70 Years Later, Recalling the First Battle Against the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto
Seventy years ago this month, the Nazis began their second deportation of the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. In response, on Jan. 18, 1943, the first organized and armed Jewish/Zionist resistance action in the Ghetto was launched.
The fighters of the ZZW and ZOB drove the Nazis from the Ghetto. Months later, on April 19, 1943, on the eve of Passover, the Nazi SS and police units entered the Ghetto and were attacked by organized Jewish partisans yet again.
There were two separate armed resistance organizations in the ghetto—the ZZW and ZOB. The most famous Jewish leader of armed resistance is Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) during the uprising. The ZOB was an alliance of several Zionist and non-Zionist youth groups. Anielewicz received paramilitary training in Betar as a young teenager and left Betar before the war. The ZOB had a socialist orientation, and Betar as an organization did not participate in it, in part because of politics.
ZZW, the Jewish Military Organization, was commanded and manned by Betar members and their allies. Betar’s fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising have been largely written out of history. Moshe Arens, Israel’s former defense minister and a Betar alum, recently wrote a yet-to-be published book on Betar’s heroic battle against the S.S. in the ghetto. Flags Over the Warsaw Ghetto was released by Gefen Publishing in November 2011. That book and articles by Arens about the ZZW that were published in Yad Vashem Studies, Haaretz and The Jerusalem Post have helped to create a far more accurate account of the ZZW’s participation in the uprising, and did much to recall the heroism of Pawel Frenkel, ZZW’s commander.
The ZZW is now thought by historians to have been the better-equipped force in the Ghetto, and had procured machine guns. The ZOB, however, had more fighters.
The groups finally decided to coordinate their efforts in the last moments before the April 19 battle began. For 28 days, Jewish warriors fought the enemy and showed bravery not seen since the days of Bar Kochba’s uprising against Rome.
In the Vilna Ghetto, Betar leader Joseph Glazman was deputy commander of the United Partisan Organization, the only armed Jewish resistance group in that ghetto.
Betar was founded in 1923 by Ze’ev Jabotinsky (1880-1940), a figure who is too often forgotten today. Professor Daniel J. Elazar (1934-1999), a scholar of the Jewish political tradition, in the May 15, 1981 edition of the journal Sh’ma Elazar remarked about Jabotinsky’s legacy:
“Would there be serious public commemoration of the 100th birthday of Zev Jabotinsky had it not been for the fact that the Likud won the election in Israel in 1977? Not likely. For thirty years and more, Jabotinsky was one of those non-persons in Israel and the Jewish world… The ruling Labour Party made him a non-person for the same reasons that it portrayed Menachem Begin and his supporters as uncivilized fascists—it is easier to beat the opposition by painting it as irrelevant, intolerable and non-existent, until it is too strong to be dismissed.”
This year’s 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising offers an opportunity to remind today’s Jews about Jabotinsky’s vital contributions. His words and ideas animated a generation of young Jews to resist the Nazis and fight for the freedom of Israel as soldiers in the Irgun and Stern Group/LEHI. The fact that the Islamofascists and the Iranians are so focused today on destroying Israel and the Jewish People in a future Holocaust, and at the same time denying the original Holocaust, demands a new look at Jabotinsky and his ideas.