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Letter From Warsaw On The Ghetto Uprising Anniversary

On a warm and cloudless spring day, Warsaw residents and Jews from abroad today remembered the ghetto uprising that began on this day in 1943. One in three or four people you passed on the streets in the center of the city seemed to be wearing the yellow paper daffodils being handed out by young women and girls at metro stations and bus stops, daffodils marked with the words “Warsaw ghetto uprising” and the date it began. A siren sounded all over the city at noon, and when it ended an impressive official ceremony began in front of the iconic statue of the ghetto fighters by Nathan Rapoport erected in 1948. The president of Poland, Andrzej Duda, spoke, as did the Israeli ambassador, Anna Azari, and Ronald Lauder, the president of the World Jewish Congress. An unofficial ceremony two hours later at Mila 18, the site of the bunker in which some of the leaders of the uprising had been cornered and killed by Nazi troops, a ceremony organized by Jewish visitors from the US and Canada provided a sharp counterpoint to the claims heard in President Duda’s speech.

Duda had sought to emphasize that the ghetto fighters were Polish citizens, that they had “flown both the Jewish blue-and-white flag, as well as the Polish red-and-white flag,” that they received “rifles and machine guns” from the Polish underground, that the Polish government-in-exile in London brought news of the uprising to the BBC. He made much of the fact that the SS commander in Warsaw, Gen Juergen Stroop, wrote in his reports to Berlin that “Polish bandits had joined the Jews in firing on SS troops.” In an indirect reference to Poland’s recent Holocaust law, Duda said that “those who talk about Polish co-responsibility for the genocide of the Jews hurt both of us.”

Not long after the official ceremony ended with a military honor guard and the reading of the names of people and organizations that aided the ghetto uprising, another ceremony began at Mila 18. Organized by Fay Rosenfeld, the daughter of Warsaw survivors who found refuge in Montreal, and Ann Toback, executive director of the Workmen’s Circle, who’s now leading a delegation touring Poland, this ceremony featured readings in Yiddish and English from poetry written by Jewish socialists and socialist zionists during the ghetto, as well as a reading from Vladka Meed’s memoir, “On the other side of the Wall,” written by the ghetto fighter and courier in 1947. It was read by her son, Dr. Steven Meed, and it was a passage in which Vladka complained bitterly over the refusal of the Polish underground, the Home Army, to provide arms to the ghetto uprising. What few weapons they did receive from Polish sources largely came from another underground force, the People’s Army, a Communist unit. That was never mentioned by Duda.

The official commemoration was followed in the evening, in the same venue, by a public concert with a symphony orchestra and full chorus, and a sound and light show projected on a skyscraper that stands on the site of the former Great Synagogue, destroyed by the Nazis during the early days of their occupation of the city. The orchestra and chorus performed a segment of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony, with words to “All men are brothers” sung in Hebrew.

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