Saturday, April 20, 2024

OPINION AND ANALYSIS | 20-04-2020 16:10

An exercise in perspective, 77 years on from the Warsaw Ghetto uprising

Monday night marks Yom HaShoah, the day in Hebrew Calendar that remembers the uprising at the Warsaw Ghetto.

Dear reader, I invite you to do an exercise with me.

For the last month, wherever you are, you should have been sheltered at home.

Now let’s imagine that during this quarantine you do not have Netflix, you do not have a TV, nor the Internet, nor a mobile phone.

Are you already starting to feel a bit uncomfortable? Wait a little more. Let’s continue with the exercise. 

Take away electricity, telephone and gas. There will be no heating in the next few days. And you won’t always have running water. 

Does it scare you? Wait, there’s more. In the house where you are residing, imagine that it’s one family per room. In most cases, people unknown to you. In your local neighbourhood, say eight square kilometres, up to 450,000 people will be moved in. 

I’ll explain it better. Some 30 percent of your city's population will curl up into 2.4 percent of the area. For three-and-a-half years. A three-metre high wall will be built with barbed wire and there will be 24-hour armed surveillance ensuring that no-one can leave. These measures will be paid for by residents, not the State.

And that’s not all. Sanitary measures, medical supplies and, finally, food will be scarce. Each of those who live in that neighbourhood will eat a daily diet of just 184 calories, less than you’d find in two cereal bars.

The worst if still to come. They are not locking you up to take care of your health or the economy. They do it because you are Jewish. You were – you are not even that now. You’re not even a person. You are less than an animal to them.

You have no civil rights. You cannot own property. You cannot exercise your profession or trade. 

It doesn't even matter what you believe in. If you had a Jewish grandparent, that’s enough. And the closure is a temporary measure. Until they finish deciding what they are going to do with you.

In the meantime, your acquaintances die. From hunger, typhus, pneumonia, and the worst forms of illness and disease. Those who survive will be taken to another destination. Concentration and extermination camps.

The neighbourhood that I am describing for you, graphically, was the Warsaw Ghetto, which operated from October and November of 1940 until May, 1943.

In that anteroom of death, a graphic realised of the dehumanisation that Nazism generated, as in other cities in Poland and Eastern Europe, life resisted.

Just like today, in your home. The kids continued studying. As best they could. Music, painting, dance and lots of literature were made.

On the night of April 19, 1943, a day like today, a group of young people, little more than teenagers, said enough was enough.

They started a rebellion against the Nazi military machinery that lasted until May 16. Almost a month of unequal struggle with stones, sticks and Molotov bombs against an army that had subjugated more than half of Europe. The Ghetto was razed. Its inhabitants were transferred to work or extermination camps. Few survived.

That resistance was a sign that dignity is not surrendered. That tomorrow we will continue to exist. That we will not accept that barbarism that dehumanises us until it destroys ourselves. That in 2020, 77 years on, for the Jewish people sirens will sound and we will hold a minute of silence. That we will continue standing here.

It’s not so serious to stay at home. Thank you for joining me in this exercise and for respecting a minute of silence with us.

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Dr. Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung

Dr. Ariel Gelblung is the Simon Wiesenthal Center's Director for Latin America


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