Far Beyond Hope

I started reading about the Holocaust way too young. In ninth grade, I tackled the Black Book – the B’nai B’rith’s compendium of Nazi atrocities against the Jews of Europe.  In retrospect, it may have been one of the things that started me thinking that maybe liberalism wasn’t for me; it certainly started me on the road toward being a Second Amendment supporter.

But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves, here.

One of the themes of the book – and of the story of the Holocaust, in retrospect -was that it snuck up on people; that many, even as they saw their rights being gutted and their businesses confiscated and their lives upended, just couldn’t imagine that it’d get worse.   Even as they were being loaded up and sent to ghettoes in Poland, they just figured there’d have to be a rational conclusion to it all.

The history of human tragedy is that the people who see it coming get labeled as crazies, politely inoculated off from society.

The other theme?  The few who saw through the illusion of rationality were capable of nearly superhuman courage.  As the Holocaust spun up to full speed about this time seventy years ago, there were a painfully few people who managed to make it hurt the Nazis just a little.

It was seventy years ago today that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began.

The story is well-known to people who know their history – which means most Americans know nothing about it.

Before there were concentration and extermination camps, the Nazis used the traditional Jewish “Ghettos” of Eastern Europe as natural “camps” in which to confine the Jews, Gypsies and the rest of their targets. They systematically deported Jews from all over Poland, Ukraine and Russia – and then all over Europe – to these small enclaves in Polish, Baltic and Ukrainian cities, using them as holding tanks until the camps – the last link in the Final Solution – were ready.

And in early 1942, they were ready.  The Germans started shipping Jews off to Treblinka, the first of the Vernichtungslagern, or Extermination camps.

And in the overcrowded, starving, disease-ridden Warsaw Ghetto – the realization that the end was near provoked a response from some of the inmates; it’d be better to die fighting.

And so a resistance movement,armed with a few stolen handguns and rifles and grenades and some homemade bombs, had formed.  In the previous months, it had managed to disrupt some of the roundups to the camps, throwing the Germans’ plans – as precise as any industrial supply chain management system – into disarray. And on April 19, the Germans’ military response was met with armed resistance.

On the morning of April 19, the Nazis marched into the Ghetto to begin the final liquidation, a brutal process like the one Steven Spielberg captured in the horrific scenes in the “Krakow Ghetto” in Schindler’s List.

It was a scene that’d repeated itself all over Eastern Europe; the SS would forcibly haul the Jews out of the Ghetto and herd them onto boxcars for transportation to one death camp or another.

But this time was different.  As the Germans came through the gate, the were met with gunfire and explosives and molotov cocktails.  They retreated in disorder, with 12 dead.

For the first time, the Germans had come for the Jews, and the Jews beat them back.

It couldn’t last, of course; the Jews’ guns numbered in the dozens, the German troops in the thousands.  They came back again, this time fighting block to block with artillery and flamethrowers.

They killed everything in their path in a fit of retributive blood lust.

The Jews – hopelessly outnumbered and virtually unarmed by military standards – somehow dished out a military setback to the Germans, holding the Germans out of the Ghetto for nearly a month.

It couldn’t last, of course.  The Germans advanced building-to-building, killing nearly everyone as they went – an estimated 56,000 inmates died in the battle or the aftermath.

The Germans trashed the Ghetto as thoroughly as Ground Zero. They shipped the very few they didn’t kill or burn or bury out of hand off to Treblinka (itself to end in another doomed uprising in the near future).

They literally razed the entire Ghetto to the ground.

The Ghetto after the battle.

Serious resistance ended in about a week – which is itself amazing.  I urge you to remember; these were people armed with pistols who started the battle with an average of 6-7 rounds of ammunition; a few rifles with the 5 rounds in their magazines and not much more; accounts vary as to whether the Jews even started the fight with a machine gun (they may have picked a few off of dead Germans).  A few stolen grenades.  Molotov cocktails and a few homemade bombs.  Knives, spears, clubs.

Nothing more.

Pockets of resistance held out much longer, though; the Germans declared the battle over in Mid-may, with the symbolic dynamiting of the Great Synogogue of Warsaw on May 16.

The Great Synogogue of Warsaw in the 1910s.

And so the battle was over.

There were few survivors – but the few thto got away cut wide swathes. Marek Edelman,  last surviving leader, passed away a few months after i wrotw the first version of this piece, back in 2009, after a life spent as an activist for freedom, including a role in the rebirth of a free Poland in 1989.  Rhe handful of survivors and witnesses continue to tell their stories.  But like our own World War Two generation, the Holocaust’s few survivors – and the fewer still who survived the Ghetto – are dying off.

And as they do, we should worry – justifiably – that society is going to forget about what happened; that society might forget the consequences of racism (the real kind), hatred, dminishing the humanity of ones’ enemies (or scapegoats) to try to justify all manner of inhumanities and horrors upon them. And of course, worry that some will take away the wrong lesson, as another loathsome person did fourteen years ago today.

I read the story of the Ghetto and the Uprising when I was in junior high; it probably took many more years for me to really absorb it.  The lessons were these; never let this happen here.  Call out the prejudice that leads to this sort of eliminationist hatred when you see it, and do it without stint or mercy.  Never let society be left at the mercy of the thugs and the autocrats; it’s why we have a First and, if all else fails, a Second Amendment.

Above all, uphold humanity.

This post is adapted from one written originally four years ago.

While this blog’s comment section is the home of a lot of banter, good-natured and otherwise, my tolerance is exceptionally limited on this subject. Tread lightly, for the foot the censor shall not.

30 thoughts on “Far Beyond Hope

  1. Great post.

    Unfortunately, I expect doggie to drop a steamer here. Get the ban hammer ready.

  2. It took a month of house-to-house fighting because of the legal limitations on the power of the head of the German goverment.

    Nowadays, President Obama’s staff confidently asserts he has the authority under the United States Constitution to order the United States military to drop bombs from drones on people he suspects of being terrorists based on secret information known only to him, a power not necessarily limited to terrorists outside the country, and broadly including not only actual terrorists but also any people in the vicinity of terrorists, because they can be assumed to be aiding and abetting terrorists and therefore legitimate targets of war.

    One Executive Order and the whole thing could be over in minutes.

  3. To see the impact of the extermination…..even today, the number of Jews in Poland and Germany is very small.

    Also….pro-life activists talk about the slippery slope, first its early abortion, then late term, then infanticide, then killing old folks. Well, the first killings in concentration camps circa-1938 were called “mercy killings”. It was billed as doing them a favor.

  4. Thank you. This is a lesson that we should never forget. We as a group, particularly in a group, are capable of things that we as individuals would never consider.

    The German people were pretty much an embodiment of a generally state-of-the-art Western Christian civilization. Granted, there were economic and social troubles, but that happens everywhere.

    To engage in such barbaric acts in such a short time makes we question my standards as much as those of the WWII-era German citizens. What would I have done if I was living there at that time under similar circumstances? Would I have sheltered Anne Frank or turned her in to protect my family? To be law abiding?

    Great post. Thanks …

  5. Sometimes the back and forth with an armed civilian populace gets down to the ‘oh how are you going to resist the tank/airplane/artillery with your rifle?’ As the Warsaw ghetto shows, they may kill the armed resistor, but they can’t enslave him.

  6. “To see the impact of the extermination…..even today, the number of Jews in Poland and Germany is very small.”

    There are survivors among us: http://chgs.umn.edu/histories/minnesotans/sutin/

    Jack and Rochelle survived the war, living in the woods and fighting with the partisans.

    I became of aware of them when MN Public Radio interviewed them, following the publication of their book.

    A few years back, the Hopkins Center for the Arts did a stage production based on the book. It was very clear, from both the book and the play, that they survived only because they were armed.

    The Hopkins Center for the Arts was posted no-guns.

  7. That is something your average lefty is completely incapable of understanding, Loren. They’ve already turned their balls over to the government…the rest comes naturally.

  8. Joe;

    Isn’t it just laughable how the left idiots decried evil George Bush for subjugating our rights with the Patriot Act and now their king has doubled down on it?

  9. Thank you Mitch! These stories must be told and retold.

    “It all happened so fast. The ghetto. The deportation. The sealed cattle car. The fiery altar upon which the history of our people and the future of mankind were meant to be sacrificed.” – Elie Wiesel

  10. In the middle of the 20th century Europe’s two totalitarian empires, Nazi Germany and Stalin’s Soviet Union, killed 14m non-combatants, in peacetime and in war. That meant shooting, starving and gassing those who didn’t fit in. Just as Stalin blamed the peasants for the failure of collectivization, Hitler blamed the Jews for his military failures in the east.

    The Soviet Union’s ethnic murders predated Nazi Germany’s. Stalin was not directly responsible for the Holocaust, but his pact with the Nazis paved the way for Hitler’s killing of Jews in the east.

    The treatment of slave laborers in concentration camps, and the use of gas chambers, are commonly seen as the epitomes of Nazi persecution. But the Germans also shot and starved millions of people, as well as gassed and worked them to death. In just a few days in 1941, the Nazis shot more Jews in the east than they had inmates in all their concentration camps.

    I highly recommend the book: “Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin” by author Timothy Snyder.

    Mr. Snyder’s thorough and nuanced book steers clear of the sterile, sloganising exchanges about whether Stalin was as bad as Hitler, or whether Soviet mass murder in Ukraine or elsewhere is a moral equivalent of the Nazis’ extermination of the Jews. What it does do, admirably, is to explain and record. Both totalitarian empires turned human beings into statistics, and their deaths into a necessary step towards a better future. Mr Snyder’s book explains, with sympathy, fairness and insight, how that happened, and to whom.


  11. Okay, Emery, I’ve purchased Bloodlands for my B&N nook (I love that thing).
    It doesn’t keep me awake nights, but I worry that the 20th century totalitarianisms were a response to the collapse of the Victorian model of governing a modern state, and that still haven’t got that figured out yet.

  12. Everyone I know who owns a Nook feels the same as you do.

    From this book, I leaned new information that I had not been aware of about that period. Snyder recounts an aspect of the Holocaust that remains unfamiliar to many Americans. Even today, the prevailing image is the fate of Jewish families like Anne Frank’s, who were rounded up and transported to killing centers in Poland. But it was in German-controlled Soviet territory that the Nazis carried out the full logic of their murderous intentions. Within a half-year, the Wehrmacht succeeded in occupying all of Ukraine, Belarus and the Baltic States. And it was here, with the murder first of Jewish men and then of the entire Jewish populations of small towns, that the Germans began the systematic open-air massacres that resulted in the slaughter of two and a half million Jews in German-occupied Soviet territory, a proportion of the six million that remains hard to grasp.

  13. Emery,,

    I know it well – but then I read The Black Book.

    Paul Johnson in Modern Times had the best explanation of the rise of the totalitarians that I’ve ever read.

  14. If Emery actually reads “modern times”, i give him 50:50 chance he will renounce soci@lism.

  15. I hereby renounce cialis. Yes, I know that it’s a big step — har! Har!
    BTW, over at Pen’s place, DG says that the ‘right’ (whoever that is) has not ‘decisively repudiated’ Alex Jones.
    I had to look up ‘Alex Jones’ in google to see who he was.
    In the realm of conspiracy, Jones defies the traditional left-right paradigm. When I described his site as “far right” in an article recently, I was inundated with indignant e-mails. Jones might have made his chops with documentaries about the Waco siege, but he views himself as a libertarian, not a right-winger.
    It’s one great, big, yawning chasm of idiocy over at Penigma blog.

  16. @ justplainangry
    Sorry I couldn’t help myself. And forgive me if I run off topic.
    The US system was designed to make the federal government weak to discourage tyranny. The states are more able to act quickly and decisively, but are constrained by the effect of open borders, open economies, and the competition of their neighbors for talent and investment. The US is constitutionally conservative, which is a source of its strength. States are forced to compete to produce the best and most efficient government. Individuals are forced to act on their own behalf because their weak and constrained governments are limited in what they can do. Because the US is constitutionally constrained, collective action is very difficult to organize and achieve. As a result, we don’t get into the habit of using collective action, as the sheep-like citizens of various social democracies are wont to do. Our strength collectively stems from our actions individually. Americans are more prepared to solve their own problems.

  17. Off topic but interesting, Emery.
    It should be beyond question that we are facing a federal government that is showing signs of tyranny. It’s goals do not seem to be the same as the goals of the people in important areas, and it is attempting to implement those goals, using non-democratic processes when necessary. My examples would be immigration, affirmative action, and gun control.
    In the end the fed will defeat itself. It is clear (to me, anyhow) that the federal government needs to spend about 25% more than the people are willing to be taxed. That can’t go on forever, economics sets hard limits on what a central government can accomplish by spending money. The mechanisms that cripple the economies of command economies are well known. Believing that a command economy is a more efficient producer of wealth than a market economy is believing in a fairy tale. We have both real-world information and theoretical models that show command economies reduce economic growth.

  18. Well said Terry.

    Americans are not strong because of their institutions, they are strong despite them. We have a constitution that makes our federal government weak, no state-backed religion, little common history, and a deep mistrust of government. Our worship of individual autonomy is our greatest weakness, and our greatest strength. It is why there is some truth to the idea of American exceptionalism. It’s why we haven’t adopted the metric system and can’t manage single-payer medicine (bad). It’s why we develop things like the Ipad, fracking, and Google (very good). It’s why malcontents, oddballs, and visionaries the world over still want to move to the US (mostly good).

    As a nation of immigrants, multiple faiths, and multiple races, Americans are exposed to more diversity than most of the rest of the world. Other cultures may exhibit less disagreement, but that is because in their uniformity they have less to disagree about. I find each successive generation is more tolerent of differences in culture, race and religion. My father, while not what I would call a racist, told me racial and ethnic jokes that I would never repeat today. I’ve known far more non-whites and non-Christians than he did at my age. My kids are utterly blase about sexual orientation issues that still make me uncomfortable (and about which I’ve told jokes that I now regret). Exposure to diversity is the only route to greater tolerence, and the most diverse societies in the world are in North America.

  19. Terry, you piqued my interest so I had a peek into Mobgrel Cur’s den…wow.

    You couldn’t even call it an echo chamber, since she’s in there raving to herself. Now I understand why it occasionally comes over here for a fly-by…it’s a desperate cry “someone notice me!”.

    It really gives credence to the idea that liberalism is a disease…of the mind.

  20. Nah, I think it is farther afield than that. Sometimes a post gets picked up and linked and then all the hooligans run over here and run through the bar. When they leave the usual patrons sit here kind of dazed and checking their pockets for their wallets.

    I’m sure Mr. Berg will sweep up overnight and replace the broken windows.

  21. I recommend that you engage Dog Gone over at pen’s place, Emery, I really do. I used to. Swiftee used to comment there once in awhile. Even Joe Doakes has tried to have discussions with DG by commenting on her posts.
    Everyone gives up, eventually.
    It’s kind of like . . .
    You read a post on a blog written by ‘Dad Gum’ that says that we Americans should be ashamed for sending millions of Jews to the gas chambers in World War Two. You think it would be a simple matter to correct the record by showing that it was the Germans, not Americans, who gassed Jews in WW2. But no. Some depth into the discussion you realize that ‘Dad Gum’ doesn’t know that America and Germany are not the same country. The discussion degrades further as you find yourself explaining why, if America and Germany are not the same country, there are people called ‘German-Americans’.
    At Pen’s place now, DG has posted, with approval, a graphic with the words “NAME ONE PROBLEM THE WORLD FACES TODAY NOT CAUSED BY BIG CORPORATE GREED. (Can you think of any? I Can’t…)-A New Humanist-Progressive Agenda Maralist99″
    The message is stupid on its face — there are many problems the world faces that are not caused by ‘big corporate greed'”. Human mortality. North Korean nukes. Kids hurting themselves playing sports. People who where striped pants with plaid shirts. Whatever.
    The slogan is also eliminationist. It is a restatement of the marxist revolutionary belief that all the problems of the world are caused by class struggle, or the nazi’s belief that all the problems in the world are caused by Jews.

  22. “poster child for ’tilting at windmills”

    more like a poster child for “this is your brain on meth/coke!” – she writes with the grandiose certainty of a long time user

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