Sunday, October 7, 2007

Two Flags: the untold story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its relevance today

I wanted to add Book Reviews category to my blog for a while.  Finally I got around to doing so.  The book I have just finished reading and would like to review is "Two Flags: Return to the Warsaw Ghetto" by Marian Apfelbaum.

I learned about this book only recently when I was researching my post about the Polish Members of the European Parliament boycotting anti-Israeli anti-Semitic hatefest organized by UN.  The title of the book refers to the well documented episode during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when the defenders of one of the fortified buildings in the Ghetto raised 2 flags: white-and-red Polish and white-and-blue Jewish.  This book tells the story of a less known resistance organization in the Warsaw Ghetto called Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, or ZZW, which is Polish for Jewish Military Union.  I first learned about ZZW when I read "The Bravest Battle" by Dan Kurzman.  It was an organization formed by the Jewish officers of the Polish Army.  They obviously had personal connections with the other Polish officers.  Politically members of the ZZW were followers of my fellow odessit Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, an ideology similar to the modern Likud party in Israel.  Because of the personal links the ZZW members had with the Polish resistance and because they were not Communist, the ZZW received significantly more help from the Polish Home Army than the leftist-leaning ZOB.  Political views of the ZZW members are pretty close to my own political views.  So, I was very interested to read a book that tells their story.

So, what have I learned that I did not know before?  Well, first of all it turns out that ZZW was founded much earlier than ZOB: November of 1939 vs. July of 1942.  ZZW was not smaller than ZOB: about 500 core members, the same as ZOB.  Thus, since ZZW was much better armed than ZOB and had better military training, they had to be much more effective.  So, why did ZZW receive more help from the Polish Home Army than ZOB?  I mentioned personal contacts and pro-capitalist ideology.  But, as it turns out, it was more than that.  ZZW was in fact a part of the Polish Home Army, so much so, that ZZW members were getting rank promotions from the Home Army.  For example, the commander of ZZW, Dawid Apfelbaum, was a Porucznik (Lieutenant) in 1939.  But during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising he held the rank of Captain, and after the uprising he was posthumously promoted to Major.  By the way, to answer the obvious question, yes, the book author is related to the leader of ZZW.

Polish aid to ZZW was quite significant.  The Poles formed a special unit dedicated to helping the Jews.  It was ZOB whom they did not help much.  And it is very hard to blame the Home Army for that.  Besides ZOB pro-Soviet leaning, they were also viewed as political demagogues who would not be very effective soldiers.  Given relatively limited resources of the Home Army (remember, they were operating in a country occupied by a ruthless enemy), it is hard to blame them for allocating their resources to ZZW, whom they had often seen perform in combat back in 1939.

The charge that ZOB were to a large extent political demagogues does have merit.  ZOB was plagued by political in-fighting.  The talks between ZOB and ZZW about uniting their efforts failed because ZZW suggested that combat leadership should have some combat experience.  This suggestion seems very reasonable.  But since combat veterans were members of ZZW for the most part, ZOB viewed this idea as a power grab.  ZOB even went as far as calling their ZZW counterparts "fascists".  Now it seems eerily similar to the present-day Left.  The ZOB leaders were political leaders for the most part.  On the other hand "ZZW recruited on the sole basis of previous military training, physical fitness and courage, deliberately seeking an apoliticalism that the left always found extremely suspect if not downright diabolical" (page 259).  So, members of an armed resistance organization should have military training and courage and be physically fit?!  What a revolutionary concept!  ZZW in fact did not care much about political views of its members.  For example, one of the ZZW units during the uprising was commanded by someone named Moishe the Bolshevik.

After the war the Communists took over in Poland.  Thus, anybody associated with the non-Communist Home Army was a suspect.  Most of the ZZW leadership died during the uprising.  The fact that the leftist ZOB did not get enough attention from the Home Army suited the new rulers of Poland very well: now it was very convenient to accuse the Home Army of anti-Semitism.  True Polish heroes, like Henryk Iwanski, whos 2 sons and a brother died while fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Jews during the uprising, were even initially jailed by the Communists.  Many leftist Jewish historians in the West were happy to oblige the Communists.  The Poles were accused of mass anti-Semitism.  (As a sidenote, I read in a Russian-Jewish magazine that the post-war pogroms in Poland were in fact staged by the NKVD - the predecessor of KGB.)  But while anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland, please tell me where it was not present at that time.  Whenever someone like Henryk Iwanski would claim that they helped the Jews, these historians would dismiss such claim, saying that they are not confirmed by Jewish sources.  In fact, Iwansky for a while was not recognized in Israel as a Righteous Gentile (it has been fixed since).  And when people like Tadeusz Bednarczyk try to argue with such historians, they are accused of anti-Semitism.  But even if Bednarczyk said something anti-Semitic in nature, still, he risked his life to help the Jews in Warsaw.  As my favorite talk show host Dennis Prager often says, you know the man by his actions, not his words.

So, how is it all relevant today?  Well, both then and now the Left demonizes its political opponents, even in the face of a ruthless enemy that would kill us all.  Both then and now the Left is willing to lie in order to achieve some dubious political objective.  This finally has to stop.  Marian Apfelbaum says at the end of his book:

"Out of respect to the Warsaw ghetto uprising , the time has come to complete its history.  As imperfect and provisional as this book may be, it is an attempt to break the silence".

To this I would like to add 2 more things.  First, it is time to restore Poland's honor.  Second, it is time to finally realize that all the Left-Right political differences don't mater when a ruthless totalitarian enemy is ready to kill us all.

Finally, read the book.  I learned a lot from it and highly recommend it.

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