The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising: 63 Heroic Days

Author: 

JACQUES (Labor Action, April 4 1949)

There will be no memorial meet-
ings held in Warsaw this April to
commemorate the desperate uprisings
of the Jewish Ghetto that look place
on April 19, 1943. The 50,000 Jewish
workers still living at that time rep-
resented just ten per cent of those
who had been crushed together by
the Nazis into the wallcd-in ghetto
section of Warsaw in October, 1940.
The rest had been hunted down in
batches in the continual manhunt of
the SS (Hitler's stormtroops). to be
exterminated in the gas chambers of
Treblinka.
The hopeless armed struggle of this
remnant of Jewry was not merely an
act of desperation to sell their lives
dearly rather than be exterminated
quietly and without resistance. It was
that too. But above all it was in-
tended as an appeal for help to the
Polish workers outside. Then, too, it
was meant to reach the outside world
as a final cry from the depths of a
barbaric hell such as the world had
never imagined, a cry for aid in ex-
tremity. It was meant to arouse the
conscience of a wartorn world against
permitting the final atrocious strangu-
lation of an utterly helpless people.
This appeal went totally unheeded.
"Civilization" watched with incredi-
ble indifference while the Germans
used long-range artillery, tanks,
flame-throwers, poison gas to wipe
out the ghetto fighters. The ruins
were set afire until the entire en-
closure was reduced to one great
mass of rubble reaching three stories
high. The majority of the Jewish
fighters were buried in these ruins.
The leaders of the Bund made a
direct appeal to the underground or-
ganization of the Polish workers for
help, if not with arms in hand then
at least by means of a protest strike.
The Poles refused. They were divided
by anti-Semitism. Many sympathized
with the Jews, but others said out-
right: "Thank heavens the Germans
are doing this for us." Nor was this
attitude confined to the upper class.
The backwardness of layers of the
Polish workers, as of many others,
could be measured by the degree of
anti-Semitism.
Representatives of the Jewish Bund
had been smuggled out of the ghetto
to seek help abroad. Artur Ziegel-
boim was in London during the up-
rising appealing to the Polish gov-
ernment-in-exile and to the Church-
ill government. He rendered the bal-
ance of his mission, its total and un-
feeling failure, by committing suicide
and indicting the "civilized" world for
its lack of any humanity in his heart-
broken letter. That letter speaks far
more eloquently than all the mouth-
ings against genocide at the UN
meetings by the diplomats on both
sides of the Iron Curtain.
Stalin Completes
Hitler's Job
The Poles themselves were to expe-
rience the bitterness, not merely of
indifference but of outright betrayal
only little more than a year later.
AH of Warsaw, including the last Jew-
ish remnants, rose up as one man on
August 1, 1944, against the Nazi op-
' pressor. The Polish National Council
had no doubt that this uprising,
called for incessantly by the Russian
radio, would be aided by the advance
of the Red Army, whose artillery
could be heard not far off.
The uprising lasted for 63 fright-
ful days during which the Red Army
remained completely inactive on this
front. The Russians would not even
permit the English planes sent with
a little help to land on Russian air-
fields! Warsaw was reduced to rubble
just as had bcUn the ghetto. The Nazis
were permitted to wipe out the Armia
Kryova (army of the Polish under-
ground) and its leaders so as to save
this labor for the Russians.. The
NKVD finished what little was left
when the Red Army finally marched
into the ruins in January, 1945.
No, the Poles will not commemo-
rate the Warsaw ghetto uprising, nor
will the Russians press them to do so.
The handful of Jews left in all Po-
land will not care to do so either, par-
ticularly with any fake Stalinist col-
oration given an "official" celebration.
But those everywhere who take to
heart the resistance of the oppressed
to the oppressors will once again
marvel at the incredible feat of arms
of the Jewish workers of the ghetto.
A Miracle
Of Achievement
All the vaunted efficiency of the
Gestapo, all the barbarities of the
terror unleashed by them in an aban-
don of sadistic cruelty, could not pre-
vent the leaders of the Jewish work-
ing class from organizing under-
ground, from making contact with the
organized Polish workers, from smug-
gling in and caching arms in the
ghetto bunkers. It is to the eternal
credit of the Jewish Bund that its
leaders accomplished this seemingly
impossible task.
Foremost in the ranks of this lead-
ership stands a figure who became
legendary: that of Bernard Goldstein,
organizer of the Bund militia. His
book, "The Stars Bear Witness." is
about to appear in English. It should
be read by all who would understand
how miracles of organization can be
achieved against overwhelming odds.
Here one can find the inner meaning
of leadership, a leadership of under-
standing, of complete selflessness and
self-sacrifice, of ability to go on liv-
ing and to organize resistance even
in the midst of an existence that no
nightmare could conjure up.
"Comrade Bernard" had behind him
the experience of a generation of
fighting first against czarism, then
against Polish landlordism. He helped
organize the most oppressed of the
workers in militant trade unions. He
organized the first Polish workers*
militia to defend the trade unions
from attack, and also to fight the
pogromists. It is no accident that he
was one of the leaders to organize the
protest strike against the infamous
ritual murder trial of Mendel Beylis
in 1913.
No. it is no accident that a socialist
trade union organizer, close to the
people, completely steeped in their
folkways, should lead the desperate
armed struggle of the Jews against
the Nazis and hold an entire army
at bay. This man alone could secure
the willing aid of the Polish workers;
only he had their confidence. His ex-
ploits, known not directly from his
book (he is too modest to recount
them all) but from eyewitness ac-
counts, make him the Chapeyev of
the ghetto.
An epic quality marks the story of
the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Human-
ity somehow survived, not merely in
the sense of existence but in all its
cultural meaning, in all its humane-
ness. How can one think of humor
under the sadistic German hunters in
this ghetto-jungle? Yet there Is the
story of the Jewish pickpocket who,
to amuse the inhabitants of his hide-
away bunker, all trembling for their
lives, demonstrates his skill for the
others. And Warsaw, one may add,
was famous for this skill! Hanna
Krishtal survives with her child and
is now here in New York solely be-
cause of the care of Bernard in the
very midst of the fighting, during
which she gave birth. Somehow he
found time even for this. It was only
later that he confided to Hanna how
he was torn Inwardly by his resolu-
tion to do away with the child in or-
der to permit Hanna herself to escape
from the ghetto alive!
Bernard Goldstein is still living but
he has no life. The life he knew in
Poland and in Warsaw is gone for-
ever. It remains only as part of the
archives in Perez, in ShOlom Alei-
chem, in the story of the ghetto up-
rising.
Profound Symbol
Of Our Times
The last touch of irony is added by
Bernard's arrest by the NKVD, dread
arm of the Russian "liberators." They
released him but kept him under ob-
servation in the hope that he would
betray his organization. The Stalinists
fear nothing so much as honest and
experienced revolutionists, particular-
ly those with such vast experience of
organizing in the underground as was
possessed by Comrade Bernard. He
had to flee from these new oppres-
sors, not so much to save his own
life as to avoid betraying those who
might want to make contact with
him.
Warsaw stands as a profound sym-
bol of our times. Crushed on the one
side by the forces of capitalist reac-
tion in the shape of Nazism and on
the other by the Russian counter-
revolution under Stalinism, this be-
trayed city mirrors modern civiliza-
tion in decay. It is in this sense a van-
tage point from which to view the
chances for survival of civilized hu-
manity. The indifference of the world
to the fate of the Jews during the
war. and after bodes ill for society.
The utter breakdown of all human
decency in the ghetto is no mere
passing phenomenon. It is rather a
token of the awful speed at which
decay can spread and barbarism can
replace modern civilization. Warsaw
at the same time is an added and
striking proof thai Stalinism, far
from arresting social decay, is itself
the epitome of that decay.
It is impossible to study the terri-
ble fate of Warsaw's ghetto and again
of the rest of Warsaw, without a
clenching of the fists and a surge of
anger and hatred against the forces
that introduce such hideous vileness
into life. Warsaw stands as a stark
lesson of the inhumanity that flowers
evilly from anti-Semitism and racial
doctrines. This lesson must sink deep-
ly into the consciousness of every
working class fighter against exploi-
tation and oppression. Society is
doomed to go under if it is not thor-
oughly cleansed of the disease that
made and continues to make .such
brutal sadism possible.
That disease can be traced to its
roots in class exploitation. Every rul-
ing class is willing to sacrifice mil-
lions of its own jpeople for the sake
of maintaining its powers and privi-
leges. Why not, then, people of other
"races" against whom it is so much
easier to kindle the fires of preju-
dice.
Warsaw stands as a stain on civil-
ization. It must never be forgotten.
It can and must be avenged! The re-
currence of such brutality ' can be
prevented only by a deep - going
change in society, the change from
capitalism which engenders hatreds,
to socialism, which engenders broth-
edhood and humanity, the Russian
experience of counter-revolution not-
withstanding.