The Jewish Heroes of Warsaw: The Afterlife of the Warsaw Ghetto

November 9, 2017, 4:00 pm

University of Ottawa, 55 Laurier East Desmarais Building, room 1130

The Holocaust Research Group at the University of Ottawa is happy to announce the upcoming lecture by prof. Avinoam Patt, (Judaic Studies Department, Hartford University) On April 23, 1943, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency delivered news of the Warsaw Ghetto Revolt, relaying a report received in Stockholm the day before with the headline “Nazis Start Mass-Execution of Warsaw Jews on Passover; Victims Broadcast S.O.S.” How did news of the uprising in Warsaw travel from the ghetto to the outside world? How was it interpreted in the days that followed? Was it covered differently in London, New York, Tel Aviv? Was this event perceived as “revolutionary” at the time? And how did the timing of the revolt, in the spring of 1943, the deadliest year of WWII for European Jewry, influence the manner in which it was reported, interpreted and understood? Through an examination of the ways in which the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was reported in April and May of 1943, we can begin to understand how and why the event was transformed into a symbol of Jewish resistance, Jewish sacrifice, and Jewish martyrdom during and after World War II. 

By the first anniversary after the uprising (April 19, 1944) Jewish communities organized solemn commemorations in New York, London, Tel Aviv and elsewhere to recall Warsaw as a “fortress of freedom” and the “Masada of Warsaw.” Representatives from the Jewish Labor Bund and the Zionist movement in the Yishuv disputed both the heroes of the revolt and its true political and ideological significance. By 1946, among the diverse population of survivors who gathered in the DP camps of postwar Germany, Warsaw came to occupy a central place in the collective identity of the She’erit Hapletah. Although they had not been ghetto fighters or partisans, many DPs came to believe, in the words of one Zionist leader in the DP camps, that “a people cannot live off Treblinka and Majdanek – only thanks to Warsaw can this people live on.” This talk will examine how and why the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising quickly became the prism through which Jews around the world understood and interpreted the murder of European Jewry during the Holocaust, and the ways in which memory of the uprising was mobilized by diverse Jewish communities in the service of varied political ideologies after the war.