Heroism in the Warsaw Ghetto
Many schools across Israel distribute yahrzeit candles for students and their families to light on the evening of Yom Hashoah. Affixed to the candle is the name of a Holocaust victim and a QR code (a type of barcode) which one can scan to learn about that person. As six million is such a large and unfathomable number, the goal of this program is to make the day relevant by focusing in on one person who perished in the Holocaust.
The name on my daughter’s candle was Mordechai Anielewicz. When I suggested that we look up information about him, my daughters looked at me in disbelief. Don’t you know about Mordechai Anielewicz, they asked? Embarrassingly, I did not. They were surprised that I didn’t recognize the name, as many streets across the country are named after him – and indeed they were correct, as I counted over 15 cities that have an Anielewicz Street, plus Kibbutz Yad Mordechai was named in his memory. They then educated me about Anielewicz and his role as the leader of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Although Holocaust Remembrance Day is known overseas as Yom Hashoah, in Israel its full name is Yom Hashoah V’Hagvura which means Day of the Holocaust and the Heroism – and there was no shortage of heroism during that dark period in history. Led by the indefatigable and unflappable Anielewicz, the Jewish warriors in the Warsaw Ghetto fought valiantly for over half a month – despite knowing that their uprising was doomed to fail – sending a powerful and inspiring message that they would not go to the concentration camps quietly. Many thinkers point to the uprising as a turning point in history. As Dan Kurzman in “The Bravest Battle” wrote, “the Warsaw Ghetto uprising . . . symbolically ended two thousand years of Jewish submission to discrimination, oppression, and finally, genocide. It signaled the beginning of . . . a militancy that was to be given form and direction by the creation of the state of Israel.”
Mordechai Anielewicz was the commander in chief of the Jewish Fighting Organization. A second, much smaller Jewish group was the Jewish Military Organization led by Pawel Frenkel. The two organizations never merged but there was an understanding between them that each would defend different sections of the ghetto. A street in Kfar Saba has been named in memory of Pawel Frenkel, as have several intersections across the country. In addition, over half a dozen cities across Israel have memorialized all the intrepid fighters by naming streets “Mordei Hagetaot,” or Rebels of the Ghetto, plus Kibbutz Lochamei Hagetaot, or Ghetto Fighters, in northern Israel was named in their memory.
Heroism in the Warsaw Ghetto was not limited to those who bore arms in resistance. For example, one famous and inspirational hero was Janusz Korczak, a doctor, educator, children’s author, pedagogue and long-time director of an orphanage in Warsaw. During a roundup of Jews in 1942, Korczak repeatedly refused sanctuary offered by the Nazis and other groups – saying that he would not abandon his children – and stayed with his approximately two hundred orphans when they were transferred from the Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp. Streets in Jerusalem, Ramle and Kadima-Zoran have been named in memory of this renaissance man who lived – and died – for the children of his orphanage.
We are all links in the long chain of Jewish history. By learning about the courageous heroes during history’s darkest hour, we are empowered to summon the strength to bravely stand up against injustices confronting us today.
Gedaliah Borvick is the founder of My Israel Home (www.myisraelhome.com), a real estate agency focused on helping people from abroad buy and sell homes in Israel. To sign up for his monthly market updates, contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.