April 19, 1943: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Warsaw uprising

A fortuitous confluence of events, dates and topics: following yesterday’s discussion of an absurd and passive application of a warped “love your enemy” approach to school bullying and the week’s earlier explication of the importance of using Nazi comparisons when they are appropriate as well as the problems arising from the rampant historical ignorance and apathy in the U.S, we arrive at April 19. I doubt that one citizen in a thousand could identify or explain the significance of today’s date in world history, but we all should; it is the essence of our duty to remember. For on this date in 1943, the residents of the Warsaw ghetto in Poland, realizing that they were in the process of being liquidated, fought back against their Nazi captors, and for almost a month, despite being outnumbered and outgunned, disrupted the extermination and, though they were ultimately defeated (most of the leaders committed suicide with cyanide as the Germans began to round them up), their courage sparked other uprisings in the ghettos in Bialystok and Minsk, and the Treblinka and Sobibor death camps.

The Germans had planned to begin the final elimination of the Warsaw Jews on the eve of Passover, so the anniversary of the beginning of the revolt is perfectly placed. Make sure you quiz the Palestinian cause fan in your life regarding the Warsaw ghetto revolt, and see if it rings any bells—it probably won’t. Learning the history may help you explain to them why the state of Israel will make no deals until the nation’s right to exist is acknowledged and unequivocal.

They, and you, can read about the Warsaw ghetto uprising here.

46 thoughts on “April 19, 1943: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

  1. Make sure you quiz the Palestinian cause fan in your life regarding the Warsaw ghetto revolt, and see if it rings any bells—it probably won’t. Learning the history may help you explain to them why the state of Israel will make no deals until the nation’s right to exist is acknowledged and unequivocal.

    Does Israel have a right to exist? Does any nation have a “right to exist?” I think nations exist from right of conquest and ability to maintain their integrity, both ultimately coming down to violence and force.

    Israel’s right to exist, if it has one, derives from it’s ability to defend itself from those who wish to destroy it. They also oppress and dispossess those people who have occupied the land before them. Nothing Americans haven’t done before them, on our own land, of course. But sitting down, expecting a Palestinian to accept that Israel has a right to do what it does seems a futile exercise as sitting down a 18th century Native American and telling them that the land they and their ancestors had for centuries is no longer their land. I wouldn’t expect either to understand or empathize.

    Might makes right. And when the shoe is on the other foot, humans behave like humans. So ho-hum it’s banal. But I don’t see how it is very ethical.

      • Wrong, wrong, wrong! Israel exists today because of the Holocaust and the U.N. doing the right thing at the time along with gutsy Harry Truman recognizing the State of Israel in 1949. By the way, the Poles also had their own Warsaw Uprising in 1944 against the Nazis. They received no help from Stalin and the Communists.

    • “So ho-hum it’s banal. But I don’t see how it is very ethical.”

      So you don’t see the connection between denying someone’s right to exist (and therefore their actual existence) and the decision to eliminate them?

      Ever hear of the Hutus? Or the Tutsis?

      You take away someones right to exist and it is a very short step to taking away their humanity. If they are not a human, there is no problem to take away their life.

      • So you don’t see the connection between denying someone’s right to exist (and therefore their actual existence) and the decision to eliminate them?

        Israel isn’t someone, it is something, a key difference I would think. No nation exists forever, with its borders forever static. Sooner or later, Israel too will pass on.

        • Which would bring up a topic that I considered opening in my initial response to you. The enemies of Israel do not hate Israel. They hate Israelis and want to see them all dead or displaced.

          • Sure, some do, no doubt. I think others would just like their home back, or to be able to travel freely. Or not get bombed, or whatever. But the fact that virulent anti-Semites exist is without question. But it isn’t really related to whether or not a nation has a right to exist.

            • Wow. So what is a nation made up of? Rocks, trees, dirt, bodies of water? If a nation has no right to exist then neither do the people that populate it, according to their enemies. Plenty of the enemies of Israel understand the concept that to destroy a country you must destroy the population.

              You are correct that if a country is not strong enough to protect its borders (or refuses to do so in the case of the US) then it will eventually lose that nation either by active or passive invasion. Israel understands this as well.

              • Wow. So what is a nation made up of? Rocks, trees, dirt, bodies of water? If a nation has no right to exist then neither do the people that populate it, according to their enemies.I>

                Yes, I contend, that a nation has no right to exist, except by use of force. But I do not conflate “nation”, which is something of a legalistic concept, with “people”, which is a far more concrete concept. Destroying a nation can be a rather bloodless thing (witness the dissolution of the USSR or East Germany). Destroying people, decidedly less so.

                • I imagine that everyone who has participated in genocide or who has failed to protest genocide has had similar legalistic protections when they are discussing their enemies. Dehumanize the problem and it all gets easier to justify.

                  Sorry to make it seem personal, but the USSR and East Germany changed their national identity in a more or less voluntary manner. No one came in and killed them all nor did anyone seriously advocate for it.

                  Palestinians have no such goal in mind. They intend to eliminate Israel through the use of genocide and by maintaining that Israel has no right to exist. Then they won’t have to feel bad when they kill all the inhabitants, because, after all, no country has the right to exist.

                  • Sorry to make it seem personal, but the USSR and East Germany changed their national identity in a more or less voluntary manner. No one came in and killed them all nor did anyone seriously advocate for it.

                    Yes, that’s my point. Nation existence or non-existence is a separate and discrete concept from person existence or non-existence.

                    Palestinians have no such goal in mind. They intend to eliminate Israel through the use of genocide and by maintaining that Israel has no right to exist.

                    I do think most Palestinians want to eliminate Israel, which is a separate concept than wanting to kill every Israeli. The two actions are not the same. You could easily have one, and not the other. As for what is in every Palestinian’s heart, that I cannot say, but do I as I general concept, think that every single Palestinian( or even the majority) is a cold-blooded, genocidal-loving maniac? Probably not. Even most Germans in the time of Hitler weren’t like that. I think most Palestinians have some justified anger about being disposed from their ancestral lands, and the discriminatory laws they are forced to endure, but anger isn’t the same as genocide. But unless Israel really steps up their reproductive program, or starts cracking down even harder discrimination-wise on Palestinians in their midst, it’s all a moot question in a hundred years or so anyway. Israel might still be Israel in name only in a few decades, while having very few people that the founders would have considered “Israeli.”

                    • You seem to have missed my point about the USSR and GDR making their changes voluntarily. The issue of the existence of Israel has to do with their resistance to genocide from the outside; not change from within. Not analogous at all.

                      I can’t speak for what is in their hearts either. They are largely self-selecting (at the beginning) – I tend to accept their own statements about Israel. When their leaders speak in English, they sound fairly statesmanlike. When you see their speeches translated from their own language, they are quite clear about their desire for genocide and their audiences shout their approval. There seem to be very few who go against that tide.

                      Also, the Palestinians are not the only neighbors of Israel.

                    • The issue of the existence of Israel has to do with their resistance to genocide from the outside; not change from within. Not analogous at all.

                      Perhaps I have missed your point. Please explain further.

                      To explain my own point further, I contend that Israel’s right to exist is predicated, like that of other nations, on the right of conquest. Its existence continues because it has the ability to defend itself. That does not make Israel more or less moral in that aspect than any other nation that currently exists or used to exist. Past genocide (or even future genocide) cannot be a justification for a state’s right to exist. Otherwise, there are many ethnicities which should have their own little separate nation, but do not.

                      Obviously such past genocide (and threat of future genocide) would make the people who have suffered cling more tightly to a nation that promises to protect them from such events in the future. But that is a separate subject. Without the right of conquest (which historically has probably been wielded unethically 99% of the time), the nation does not exist. Without the ability to defend itself(which can go either way), then a nation cannot continue. But it is a tough pill for the oppressed and dispossessed people to realize. And it is even a taller order to expect them to empathize with the people who are doing the oppressing.

                    • “The issue of the existence of Israel has to do with their resistance to genocide from the outside; not change from within. Not analogous at all.

                      Perhaps I have missed your point. Please explain further.”

                      That is my point. You noted that the national changes in USSR and GDR were “bloodless”. I pointed out that these countries are not analogous to a situation where enemies kill the population and thereby “change” the nation.

                      Your point that a nations right to exist is predicated on their ability to defend themselves misses the point of Jacks’ post entirely. It also pretty neatly deflects away from what was your apparent initial orientation which appeared to me to be that you didn’t care if genocide took place in Israel. Then you wondered how this had anything to do with ethics. Sorry – I happen to think that resisting genocide is pretty damn ethical.

                    • Of course I care if genocide takes place in Israel (or anywhere else). My point was that the existence or non-existence of countries (as entities on paper) have little to with genocides or not. Any time you have a minority unable to defend itself, the potential for genocide is there.

                      But the existence of a country is not an ethical stance. Nor is the non-existence of a country. They just *are*, until they aren’t anymore (often, but not always, by violent means). But trying to convince an oppressed Palestinian that Israel has a right to oppress and dispossess him because Jews were the victim of their own dispossession and genocide is a futile effort. The “hey, it could be worse” thing is likely to fall on deaf ears.

                    • I did. It could just as easily be used as inspiration for Palestinians to keep fighting until they throw off their Israeli oppressors. Kind of ironic in that way. It is very easy to see why Israel is insistent on it’s right to exist. Of course. But to me, at least, it is also easy to see why Palestinians would resist that notion, as is their right too.

                      As far as ethics go, I think a clear bright line rule of “no genocides” is good. But then, no armed conflict?, no dispossession? no revolts? Should all country borders remain static they were they are now, except by peaceful agreement? And if a minority in a country has been dispossessed in the past, and oppressed currently within a country, what should their remedy be, if peaceful means have come to naught?

                      Traditionally, we’ve been okay with the results, even as we dislike the process.

                    • It is said, and from all the evidence is true, that if the Israelis stopped resisting the Palestinians, that they would be killed to the last person. But if the Palestinians decided to live in peace and stop attacking Israel, then the conflict would end and they could all live in peace.

                      Please stop pretending that this conflict between these two groups is one of equal guilt. If you continue to do so, you have lost all credibility as an observer of history. Both recent history and ancient history.

                    • … But if the Palestinians decided to live in peace and stop attacking Israel, then the conflict would end and they could all live in peace.

                      I think, from the Palestinian perspective, the Israelis were the original aggressors towards them, so of course they are going to resist. It would be like someone breaking into your house, deciding to live with you, confining you to the bathroom, and telling you that if you would just stop being so aggressive, and trying to throw them out of your house, the two of you could live together in peace. Obviously Israelis don’t see it that way, and thus…conflict.

                      Or to put it another way, it would like someone saying, if all the Israelis would just pack up, move to Antarctica, and leave the area to the Palestinians, they would all live in peace. In this case neither one seems willing to cede land.

                      But you can’t create a country out of whole cloth where people already live without cracking a few eggs, and if the intractable hatred of a few thousand Palestinians was what was needed to create a Jewish homeland, I think most Israelis seem to think it was worth the price.

                    • Well, that was a useless debate. What it comes down to with you, Deery, is that you have a full blown sense of moral equivalency that runs the full gamut into what constitutes a legitimate nationality. A nation is more than a sovereign land with borders and a government. It is likewise a people with a common heritage who identify with one another, whether or not they have a state to call their own. The Jews are such a nation; twice dispossessed from their homeland and now facing another such expulsion since their return. I need look no further than the relative worth and culture of the Israelis in comparison with those who seek their destruction to decide who is most worthy of free nationhood in all its aspects.

                    • Eh. *shrugs* What caught my eye about this post was the line about a “state’s right to exist.” I was interested in whether there was such an articulable right. I don’t really think there is such a right, and thus far, no one has really given a cogent argument for the idea that such a right exists.

                      I’m not particularly interested in debating the cultural “worth” of one group of people against another, that certainly won’t lead anywhere good. I will leave such things to be taken by others if they wish to do so.

                      It is likewise a people with a common heritage who identify with one another, whether or not they have a state to call their own.

                      How far is the gradient on this? In your mind, is nation distinguishable from clan, tribe, ethnic group, or they all the all the same thing?

                    • I think, from the Palestinian perspective, the Israelis were the original aggressors towards them, so of course they are going to resist.

                      then they are wrong.

                      Israel was part of the Ottoman Empire until the Ottomans lost a war they fought. If these Palestinians did not want to lose the land, they should have kept fighting until the Ottoman Empire won the war.

    • Hopefully to add to Deery and Phil’s discussion:

      Nations

      I think, the term “nation” has been used here in a variety of forms, which also leads to some confusion in the discussion.

      I think, for clarity, one would use:

      “Country” – more or less to describe the physical aspect of the area discussed.

      “State” – more or less to describe the legal entity that imposes on the area.

      “Nation” – more or less describes the people in the area discussed. However, this gets complex when discussing areas that are “schizophrenic” or areas in conflict. Nation does describe the people being discussed, but it must only describes a distinct people WITH a common & unifying set of values, ideals, cultural qualities, insofar as the non-common & disunifying values, ideals and cultural qualities that are present are not sufficient enough to overwhelm the unifying ones OR do not act in opposition to the unifying ones.

      To clarify:
      In the Country of Israel, there exist two nations (if not more). They have a unifying culture in regards to claiming that patch of dirt as a homeland, having relatively strong religious beliefs and traditional views of culture and work ethics. However, the disunifying quality of one group wishing the other group destroyed, makes them incompatible, regardless of the unifying characteristics. Therefore, two nations.

      In another example, here in America, our unifying value of the “Freedom of Conscience” is not eliminated by the presence of Person A believing that unborn humans are humans and worthy of right to life and protection, and Person B believing that Unborn Humans do not have the right to life, therefore not worthy of protection.

      One can discount that as saying, well that’s just a difference between actual nations and political parties. Yet, as time goes on and values entrench and oppose, if those values gain more importance than the unifying ones, OR if a particular value espoused is in direct opposition to a unifying one, then inevitably a split occurs (and 2 nations are born) OR one side wins before the split.

      Right to Exist

      Nations do have a “right to exist”.

      We should apply the values of our civilization to evaluate the world — and I don’t see why not, they are OUR values, and they are the most logically derived to describe the world. Using our logically derived cultural values: a group of individuals have the Freedom to Associate, and as the individual’s within that group have a Right to Life, it can be attached vicariously, that the group, a nation in this case, has a “right to exist”. Now, as with all things, there is a balance: one person’s rights and freedoms end when they impose or harm another person’s rights and freedoms; which means that a Nation’s “right” to exist, extends only as much as they are not wrongfully imposing themselves on others.

      This appears to conflict with deery’s assessment, but it does not, because it does not exclude deery’s observations of “might makes right” (although worded poorly: might does not make right). However, “might” does force others to acknowledge naturally derived rights.

      Here is a call to “pick sides” so to say. When two groups of people (“nations”) in this case are in conflict over whose “rights” ARE right, one must analyze which side is using force to protect those naturally derived rights we believe in and which side is using force to protect some arbitrary claim or thuggery…OR are both sides using force to protect some abitrary claim or thuggery? This I know: BOTH sides cannot both be fighting for naturally derived rights, or else they’d see a common and civilized goal and seek, as all Commercial Republics do when interacting with each other, a marketable and mutual solution.

      Unified Israel or Two-State ‘Solution’ or No Israel

      This is where it is time to pick sides. Either:

      1) Israel stands for naturally derived rights and IS IN THE RIGHT using force against Palestinian rebels.

      2) Palestenian rebels stand for naturally derived rights and ARE IN THE RIGHT using force against the government of Israel.

      OR

      3) Neither one stands for naturally derived rights and are both caught in a squabble over which nation gets to control the land.

      Of course, there is likely a combination of all 3, but any combination is likely overwhelmingly weighted towards one of the 3.

      At this point, one must ask oneself, which “Side” most accurately mirrors the values and qualities of OUR culture.

      Pick a side.

      • Or be selfish and go Swiss.

        My own take, however, is more akin to “squatter’s rights” than anything else; the Israelis earned the “right” to live where they do simply by being there for multiple generations (enough to where their younger members know no other home), regardless of the circumstances of the original migrations (same applies, mind you, to people like ethnic Russians in the former Soviet republics, whites and Indians in Africa, or my own ancestors, the Han Chinese who settled Taiwan and eventually overwhelmed the Austronesian-speaking natives).

        • I think your take fits perfectly in with my take. Yours merely addresses who can be held accountable for invasions, if the actual invasion occurred generations ago.

          And you are right, I don’t think you can hold current generations accountable for the crimes of the past (unless individuals within those generations are still perpetuating crimes – in which case the individuals are held accountable)

  2. Israel has been forced by the world to fight for it’s existence in every nation. It even gave up lands it won in battle, which few nations have ever done. The right of conquest might not be a popular idea when Jews do it, but Putin is getting virtually no resistance from the world as it tramples Ukraine under and requires all Jews to register with the government.
    You can hardly expect Jews to participate enthusiastically in their own destruction.
    So ho-hum is a standard and banal, useless and ignorant response, but if it’s your response at least have the decency to keep it to yourself.

    • I’m not even sure what your response means. I acknowledge that Israel has the right to exist, by the same standard that every nation has a right to exist, by right of conquest and ability to defend itself.

      I also acknowledge that we can expect those that were conquered and/or dispossessed (in this case Palestinians) to want to continue fighting to try to regain what was lost, and to dispute the right of conquest, in contrast to what Jack has proposed. Plus, speaking realistically, it is unlikely that the conquered will feel all that warmly towards those that have conquered them. And because of that, certain steps then have to be taken. They usually consist of eradication, and/or dispossession, and/or oppression of those conquered. That’s the part that’s banal.

      • Except it seems, that there was a period where the Palestinians DID enjoy peaceful life in Israel and DID accept the State of Israel and their membership in it….

        Something changed though, and it would seem it was mostly outside forces instigating unrest amongst Palestinians to weaken the Israeli State.

  3. Israel came into existence because of the passage of the U.N. partition resolution of 1947. It continues to exist because efforts to destroy it have been unsuccessful. Am Yisroel Hai.

    • Indeed, from a technical standpoint, the partition in ’47 and Ben Gurion’s formal statement in ’48 was the official re-creation of the State of Israel, after which the Israeli’s begged the Arabs and Palestinians to join them in forming a new nation. The Palestinians refused, and attacked Israel the next day, with a force known as the Arab Legion, backed, financed and supported by Jordan, and through them, Syria.

  4. Jack, many, if not most, Palestinians acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. The conflict today is about Israel’s right to exist AS A JEWISH STATE. I, a Jew and an ethicist, have to side with the Palestinian’s on this.

    • Israel has a right to exist as a Jewish state, Bob. As a people that was denied a home for centuries and ejected from nation after nation, then rounded up and slaughtered, the eternal refuge quality of Israel is essential to its existence, and that of the Jewish people. Their culture demands it, history demands it, and decency demands it.

      • Hundreds of years? You mean MANY hundreds of years of course. (I’m sure you are aware of this, but most people are not.) One of the problems with this discussion (and I mean in the broader sense) is that knowledge tends to go back to WWII or at best turn of the 20th century for most people. Historically, however, Jews have been an oppressed minority in just about every region (Spain, Eastern Europe, Russia, the Middle East, etc.). Do the Jewish people have a right to its own State because of this — even if it means taking away the rights or national identity of another group of people? Maybe. Race matters — or here — religious nationalistic identity matters.

  5. I forget the actual dates off-hand, but the Exodus occurred during the reign of Pharaoh Ramses II, self-labeled “the Great”. For obvious political reasons, he left no mention of it on his numerous memorials, but the subservience of the Hebrews is depicted. This was many centuries prior to the times of David, the Assyrian invasion and the Roman conquest, among the many other events.

    • For obvious political reasons, he left no mention of it on his numerous memorials, but the subservience of the Hebrews is depicted.

      that fits the pattern, if we are writing about the same pharaoh who crushed the Hittites at Kadesh.

      • Same one, Michael. Only he almost got himself cut off by the Hittites and crushed himself. Fortunately for the young, over-eager pharaoh, the other two wings of his army were commanded by veterans who saved his column from annihilation. Kadesh was mainly a draw, after all the tumult had died down. Then the two sides signed a treaty in the field that was mainly favorable to Egypt. Ramses went home, proclaimed himself a great conqueror and built big memorials to himself, many of which still exist. He was that kind of guy! Ramses II reigned from 1292-25 BC,,, a long reign in any era. Therefore, Exodus likely occurred around 1250 BC. This was the same period that witnessed a big upsurge in volcanic and climatic upheavals, including the explosion of the island of Thera and subsequent collapse of Mycenaean civilization.

  6. This is a picture from Warsaw Uprising which started 1st of August 1944, not from Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. These are two different things.
    The child in the picture is Alina Balińska, Polish.

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