The Politics of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Today, the New York Times features on op-ed on the anniversary of the first shots of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It is significant that it is written by a professor of intellectual history who specializes in “the history of literary and political engagement with Marxism and phenomenology”. We are told by this lady, Marci Shore, that the Uprising was led by an assortment of Zionists, led by Mordechai Anielewicz, joined by the non-Zionist socialists of the Bund like Marek Edelman, all under the banner of the Jewish Combat Organisation (ZOB). We are told of their brave battle from the bunkers of the Ghetto, and the raising of the Zionist and Polish flags on its tallest building. We are told that the ” Zionist far-right” had its own resistance organisation, the Jewish Military Union (ZZW), but nothing else is said of them.

There we have it: the standard, misleading, fairy-tale account of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, from the original paper of record.

The Real Story of the Uprising

What you wont know from reading the New York Times is that this mysteriously absent group, the ZZW, was roughly the same size as the ZOB. It was they who raised the Jewish and Polish standards on the Ghetto’s tallest building in Muranowski Square. They kept those flags flying under days of bombardment, much to the ire of the Germans and the awe of the city’s Poles. The longest, fiercest fighting during the the three weeks of the Uprising took place on this square, in the district defended by the ZZW. This is clear from the report of Jürgen Stroop, the SS man in charge of the Ghetto’s liquidation. After the war, Marek Edelman, given a prominent place in the New York Times account, was told by unequivocally by Stroop that “the strongest defense was at Muranowsi Square”. He could vividly recall the fighting there, but not at other areas like the Ghetto’s Brushmaker’s workshop, where Edelman and most of his colleagues were positioned – even when Edelman tried to remind him of it.

So, who were the ZZW? They were mostly composed of Jewish veterans of the Polish armed forces. They were politically to the right: anti-Communist and followers of Vladimir Jabotinsky’s brand of Revisionist Zionism. The ZOB, on the other hand, were dominated by labor Zionists like their leader, Anielewicz. Therein lies the issue: for a long time, there was no powerful political constituency to raise awareness of the ZZW’s struggle. There were plenty who wanted to suppress it. It is amazing to think that even in the face of such a ruthless enemy and imminent death, there were especially vicious and disastrous political animosities among the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, and the rivalries were still at work many years after the event.

It is also remarkable that as early as December 1943, the great historian of the Ghetto, Emmanuel Ringelblum, a left-wing Zionist who denounced the ideology of the Revisionists, complained that the ZZW were being written out of history. In a letter to a colleague he asked “[W]hy is there no information on the ZZW in the history? They must leave an imprint, even if in our eyes, they are unsympathetic”.

First, a little more background.

The ZZW was founded in November 1939, much earlier than ZOB, which was founded in the summer of 1942. It was better armed and had better military training, given the veterans in its ranks and the militaristic nature of Revisionist youth movements like Betar that were attracted to it. They had much better contact with the Polish Home Army than the ZOB, because so many were former comrades in arms. The ZZW was able to secure machine guns, while other Jewish groups were not.

In fact, prior to the war, the Polish government had been secretly transferring arms to the Irgun, the Revisionist militia in the British Mandate of Palestine. The extent of this cooperation is demonstrated in a very moving story told by Moshe Arens in Flags Over The Warsaw Ghetto. During the Nazi bombardment of Warsaw in September 1939, Lili Strassman, founder of a group of Jewish intellectuals in the city who supported the Irgun, was confined to a bomb shelter while her husband, Henryk, was fighting. He would become one of the officers murdered under Stalin’s orders at Katyn. Strassman knew there were arms stored in the city that had been transferred to the Irgun but not yet shipped. She braved intense bombing to find these arms and take them to the commander of the defense of Warsaw, General Walerian Czuma. She received a receipt for the weapons and wrote of her happiness to help the Poland in its hour of need.

While the leadership of the ZZW was right-wing, they stressed they were foremost a fighting organisation. They welcomed leftists into their ranks if they were skilled enough fighters. One of their men was even nicknamed Moshe the Bolshevik.

The same could not be said of their rivals. The ZZW approached the ZOB about uniting the efforts of the Jewish Resistance. They could not get the ZOB to accept this, partly because the ZZW proposed that the leadership should have some combat experience. This suggestion seems entirely reasonable. However, because combat veterans were disproportionately involved with the ZZW, the ZOB saw this as an attempt at a power grab. Some socialist factions under the ZOB umbrella slandered the ZZW as “fascists”. They put the welfare of their own people behind left-wing ideology, even at that moment in history.

Such behavior gives you a good indication of why the Polish Home Army was less inclined to assist the ZOB. They saw them as political demagogues, many too sympathetic to the Bolsheviks to be trusted.

Unfortunately, the leaders of the ZZW, Pawel Frenkel and Leon Rodal, died in the fighting. The story of their amazing bravery was forgotten. These people were offered the chance to escape the doomed Ghetto and take up the fight with the Home Army, but they insisted on fighting and dying with their people. During the Uprising, Rodal was able to don an SS uniform, join a group of Germans, and lead them right into an ambush.

But their story was not only neglected after the war. It was covered up.

Myth and Memory

One of the conspirators here was Marek Edelman, praised extensively in today’s New York Times. The other was the Soviet Union, and to Shore’s credit she mentions their distortion of the record.

Edelman had an agenda in his famous book, The Ghetto Fights. He sought to downplay the role of the Revisionists and the Jewish right-wing, and play up the role of socialists and socialism. Firstly, he lied about the size of the ZZW, depicting it as far smaller than it actually was. Most unforgivably, he claimed at one point in the book that they fled the fighting almost as soon as it began. None of this was true. The German reports completely contradict it. As do the accounts of non-Jewish Poles, many of whom saw the Jewish and Polish standards being raised by the ZZW and being flown during the fight. Left-wing extremists of Edelman’s ilk also sought to portray the Polish Home Army as an anti-Semitic force that failed to adequately assist the Jews.  It suited the agenda of the new Soviet occupiers to paint the Polish Home Army as anti-Semitic and reactionary, after Stalin had so blatantly betrayed them. This was a communist caricature, but it has a hold on the popular image of the Uprising even today.

It must also be mentioned that successive Israeli governments, dominated by Labour Zionists for about 30 years, were in no hurry to correct false portrayals of their political rivals in the Revisionist camp.

It is a shame for ideological agendas to distort the story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It is sad that this happened in the 1940’s, but its truly pathetic that it goes on 70 years later in the New York Times. I cannot help but recall the words of Ghetto fighter and ZZW leader Leon Rodal said to his comrades on the eve of battle:

During that far-off period of slavery, when the Roman legions trampled almost the entire ancient world, and the whole world kneeled before them, only one small Roman province, Judea, took up arms, rose up to fight for freedom and in defense of the honour of man, against a world of injustice. And this is the reason why Judea is inscribed in the history of man as a symbol of the fight for the spirit of man… Maybe, some day, after many years, when the history of the struggle against the Nazi conquerors is written, we also will be remembered, and who knows, we will become – like small Judea in its day, which fought mighty Rome – the symbol of man’s spirit that cannot be suppressed, whose essence is the fight for freedom, for the right to live, and the right to exist.

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The defense of the Warsaw Ghetto was based on a triangle, whose apex was Muranowski Square. The corners of the base were to be the Mila -Zamenhofa and the Gensia-Nalewki intersections. ZZW was to hold Muranowski Square and the ZOB the two angles of the base.

Thatcher, Thatcher, Revolution Snatcher

To be a conservative, William F. Buckley once said at a fundraiser, means to have a less than totally harmonious relationship with our times. This is because it is precisely the deepest roots of our civilization that are out of fashion. It is draining to always find yourself always on the defensive, in the face of what is perceived as progress.

It doesn’t help when it appears that we have no help from the party that styles itself as the standard-bearer of British conservatism. We live under a Conservative-led government that, until UKIP became a genuine threat, seemed to spend most of its time trying to impress people who will never vote Conservative. We have a coalition that has decided to be the most pro-homosexual government in British history. All well and good, but it wont secure a single seat for the Tories.

Lady Thatcher’s death hit me harder than I imagined it would. Yet I was happy outside of St. Paul’s yesterday; happy to see so much love for the woman, and happy to meet people who took the time to come from as far afield as Liverpool, Ireland, and even Israel to line the route. Seeing the dignified funeral and attending a wonderful tribute event afterward with the soundest people on these British Isles emphasized the need to rebuild her movement and renew the vigor of the Thatcher era within the Conservative Party.

Talk to anybody involved in the Conservative Party under Thatcher and their attitude is summed up by Wordsworth: “Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, But to be young was very heaven!” That feeling is not there among Tories today, young or old. There is no sense we are doing anything important.

Wordsworth was talking about the French Revolution; and we love Thatcher precisely because she was our revolutionary. By the time she gained the premiership, state control of industry had been the consensus in Britain for decades. The powerful trade unions had advanced to become a major pillar of the Establishment.

Now, it was time to put the socialists on the defensive. It was their turn defend institutions that were losing the faith of the public. For the most part, intellectuals and the creative classes played no part in generating this disenchantment; ordinary people simply realized that the existing institutions were not working.

Martin Van Creveld says there will always be war because men love war, and women love warriors. We will always love revolutions, too, and its a lot more gender inclusive.

Margaret Thatcher struck at the roots of the enemy’s philosophy, and she succeeded admirably. Britain went from a country where one could wait months to get a phone line installed, to having the most competitive telecommunications industry in the world. She created a nation of homeowners where once a third of the population lived in state housing. Her privatisation of industry and her crushing of Stalinist union leaders like Arthur Scargill  led to a fundamental shift in British society, where holding shares would become more common that trade union membership.

Her success is evident from the fact that nobody since she left office, whether Labour, Liberal, or Conservative, is calling for the nationalization of industry. Neil Kinnock may still denounce Thatcher’s reforms for causing hardship in some quarters, but he wont do it. Similarly,  Labour supporters today tend to be embarrassed by the fact that their party opposed the right for council tenants to buy their homes.

It was, of course, a revolutionary time beyond Britain. It was a time of fundamentally conservative revolutions, from Chile to Eastern Europe. Finally, we were putting motherfuckers like Ceausescu up against the wall. These revolutions had their dark episodes (Chile comes to mind), but also produced fine specimens of liberal states, like Estonia.

A word also needs to be said about Thatcher and class. Thatcher helped to foster a new class consciousness, which emphasized what really mattered: the struggle between the taxpayers and the tax eaters. I have long quipped that if I were to start a conservative/libertarian political movement, I would call it the Workers’ Party. Thatcher gave the majority class of private sector workers the political representation it deserved, something I believe they have lost and today’s Tories must give. Martin Durkin described this awakening, that resulted in Britain’s working classes fleeing from Labour, in City AM recently:

“To the horror of the Left, Thatcher, re-defined the class struggle. The socialists argued that “the workers” were being ripped off by “the bosses”. But when workers looked at their wages and saw almost half had gone, they knew it wasn’t the bosses who had taken it…“Socialism” was reduced to fleecing hard-working people in the private sector to keep the middle class public sector gravy train rolling”.

Prior to Thatcher you had to be part a union before you could work in some industries. Strikes could be called without vote, and very often there was no secret ballot. So who was on the side of the worker?

My hope and comfort at this somber time is that the death of Thatcher, the tributes, and the debate will inspire us to complete her free market revolution in this country and beyond.

Janusz Korczak

Below is a picture I took of the Janusz Korczak memorial at Yad Vashem.

Korczak, a Polish Jewish pediatrician, educator, and author, wrote books on the plight of poor children and hosted a popular radio show. He was known all over Poland as ‘Mr. Doctor’ or the ‘Old Doctor’.

He founded an orphanage in Poland for Jewish children, which operated in a unique way. He believed in giving children responsibility and dignity. One of his books was called ‘The Child’s Right to Respect‘ . The children published their own newspaper (the first of its kind in Poland) and ran the school on democratic lines, with unprecedented control of the curriculum. It was so successful, he was asked to found one for Polish Catholic children as well, which he did. Unfortunately, he was forcibly estranged from that orphanage after an anti-Semitic smear campaign waged against him, as a result of his public Zionist activities.

During the war, his orphanage was moved into the Warsaw Ghetto. Korczak was offered a chance to escape when the orphanage was marked for liquidation. He refused, as he did not want to leave the children, wherever they were being sent. He led the children in song to the trains, re-assuring them all the way, probably even in the gas chambers.

For Yom HaShoah.

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Hobbes, Peace, and Liberty

Happy birthday, Thomas Hobbes!

To be fair to a man on his birthday, as I am wont to do, all Hobbes ever wanted was peace. He put this goal before the question of how best to realize justice, liberty, and such matters within the state. This was a matter of practicality and a hope, I believe, that much of this, like religious truth, would be relegated as much as possible to private life. This approach has a lot going for it, and libertarians who most likely prefer their Locke or Smith when it comes to the issue of the consequences of self-interest and other matters should consider it.

Lets not forget that Hobbes did take individual freedom seriously. Just look at his justification of armed resistance to government officials who seek to arrest you, especially where you face the death penalty.

The amazing blogger Mencius Moldbug lays out a map for freedom, with peace as the foundation of a political pyramid of needs. After this comes security, then law, and finally the Misesian goal of freedom and spontaneous order.

I’m not saying he’s definitely right, but he is reasonable.