Memory of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

How do you organize an armed uprising among the starved, cold, dehumanized? How do you organize an uprising without weapons, strategies, intelligence, and experienced command structure? How do you organize an uprising with less than a 1000 young men and women, most about 20 years old? How do you organize an uprising against a well-fed and trained military force with tanks, artillery support, and flame throwers? Then, how do you commemorate and pay homage to the struggle? Where do you find a ray of hope and find the strength to move on?

Paper daffodil. Photo credit: Adrian Grycuk. Wikimedia Commons

The Grossaktion Warsaw saw over 250,000 Jews transported to and killed at Treblinka in the summer of 1942. By April 1943, out of some 400,000 Warsaw Jews, there were about 60,000 left in the Ghetto. With another round of deportations scheduled for the eve of Passover, the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union decided to resist. Yet the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising had no chance to succeed, not militarily; it was outnumbered, it had very few weapons and little ammunition. However, the uprising should not be judged in those terms. Here was a group of people who decided they did not want to die in the gas chambers of Treblinka but at the receiving end of a bullet. Symcha “Kazik” Ratajzer-Rotem, one of the fighters, said that “the only thing we could do in the situation was to stand up against the Germans, knowing that death waits at the end of the road. It was the only sure thing. There were no illusions, there was absolutely no thought, that we could survive. No one dreamed of it. Not at the start of the uprising, not later. To the Germans, a Jew was defenseless – you could do whatever you wanted with them.” Death was the only sure thing, and by taking the decision to die in this way, the dehumanized fighters asserted their humanity in a way that could no longer be denied.

Original German caption for this photo read: “These bandits defended themselves with weapons.”

Throughout the uprising, there was a sense of being forgotten, not just by the people outside the Ghetto, but by the whole world. Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the uprising, remarked that:
“The [ghetto] wall only reached the second floor. And already from the third floor, one could see the other street. We could see a merry-go-round, people, we could hear music, and we were terribly afraid that this music would drown us out and that those people would never notice a thing, that nobody in the world would notice a thing: us, the struggle, the dead…. That this wall was so huge, that nothing, no message about us, would ever make it out.”

Marek Edelman by the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes Monument. Photo credit: Jerzy Gumowski. Agencja Gazeta

Perhaps in some metaphysical sense, the Nobel laureate Czesław Miłosz heard that cry as he noticed the same merry-go-round and people’s passivity about what was happening to the dying fighters in the Ghetto. In Miłosz’s poem Campo di Fiori, he recalls the burning of Giordano Bruno, the 16th century Dominican friar and the return to “normal” life following his death. The poet feared that the same oblivion might await the Ghetto: “I thought of the Campo di Fiori / In Warsaw by the sky-carousel, / One clear spring evening / to the strains of a carnival tune. / The bright melody drowned / The salvos from the ghetto wall, / and couples were flying / high in the cloudless sky.” Mi?osz accuses people (and he includes himself) of complicity by inaction. Yet the poem is about memory, it immortalizes the struggle of the fighters and warns against forgetting.

After the end of the war, Edelman never left Poland. He thought of himself as a guardian of the memory of those that perished and he recalled their human stories, struggles, and finally, death. Each year, on April 19, the anniversary of the uprising, he received a bouquet of daffodils which he always brought to the Ghetto Heroes Monument. A Hebrew, Polish, and Yiddish inscription on the monument reads: “”For those who fell in an unprecedented heroic struggle for the dignity and freedom of the Jewish nation, for a free Poland, for the liberation of man – Polish Jews.”

Monument of the Evacuation of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighers. Photo credit: Adrian Grycuk. Wikimedia Commons.

Edelman passed away in 2009. Starting on the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in 2013, volunteers hand out paper daffodils to the citizens of Warsaw as a way to commemorate the uprising. Thus, arising from the darkest period of history, out of the ruins of a burned city, a little flower, which blooms around the time of the Passover, became a symbol of memory and hope, of human relations, brotherhood, and sacrifices. Finally, a symbol of humanity and life with dignity against oppression. In Judaism there is a process understood as the obligation of repairing the world called tikkun olam. It implies that each person is responsible not just for their own spirituality and morality, but is also responsible for the society. The Holocaust, which killed 6 million Jews for the crime of existence, robbed the world of 6 million chances to better the world. Let us not forget the men and women who sacrificed their lives in the struggle against tyranny, and honor their memories by upholding human rights and advocate justice for each oppressed individual in the world today. For the liberation of mankind.

World Cup ’18 Soccer Event: Polish National Team Live Streaming 3/26/17

Polish National Team World Cup 2018 qualifying match

Group E: 1st place Poland vs 2nd place Montenegro.

Poland sits atop of Group E, but a win by Montenegro will put them even.

First live stream soccer match at the recently renovated Pulaski Hall. Food, drinks, prizes.

Kick-off at 2:45 pm on March 26, 2017.  Doors open at 12:00.

Polish Center for Discover and Learning Event at Pulaski Hall: 19 Norman St, Chicopee, MA

Winter 2017 newsletter is out!

Our new newsletter is available for your viewing pleasure on our website. For those of you who receive the printed edition, it was sent out and you may already have received it. However, all of you can enjoy the digital edition by clicking on the images below. We have been busy and the newsletter was so big that we had to split it into two parts. You can also view all our previous newsletters in the NEWS & EVENTS / NEWSLETTER & MAILING LIST tab on our website. We hope you enjoy catching up on Polish Center’s news!

Part 1:

Part 2:

2017 Trip to Poland with the Polish Center

4/12/17 Update: Registration is still open! There are a few spots left…

In July 2017, we will once again head to Poland on a heritage tour led by Sta? Radosz, our Executive Director. We will visit western and southern Poland, sleep in a castle, eat dinner in a cottage in Zakopane, visit a world-famous brewery, and a lot more. Please click the attached flyer for full information and detailed itinerary.

Read Our Latest Blog Posts

11/19/16 11th Annual Krakus Festival with Polka DJs

Castle of Knights—1599 Memorial Drive–Chicopee, MA 01020

Saturday, November 19, 2016
Social Hour – cash bar 5:30 – 6:30 p.m.
Followed by Dinner at 6:30 p.m.

Music * Raffle Prizes * Polish Food

Tickets: $50 per person

Presentation of Community Service Awards to the Polka DJs who for many years have brought Polish music into our homes and promoted Polish culture and heritage. We want to thank them for many enjoyable hours of music and memories.  Featuring:

Billy Belina – Polka Jammer Network

Helen Szubzda Curtin – WMUA 91.1 FM

John Dyl – WARE 1250 AM

Mitch Kupiec – WTCC 90.7 FM

Mitch Moskal – Polka Jammer Network

Todd Zaganiacz – Polka Jammer Network & WHMP 1600 AM/96.9 FM

Krakus Festival overview: Krakus refers to the legendary young man (Krak, a shoe maker) who rid the people of a bothersome dragon living in a cavern below their settlement on Wawel Hill. Our mascot has a history that goes back to a time when stories were not written down but passed on by word of mouth from one generation to another. The time has changed our attitude toward that bothersome dragon, and these days, we think of him more fondly. He has become not only a friend but a very important symbol of Krakow and things Cracovian. So, we at the Polish Center have chosen him as our mascot for the Krakus Festival. “Wiwat Smok Wawelski!”

Purchasing Tickets: Make checks payable to the POLISH CENTER, include KRAKUS in the memo line and mail to:

Pieciak & Co CPA
Attn: Linda
Polish Center
488 Newton Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

What Andrzej Wajda’s War Films Tell us About Nationality

Andrzej Wajda has been called the national director; his movies concerned not only Poland, its history and people, but also the idea of Poland. He explored history and human interaction. His cinema was one of search, a search for identity and meaning. He was strongly influenced by the 19th century Romantic movement and did not lose that influence no matter what themes he was exploring. Yet his patriotism could turn to sharp critique and he was not afraid to explore painful issues and dissected the question of national identity with a surgeon’s precision. In terms of explorations of human interaction, he was perhaps only second to Kieślowski in Polish cinema, if only because the latter had little interest exploring these topics through national questions. Those explorations led to accusations of nationalism as well as anti-Polish nihilism. These contradictions make sense however for a director who, while found the idea of Poland important, did not mythologize it to wash away past errors.

Wajda’s first cinematic success was the war trilogy Generation (1954), Kanał (1956) and Ashes and Diamonds (1958), each set during, or right at the end of the Second World War. Wajda filmed Generation while still a student at the Łódz film school. The resulting work was a compromise between an exploration of wartime heroism and Soviet-imposed censorship. Kanał, a positively claustrophobic movie follows a group of Home Army soldiers through the Warsaw sewers. The question the characters face is not about how they can win the fight; their fates are sealed and they have no possible way to come out victorious. The humanization of the characters transcends national questions and instead deals with the responses to extreme situations, depression, sense of defeat and loss of hope.

Wajda on the set of Katyn
Wajda on the set of Katyn
Transcending the national questions, Katyń (2007), a film Wajda made towards the end of his life, deals with the army officers, members of the intelligentsia, priests, lawyers, etc. Wajda not only deals with the situation of the prisoners and their stoic and rather heroic approach to their situation, yet also explores the avenues and responses to the massacre of civilians and family members of the victims. Soviet authorities and the Polish puppet government blamed the Nazis for the crime and any mention of Soviet guilt was met with swift reprisal. Thus, the population faced decisions of how to react to the Katyń massacre and Wajda explored each of those responses and their consequences. Some could not accept the official lie and paid for holding on to the truth with their careers and even lives. Yet others went along with the official story because there was still a country to be fought for, if only not on the battlefield. The cities had to be rebuilt, economy restructured and lives to be lived, if only for the next generations. Thus, Wajda sees each of these as a response, yet makes little judgement as to whether any of them are preferable or “right.” After all, do not each of them seek to preserve the idea of Polishness?

Prisoners recreating Matejko's Battle of Grunwald
Prisoners recreating Matejko’s Battle of Grunwald
Wajda explored the question of how to move on in other films as well. Landscape after Battle (1970), set in a just-liberated concentration camp and sometimes critiqued for portraying a camp devoid of Jews (later a convoy joins the Gentile Poles), the film explores the value of living after the Holocaust. Based on an autobiographical story by Tadeusz Borowski who survived Auschwitz and Dachau only to commit suicide in 1951, the film shows the intellectual Tadeusz traumatized by his experience of the war. He turns cynical, asocial and unfriendly towards everyone. He prefers to be locked up in isolation and read books. When he interacts with others, he is confrontational. Nina, a Jewess attempts to persuade Tadeusz to run away with her but he is unable to raise himself from the stupor the war put him in. He is passive, incapable of leaving Poland, and erasing his Polishness; as he states: “a country is not just a landscape; it is a people, traditions, language.”

Landscape After Battle tells a story of trauma and of the complex relations between Poles and Jews as represented by the two main characters. The trauma shows that the two had to relearn basic activities and feelings like compassion and love which the war stifled in them. Borowski asserted that “the living are always right against the dead,” a statement which can be interpreted to mean that humanity must survive and a person cannot be alive without empathy.

Jakub Gold with his mother in the Warsaw Ghetto
Jakub Gold with his mother in the Warsaw Ghetto
The question of Polish-Jewish relations was one that Wajda brought up in other films, such as Samson (1960) and Korczak (1990). Each set during the war, Samson tells the story of Jakub Gold, a young Polish Jew who spends his life in multiple prisons, both physical and emotional. The fact that no Polish actor could be found to portray the titular role attests to the reality of the tragedy that was the Holocaust. Serge Merlin, the French actor who eventually portrayed Jakub, is the physical opposite of the biblical character; short and diminutive, he could only portray Samson by contradiction, and performed masterfully. Torn by guilt and tormented by the souls of Jews who suffered and died while he survived, Jakub was paralyzed and unable to take action since he would be shot as soon as he was discovered. He asserts he is prepared to die but not because of the face he has; he is prepared to die for a cause but not because of how he is perceived. He is not similar to the Romantic heroes and instead embodies the Jewish people living in complete alienation and abandonment by the world yet finds strength to survive and sacrifice his life for a just cause.

Korczak leading "his" children to the trains.
Korczak leading “his” children to the trains.
Korczak, a film about the well-celebrated pedagogue Janusz Korczak, transcends the national division of a Polish and/or Jewish hero to become a universal paragon. Completely devoted to the care of orphans, the real life Korczak surprised his friends when in prewar Palestine he accepted Arab children in his orphanage. The Korczak of the movie did much the same; when asked what he will do when the war is over, he answered that, naturally, he will become a director of an orphanage for German children.

Much like the characters in his films, Wajda, despite a strong Romantic tie and love of the country of his birth, did not succumb to a simple definition of his identity and saw it as a complex interworking of many, sometimes conflicting histories. This can be seen in the closing scene of Landscape after Battle, when the soldiers in the camp perform a live recreation of Jan Matejko’s Battle of Grunwald. Prisoners, dressed in Polish and Teutonic clothes, stand still in poses, then change them as if participating in a photoshoot, all of it playing out as we hear the music of Chopin’s Polonaise op. 53, perhaps the most majestic of polonaises but which only makes the scene even more ridiculous. Wajda points to the absurdity of obsession with national mythology and instead views people for their humanity. “His” Poland was one that was home of good and bad people who lived together and interacted for centuries whether they were heroes or cowards, good or evil. He was a national director who never forgot nationality, only preferred to see it through the prism of human interaction.

6/20/16 GOLF SCRAMBLE TO BENEFIT THE POLISH CENTER OF DISCOVERY AND LEARNING

The Orchards Country Club—18 Silverwood Terrace–South Hadley, MA 01075

Monday, June 20, 2016
10:30AM – 6:00PM

Registration fee $135 per person/$540 per foursome

Featuring a Donald Ross golf course.
Networking on the course (on a Monday!).

10:00 am Registration
10:30 am Orchards Golf Pro, Jon Banas, will give a golf
lesson/demonstration on chipping and putting
11:00 am Lunch: Grilled kielbasa, hot dogs and hamburgers, salad, chips,
beverage
12:15 pm Shotgun start
Dinner following golf:
Polish Dinner- home-made pierogi, golumbki, cabbage, rolls, sliced pork,
dill cucumber salad, rye bread, dessert, and coffee

Team Format (A) Men and (B) Women and (C) Mixed Gender.
Make your own foursome or let us assign you to a groups. Singles are welcome.

Grand Prizes for Hole-in-one.

Silent auction and raffle.

Available sponsorship Categories for Businesses and Groups:

Platinum –Two foursomes, golf carts, lunch and buffet $1,500
Gold —One foursome, golf cart, lunch and buffet $1,000
Silver —Two golfers, golf cart lunch and buffet $750
Tee/Green/Practice $100

For more information call Joan Marsh at (413) 734-7052 (jcmlonghill37@verizon.net) or Ed Dzielenski at (413) 567-3132 (nyd11@aol.com).

Make checks payable to the POLISH CENTER and mail to:

Pieciak & Co CPA
Attn: Linda
Polish Center
488 Newton Street
South Hadley, MA 01075

Golf Scramble to benefit the Polish Center of Discovery and Learning

The Orchards Country Club—18 Silverwood Terrace–South Hadley, MA 01075

Monday, June 15, 2015
10:30AM – 6:00PM

Registration fee $125 per person/$500 per foursome

Dinner only $35.

Featuring a Donald Ross course.
Networking on the course (on a Monday!).

10:00-10:30 a.m. registration.
Lunch 10:30-11 a.m. Orchards Golf Pro, Jon Banas, will give a golf lesson and demonstration on chipping and putting.
11:00 -11:45 am lunch with grilled kielbasa, hot dogs and hamburgers, salad, chips, beverage.
12: 15 noon shotgun start.

Dinner following golf: Polish Dinner with home-made pierogi, golumbki, cabbage rolls, sliced pork, dilled cucumbers, rye bread, dessert and coffee.

Team Format (A) Men and (B) Women and (C) Mixed Gender.
Make your own foursome or let us assign you to a groups. Singles are welcome.

Grand Prizes for Hole-in-one.
Silent auction and raffle.

Available sponsorship Categories

Platinum –Two foursomes, golf carts, lunch and buffet $1,500
Gold—One foursome, golf cart, lunch and buffet $1,000
Silver—Two golfers, golf cart lunch and buffet $750
Tee/Green/Practice $100

For more information call Joan Marsh at (413) 734-7052 or Ed Dzielenski at (413) 567-3132 (nyd11@aol.com).

Make checks payable to the POLISH CENTER and mail to:

Pieciak & Co CPA
Attn: Linda Polish Center
488 Newton Street
South Hadley, MA 01075