Heroism, Rebellion and Commemoration
By: Baruch Shub
The concepts "heroism" and "rebellion" symbolize for us, the Holocaust survivors and fighters, the resolve to stand fast against the overwhelming power of the Nazis and their collaborators during the Holocaust and afterwards, and the establishment of underground organizations under impossible conditions. The war against the Nazi oppressor injected a ray of light and hope into the darkness of the period. The legacy of the fight against the Nazis accompanied our soldiers and the nation during the difficult days of the War of Independence. Everyone took pride in the Warsaw Ghetto rebels, in the partisans of the forests, in the rescuers of children, the illegal border-crossers and in the rebels in the death camps. The Israeli underground sang the partisan hymn "Do not say that this is my last road". Yad Vashem, the State institution, engraved heroism on its emblem and is called: "Yad Vashem for the Holocaust and Heroism". The Masua Museum added the word "rebellion" to its name and is called: "Memorial to the Zionist Youth Movements in the Holocaust and Rebellion". The museum at the "Ghetto Fighters' House" displays the Ghetto Fighters with pride and the "legacy" is named after Mordechai Anilevitz, the commander of the Warsaw Ghetto Rebellion. Even organizations which were only loosely connected to the Holocaust , added the word "partisan" to their names in order to enhance their standing.
The Erosion of Concepts
With the passage of years, for reasons which are difficult to explain, the glory attached to heroism and rebellion has declined, and words such as "partisan", "fighting" and "rebellion" have become unpopular. "Yad Vashem" calls its school : "The Central School for the Teaching of the Holocaust" - and it has dropped the word "heroism". Masuacalled its school: "The Institute for the Study of the Holocaust" and erased the word "rebellion".
In 1991 a symposium was held on the subject "Ghetto Fighters in Historical Perspective". The best historians and researchers of the Holocaust period participated. I will quote several sentences from Professors Yehuda Bower and Israel Gutman, two of the most important historians of the Holocaust, Heroism and Rebellion:
Prof. Yehuda Bower
" The real problem we have today is, that the concept of "fighting" has been devalued not only by politicians and intellectuals, but there is an erosion in the historical consciousness of the general public, which is becoming entrenched in Israel and in the Jewish people of the Diaspora. If we do not pay attention to this trend, we will go from being on the defensive, to a rearguard war, and I would not wish it to come to that…"
Prof. Israel Gutman
"… In my opinion, we are witnesses to a paradoxical phenomenon; on the one hand, interest in the subject of the Holocaust and the Holocaust period is increasing…in contrast to the basic, deep awareness of the Holocaust as a definitive event in the life of the Jewish people, there exists a regression or erosion in the status of the resistance and rebellion of the ghettos, and it seems to me that interest in the resistance and the Jewish fighting in the ghettos and the forests, is decreasing and is being pushed aside to the margins of the picture of the period. One can discern this in the academic literature, in articles in the press. We feel it in the University…."
This symposium was held ten years ago. As of today, the trend of minimizing the evidence of heroism and fighting is steadily increasing.
Data on Fighters and their Commemoration
In WWII (1939-1945) about one and a half million Jews fought in various armies against Germany, and of them, about half a million fell in battle.
In our War of Independence, about 50,000 fighters took part, of them 3500 were Palmach and 3500 Etzel and Lehi. About 6000 fighters fell in battle (1% of the total Jewish population).
In the revolts, in the forests and the undergrounds against the Nazis, about 90,000 Jews participated. Nearly 50,000 fell in battle against the Nazis and their collaborators. (More than 50%!)
At the end of the war, the nations which fought in the undergrounds and the forests against the Nazi occupier, commemorated their heroes.
France. The Resistance was commemorated in museums, in universities and educational institutions. French youth learn the lessons of the occupation and the resistance. The people honor and appreciate the members of the Resistance.
Russia. The partisan war is a symbol and source of pride for the Russian people. Partisan museums in Minsk and other cities are filled with documents, certificates and displays. Partisans who fell and those who are still alive are commemorated on statues and memorial plaques which were erected in nearly every city. Clubs have been established for the surviving fighters.
And in Israel. A magnificent museum was established for the Palmach, an impressive House for Etzel, a Lehi House, Hagana House and others. Although there is a "Ghetto Fighters' House" which contains an exhibition and a Commemoration Project (in conjunction with our organization, the Organization of the Partisans, Underground Fighters and Ghetto Rebels), the project has been temporarily suspended for lack of funds. "Yad Vashem" is to open a new museum which will commemorate the fighting and the rebellion, in a special hall. We hope they will dedicate a suitable place for this purpose and wish success to those who are involved in this project.
Legacy, Heritage, Commemoration, Immortalization
Our organization in Israel and the Diaspora, includes partisans, underground fighters and ghetto rebels who operated throughout Europe during the Nazi occupation. The organization was founded immediately upon liberation in 1945, in the Diaspora. Our organization is the only one in Israel and in the world which represents the Jewish fighters under the Nazi regime in the ghettos and camps, fighters of all political stripes, the whole and the handicapped. Our organization is also the only one in Israel which fights to impart the legacy of the struggle, in the ghetto rebellions, in the camps and the forests, and to commemorate the heroism of the Jewish fighters during the Holocaust.
Summary of the organization's activities in transmitting the legacy and commemoration of its fighters.
Transmitting the Fighting Legacy
Our members , as volunteers, continue to lecture, testify, explain and teach in the army, schools and clubs and in fact, in front of whoever wishes to know, the history of the underground fight against the Nazi occupier.
Setting-up of an internet web site in order to disseminate widely the legacy of resistance to tyranny and genocide and to fight those who would deny or wish to forget the Holocaust and against the increasing anti-Semitism. The website will operate in both Hebrew and English.
Facilitate the publishing of memoirs, academic studies and research into the fighting and the rebellion.
Organize and publish documents, certificates, archival artifacts from the period of the fighting and afterwards.
Activate those who will continue the work, to transmit to them the legacy of the fighting, the sacrifice and the rebellion, in order that they will impart it all to the coming generations.
Explain to the Jewish people and to the world the universal significance of our struggle.
Commemoration of the fighters in a database of names on an internet website, in Hebrew and English.
We are continuing with the registration/recording in the database of the fighters, partisans, underground members, rebels, rescuers and individuals.
Commemoration of anonymous Jewish fighters. The following are a few examples:
(a)….In the Partisan Museum in Minsk, Belorussia, there is a photograph which shows the execution of partisans, by hanging. Among them, there is a young girl of about 17.
On the photograph, which hangs in a very central place in the Museum, is written: " A Belorussian girl called Maria Broskina." In fact, this is a Jewish girl, a heroine of Minsk.
(b)….In one of the churches in Poland, there is a grave, and written on the tombstone is: To the Polish partisans who fell in battle. Among the names there is the name Eliash Bren (nicknamed Adif). Eliash was a Jewish hero who fought and fell in the ranks of the Polish partisans. He was wounded and captured by the Gestapo, who tortured him brutally, but he did not betray his comrades to the enemy. He is buried with the Poles.
It is our duty to commemorate him among the heroes of our people.
(c)….At the entrance to the Gestapo interrogation center in Warsaw - which is a museum today - the notorious Piviak, there is a memorial to the tortured Polish soldiers -among the names are those of many Jews, without a cross next to their names.
(d)"….We brought explosive charges to the outskirts of the forest. A narrow path, winding and damp, parallel to a stormy and swampy river. Darkness all around us. Just one slight stumble would mean slipping and falling into the swamp and the river. Suddenly the path widened, a small square in front of us with daylight shining through. In the center of the square was a block of wood upon which sat a human skeleton, pointing with his hand, in the direction of the path. I asked who the man was and the answer from the partisan-saboteur was: "This is a Jewish partisan who was forgotten in the forest" and he burst out laughing…"
Hundreds and perhaps thousands of "skeletons" have not been located yet. They were left where they died. It is our duty to commemorate them. For this purpose, we have created a database of fighters which records their names, biographies, photograph if one is available, along with other details.
Commemoration of the Jewish communities which rebelled against the Nazis - Ghetto Revolts
The internet website which we are setting up will include an instructive chapter about the Jewish communities which established underground movements and resisted the Nazis.
The forests where the partisans fought - the revolts in the death camps.
About 160 areas of combat have been located in Eastern Europe. We intend to present them and explain the part the Jews played in the fighting. The revolts in the death camps were heroic phenomena of the highest order and it is our duty to locate the names of the participants and to present them to the world.
Commemoration of Jewish heroism in hiding-places, bunkers, with false identities and illegal border-crossings.
The heroism of tens of thousands of anonymous people who lived in constant fear of their lives in hiding and in bunkers, who smuggled children across borders and countries, who risked their lives to save others, and who went to their deaths with their loved ones in order not to leave children, the old and the sick alone on their last journey, has yet to be immortalized.
We have appealed to Jewish institutions in Israel and the Diaspora, to the Finance Ministry, the Claims Conference, and to the World Organization. We requested support for the commemoration of the struggle and for the transmission of the legacy. We have still to receive a reply. It seems that this is a result of the erosion of the memory of the Jewish fight against the Germans who rose up against the Jews to destroy them. A phenomenon to which we are witness today!
On the eve of Holocaust and Rememberance Day, an Israeli newspaper published a slanderous article. The following are excerpts from the article:
"…Placing the rebellion as a basic motif in the center of Rememberance Day is one of the most shocking distortions of history…the rebels, who were in fact, suicides, who not only lost their own lives in the rebellion, but caused the deaths of thousands of Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto…the combination of the words "Holocaust" and "heroism", is in itself a distortion…the rebellion which did not save anything was a failure…
Naturally we resist this falsification - especially when it comes from Jews - and we will spare no effort to explain it and to defeat it. We appeal to you, leaders of the people and its institutions: it would be missing an opportunity of historic proportions and an unforgivable injustice if the Jewish people did not find the resources to immortalize the fight and the rebellion against the Nazis and to transmit the legacy to the coming generations!