…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, 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.
The story is long, and gruesome; it’s been told better elsewhere.
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, burning the entire Ghetto to the ground.
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).
There are still some survivors; Marek Edelman, at 87, the last surviving leader, and a handful of others 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; I probably absorbed it much later. And 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 Second Amendment.
Above all, uphold humanity.
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.