WARSAW, Poland -- Government officials, Jewish leaders and common folk marked the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising Monday, placing wreaths at a memorial to the heroes of the struggle while drums beat solemnly nearby.
The ceremony marked three days of events commemorating the decision of a few thousand poorly armed Jews to rise up on April 19, 1943, against Nazi plans to destroy the Warsaw ghetto, into which the Germans had herded about 450,000 Jews in the first years of World War II.
For 28 days they fought, repeatedly driving back the overwhelming might of the Germans.
Finally, on May 16, the uprising was crushed. By the time Warsaw was liberated on Jan. 17, 1945, only about 300 Jews remained alive in the Polish capital, compared with a pre-war population of 400,000 that made Warsaw the second-largest Jewish community in the world outside New York.
At Belvedere Palace, President Lech Walesa met Vice President Albert Gore, who is in Poland for the ceremonies and to give a speech to Parliament on Tuesday.
'No nation of Central and Eastern Europe has been bolder in pursuing political and economic reforms,' Gore said. 'For that reason and others, U.S.-Polish friendship is extremely important for President Clinton and me.'
Walesa leaves Tuesday for the United States, where he will participate in the dedication of the Holocaust Memorial in Washington and meet with President Clinton.
During a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Walesa praised the heroic Jewish struggle for human dignity during the uprising, and declared that similar crimes should never occur again.
'A huge crime was committed on Polish soil against Jews, but it was not done by Polish hands,' Walesa said.
Responding to his statement, Rabin said the current level of bilateral relations was made possible due to Walesa, who made a historic visit to Israel two years ago.
'There are still difficulties, but by continuing this process, we shall build a new kind of relations which will be a hope to the peoples of our two nations,' Rabin said.
Earlier Rabin met with Prime Minister Hanna Suchocka to 'open a new page in the book which was closed for many years.'
In a luncheon toast, he praised the development of relations between the two countries but also expressed concern over flashes of anti- Semitism in Poland.
'Our eyes have not missed the manifestations of intolerance and anti-Semitism, which in their nature are enemies of democracy,' he said. 'We deplore it, and are full of approbation for your struggle against the manifestations of anti-democratism and anti-Semitism in Poland.'
During the noon ceremony at the ghetto monument, Suchocka laid the first wreath to the Jewish fighters, followed by representatives of the Polish Parliament, its army and the Roman Catholic Church.
In a symbolic act, they were followed by Rita Suessmuth, speaker of the German Bundestag, who said the occasion should be used 'to shape our common future together, so as not to forget the tragic events of the past.'
In Bonn, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel saluted the uprising, saying its suppression and the destruction of the ghetto 'has become one of the darkest chapters of German war policy and racial discrimination.'
The ghetto monument is a massive marble section of wall 36 feet high fronted by a sculpture of a group of men, women and children armed with firearms, hand-made grenades and even paving stones, breaking away from the burning ghetto.
Designed by sculptor Natan Rappaport, it is made of gray Swedish marble that was originally ordered by Adolf Hitler for a monument that would glorify the Third Reich. Instead, the stone now commemorates the fate of his victims.
As the ceremonies continued throughout the day, Arab students in Warsaw complained of police harassment. They said authorities threatened them with expulsion if they left their dormitories, which would mean they would be unable to continue their studies in Poland.