Sunday, March 28, 2010

Reflection on Passover

Tomorrow night I will gather with my family to celebrate and commemorate the Exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt to Israel, our ancient nation, and the locus of the faith that sustained our brethren through millennia of dispersion, and persecution, and harassment, and forced conversions and genocide. At our seder we close with a remembrance of Passover in the Warsaw ghetto in April 1943. Hungry, cold and wretched Jews rose up against the Nazis and with no military training, using stolen guns, iron rods, knives and crafted explosives they held off the Nazis for twenty eight days.

The resistance commenced with the ominous statement: “Our hour has come with no hope of rescue.” As the SS troops led by Gruppenfuhrer Jurgen Stoop rushed into the ghetto on the morning of April 19th which coincided with the first day of Passover, the bombs, grenades and makeshift explosives so carefully hidden for months, ambushed the Nazi troops, set tanks afire and killed and wounded over 200 Nazis.

Battles continued, home made bombs were detonated under Nazi troop columns, trucks carrying Nazi soldiers were torched and the Nazis retreated and called for reinforcements. Within weeks ammunition was almost used up and the Nazis began their destruction of the ghetto…building after building…reducing all to rubble.

On May 16th, 1943- Gruppenfuhrer Jurgen Stoop announced "180 Jews, bandits, and subhumans were destroyed. Tbe Jewisb quarter of Warsaw is no more!"

However, the damage to Nazi prestige was enormous and the few survivors that escaped the ghetto inspired other rebellions by the Jews.

Elie Weisel has written: “Where did they draw the strength, the knowledge, to go out in battle against the most awesome army in Europe?..... There are limits to human endurance. One must break at last” He continues: “The ghetto, half-a-million souls, for the most part did not become a jungle. Quite the contrary; people tried to help each other.” “One must marvel even more at the fighters and couriers. Instead of falling into despair, they found reasons and strength to help others.”

By the time the Holocaust ended three million Polish Jews were exterminated. In 1951, when liberated Israel was three years old Jurgen Stroop was sentenced to death and executed in Poland.

There are so many heroes of this great rebellion and they are all of blessed memory and to quote them all is impossible. Tomorrow, I will quote Yitzhak Zukerman a courier and fighter in the uprising who died in Israel in 1981:

"These were our thoughts; this was our life. Revolt! Everything and everyone was prepared for it. We knew that Israel would continue to live and that for the sake of all Jews everywhere and for Jewish existence and dignity-even for future generations-only one thing would do: Revolt!"

We will conclude our recitation with the words “Next year in Jerusalem” and I will add “In every corner, of eternally undivided Jerusalem." For the little ones in our group weary from the recitation this means “let’s eat” but for the adults those words have a very serious meaning as we confront all our contemporary Pharaohs.

Have a sweet Passover.

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