Wednesday 25 April 2018

W.HO. - She was a Survivor and a Rebel

W.H.O is a series I do on my blog, where I highlight certain women from history who have made an impact on me. Most of them are unheard of or were immensely popular in their day, but have faded in to obscurity. It is my conviction that the her-stories of this world are more celebrated and told. So today I would like to introduce you to someone who is super fascinating and personally, very inspiring.

This past week, on the 19th of April the "world" remembers the tragic, but truly brave Warsaw Ghetto uprising during the second world war. Hitler and the Nazi's had built Jewish ghetto's throughout Poland from as early as 1939. Jewish ghetto's were formed to keep the Jewish people segregated from what was considered the pure "Aryan," chosen race of non - Jews, so that both Jews and non - Jews would not mingle, intermarry or even liase with one another. The warsaw ghetto was home to almost half a million Jews, who were imprisoned in an area that was 1.3 miles big! People died of starvation, malnutrition, and disease. Dozens of people were forced to live in single rooms together and the German army ran the ghetto like a prison. People were shot, abused and anyone who exercised sympathy towards the Jewish people were routinely killed along with their families. The Warsaw Ghetto was hell. Eventually in 1942, the Germans instituted what was called "the final solution." A diabolical plan to settle Jews in to concentration camps and eventually, kill them all. They vacated thousands of people from the Warsaw ghetto, and moved them to secret concentration camps. Seventy thousand people remained in the Ghetto, until certain people started hearing about the gassing of their families in concentration camps. Knowing their fate was sealed and not wanting to go down without a fight, a number of Jewish women and men formed an underground resistance group within the Ghetto. 

The resistance acquired arms, grenades and used the sewer system in the ghetto as bunkers. They distributed leaflets to their Jewish brethren and they armed themselves with the "chutzpah" to fight the Germans, even if it cost them their lives. As the sun rose on the 19th of April over the dirty, grey, dilapidated buildings in the Warsaw Ghetto, a german commander tried to lead his troops in to the ghetto to export the remaining Jews to the death camps. Shoots fired out, rifles bit the air, grenades blew dust and concrete everywhere and the resistance began firing at the Germans. Shocked and aghast, Germans soldiers were wounded and some were killed.

One of the founding members and high commander of the Jewish resistance group was a dark haired, Polish activist Zivia Lubetkin. She was the only female leader of the resistance group and she shot at the Germans with fearlessness. She protected the people under her and led them through the sewers and bunkers as they fought and held off the Germans for close to 3 weeks. The Germans were shocked at how long they Jews who were scantily armed and physically weak, could hold them off for so long. With woudned pride and bitter hatred, the commander ordered his men to smoke out the sewers and to blow up the buildings one by one. More then 7000 people were killed, over 57000 were taken to concentration camps, but Zivia and 9 others in the movement escaped through a tunnel and continued her resistance activities outside of Warsaw. One of the other commanders of the resistance movement was Yitzhak Zuckerman, a man who worked as an activist alongside Zivia since their youth. The two of them eventually married and became operatives, helping smuggle European Jews in to Israel (which was then called Mandate Palestine). Together, Zivia and Yitzhak and their fellow resistance members, established and built a Kibbutz in Northern Israel with a museum dedicated to the story of the Warsaw Ghetto resistance members. 

Zivia's life story really inspires me. To stand up against a highly established army of bloodthirsty Hitler soldiers armed with small pistols and vastly outnumbered, reminds me of the biblical stories in the book of Judges. When I first took my husband to the Holocaust Center in Cape Town, it was the pictures and the stories of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that really had his interest. "Do you think we would have resisted?" he asked me. I would like to think so. Zivia fought for the rights and freedom of others, and she worked to this end alongside a man who shared the same values for justice and activism. That's rare and something worth noting. They also stayed married until they both passed away, but both left behind a legacy that has gone down in the history books. The warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the largest Jewish uprising within the Hitler war, and it inspired large number of youth outside of Warsaw, to do the same. Yitzhak himself said that "this was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out." Zivia and her resistance group knew the outcome would probably not be in their favour, but they stood up and did something about their situation. They did not go quietly like lambs to the slaughter, they fought for a greater reality. 

As if the story couldn't get any better, their grand daughter Roni Zuckerman became the very first female fighter pilot in the Israeli Defense Force, 17 years ago. You go girl! Their fighting spirit lives on, passed from generation to generation. This is the legacy of those who stand up to free others, the kind of legacy and spirit we can pass on to those of our family members, our children, grandchildren, godchildren and spiritual children. May it be so! I'm grateful for the legacy of Zivia and for what she did, she continues to inspire, even today.

1 comment:

  1. Yes that is what we women are: fighters against injustice and unrighousness to righteousness and love; we will never shout up nor go like lambs to the slaughter. Yes, it is easy for me to say, but Yah knows me, and I would have loved to resist for righteousness as i know myself!