Poland marked the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on Thursday with Polish and Jewish leaders praising the heroism and determination of the fighters against near certain death.
“We bow our heads low to their heroism, their bravery, their determination and courage,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said at the ceremony at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes in Warsaw. “Most of them died … as they fought for dignity, freedom and also for Poland, because they were Polish citizens,” he said.
Nearly a year after invading Poland in 1939, the Nazis created a special district in the city for its roughly 480,000 Jews. In what became known as the Warsaw Ghetto, tens of thousands would die from hunger and disease, and 300,000 were eventually shipped to the Treblinka death camp to be killed.
On April 19, 1943, when the Nazis began liquidating the ghetto and its remaining 60,000 Jews, hundreds of Jewish fighters emerged and attacked the Nazis, preferring to die fighting than being shipped to the gas chambers.
In his address, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder noted that the anniversary of the uprising also overlaps with Israel’s 70th anniversary this year, and that the Jewish fighters in Warsaw inspired the future defenders of Israel just a few years later.
“I believe that it was the heroism of the brave young Polish-Jews who stood up to the Nazis here that inspired the future young defenders of Israel, who defeated five armies many times their size,” said Lauder.
“There is a history of strength and courage in the Jewish people that defies number and odds and, sometimes, reality … and it was here in Warsaw that one of the most important chapters in that history was written … we are standing on a modern-day Masada.”
The commemoration in Poland comes amid heavy criticism of the Polish government for its recent law criminalizing anyone who attributes crimes committed during the Holocaust to Poles and Poland.