Lessons of the Warsaw Ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising has been called a contest between an ant and an elephant. And while the ants may have lost the battle, we all won through their heroic efforts — reclaiming our pride as Jews and as human beings during a time when we were viewed as less than human.

For this reason, as we mark Yom HaShoah, the Holocaust Remembrance Day that begins at sundown Monday, we not only mourn those who lost their lives but we also honor those who battled brutality 60 years ago. Indeed, Yom HaShoah began as a commemoration of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

On April 19, 1943, Marek Edelman and a group of ragtag young fighters proved to us, to the Nazis and to the world that we would not go as lambs to the slaughter but would fight our oppressors. It is their message that symbolizes the spirit of Israel today.

"The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the first time in occupied Europe that civilians put up armed resistance against Nazi occupiers," Edelman, 82, the only surviving commander of the revolt, said last week.

Tragically, as World War II and other horrific events have proven, the Exodus abolished neither slavery nor Pharaohs. Nor did it end the ongoing struggle against tyranny.

Remembering the Warsaw battle, Edelman told the Warsaw Voice newspaper, "There was no talk about victory or avoiding extermination. It could only be about surviving with dignity, with arms in hand, for a few more days."

But in so doing, he continued, "we showed that you could fight against the occupier…This was the first brick yanked out of the wall of Nazism in Poland."

In addition: "We started a process that later led to formulation of the idea of the fight for human dignity and rights included in the U.N. Charter."

Next week in Warsaw, the presidents of Poland and Israel will hold a ceremony to remember those who fought for their self-respect — and ours. May we continue their mission, as Jews and as Americans.