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Today marks the 72nd anniversary of the beginning of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This was largest armed resistance of Jews against the Nazis. Fighting lasted nearly a month despite the overpowering force of the Nazis in relation to the sparsely armed Jewish insurgents.

Here is Paul Robeson singing the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising song in Yiddish at a concert in Moscow in 1949:

Robeson’s rich voice communicates to me the pride and bravery of those who rose up against their oppressor. It captures a sense of determination as well as melancholy, as if the fighting was deemed both necessary and doomed.

This short of the film To Live and Die with Honor: The Story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising gives a brief outline of events:

The video starts with incredible images of the burning ghetto viewed from outside the wall surrounding it. The narrative is a bit heavy handed, but I can’t help feeling that the resistance fighters deserve to be remembered for their heroism. The video also challenges the common perception that Jews went passively to their death in the Holocaust.

Two years ago, my cousin Krysia and I were in Poland beginning our search for traces of our Jewish relatives. We visited the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw just three days after the 70th anniversary, and met a child survivor of the Holocaust. I don’t remember her name, but I’m sure Krysia does. We walked together from Tłomackie Street to the Old City, sharing our stories. Again, I don’t remember the details, but as she described learning (I think later in life) about being adopted and raised in the US after her parents died in the Holocaust I could feel the pain and bewilderment these recollections evoked. When we got to Freta Street in what’s called the New Town (because it’s couple hundred years younger than the medieval Old Town), Krysia and I were drawn into our own family history and following our parents’ footsteps to their home on the Vistula. Before we realized what was happening, our companion had vanished. We looked but didn’t find her again. Krysia tried getting in touch with her later, but I don’t think she got much of a response.

World War II memories and associated emotions remain so real. Especially for witnesses like the woman we met in Warsaw, and witnesses of witnesses like Krysia and me.

I’ve just learned how to embed video into a post, so here is one more worth looking at:

912 Days of the Warsaw Ghetto contains striking footage of the city before and during World War II. I try to imagine my mother on these streets when, as the narrator says, “War may have been coming ever closer but it was nevertheless quite distant.” And then, how her life changed once war broke out.

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