The Ghetto Fights (Getto Walczy: Udzial Bundu W Obronie Getta Warszawskiego)
THE GHETTO FIGHTS (Getto walczy: Udzial Bundu w obronie getta warszawskiego)
Memoir by Marek Edelman, 1945
A small book (sixty-seven pages) by Marek Edelman, published in 1945 in Warsaw and in 1946 in English translation, is not just a report on the events in the ghetto but rather a shocking, though lacking in pathos, testimony of a witness and participant. The Ghetto Fights is dedicated not only to the armed activity of the Jewish underground organizations but also to their merits in raising the spirit of resistance among the Jewish population that was intimidated, oppressed, and disoriented by German propaganda. The chronological report encompasses the period from the moment the German invaders entered Warsaw (September 1939) until the downfall of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The author carefully analyzes the causes of the inaction of the Jewish community, seeing them in light of the fact that the process of extermination was a culmination of long-lasting and methodical persecutions. The order to wear the Star of David and the bans on traveling, possessing gold, baking bread, treatment of Aryan patients, and working in state-owned institutions are just some of the repressive means mentioned by Edelman, all of which preceded the total isolation of Jews in the form of the Warsaw Ghetto created by Germans in November 1940. Most attention, however, is paid to the activity of the Jewish youth, who dealt first with charitable activities and then with political and military activities within the confines of such organizations as the bund. Young activists, including Edelman himself, did not give in even when Jews, public opinion, and Western politicians did not believe their information on the gassing of Jews or the true purpose of supposed evictions. As Edelman emphasizes, the ghetto did not believe that the world was unwilling to believe the disillusioning reports of witnesses. Members of the resistance took up the fight in defiance of those who wanted to survive at all costs, including the cost of the human quota delivered to the Umschlag, the "deportation" site. The armed clashes with the police—who followed the orders of the oppressor and the obedient Jewish Council—that began in July 1942 was the first sign of opposition, visible to the ghetto and the whole city of Warsaw. The fighters deemed putting up resistance as a moral duty of any Jew. Therefore, they criticized the behavior of Adam Czerniakow (an engineer), the president of the Jewish Council, who in July 1942 on the second day of the deportation action committed suicide to avoid the responsibility for the death of hundreds of thousands in gas chambers. In The Ghetto Fights Edelman contrasts Czerniakow's attitude with the determination of Edelman's comrades—activists of the Jewish opposition, who in 1942 decided to coordinate their efforts by creating Zidowska Organizacja Bojowa (ZOB; Jewish Fighting Organization). He describes the armed actions undertaken by ZOB from December 1942, such as freeing prisoners held by the police or executing death sentences on the Jewish Gestapo informers.
The author avoids any mention of his own function in the organization, his personal achievement, or his participation in individual operations. The narration is done in the first person plural. The tension between the matter-of-fact report and the emotional commitment of the writer can be seen especially in the part devoted to the uprising, the outbreak of which was the response to the liquidation of the ghetto attempted by the Germans in April 1943. In short, interrupted sentences Edelman writes about the desperate defense of every shelter, about the fights within the walls of the ghetto set on fire by the Germans, about the evacuation of survivors through sewers beyond the walls of the Jewish district.
The part of the guardian of memories is assumed by the author, especially in the ending of the book, remembering those who have fulfilled their task to the very end, "to the last drop of blood which soaked into the pavement of the Warsaw ghetto." The author talks with admiration and engagement about Abrasha Blum, the spiritual leader of the ghetto resistance; about David Hochenberg, who blocked the passage in one of the bunkers with his own body; about Tobcia Dawidowicz, a wounded liaison woman who remained in the ghetto not wanting to delay others in their escape.
By focusing on the facts Edelman avoids pathos but without giving up his emotional commitment. Therefore we call his book—quoting Zofia Nalkowska, a Polish writer and a member of Komisja Badania Zbrodni Niemieckich (Committee for the Investigation of German Crimes)—"a record of a common martyrdom."