Friday, June 2, 2023

Jews in Ghetto



A few days ago, on May 16 this year or 25th of Iyar, or 40th day of Sfira count, I turned 57. My Hebrew birthday was just a day after my astronomical, i.e. when earth was more or less in the same position on its orbit around the sun when on the day when I was born.

While I was scrolling down the Polish newspaper as I usually do to acquire information possibly from many sources and perspectives, I saw an article commemorating the last day of the Warsaw Ghetto.

There were few pictures from the infamous chronicle of Jurgen Stroop, nazi officer responsible for Ghetto liquidation, as well as a reminder of basic facts about Ghetto itself and uprising by remaining inhabitants of the Ghetto.

Most of the pictures are known, not to say iconic in historiography of the Holocaust and WWII.

Including a picture which I saw many times before, a group of Hassidic Jews standing in the front of the nazi soldiers.

I saw this picture in the books, in press articles and film documentaries, what I didn’t know, or I didn't comprehend was the fact that this picture was made on, or just before May 16 1943.

It struck my entire being. Thoughts about these Yiden were holding on to me longer than day, almost obsessive thoughts.

Hasisdic Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto at the very time of its last days. When the entire population of the initial almost half million Jews congregated or rather gripped in a small part of the city of Warszawa, was gone.

Three hundred thousand of them trough gas chambers and body burning stoves and pits of Treblinka death camp. One of the major branches of nazi death industrial complex.

I think I described my discovery of Holocaust in my book, but since it is unavailable, I will shortly describe it now.

Growing up in seventies Poland was a childhood bliss.

We were not taught or told about the large Jewish population sharing the same land for over a thousand years, probably from the time before Poland joined Europe by accepting Christianity as any official religion in year 966. I was born exactly 1000 years later.

For some half of this time Jews constituted 8 to 10% of the entire Polish population.

Considering that 70 or 75 percent of this population were serfs or de facto slaves, 10 was rather significant. Significant economically and culturally.

We didn’t learn those facts in history or any other lessons. We didn’t know about it at all, not my generation.

WWII was a fresh and traumatic memory for the nation. Almost every family lost someone in the war, or somebody was wounded or enslaved by nazis.

In my personal case, my maternal grandfather was shot in the chest, but the bullet stuck in the thick ID booklet in the pocket. He was showing us the picture of mother Mary which he was carrying in this booklet, with some confused message since he was a believing member of communist party and self-declared atheist.

My paternal grandfather was killed with his two brothers in the Mauthausen concentration camp.

We didn’t know that there was a specific group of people living with us, which experienced the opposite statistic. If one of the members of the family survived the War, it would have been a phenomenon.

If there were more than one member or even siblings or married couple, it was a miracle.

I was 19 years old when I learned about Holocaust.

For a few years I was already a student of the Bible, at the same age I also became a member of the council of my religious denomination, the youngest clergyman in the country.

At the time I knew already that the nation of the Bible was sharing the land with a population considering itself indigenous, Slavic Polls.

I didn’t know how this coexistence ended.

In 1985, French filmmaker Claude Lanzman made a documentary “Shoah”.

His final version was 9 hours long.

Polish state TV disclosed two hours of experts from the film in order to show that the film is anti-Polish for in hours of interviews with survivors, perpetrators, collaborators and heroes, there were some parts of the documentary indicating collaboration of some Polish individuals or groups with German nazis.

The Polish nation is still struggling with this topic, and I will not digress there in this essay.

The whole 9 hours of the film was shown in a few bigger cities for the journalists with clear intention. Since they were not independent journalists publishing in Poland in the papers of political underground, it was expected from them that after seeing the full documentary they would uphold the narrative of hate towards the Polish nation. Hate generated by Jewish influence groups.

I got the ticket and went to see it myself. I was obviously not a journalist, and I don’t remember what trick I used to get this ticket. But after three days of projection in the journalist club, me and then my fiancé, we were only teenagers in the country which got awareness of horrors which happened on this land, horrors unprecedented in the history of the planet.

People smarter and more eloquent than me already wrote why this particular event spikes out from all the bloodshed, killing, suffering and tears of millions of people, annihilated by other creatures seemingly looking like themselves.

Never before, a nation which was at the time the most advanced scientifically, culturally, philosophically, theologically, decided and executed the idea of building a death industry with its accounting, transportation, laboratories and killing devices. Never before human ingenuity was used so efficiently in the process of killing other people.

Most of them Jewish.

For thousands of years being a Jew was a submission to the word of Torah, to the Sinaitic revelation.

The level of observance was different in different times and in different groups of Jews.

But some two hundred years ago, a new ideology began to dominate the thought of European intelligentsia, the ideology of “nation”.

It may be a noble idea to be connected by genes, language and common land perhaps. But this is not what makes our people a nation. If we think that what connects us is blood, culture and perhaps land, it comes up on us the way we think.

Yes, I know, I digressed…

It was a “Shoah” documentary which opened the topic of the Jews in Poland.

For another few years Poland was under communist regime and censorship, but the conversation became more public.

In the few following years Jews were rediscovered as a part of Polish history, and it was not a negative rediscovery.

The younger generation of Polls was more ready to accept part of the guilt of sometimes open collaboration of some people but more often unthreatened inaction of the vast majority. When I was already living in the US, nationalist movement reemerged in some mild and sometimes even extreme forms. Curiously allying itself with the Israeli government and Zionist ideology.

But back then, in the second half of 80thies some books on Jewish topics were printed.

Holocaust was definitely not the issue which directed me towards my few years later decision to become a Jew.

That process began way earlier, and my sole desire was to connect to Supreme One. Relationship by means as it was described and expressed in His Revelation.

But discovering the fact and the magnitude of the Holocaust, especially the fact that it happened in the land of my youth and ancestry, could not be ignored by any intellectually curious and sensitive person.

I read everything on the topic. I read everything on the topic of the Warsaw Ghetto. Warsaw was not my city, but I was familiar with her.

I think the first book on the Ghetto topic was the diary of Henryk Makower, doctor of the Ghetto Jewish Police. After that, every memoir, diary, interview and finally the chronicle of the Ghetto by Jurgen Stroop. The last one was without the pictures or if there were pictures, I don’t remember them.

Most of the material was written by non-practicing Jews including Marek Edelman, one of the leaders of the Ghetto uprising still living in Poland until his death in 2009.

I studied the maps and timelines. Got all what was available but only a small part of that reality of the Ghetto as it is impossible to grasp the horror of what happened there.

Then came the Ghetto picture album. One picture says more than a thousand words. And there were hundreds of pictures. Many of them made by Nazis themselves, many of them part of antisemitic propaganda shown to German and other populations to justify ghetto enclosures.

The walls always need justification, bridges are self-explanatory.

It was clear to me, it was clear to many professional historians and sociologists, Nazis have a plan and that plan was based on social philosophy – We are all animals – Jews too.

The Jewish claim of an angelic, spiritual component of human beings must be proven wrong.

Jewish claim of communication from and with the Supreme must be shattered.

Darwin provided the initial tools to eliminate the idea of the Supreme Creator and Designer.

From the very beginning it was openly declared that Darwin provided humanity with “beautiful idea of design without the Designer”.

Existence of the Jews was the last obstacle on the path of achieving the route to freedom without guilt and moral obligation. As it is written in “Main Kampf”, Jews caused two scars on humanity – One on the male organ, indicating moral purity, and one in the form of conscience – where underprivileged, week, pure and sick must be helped and not eliminated from existence or at least from the view.

Nazi propaganda was trying to prove just that. We are just a higher form of randomly developed animals, the fittest or stronger prevails and dominates, ultimately eliminating the week. This is the law of nature, and elimination of the parasitic element is the only right thing to do.

Jews are not only animals like us but to prove that we are the supreme race, it is necessary to eliminate them and their ideology from the conscience of mankind.

Numerous propaganda films were made in order to prove nazi ideology right, and Jews deserving their end. One of them was shut in May of 1942. Just two months after the Van Zee conference where nazi establishment decided about Endlosung – the final solution – killing all the Jews.

The Nazi filmmakers came to the Warsaw Ghetto to document the inhumanity of its inhabitants.

I will not go into many details of the film, but the movie was showing people in the Ghetto as immoral and animalistic in their behavior. Some of the takes were staged and some were documenting moral degradation which actually happened within the walls of Ghetto.

If you deny humans breathing, in order to survive that human will do or say anything to gasp some air.

You can rename that torture and call it “enhanced interrogation technique” but it doesn’t change the fact that denying basic instinct of breathing makes person act against rational part of human nature.

Nazis used our second instinct of life, our need for food.

Using a cruel method of denying food for the Ghetto population, they were able to stage horrible scenes for their propaganda film which in any other time Jews would rather deny themselves life than succumb to behavior opposing thousands of years shaped conscience.

Nazis succeeded, or that’s what they thought so.

Other inhabitants of Ghetto were justifying their fall for witnessing horrors of daily survival and death there. Ghetto can indeed undermine if not totally destroy the awareness of being a human or a Jew.

Film was made in May when Gas chambers were already under construction in Treblinka and other places. The transports from Ghetto began on Tisha beAv, 22 July of 1942.

Through the summer some three hundred thousand of Jews were transported to Treblinka.

Adolf Eichmann Y-SH, was responsible for the logistics of transportations.

In their vicious perfidy, Nazis seceded the task of organizing the quotas of people by the Judenrat, Ghetto government.

The Head of the Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow, swallowed a cyanide pill upon learning what was required from him.

His successor was already more collaborative.

In the very first wave of transports, all the “unproductive “element of society were sent to gas chambers. All the sick, week, old, to young to work and what we call “kley Koidesh”

Members of the Yeshivos, faculty and students, rabbis, true leaders of the nation and their wives and children.

If any of them was able to prove that he could be productive or have usable skill, survived a little bit longer, as long as the Third Reich needed him.

A handful of them didn’t register with Judenrat and consequently did not receive food rations.

It was calculated by the Ghetto organizers that food ration was not sufficient for survival, without them the unregistered Jew was entering the realm of impossibility, in some cases for a few years.

By the beginning of Fall of 1942, officially 35000 Jews were still in the Ghetto. They were slave workers of the “shops” manufacturing for the Nazi military.

However, there are estimates that an additional 20 to 25 thousand of Jews were “illegals” in the Ghetto.

They survived another Winter and a few months of Spring.

I’m familiar with the “smuggling economy” during the time when the Ghetto was still inhabited by most of the prisoners. But organizing food for those “illegal’ Jews, when the Ghetto was limited in its territory and almost empty, was nothing less than superhuman effort in order to provide, to share the food with them.

On April 19, the first day of Passover, the Ghetto Uprising began.

I will not analyze or share my thoughts on the fact of the uprising itself as it is out of the scope of what I want to point out in this essay.

I started this writing with the picture, and I will end with the picture.

The same group of the holy Tzadikim, nothing less than Maluchim - angels in human form, showing once more to the forces of evil, that those forces can never uproot the Toira from the people of Toira.

Those who for years hid, preserved who they were in conditions of hell.

Those who at the risk of their own lives, provided those Talmidei Chachamim with sustenance.

There are dark places in human history, there are dark times.

It disturbs my being every time when I think about those places and times.

So much evil…

But the Warsaw Ghetto in a sense is the darkest of them.

Auschwitz, Treblinka, Majdanek, Chelmno…these places as Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Dresden, Armenia, Cambodia, Ruanda…the list is endless; those places and times signifies physical murder of humans by other humans.

Ghetto, its dehumanization and demoralization signify something else.

It was attempted to uproot Divine from the human, to reduce angelic Potential to physics or chemistry, surely to biology of what the perpetrators imagined of what human is.

The Nazis in the picture see angels and they are not bowing.

Perhaps it requires first to be at least a human to recognize Divine.

Religious Jews captured by the SS during the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The original German caption reads: "Jewish rabbis."

From left to right are Rabbi Lipa Kaplan, Eliyahu Levin (son of Rabbi Hersh Henoch of Bedzin), Mendel Alter (son of Rabbi Nechemya Alter); Yankel Levin (son of Rabbi Mottel Levin of Lodz and grandson of the rabbi of Bedzin), unknown and Rabbi Heschel Rappaport, a Gerer Chassid and mentor to young Chassidim.

Photo Credit

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of National Archives and Records Administration, College Park

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