Remembering Warsaw

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warsaw (ap) | A leader of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising warned the world this week not to forget Polish Jews’ historic resistance to their Nazi conquerors on the 62nd anniversary of that fight.

Jewish community leaders and state officials laid wreathes at a monument in downtown Warsaw honoring the hundreds of young Jews who took up arms on April 19, 1943, in the first major act of civilian resistance against the Nazis.

Marek Edelman, 84, who helped lead the uprising and was one of only a dozen to survive, attended the ceremonies to pay homage to the thousands who died in the fight.

“I am here to bear witness to the tragic history of the Warsaw Ghetto so it’s not just me, but all Poles and the entire world who remember,” Edelman said after visiting the bunker where most of the uprising commanders committed suicide after being surrounded by the Germans on May 8, 1943.

Observances were also to be held at the Jewish Cemetery, and the Jewish Theater prepared a commemorative program.

Former Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski, 83, who was a member of a Polish organization assisting the Jews during the war, said the fighters surprised the Nazis who did not expect any resistance.

“The Jews showed the world they were able to fight for their freedom and they were admired for it,” he said.

The insurgents opted to fight their captors in the face of Nazi plans to exterminate the tens of thousands of Jews remaining in the ghetto, where Nazis had crowded more than 400,000 people in November 1940. The residents, outnumbered and outgunned, held off German troops for three weeks with homemade explosives and a cache of smuggled weapons.

Most of the fighters were killed and the Nazis burned down the ghetto street by street.

Krystyna Budnicka, 73, was a child in the ghetto when the uprising took place. Her six brothers and one sister were among the thousands of Jews who died of starvation or disease in the ghetto. Many who survived were later deported to their death in Nazi concentration camps.

“I witnessed it then and I want to tell the world today again that what the Germans were doing was genocide. They were murdering Jews as though they were flies,” Budnicka said.

Before World War II, Warsaw’s Jewish community of more than 400,000 was the largest in Europe.