On the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising...


WARSAW, Poland -- On the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising against Nazism, world leaders cannot help but see the parallel between Hitler's juggernaut and the bloodshed in the Balkans.

Ethnic cleansing, concentration camps, the torture of innocents are being met with indecision and even indifference from many nations whose representatives will be in Warsaw to mark the 50th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.


On April 19, 1943, several thousand poorly armed Jews whose numbers had been decimated by deportations to death camps, decided to resist the Nazi might. For 28 days they held out. Afterward, some escaped through the city's sewers, but 10,000 were killed and the ghetto was reduced to rubble.

Marek Edelman, a retired cardiologist and activist in Poland's Solidarity labor movement, is one of the survivors. A deputy commander during the uprising, Edelman said the anniversary is of particular significance for the world because of the war in Bosnia.


'If this anniversary has any sense, it must be a sense of the future,' he said in a recent telephone interview from his home in the city of Lodz, 90 miles southwest of Warsaw. 'It must show that genocide is still going on.'

Edelman said it is not difficult to compare the cruelties committed in Bosnia to those of Hitler, who targeted Slavs as well as Jews. 'What is happening in Bosnia is exactly the same thing (that happened during World War II),' he said.

Another grim parallel is the indifference of the world, and particularly of Europe, to both slaughters, Edelman said. 'It is confirmation that Nazism and the Holocaust were not a lesson for the world,' he said. 'We have had genocide in Biafra and Cambodia, and now we have genocide in Bosnia.'

Jewish scholars who attended an international conference on the Holocaust and the ghetto uprising in Warsaw last month described how Jewish and Polish intelligence reports on the Nazi atrocities sent to Western leaders during the war were met with disbelief, and ultimately were ignored.

In London, Poland's government in exile urged the West to act, but in vain. A Jewish member of the London government, Szmul Zygielbojm, said in a letter to Polish President Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz, that Poland's pre-war Jewish population of 3.5 million had been reduced to 300,000 by 1943.


'I want to protest in the strongest possible way -- by my death -- the indifference with which the world is watching the annihilation of Jews,' he wrote before committing suicide.

Another scholar from the Jewish Institute in Warsaw, Pawel Szapiro, said the Jewish fighters received scant aid from the Polish underground army in Warsaw -- probably on orders from the government-in-exile. He explained this reluctance saying the Poles already were planning their own uprising aimed at liberating Warsaw ahead of the advancing Red Army in 1944.

Edelman, however, confirmed that the Polish AK, as underground army was known, delivered 50 guns and 50 grenades to the Jewish fighters. 'It was one-fourth of our arsenal,' he said. 'The rest of the weapons were bought from Germans for high prices.'

The conference also considered Jews who cooperated with the Germans: the Judenrat, or Jewish Council, which made decisions affecting ghetto residents, and the Jewish guards who disciplined them by force.

Marian Fuchs, a Polish scholar and concentration camp survivor, gave some justification for the collaboration. 'The Judenrat, cooperating and working for the Germans, thought that in this way they would be able to survive the war,' he said.


The leader of the Judenrat, Adam Czerniakow, committed suicide on the eve of the uprising when he learned that the Germans planned to go ahead with the liquidation of the ghetto.

The beginning of the end came when the notorious German police chief of Warsaw, Jurgen Stroop, took command of the German troops that had been unable to stop the fighting. On April 19 this force entered the ghetto once more, and once more met with fierce resistance.

Stroop promised Hitler that the uprising would be quelled by April 26,but the Jews fought with such determination that the German target date was pushed back to May 8.

On that day, the Germans uncovered the Jewish headquarters bunker containing some 200 fighters led by Mordechaj Anielewicz. Most refused to surrender and, with their commander, committed mass suicide.

The uprising was finally crushed on May 16, when the Germans blew up the Tomacka Synagogue, the largest in Warsaw. Demolition crews later entered the ghetto and leveled it with flamethrowers and dynamite.

A pamphlet published by the Polish-Jewish Council, which was formed at the initiative of President Lech Walesa, said Poles could have done more to help their Jewish neighbors, even though this was the only country in Europe where such action was punishable by execution on the spot.


The publication noted there was a French concentration camp for Jews in Drancy, that Latvian and Ukrainian troops helped Germans quell the uprising, and that Slovakian authorities were paid by the Nazis for every deported Jew, but it emphasized, 'The fact that others behaved worse (than the Poles) does not mean we could not have done more.'

Edelman said that in five decades, little seems to have changed with human sensitivity to the suffering of others. 'There is indifference (to Bosnia) as there was previously to the ghetto,' said the survivor of the Warsaw uprising. 'Nationalism and chauvinism still exist -- and that is Hitler's victory from his grave.'NEWLN:

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