Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

Eyewitness account of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, 1947

Posted by Oyster on August 9, 2011

This is an excerpt from my grandfather’s memorial. He survived World War II in Russia as a slave laborer. Reading this on Tisha B’Av seemed appropriate. May Hashem spare our people from this kind of devasation. Tzom kal.

. . . In 1947 I went to Warsaw for a ceremony memorializing the heroes of the ghetto. I visited the Jewish streets that the Germans had destroyed, the ruins of Jewish Warsaw. I walked on the streets where I had lived in Warsaw and did not recognize the streets that had been the center of Jewish life, the nerve center of all the Jews in Poland. They would come to Warsaw as a business center. Dzika, Gensia and Nalewki streets were the pulse of Jewish Warsaw. Everything was erased, not a trace was left. Only grassy mounds marked the site of the fallen buildings. . . The Jews who had lived their lives there were depressed by the sight. You couldn’t recognize the streets, with the grassy mounds covering the destroyed streets. The business center and all the institutions of Jewish Warsaw were ruined. The poorer streets of Warsaw, Smocza and Krochmalna, were also gone, where poor children played on the streets with their cheerful cries that were heard everywhere. The poor people, who had to live on their small earnings; some walked the streets with a basket of bagels to make a living for their families. They were always being chased by the police. They lived their miserable lives in cellars. All of that was dead, killed, and even the streets were erased…It had all disappeared without a trace of the former life of poverty, when people never had enough food. Only a huge ruin of Jewish Warsaw was left. I looked for Parisowska Square, where my parents had lived. I looked for at least a trace of my parents, and found a bit of the house where they had lived; a piece of pipe from the roof, that helped clear the smoke from the oven so that it wouldn’t get into the house.

That was the only trace of the entire house – that, and a heap of bricks. The entire square was like a huge grave. . . I saw no one anywhere I went, only a few Jews who had survived and roamed around the Jewish area, trying to find traces of the Jewish life that had been cut down. I also visited Burakowska St., where I used to live. Before the war you couldn’t walk through that area because gangster organizations ruled the streets.

My family and I had lived there, and many Jews had various businesses and workshops. Living conditions were poor, and people couldn’t make it through the week. No one was left to see the ruins. . . I met a Christian who had lived near my parents; he had been the greatest murderer in the neighborhood. Just looking at his face was terrible, he looked crazy. . . I saw him wandering around on the street and didn’t want to stop. I was afraid of him since before the war. He was alive, and had many Jewish lives on his conscience. . . I had to leave the neighborhood quickly, because any Jew who visited the area was attacked by Christians. Your life was in danger. Let it be an eternal memory and a mark on one’s mind: the Germans, aided by the helping Poles, eradicated the Jews of Poland and other countries…On our way to the memorial, through the destroyed buildings of Warsaw, the Poles on the streets were saying that they wondered how so many Jews had remained in Warsaw. They couldn’t stand it that a few Jews had survived had gone through hell, and had stayed alive. . . I had had a large family in Warsaw, all of whom had been killed, and no one knew where their remains were. No one knew when my parents and my sister had been killed. My mother’s family, the Mendelsons, with her two brothers who were rabbis in Warsaw, were all gone, with no marker…My wife’s family was also large, with brothers and sisters in Nowogrod Her father had had twenty grandchildren before the war broke out. None of them survived, the entire family was killed. . .

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9 Responses to “Eyewitness account of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Memorial, 1947”

  1. PJ said

    The Poles didn’t aid the Nazi Germans in eradicating Jews…….. stop spreading lies !!!

  2. benny said

    Apparently PJ has never read any of Jan T. Gross’ work…….

    • PJ said

      Wow, you just floored me with your comment on Gross !!! When one makes a blanket statement such as this blogger did i.e. “aided by the helping Poles” it makes me want to puke……on this blogger and those like you. First of all, don’t EVER equate the Poles with Nazi Germans !!! Let me remind you just as Shimon Peres did a couple of years ago……”the Polish people are NOT responsible for the Holocaust. There were “SOME” Poles who behaved badly during WWII, but don’t paint the entire nation with one stroke. Also, you need to explore further the “bad” behaviour of “SOME” Jews during WWII and in the immediate aftermath of WWII…….in Poland.

  3. Oyster said

    Benny: Thanks for the reference, I’ll have to read up on Gross’ work.

    PJ: First of all, the excerpt above is from my grandfather. Unlike yourself, my grandfather was there in Warsaw in 1947, and his testimony is just that: testimony what he experienced there. It’s not a removed, academic assessment of the entirety of Polish involvement, whether for or against, the Nazi occupation. And he didn’t say all Poles, just the ones that helped the Nazis. Please go back under your rock and puke all over yourself until you’re ready to come back and have a civil discussion free of threats and ad hominem attacks. You sure do not sound like someone sympathetic to the murder of Poland’s Jewry.

  4. Nancy said

    Thank you for posting this meaningful piece. May we remember its lessons. And may your grandfather’s memory be for a blessing.

  5. Oyster said

    Thank you Nancy, much appreciated.

  6. Friar Yid said

    Very powerful stuff, Oyster. As you know, when it comes to Warsaw you and I are landsmen. I recently had a change to visit Warsaw and it was quite powerful to see some of the memorials, particularly Prozna street, the last standing block of the ghetto. I look forward to visiting again and seeing Tad Taube’s Jewish Museum open and running.

    • Oyster said

      Hey Friar Yid,
      I actually just finished reading Uris’s “Mila 18”, which I started on my March of the Living trip in ’06. It’s creepy to go around Warsaw and see how buildings in the former ghetto are built on top of “mounds” of the debris from the pulverized remains. I wasn’t aware of Taube’s new museum, but I did go to the Jewish museum in Warsaw during the MotL trip.

  7. […] [This is a recollection of something that transpired over ten years ago. Why am I writing this now? Just seemed apropos for Tisha B'Av.] […]

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