About him the secret underground Polish
   radio station Swiat declared: "the leader of the Bund, engineer
   Klepfisz, who was the soul of the revolt, fell in the battles like
   a hero." Who was this man ... who took revenge for the annihilation
   of a people? The armed revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto is one of the
   greatest wonders of this present war--who was one of the magicians
   of this miracle?


J.S. Hertz, author of the profile on Klepfisz, provided biographical details: aged 30, born April 17, 1913. His father Yakov descended from the great Warsaw Hasidic family Klepfisz; Yakov had been a Hasid in his younger years before becoming a Bundist. Both Yakov and his wife, Miriam, were teachers active in the communal work of the Bund and Michal was raised in a Bundist environment, active in Zukunft from a young age, as well as in the sport club Morgenstern and the student group Ringen. When the war broke out he escaped to Lviv, where he worked in a Soviet airplane factory as an engineer. When he learned about the arrests by the Soviet regime of Bundist leaders Henryk Ehrlich and Viktor Alter, he decided to return to the German zone, eventually returning to Warsaw.

As Hertz describes, living through the mass deportations and witnessing the murder of 400,000 Jews in Warsaw "did not kill the spirit of the Jewish workers' underground to support the honor of the Jewish people":
   Michal Klepfisz was among them. His character and his military
   knowledge made him the ideal leader of this wondrous ghetto revolt,
   which will be a symbol of hope and pride in both terrible and good
   times, and for both oppressed and free people.


As Jewish political leaders began to interpret the significance of the uprising based on information they had at their disposal, the surviving ghetto fighters in the Jewish workers' underground and the Jewish National Committee in Warsaw worked to document the history of the revolt. However, reports written by the Bund and the Jewish National Committee would not be received in London, New York, and the Yishuv until February 1944.

In January 1944, at the YIVO annual conference, Bundist representative Shloime Mendelsohn delivered a speech on the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto based on the sources of information currently available: underground reports; the Polish underground press; reports of the representative of the Polish government which were sent to the Polish government-in-exile in London; and eyewitness and second-hand personal accounts. (41) As Mendelsohn noted, there were as yet no details available from fighters who had participated in the revolt. This would suggest that Mendelsohn had not yet received the June and November underground reports of the Bund.

Mendelsohn, who had been one of the Bund's leaders in Warsaw before the war broke out and had escaped to Vilna and then Stockholm, (42) explained to his audience that "it is as yet impossible to give a complete picture of the resistance in the Warsaw Ghetto and the struggles that took place in the streets of Bialystok, Nieswiez, and Krynki. The material is as yet too scarce. In the present war, and in Jewish history, this resistance is an event of such scope and magnitude that each fact is important, each detail significant. It is therefore necessary to collect whatever information is available, so as to have at least a partial picture of what occurred in the Ghettos in the year 1943." (43) Mendelsohn provided an overview of what was known at the time, attempting to summarize the factors that led to the revolt in April 1943, highlighting the efforts of the "working class and the intelligentsia" to convince the masses of the necessity of revolt. In the midst of the Great Deportation of July/August 1942, the "idea of revolt was born." But without arms, little could be done.

After the January 1943 revolt, which "lasted almost eight days and was conducted mainly by the Fighter Organization without the participation of the general population," the underground had three months to plan for a larger uprising. During this time, Mendelsohn reported, the underground organized, prepared spiritually and politically, armed a large portion of the population, and dug tunnels outside the ghetto walls:
   [A]ll this demanded extraordinary discipline, an unimaginable will,
   tremendous self-sacrifice and sublime revolutionary strength. Human
   dignity, Jewish pride and revolutionary tradition must have
   combined to organize and plan a war which everyone knew would be
   lost. Is this not an act that our rational minds are incapable of
   comprehending? (44)


Noting that the ghetto had ceased to believe the lies of the Germans, Mendelsohn argued the "slave house became transformed into a palace of glorious heroism."

From a Bundist perspective, understanding the revolt as a popular uprising rather than a resistance operation led by a narrow cadre of elite fighters was a critical distinction:

The armed resistance started on April 19th had become a people's war in the truest sense of the word. All sections of the Jewish population of 40,000 partook in the struggle; some with gun in hand, some by service work, others by bringing medical aid to the wounded. That is the vital characteristic and the historic significance of the revolt. It was prepared by an underground Coordination Committee (of the General Jewish Workers Alliance and the Jewish National Committee) and carried through heroically by the Jewish people at large. (45)

According to Mendelsohn, the appeal to the surrounding Polish population
   leaves no doubt that the fighters thought not only of dying with
   dignity but also of arousing the conscience of the world.... [T]hey
   believed that the heroic fight would force the Allies to act
   against Hitler's headsmen and thus prevent further slaughters....
   [W]ith the great pain of humiliation, we must admit that the call
   to the world remained unheard.


Finally, at the conclusion of his lecture, Mendelsohn spoke of the Jewish Fighting Organization that "led the struggle." Even so, Mendelsohn highlighted the role of young workers, including specifically the only fighter mentioned by name: Michal Klepfisz, identified as a "pillar of the resistance," who was "trained for struggle in the prewar Jewish labor movement."
   The first report on the Ghetto revolt broadcast by the Polish
   underground radio station Swit on April 22, mentioned the name of
   Michael Klepfish who fell in battle and characterized him as "the
   pillar of the resistance." This young engineer, 28 years old, was
   trained for struggle in the prewar Jewish labor movement. We have
   no knowledge of any other names of the heroes who fell in the
   Ghetto battle, of those unknown soldiers from all sections of the
   Jewish population ... Let us hope that we shall succeed in
   obtaining as many names as possible of those who died in order that
   the Jewish people in Poland might live. The memory of each of them
   is sacred to us."' [fn--As this pamphlet goes to press, the first
   list of persons who fell in the Ghetto battle was received in New
   York. It contains 222 names.]" (46)


In her memoirs, Dawidowicz recalled hearing Mendelsohn reading his speech at YIVO annual conference in January 1944:
   [I]n the crowded hall you heard only Mendelsohn's voice, punctuated
   by occasional sharp gasps among the audience, quick intakes of
   breath. The atmosphere was heavy with grief. When he finished, the
   hall was hushed. No one applauded. Spontaneously everyone rose to
   honor the fallen Jews of the Warsaw ghetto. Then someone said:
   "Let's recite Kaddish." From the other end of the room, a man began
   to intone the Jewish prayer for the dead. Everyone joined in, amid
   a surge of sobbing. (47)


Thus, we can see in Mendelsohn's dutiful accounting the significance not only of sources of information, but of context and audience (New York, YIVO, East European Jews).

At this point, reports of the uprising from Warsaw still emphasized the political unity and fraternity that reigned in the ghetto during the uprising. Both the Jewish National Committee and the Bund emphasized the fraternal nature of the collaboration among members of the ZOB--a solidarity forged in the heat of battle and which continued after the uprising and in hiding on the Aryan side. Highlighting the exemplary "fraternity in battle (Bundists, Chalucym, Shomrim and others)," the June 1943 Bund report from Warsaw explained the nature of its cooperation with other organizations grouped around the Jewish National Committee "to which belonged the Zionist organizations and their youth groups." The Bund report explained:
   Our outstanding contribution was supplying the Jewish Fighters'
   Organisation with explosives and the production of ammunition for
   active resistance here in the ghetto ... In addition we increased
   considerably the funds of the Coordinating Commission and the
   Jewish Fighters' Organisation with our contributions. (48)


A second Bund report sent in November 1943 concluded by focusing specifically on the identities of Bundists who had joined the fighting. Even so, the report highlighted the closeness of Bundists and Zionists in the fighting organization, "as members of a close family," united by a "mutual aim."

Likewise, the Jewish National Committee "in Warsaw outside the boundaries of the Ghetto" drafted a letter to Isaac Schwarzbart in London on November 15, 1943 (received in London on February 13, 1944), signed by Dr. A(dolf) Berman (Borowski), Icchak Cukierman (aka Antek Zuckerman), and D. Kaftor (David Guzik of the JDC). According to Berman, Zuckerman, and Guzik, the Jewish National Committee was composed of various Zionist parties and youth movements, including "General Zionist, Poale Zion Right, Poale Zion Left, Hechalutz, Hashomer Hazair, Dror, Akiba, and Gordonia." But the authors explained to Schwarzbart that the fighting in the ghettos of occupied Poland transcended party divisions:
   Fighters belonging to almost all ideological movements took part in
   brotherly ranks in the fights in the above mentioned towns, youth
   of Hechalutz and Hashomer, of the Poalei Zion and of the Bund. They
   were united by a fight not for life but to the death, by the fight
   for the honour and dignity of the Jewish people. We endeavoured
   through our Jewish Fighting Organisation to organize with all our
   forces this fight to assist and sustain them.


The report also included a list of 244 fighters who fell in defense of the Warsaw Ghetto, along with party affiliation, in the movements of Akiba, Bund, Dror, Gordonia, Hashomer Hatzair, Hanoar Hazioni, Left Poale Zion, and Right Poale Zion. The first two listed were members of Hashomer Hatzair: Mordecai Anielewicz and Tosia Altman. (49)

By the middle of 1944, however, partisan divisions had begun to influence accounts of the uprising. The American Representation of the Bund in New York worked to disseminate the names of only the Bundist heroes within the movement; the March 15, 1944, bulletin of the Bund Yedies listed the names of thirty-one of its "fallen heroes," including Tobcia Dawidowicz, Jurek Blones, Zalman Frydrych and Michal Klepfisz. These reports of the Jewish workers' underground would also be incorporated into Bundist accounts of the uprising, published later in 1944 in a volume entitled Ghetto in Flames.

At the same time, reports drafted by the Jewish National Committee and the remnants of the Jewish Fighting Organization were sent to London and then conveyed from there to Tel Aviv. The authors of these letters and reports--Yitzhak Zuckerman, Zivia Lubetkin, Adolf Berman, and David Guzik--intended them for a specific audience--the Zionist leadership, and like the reports of the Bund, emphasized the role of their own organizations' members. While these reports also highlighted the collaboration between the Bund and the Jewish National Committee in the ZOB, they were read and interpreted in a partisan environment and suggested a different chronology for the organization of resistance efforts and the evolution of the ZOB.

In the middle of March 1944, the JTA reported the receipt of the first-hand report from the Jewish underground movement in Poland, noting that fighters from all movements joined as comrades "bound by ties of death, not of life," and fighting "side by side for the honor and the glory of the Jewish people." (50)

Notwithstanding further details on the identities of the ghetto fighters, Michal Klepfisz continued to be the most prominent name associated with the revolt. On March 22, 1944, on recommendation of the official Polish underground forces, the Polish government-in-exile posthumously awarded Michal Klepfisz, the "Virtuti Militari Cross," the highest Polish military honor. (51) But in response to concerns that the Bund was taking too much credit for leading the revolt, subsequent reports drafted by the surviving members of the Jewish Fighting Organization, in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw, and sent in a parcel of documents on May 24, 1944, added further details on the history of the ZOB, the revolt itself, and the identities of the ghetto fighters. They specifically named Mordecai Anielewicz, of Hashomer Hatzair, as commander of the revolt. (52)

The First Anniversary of the Revolt

Despite concerns over the partisan battles abroad over credit for the uprising, the remaining members of the Jewish fighting organization in hiding on the Aryan side of Warsaw hoped that on April 19, 1944, Jews around the world would join them in commemorating the first anniversary of the revolt, consecrating the day by holding memorial services. (53) JTA reported in advance of the anniversary that "the first anniversary of the heroic resistance of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto ... will be commemorated tomorrow by Jews throughout the United States with memorial meetings, a fifteen-minute work stoppage, and the issuance of a proclamation by the American Jewish Conference to the democratic world pleading for the rescue of those Jews who can still be saved." Likewise, the Synagogue Council of America proclaimed April 19, 1944, to be a day of prayer and sorrow, calling all rabbis to "convoke special services on April 19 to honor and mourn the heroes and martyrs of the ghettoes who sacrificed their lives in the cause of the United Nations and for the glory of Israel, and to dedicate themselves to the effort of rescuing the survivors." (54) Special prayers were to be recited in advance of two minutes of silence at 11:00am, while another prayer for private gatherings would be recited during a 15-minute work stoppage at work, home, or in the factory. The letter was signed by Dr. Israel Goldstein, rabbi of Congregation B'nai Jeshurun in New York, and head of the Zionist Organization of America and later of the American Jewish Congress. (55)

Judge Joseph M. Proskauer, president of the American Jewish Committee, issued a statement emphasizing that:
   in all the heroism of this world-wide war, no single act compares
   with the valor of the starving, downtrodden Jews of the Warsaw
   Ghetto. April 19, 1943, is a date that will long be remembered in
   Jewish annals. It commemorates the day when thirty-five thousand
   Jews ... entered into a suicide pact. Though resistance was futile,
   though it spelled inevitable death, these heroic Jews chose to die
   fighting ... upon the altar of the battle against totalitarianism.
   (56)


Likewise, Jewish labor elements also called on Jews in New York to mark the day. The Forverts urged participation in the 11:30am march to City Hall and the evening program at Carnegie Hall featuring a speech by Jacob Pat of the Jewish Labor Committee. A separate article on the front page of the Forverts that day also reprinted the "last cry of the Jews in the ghetto to the Polish people in Warsaw." In a letter to all workers in Greater New York, Jacob Pat called on the working classes to observe the date of the uprising with a work stoppage to "to honor the memory of the courageous dead and to mobilize all forces to aid and rescue the living." (57)

Non-Jewish sectors also marked the uprising's anniversary. In advance of the anniversary, the US State Department issued a message:
   No finer page has been written in the long history of the Jews than
   the battle waged by unarmed men, women and children against the
   brutal Nazi murderers ... the heroic defenders of the Warsaw ghetto
   have strengthened the spirit of free peoples resolved upon the
   extinction of Nazi tyranny and the liberation of all oppressed
   peoples. (58)


And the New York Times termed the Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto "an example of courage that history can scarcely match," noting, "All faiths and creeds thrill at the heroic story."
   What is important is that they, the most helpless and hopeless of
   all Hitler's victims, defied the tyrant's wrath and set for the
   rest of us an example of courage that history can scarcely match.
   The whole human race owes them a debt of gratitude for the
   inspiration their self-sacrifice gives to the cause of freedom.

   They did not die in vain, those Jewish martyrs. When the war
   entered its blackest phase, the flaming spirit of their Polish
   ghetto shone as a pillar of light in the darkness to all who
   struggled toward the dawn of a better day for all mankind. With
   Lidice, Warsaw will be a beacon for humanity for centuries to come.
   (59)


On April 19, 1944, over 30,000 Jews gathered in New York City before the steps of City Hall to hear speeches by Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and prominent Jewish leaders.

As reported in the Forverts, "Hundreds of thousands of Jews in New York honored the Jewish heroes and martyrs of Poland" with sorrowful demonstrations, marches to City Hall, with the participation of the Mayor. (60)

Among those standing with Mayor LaGuardia and Rabbi Rosenstein on the steps of City Hall in New York were the poet Julian Tuwim and the artist Arthur Szyk. Julian Tuwim, the exiled Polish Jewish poet, wrote the manifesto We Polish Jews in New York in April 1944. Anticipating the monument that would be created by Natan Rapaport and dedicated in Warsaw four years later, Tuwim called for a "new monument (to) be added to the national shrine" that would honor the heroes of the Jewish people alongside their martyrs:
   ... And there shall be in Warsaw and in every other Polish city
   some fragment of the ghetto left standing and preserved in its
   present form in all its horror of ruin and destruction. We shall
   surround that monument to the ignominy of our foes and to the glory
   of our tortured heroes with chains wrought from captured Hitler's
   guns, and every day we shall twine fresh live flowers into its iron
   links, so that the memory of the massacred people shall remain
   forever fresh in the minds of the generations to come, and also as
   a sign of our undying sorrow for them. (61)


The Polish-Jewish artist, Arthur Szyk, who had arrived in New York in T940, created The Repulsed Attack to commemorate the first anniversary of the revolt. The image, published in Our Journal, the publication of the American Council of Warsaw Jews, also appeared in numerous other publications, including the Hebrew-language HaDoar, as well as the Forverts, Der morgen zhurnal, and Our Voice, the publication of the United Galician Jews of America. It later appeared in Szyk's Ink and Blood (1946). The English cover page of Our Journal noted that the volume was published to "remember the heroic struggle of our brothers in Warsaw." And indeed, Szyk's illustration depicted ony male fighters, triumphant over the fallen SS, wearing the Star of David as a mark of pride, not a badge of shame. While Szyk did not depict any female fighters (by then the names of Tosia Altman, Zivia Lubetkin, Tobcia Dawidowicz, and others had been reported in various places), he did represent the revolt as a popular uprising, reflecting a cross-section of the Jewish population--young and old, religious and secular, middleclass and working class.

In London, Ignacy Schwarzbart called for April 19, 1944, to be a day of commemorative speeches, two minutes of silence, special articles, and more, that would arouse British Jewry to continue relief work and "enlighten the British public opinion on the fact that the heroic battles of the Jews in Poland, in Warsaw and in other Polish towns, were acts of Jewish self-defence and armed actions to assist the cause of the United Nations." Schwarzbart proposed that a memorial service and sermon be preached by Chief Rabbi Dr. Joseph Hertz; that prominent British personalities and Polish Jews deliver speeches; and that two minutes of silence be observed at 12 a.m. (62) Members of the Polish governmentin-exile attended the Warsaw Ghetto memorial held in London, where a message from the Polish premier Stanislaw Mikolajczyck was read, stressing that Poles and Jews were united in a common struggle. (63)

While Jews in New York and London marked the first anniversary with large-scale mass demonstrations that included the broader non-Jewish public, commemorations of the first anniversary in the Yishuv were more muted. As Dina Porat has detailed in her study of the Zionist leadership's response to the Shoah during the war, the Yishuv was more ambivalent in how to respond to the first anniversary of the revolt. What was the meaning of the uprising? Should it be celebrated as an example of kidush hashem, collective martyrdom? Uncertainty over the details and identities of the heroes made it difficult to celebrate the revolt even if, as Porat suggests, over the course of 1943 "the Yishuv's attitude changed, from disdain for the Diaspora's passivity ... to a steadily growing admiration for demonstrations of human and moral heroism, not necessarily for armed resistance." (64)

Coverage in the Yishuv press included descriptions of the impressive demonstrations in New York and features on what was known regarding the uprising, but little on commemorations in the Yishuv itself. Nevertheless, the Jews in Palestine did mark the occasion. On April 19, 1944, a "Day of Outcry for the Rescue of the Survivors [sh'erit ha-Pletah]" was proclaimed, and, as in New York, work ceased, and fasting and public rallies took place. On April 21, an article in Davar noted commemorations in the US, citing proclamations by President Roosevelt that "all people who support freedom in the world will forever remember the heroic war of the Warsaw ghetto fighters":
   New York, April 19. Scores of Jewish workers and with them
   merchants and factory owners stopped their work this afternoon for
   10 minutes and more all over the United States as thousands of
   stores and businesses closed to demonstrate and participate in a
   "Yizkor" for the casualties of the first battles in the Warsaw
   ghetto.

   A large procession before the city hall (in New York) included over
   15,000 demonstrators, among them 5,000 Jews from Poland, and with
   them rabbis, artists and writers of all kinds. At the head of the
   procession marched Rabbi Rubinstein from Vilna, a former member of
   the Polish senate. Mayor La Guardia received the procession with
   warm heartfelt remarks and highlighted the heroic actions of the
   ghetto fighters. All of the synagogues in America were full as
   people participated in reciting "Yizkor" prayers. (65)


An additional short article noted that on the same evening a large gathering took place at Carnegie Hall where speakers demanded that all possible must be done to save the surviving remnant (sh'erit ha-Pletah). Among the demands enumerated were that all Jews be granted refuge from Nazi oppression; that the gates of Palestine be opened; and that the neutral countries be supported in their efforts to rescue Jews. Davar noted that among the speakers were Stephen Wise, Nahum Goldmann, Arieh Tartakower, and Israel Goldstein (although no speakers from the Jewish Labor Committee or Bund were listed). The Palestine Post marked the first anniversary of the revolt by publishing an account of the revolt based on the compilation of reports published by the World Jewish Congress. The front page of the Post highlighted the large gatherings and work stoppages taking place in New York and also noted the "Jewish Labor Committee is to launch a campaign to raise $250,000 for Jews in occupied Poland. A Ghetto Exhibition of documents and pictures showing Nazi persecution of Jews is also to be held." (66) But in its front-page account of the uprising, surprisingly, it highlighted the role of the Bund, reporting that that "arms were smuggled into the Ghetto by the Polish Underground army, and a second source of supply was ammunition production plant organized by the engineer Michal Klepfish, who was killed in the battle. The fighters were mainly young men and women led and organized by the Jewish Workers Union ('Bund') which has become the backbone of the resistance movement." (67)

The Tel Aviv General Zionist newspaper, HaBoker, likewise highlighted the Bund's role, noting that a "portion of the arms in the ghetto were supplied by a special factory organized by Michael Klepfisz."

In Davar, on the other hand, Dr. Joseph Kruk, likened the Warsaw Ghetto to Masada, and discussed the ongoing relevance of the anniversary "holy day." The Germans, he wrote:
   would understand what the meaning of Jewish bravery was: ancient
   Masada in the new Warsaw ... The Jewish fighters of the Warsaw
   Ghetto have not stopped to live among us. They will live among us
   not only one day a year, on the day of memory, when they died.
   Instead, they will enter deeply into our hearts and souls. We will
   not forget them for eternity.... We have all been orphaned. We
   have lost the best and bravest among us. But we have also become
   their inheritors.... It is upon us to save the remnant and to take
   revenge on the murderers. Cursed be the man who will forget this.

   The dead will live amongst the living! (68)


In honor of the first anniversary of the revolt, the Jewish National Council in Palestine decided to observe a "year of mourning" for "the residents of the Warsaw Ghetto who perished during the epic battle with the Germans." (69) Nonetheless, Zionist leaders in the Yishuv were divided over whether the example of the ghetto fighters in Warsaw was one to uphold as a model for Zionist youth--such a consensus would only emerge after the war.

What accounts for these differences between commemorations in America and the Yishuv on the first anniversary of the revolt? In the United States, Jewish leaders could present the revolt in the Warsaw Ghetto as part of the Jewish contribution to the Allied war effort, as the outcry of the oppressed who refused to submit to fascism and instead joined the fight to defeat Nazism. The Jewish Labor Committee celebrated the heroism of the workers who joined the Polish nation in the struggle against German oppression. Jewish religious leaders marked April 19 as a day of sorrow and mourning, when the heroism of the ghetto fighters could be remembered together with the suffering of the Jewish martyrs. The timing of the revolt was critical as Jews eagerly sought hope amidst the despair and heroes to whom they could connect. Within a year of the uprising, the revolt had been transformed into the focal point of Jewish commemorations of the destruction of European Jewry. As the heroes of the revolt were mythologized, however, the Bund and the Zionist movement grappled for credit for the revolt. And while it was the name of Michal Klepfisz that had become known as the most prominent leader of the revolt in the first year after the event, this would soon change, as new reports drafted by the underground in Warsaw reached London and the Yishuv. On May 24, 1944, a little over one year after the revolt had been finally crushed, the Jewish National Committee in Warsaw succeeded in delivering a trove of 120 pages of microfilmed documentation that enabled the Zionist movement to take credit for leading the revolt by detailing the role played by Zionist groups and the position of Mordecai Anielewicz as commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization.

Nonetheless, it is clear that even before the identities of the heroes had been confirmed, as reports began to emerge from Warsaw identifying the leaders of the revolt and names of the fighters, their identities were received, interpreted, and analyzed in a framework that was already quite contested on pre-existing political frameworks. At the same time, the heroic saga of the revolt was mythologized in a manner that captured the attention of Jews around the world, allowing them to imagine what it might have been like to be there, engaged in the struggle against the Nazi oppressor. Surely the Jewish heroes of Warsaw were motivated by a desire not to save lives, but to save their own dignity. But were they motivated by a Zionist connection to the Land of Israel that inspired their revolt against Diaspora oppression? Or did they rise up in defense of Poland, and the ideals of democracy, the universal brotherhood of man, and the rights of the working class? Or were the fighters united by a desire for revenge? Any way, it is clear that the revolt was too powerful a symbol to not be seized upon by Jews from across the ideological spectrum well before the war was over. The timing of the uprising, coinciding with the transition to memorialization and mourning, also solidified the event as a date to remember both the heroes and the martyrs of Warsaw, and of European Jewry more broadly. After the war, the symbolic power of the revolt would be marshaled by the Zionist movement to support the struggle for the creation of the Jewish State.

(1.) The date was selected by the Knesset on April 12, 1951, and became law on August 19, 1953. The actual starting date of the uprising (14th of Nisan) was problematic as it was also the eve of Passover. Therefore, the 27th of Nisan, when the uprising was still taking place, was selected by the Knesset, to take place eight days before Israel's Independence Day (on the 5th of Iyyar).

(2.) Gerhard Weinberg, "The Final Solution and the War in 1943," in Revolt amid the Darkness (Washington, DC: United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, 1993), 6. Havi Dreifuss, Warsaw Ghetto--The End: April 1942-June 1943 (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 2018) argues persuasively that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising must be understood as a broad popular uprising undertaken by the nearly 45,000 Jews who remained in the ghetto in the spring of 1943, not just as the armed resistance of several hundred Jews who belonged to underground groups.

(3.) Nechama Tec, Resistance: Jews and Christians Who Defied the Nazi Terror (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 15. An extensive literature has developed examining responses to the Holocaust in Israel and the United States in the first two decades after the war. See works by Dalia Ofer, Dina Porat, Roni Stauber, Boaz Cohen, and Hasia Diner.

(4.) Richard Kaplan, "The Myth of Jewish Passivity" in Jewish Resistance against the Nazis, Patrick Henry, ed. (Washington, DC: Catholic University Press, 2014).

(5.) Israel Gutman, Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (New York: Houghton Mifflin, in association with USHMM, 1994), xx.

(6.) Dan Kurzman, The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-Eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (New York: Da Capo Press, 1993), 17.

(7.) Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

(8.) Hasia Diner, We Remember with Reverence and Love: American Jews and the Myth of Silence after the Holocaust (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 74.

(9.) David Slucki, "A Community of Suffering: Jewish Holocaust Survivor Networks in Postwar America," Jewish Social Studies 22, no. 2 (2017): 116-145. Slucki also argues against the "myth of silence."

(10.) David Roskies and Naomi Diamant, Holocaust Literature: A History and Guide (Waltham: Brandeis University Press, 2013), 26.

(11.) On August 29, 1942, Rabbi Stephen Wise, president of the World Jewish Congress (WJC), received a copy of a telegram sent by Gerhart Riegner, the WJC representative in Switzerland, that explained that Riegner had received reports that the Germans planned to exterminate the Jews of Europe. See statement of the Joint Emergency Committee for European Jewish Affairs, http://www.jta.org/1943/04/30/archive/bermuda-conferencecloses-decisions-remain-confidential- general-statement-issued.

(12.) Yosef Gorny, The Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 1939-1945: Palestine, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union, trans. Naftali Greenwood (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 8.

(13.) See for example the works of Laurel Leff, Buried by the Times: The Holocaust and America's Most Important Newspaper (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), and Deborah Lipstadt, Beyond Belief: The American Press and the Coming of the Holocaust, 1939-1945 (New York: The Free Press, 1986).

(14.) "Nazis Start Mass-Execution of Warsaw Jews on Passover; Victims Broadcast S.O.S," JTA, April 23, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/04/23/jewish-holidays/passover/ nazis-start-mass-execution-of-warsaw-jews-on-passover-victims-broadcast-s-o-s.

(15.) See Rebecca Margolis, "Review of the Yiddish Media" in Nazi Germany, Canadian Responses: Confronting Antisemitism in the Shadow of War, Ruth Klein, ed. (Montreal: McGill-Queens University Press, 2012), 114-143.

(16.) Forverts, April 25, 1943. My emphasis.

(17.) Davar, April 27, 1943.

(18.) "Jews in Warsaw Ghetto Ask for Food and Arms to Continue Their Resistance to Nazis," JTA, April 30, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/04/30/archive/jews-in-warsawghetto-ask-for-food-and-arms-to- continue-their-resistance-to-nazis.

(19.) Der Tog, May 14, 1943.

(20.) On Zygielbojm, see Daniel Blatman, "On a Mission against All Odds: Szmuel Zygielbojm in London (April 1942-May 1943)," Yad Vashem Studies 20 (1990): 237-271.

(21.) Telegram, folder 47, RG 1454, Zygielbojm Papers, YIVO Institute for Jewish Research (YIVO), New York, NY.

(22.) Gorny, Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 13. A May 21, 1943, obituary written by Herszl Berger in Davar wrote disparagingly of Zygielbojm as a "second-rate politician, Bund apparatchik and a rigid fanatic."

(23.) "Members of British Parliament Receive Appeal for Assistance from Embattled Warsaw Jews," JTA, May 24, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/05/24/archive/members-0fbritish-parliament-receive-appeal-for- assistance-from-embattled-warsaw-jev 1/3.

(24.) "Jewish Council in Poland Sends Appeal to Jews of America; Describes Warsaw Fight," JTA, June 1, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/06/01/archive/jewish-council-in-polandsends-appeal-to-jews-of- america-describes-warsaw-fight.

(25.) Forverts, May 24, 1943.

(26.) Forverts, May 24, 1943.

(27.) See in Gorny, Jewish Press and the Holocaust, 11.

(28.) "Two Joans of Arc," Reuters, June 7, 1943; Natan Alterman published a poem in Zivia's honor in Davar, called "A Hebrew Maiden," describing the deceased heroine as one "who lived in the expansive house of death, yearning to become a home-maker ..." Davar, June 6, 1943. See Orly Lubin, "Holocaust Testimony, National Memory" in Extremities: Trauma, Testimony and Community, Nancy K. Miller and Jason Tougaw, eds. (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2002), 131-142.

(29.) "London Paper Urges Observance of "Jewish Day" to Mark Resistance in Warsaw Ghetto," JTA, June 3, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/06/03/archive/london-paper-urgesobservance-of-jewish-day-to-mark- resistance-in-warsaw-ghetto.

(30.) "Mass-Meeting in New York Will Commemorate Jewish Heroes of Warsaw Ghetto," JTA, June 16, 1943, http://www.jta.org/1943/06/16/archive/mass-meeting-innew-york-will-commemorate-jewish- heroes-of-warsaw-ghetto.

(31.) Lucy Dawidowicz, From That Place and Time: A Memoir, excerpted in Steven Rubin, ed., "Writing Our Lives: Autobiographies of American Jews, 1890-1990 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1991), 128.

(32.) "The Flag in the Ghetto Wall" (July 1943) in Jewish Frontier Anthology (New York: Jewish Frontier Association, 1945), 381-388.

(33.) Lest We Forget: The Massacre of the Warsaw Ghetto, A Compilation of Reports (New York: World Jewish Congress, December 1943, second printing).

(34.) Jeffrey Shandler, Jews, God, and Videotape: Religion and Media in America (New York: New York University Press, 2009), 76.

(35.) Morton Wishengrad, "The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto," http://www.ajcarchives. org/AJC_DATA/Files/RD2.PDF, 10, American Jewish Committee Archives.

(36.) Shandler, Jews, God, and Videotape, 2.94, n. 64.

(37.) Bret Werb, We Will Never Die: A Pageant to Save the Jews of Europe, http:// orelfoundation.org/index.php/journal/journalArticle/we_will_never_die_a_pageant_to_ save_the_jews_of_europe/.

(38.) For Waxman's biography, see Waxman Papers, Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Library.

(39.) For the text, see Werb, We Will Never Die.

(40.) Daniel Blatman, For Our Freedom and Yours: The Jewish Labour Bund in Poland 1939-1949, trans. Naftali Greenwood (London: Vallentine Mitchell, 2003), 123-124, 128.

(41.) Shloime Mendelsohn, The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto (New York: Jewish Scientific Institute-YIVO, 1944). The paper was also published in Yiddish in Yivo bleter 13 (January/February 1944).

(42.) Blatman, For Our Freedom and Yours, 27.

(43.) Mendelsohn, Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, 5.

(44.) Mendelsohn, Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, 14.

(45.) It is important to note that this assessment of the revolt as a "mass popular uprising" confirms the recent research of Havi Dreifuss, who argues that historical accounts of the revolt need to consider the experiences of the thousands of Jews who resisted Nazi liquidation efforts, not just the exploits of a small band of armed fighters. See Dreifuss, Warsaw Ghetto--The End (Hebrew).

(46.) Mendelsohn, Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, 26.

(47.) Rubin, Writing Our Lives, 232.

(48.) From Folder "Council of the Rescue of the Jews in Poland," page #508, WRB Files, FDR Library, Marist University, accessed February 3, 2017, http://www.fdrlibrary. marist.edu/_resources/images/wrb/wrb1436.pdf.

(49.) #10450, Ghetto Fighters House Archive (henceforth GFHA).

(50.) "Jewish Underground Movement in Poland Sends First-hand Report to Jews of America," JTA, March 16, 1944, https://www.jta.org/1944/03/16/archive/jewish-underground-movement-in-poland-sends- first-hand-report-to-jews-of-america.

(51.) "Hero of Warsaw Ghetto Battle Posthumously Awarded Highest Polish Military Decoration," JTA, March 22, 1944, https://www.jta.org/1944/03/22/archive/her0-0fwarsaw-ghetto-battle-posthumously- awarded-highest-polish-military-decoration.

(52.) In a letter also sent on May 24, 1944, the Jewish National Committee members in Warsaw voiced their frustration with the way in which the Bund had managed to "take credit and almost complete responsibility for the battles in the Warsaw ghetto." See Samuel Kassow, Who Will Write Our History: Emanuel Ringelblum, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the Oyneg Shabes Archive (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007), 385; May 24, 1944, letter from Jewish National Committee in Warsaw, #5867, GFHA.

(53.) Correspondence between members of the Jewish underground who found a hiding place on the "Aryan" side of Warsaw, 1944, #1775, GFHA. Letter to Dobkin, Tabenkin, Ya'ari, Berl (?), Tel Aviv (ca. April 19, 1944).

(54.) Folder 3, box 47, Synagogue Council of America papers, SCA 1-68, AJHS.

(55.) Ibid.

(56.) "First Anniversary of Battle of Warsaw Ghetto Commemorated; State Dept. Lauds Heroes," JTA, April 13, 1944, http://www.jta.org/1944/04/13/archive/first-anniversary-0fbattle-of-warsaw-ghetto- commemorated-state-dept-lauds-heroes 2/4.

(57.) Jacob Pat, letter to workers of Greater New York, April 19, 1944, reel 32, folder 7, Jewish Labor Committee Records, Tamiment Archives, New York.

(58.) https://www.jta.org/1944/04/13/archive/first-anniversary-of-battle-of-warsawghetto-commemorated-state-dept-lauds- heroes

(59.) http://pdfs.jta.org/1944/1944-04-23_09z.pdf.

(60.) Forverts, April 20, 1944.

(61.) Julian Tuwim, My, Zydzi Polscy--We, Polish Jews (Warsaw: Fundacja Shalom, 1993). On the Rapaport memorial, see James Young, "The Biography of a Memorial Icon," Representations 2.6, (1989): 79-80.

(62.) Board of Deputies of British Jews proposal to make April 19, 1944, a special ceremony commemorating the one-year anniversary of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, April 3, 1944, Letter from I. Schwarzbart, reel 12, file #871, GFHA. See also "Remember the Warsaw Ghetto: In Tribute to the Heroes" (London: Federation of Polish Jews in Great Britain, 1944). In addition to the memorial service held at the Nelson Street Sephardic Synagogue in London, the two London Jewish theaters were also closed on April 19, 1944.

(63.) "Members of Polish Government Attend Warsaw Ghetto Memorial in London," JTA, April 23, 1944, https://www.jta.org/1944/04/23/archive/members-0f-polish-government-attend-warsaw-ghetto-memorial- in-london.

(64.) Dina Porat, The Blue and Yellow Stars of David: The Zionist Leadership and the Holocaust, 1939-1945 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), 245.

(65.) Davar, April 21, 1944, 1.

(66.) Palestine Post, April 19, 1944, 1, 4.

(67.) Ibid.

(68.) Joseph Kruk, "The Holy Date: One Year After the Warsaw Revolt," Davar, April 21, 1944.

(69.) "Jews in Palestine Will Observe Year of Mourning for Heroes of Warsaw Ghetto," JTA, April 28, 1944, https://www.jta.org/1944/04/28/archive/jews-in-palestine-will-observeyear-of-mourning-for-heroes- of-warsaw-ghetto.

Caption: Figure 1. Map of Warsaw Ghetto with main battles identified, published in The Battle of the Warsaw Ghetto, YIVO, Spring 1944

Caption: Figure 2. Speakers at mass demonstration in NYC commemorating first anniversary of the uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, held on April 19, 1944. Over 30,000 Jews gathered before the steps of City Hall and listened to speeches by Mayor LaGuardia and prominent Jewish leaders. Speaking, Rabbi Isaac Rubinstein, former Chief Rabbi of Wilno (standing next to Mayor LaGuardia); also pictured behind 2nd row, Arthur Szyk. YIVO, RG 1206, Picture ID 566803.

Caption: Figure 3. Arthur Szyk, The Repulsed Attack, published in Our Journal, the publication of the American Council of Warsaw Jews, April 30, 1944. From the collection of Gregg and Michelle Philipson.
COPYRIGHT 2019 American Jewish Historical Society
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2019 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Patt, Avinoam J.
Publication:American Jewish History
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Apr 1, 2019
Words:12052
Previous Article:"Propaganda in the Best and Purest Sense of the Word": Early Representations of the Warsaw Ghetto in American Culture.
Next Article:The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising at Nuremberg.
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters