This week marks Yom HaShoah, the day of remembrance for the Holocaust. But it also marks another Jewish date even more important: the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. While many Jews find their Jewish identity only through the death of the 6 million, they ought to look to a far more inspiring event as a source of Jewish identity.
Jews have experienced violent persecution for thousands of years. There was nothing completely new about the Holocaust -- it was an old story, retold on a massive scale. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was something different. It established a different identity for Jews. It recalled the original vision of Jewish identity established in the Bible: Jew as scholar-warrior. It is a vision that Jews must embody; it is a vision that right-minded people everywhere must embody.
The idea of Judeo-Christian morality absent physical force to protect it is terribly naive; every person who believes in Judeo-Christian morality must be prepared to defend it. It was true for the Jews in Warsaw in 1943, it is true for Jews fighting terrorists in Israel, and it is true for Americans fighting Islamofascism around the world.
Between July and September 1942, 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw, Poland, to German death camps in Treblinka. By late 1942, only about 60,000 Jews remained in the ghetto. When the remaining residents of the ghetto learned what had happened to those sent to Treblinka, they organized a resistance movement. Twenty-three-year-old Mordechai Anielewicz led the resistance. He reinvigorated the decrepit ZOB (Jewish Combat Organization) in November 1942. When the Germans came in January 1943, Anielewicz's ZOB fought back. With a tiny number of cheap weapons, the ZOB was able to fend off deportations.
In April, the Nazis returned, believing that within three days, they could crush all resistance. The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising began on April 19, 1943. For nearly a month, untrained Jewish men and women held off the German war machine.
The uprising came to an end on May 16, 1943. Anielewicz was killed in battle on May 8. Fifty-six thousand Jews were rounded up, and 7,000 of them were mowed down by German execution squads. The rest were sent to the death camps.
What good did the uprising do? Perhaps Mordechai Anielewicz expressed it best in a letter just two weeks before his death: "The most important thing is that my life's dream has come true. Jewish self-defense in the ghetto has been realized. Jewish retaliation and resistance has become a fact. I have been witness to the magnificent heroic battle of the Jewish fighters."