רבנים, אנשי רוח ומרד גטו ורשה
מה חשבו רבנים ואדמו"רים על מרד גטו ורשה? ומה חשבו אנשי הרוח של הציונות? ההיסטוריון ד"ר חיים שלם חושף בשדמה נתונים מוסתרים.
What did rabbis and Hassidic leaders think about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? And what did the spiritual leaders of Zionism think? Points of view that have been forgotten and ignored over the course of Zionist history. Historian Dr. Haim Shalem revealed unknown facts during a special event in Shdema, in Gush Etzion.
In another of the series of weekly events organized by the Women in Green movement that are held in the Land-of-Israel Center in Shdema in east Gush Etzion, historian Dr. Haim Shalem laid out this past Friday, a few days before Holocaust Remembrance day, previously unknown facts for dozens of participants from throughout the Land, about how spiritual leaders, Hassidic leaders and rabbis related to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.
The lecture was in Hebrew (with simultaneous translation to English) and can be watched (in hebrew) by clicking on:
Below is a summary of his lecture:
Dr. Shalem begins by saying that the Zionist movement was known to erase from its history those who did not match their own views to those of the Zionist movement. This is how it was with Pavel Frankel from ATSY (the Jewish Military Organization) and Marek Edelman, Anilovitch's deputy, who did not belong to the Zionist movement, but to the Bund movement. In the case of Agudat Yisrael's involvement, there was a mutual avoidance, because the Zionist movement was not happy to mention the [ultra-orthodox] Agudah people and in parallel, the Agudah people also took care "to erase themselves" since "it was not suitable for Agudat Yisrael's people to fight in the Warsaw Ghetto".
Dr. Shalem relates how a special discussion was held a few months before the uprising, in the period between the ninth of Av and Yom Kippur, in which three hundred thousand Jews were transported from the Warsaw Ghetto to Treblinka. The leadership of the Warsaw Ghetto met and discussed the question of whether or not to begin a rebellion. About twenty to thirty persons took part this discussion and two central figures presented their positions. These two were Dr. Yitzhak Shifer, a secular leftist historian, and Rabbi Zishe Friedman, who was the general secretary of Agudat Yisrael before the World War, known to the public because of his book, Springs of Torah. They both influenced public opinion against rebellion.
Dr. Shifer claimed that it could not be that in the middle of the twentieth century so many Jews would be sent to an unknown place in the East. This is during the time when the towns surrounding Warsaw were being destroyed. Rabbi Friedman suggested to wait patiently with faith in G-d until the miracle would come and we will be freed. "Rabbi Friedman was not at all radical but on the subject of the uprising and shedding of other people's blood, including those who would kill them, the pious view was that you don't take up arms and kill in order to destroy evil but you pray, do good deeds, and give charity, etc.".
Rabbi Friedman said these things after two Jews had managed to escape from Treblinka and came to him in Warsaw to tell him about the destruction that was being carried out in the camp. Rabbi Friedman claimed that if it was up to him he would be willing to sanctify G-d's name but since these things related to the People of Israel in general, he would have to consult with the sages of Israel, especially Rabbi Zemba, who was the most prominent rabbi of Poland.
Dr. Shalem said that he wondered how some rabbis of the time had forgotten verses and sayings from Jewish sources in the spirit of "He who comes to kill you, kill him preemptively".
He also tells of Ya'akov Zilberberg's testimony that was collected when the government of Poland was gathering evidence after the war, testimony in which he cites the words of Rabbi Eliezer Gershon Friedensohn, who commanded a group of yeshiva students that smuggled weapons into the ghetto and even then, he stated that they were allowed to smuggle weapons even on the Sabbath because of the importance of the preservation of life.
Another central figure is that of Rabbi Shimshon Stockhammer, who tried to find ways to permit abandoned wives to remarry and supported the uprising. And when Rabbi Zemba issued a ruling on the matter of the uprising he cried and stated that the Germans must be killed and this is a curse from God and an expression of the Almighty's will and they should sanctify his name by rebelling.
Rabbi Alexander Yosef Zimmelman, rabbi of a small community about one hundred kilometers distance from Warsaw, arrived tin Warsaw as a refugee and told about the destruction of the communities in the periphery, as he saw it; he contacted the partisans in order to acquire weapons and ammunition and held meetings with Revisionist agencies who were bracing themselves for the future and he smuggled weapons together with them.
In Dr. Shalem's estimation, if a poll had been taken just before the uprising, the results would have been that 95 percent of the residents of the ghetto would have opposed the uprising. "The opposition to the uprising was an integral part of their world view, even among the secular population".
Dr. Shalem tells about the efforts that Rabbi Zimmelman made among the various groups in the ghetto laboring to convince them to take part in the uprising while telling what he had seen with his own eyes how entire communities had been sent to the East. He described these things without knowing that those communities had been sent to Treblinka, which no one even knew existed.
Rabbi Zimmelman gave a modern interpretation to the Gemara in Tractate Brachot on the Song for Wednesdays "G-d is a god of vengeance". In the Gemara it is said there that when "revenge" is mentioned between two names of G-d (as it is in Hebrew), it refers to a great revenge. The Midrash says that vengeance is the Lord's and only His, but Rabbi Zimmelman, contrary to the Midrash, explains that the Almighty commands us to take revenge.
Dr. Shalem devoted a major part of his lecture to the character and personality of Menachem Zemba, who was one of the most important rabbis and arbiters of Jewish law between the two world wars. "He was a devotee of Gur Hasidism and had never served in the rabbinate. He was a great genius and even he originally did not think that it was necessary to rebel, but it turns out that when danger looms large, even great rabbis understand that it is necessary to stand up and rebel", says Shalem.
He continues, and mentions the change in direction that also the Admor from Piesesstsna had, who, at first reassured his people and said that if the People of Israel had undergone difficult times such as the destruction of the Temple, it would also survive those days. But in Chanukah of 1942, the rabbi writes annotations in which he clarifies that "after I wrote that something like this has already happened, I checked in the writings of the sages and history, and found that there never has been anything as terible as this".
Shalem tells of the praise that Rabbi Zemba wrote regarding the martyrdom of a member of Hashomer HaTsair (the Young Guard) whom the Germans had tortured mercilessly and stood up to the torture. His nephew, Rabbi Avraham Zemba, wrote in a newspaper of the Agudat Yisrael activists in Lodz immediately after the war, about young people who rebelled and fully carried out their roles, knowing what the results of the battle would be and they went to battle anyway. The nephew also writes that the rabbi (Rabbi Menachem Zemba), being one of the central figures of the ghetto and subjected to continual surveillance, could not be connected to the party himself, but a confidant of his, Rabbi Yosef Koenigsberg, former manager of the Hochmei Lublin Yeshiva, was one of the heads of the underground and when the underground went out to raise funds, Rabbi Zemba was among its first contributors.
In one of his homilies in the sole sukkah that existed in the ghetto, in front of about twenty people who had gathered there, he said that we should have used every means to alert the world and do everything possible and now we must rise up and we must not deliver ourselves into the hands of the enemy. There are various ways to sanctify G-d's name and when a Jew is killed because he is a Jew, this is called sanctification of G-d's name, but now, the only way to sanctify G-d's name is by active armed resistance", Shalem quotes from the words of Rabbi Zemba.
Additional words of praise in favor of the revolt were written by Rabbi Yehiel Ya'akov Weinberg, who was appointed president of the rabbis of Warsaw, and was saved only because the Germans decided to send him to a prison camp, where he remained until the end of the war. In 1953 he wrote that knowing reality as it is, "we must admire the feats of heroism of that the tortured and humiliated people carried out during the spontaneous uprising in the ghetto. Finally, there are saviors to redeem the honor of the people. The young people of Israel who could not bear to see the lingering death of hundreds of thousands of souls, brothers and sisters, revived and plucked up their remaining strength and gave their cruel torturers a just reward". He defines the uprising as "a shining page in that dark era". "The rebels did not fear nor turn aside, but were imbued with super human heroism in order to avenge the spilt blood or their people; they have died as heroes and have sanctified the desecrated name of Israel".
Dr. Shalem stresses that the Jewish community of the early twentieth century was characterized by the opposition to the aggressive approach that the ghetto rebels took. He quotes Anita Shapira from her book "The Dove's Sword" when she writes about "the traditional reluctance of the Zionist leadership to be perceived as joyfully going out to battle, which stemmed from deep spiritual values expressing the Jews' aversion to the use of force. This aversion reflected a reality of generations. Over the course of years, this aversion to the use of force took on the character of a national Jewish trait".
Shalem notes that "the Young Guard people deliberated for years whether it was right to take up arms to fight the Arabs who stole their cows" and that only after the Jaffa riots in '21 did the people of the Jewish community in the Land of Israel begin to speak about defense, which became meaningful only in '39.
In his lecture, Dr. Shalem quotes leading spiritual figures who stressed that for them, supreme Jewish heroism is especially spiritual heroism and they abhorred practical heroism. Among the names that Shalem mentions are the holocaust poet Yitzhak Katznelson, principal of the Gymnasium in Lodz, who supported the uprising but of his 23 poems, 21 of them dealt with spiritual, and not physical heroism, heroism that has no weapon, which has no blood on its hands.
Katznelson the poet's cousin is Berl Katznelson, the spiritual figurehead of the Mapai party, about whom the headline was written in Davar, that "he did not identify with the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising" and this after he himself wrote these things in his book. Dr. Shalem tells of a meeting between Katznelson and the youth of the movement in June '44, days in which the Jews of Hungary were taken to be destroyed, and from here his position about the ghetto is clear. "Katznelson sat with a group of Mapai leaders and spoke about the war and the day after it. It was 15 months after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and as the editor of Davar, who wrote an article every day, he did not mention the uprising during the period when the Jewish community in the Land of Israel was praising the uprising. One of the youths, Yehuda Tubin, a resident of Beit Zera, asked Katznelson how it happened that he did never talked about the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Katznelson answered him 'it is not such a big story; it is not such great heroism'. Yehuda Tubin asked him what is Jewish heroism in his eyes and Katznelson answered him with a story that happened in Treblinka. In the summer of '42 the rabbi of Gur's brother arrived in Treblinka with his followers from Warsaw. The brother, who was also a brilliant student debarked from the train and requested a glass of water. One of the German guards volunteered to bring him water and was convinced that he wanted to drink before he died, but the rabbi's brother told his students to put their hands upon each other and he poured water on everyone's hands from above "so that we can confess and die ritually pure". Berl Katznelson tells this story and says that "this, and not the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, is a story of heroism. It seems our secular house of study has forgotten what Jewish heroism is", says Dr. Shalem.
Natan Alterman also opposed the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, notes Shalem, and mentions his statement according to which the heroes of the ghetto "are not such heroes in our opinion". In response to survivors who raged at him in '54, Alterman stated that with all due respect to Anilovitch, he did not intend to rescue the Jewish People from death but to save his own honor.
Toward the end of his talk, Dr. Shalem returns to the figure of Rabbi Zemba, the subject of his comprehensive research, and he says that in 1958, 15 years after the Uprising, the Poles rebuilt the area of the ghetto. These days, Rabbi Zemba's followers mobilized and applied pressure to the Polish government to allow his remains to be brought to Israel. Rabbi Zemba was the only one who was buried after he was killed, while crossing the street. He was buried by his students at a distance of fifty meters from the large bunker.
When Rabbi Zemba was brought for burial on Har haMenuchot in Jerusalem, the head of the Torah Sages and a minister in Ben Gurion's government eulogized him, describing his character as the greatest of the greats but not one word was uttered about his support of the Warsaw Uprising. Only in the Knesset Plenum did they stand in his honor, and the Mizrahi newspaper had an advertisement calling for participation in his funeral, in which it is stated "that he died the death of heroes and holy ones like Rabbi Akiva ben Yoseph at his time during the holy Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto, upon which he issued a religious ruling".
After completing his comprehensive presentation on Rabbi Zemba, Dr. Shalem was asked by HaModia newspaper why he besmirches the image of one of the greats of Israel when he describes him as supporting the Uprising. Shalem, on his part, tried to say that he is sanctifying G-d's name when he describes Zemba as a figure of the book and the sword. Afterward he went to Zemba's grave and expressed his admiration for him as a spiritual pioneer and as a leader to his students.
Yehudit Katsover 0507161818 Nadia Matar 0505500834
The Movement for Israel's Tomorrow (Women in Green)
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