Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Revolting Approach to the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt

Sharon Geva had something published in Haaretz recently (and here at her blog).

She teaches history at Seminar Hakibbutzim College and is the author of To the Unknown Sister: Holocaust Heroines in Israeli Society (here, in Hebrew).
Her op-ed is entitled: "Pulling the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising to the right".

It's theme:

Could it be that current political perceptions influence Israelis' Holocaust narrative?

...The 27th of the Hebrew month of Sivan, the official Holocaust Remembrance Day determined by the Knesset in a special law in 1959, is linked to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, an uplifting event that featured young heroes and heroines led by the Jewish Combat Organization that united most of the youth movements in the ghetto. In the first years of the state of Israel there were arguments as to the uprising's leaders' political affiliation, which can be found in the Knesset's minutes and the press at the time. The Zionist left adopted the event and stressed the political affiliation of the uprising's leaders to contemporary political parties. Still, even when the arguments took place, the right-wing parties did not question Lubetkin and Zuckerman's role in the events. Even the mouthpiece of Menachem Begin's Herut party hailed Lubetkin as a national heroine.

Still, in later years the arguments took a twist. The role of the revisionists began to assume a central part in the story of the uprising. One of the major players in promoting this concept is former minister and MK Moshe Arens, who wrote a book on the uprising and published numerous articles claiming, among other things, that Lubetkin and Zuckerman told only "half the tale,"...

Several years ago, Arens initiated the production of a reconstructed portrait of the leader of the Revisionist Jewish Military Union (ZZW), Pawel Frenkel, with the assistance of ZZW veteran Fella Finkelstein. Slowly but surely, the story of the right wing in the uprising is moving to the center.
Lately it seems that correcting a possible injustice might have gone a step too far: In the Knesset's website, the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union are presented as two equal underground movements, with both due equal credit, and on the Hebrew Wikipedia entry "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising", ZZW precedes ZOB. Hard to believe, but Pawel Frenkel precedes Mordechai Anielewicz.

This move has been encouraged in recent years by the government as a whole and the Education Ministry in particular. One can already assume who will star in Holocaust memorial speeches of right-wing leaders such as the prime minister and Knesset speaker. Still, to regain some optimism, one cannot be blamed for hoping that they won't forget the most important fact, and hopefully learn something from their political forefathers.

This is the letter-to-the-editor that I sent but that wasn't published:

Dr Sharon Geva is uncomfortable in inflicting a new injustice on our collective memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.  At least she admits, by implication, that there was an old injustice, even if she was not able to write about it explicitly.

The personal experience of leaders and representatives of the Revisionist movement to save the part of Betar and the Revisionists in the Revolt preceded long before the blessed efforts of Moshe Arens. Chaim Lazar's book, "Masada of Warsaw," was published back in 1963, but even though it was based on documents, testimonies and documents, including, for example, the diary of the commander of the operation to put down the uprising which explicitly noted the fighting of Betar members and also the impressions of Emmanuel Ringlbaum's visit to the arsenals of the ZZW, the previous generation of the same type of researchers were able to virtually banish the book and ostracize its message and Dr. Geva's actions continues that. 

There are those for whom the main thing is that Mordechai Anielewicz, commander of the ZOB, was in Betar in his youth and perhaps the claim that angered Sharon, that there is a "half-and-half" narrative is correct. The division of the responsibility for the revolt which was actually a little closer to a balance more than what was portrayed, if not in terms of the number of troops, for sure in terms of the initiative and the demand of the Jabotinsky camp that military action was necessary long before the outbreak of the revolt.  But this is still not the main thing. The truly important thing is why there was no was no unity amongst the ghetto fighters and why the left rejected it.

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