Marvin Olasky

Two fishermen walked into the woods…

We interrupt the annual joke column for a special announcement: For three years I’ve tried to relieve tax time depression and exhaustion by offering some humor, but this year a sad 70th anniversary trumps lightheartedness. I’ve put the jokes into two columns on, so I have room here to address the question: Would you rather die in combat or in a concentration camp?

Facts: The 70th anniversary is of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which began on April 19, 1943, and ended on May 16 amid smoke and fire. Background: Hitler’s minions beginning in 1940 had packed about 410,000 Jews into 1.3 square miles. The official ration was 184 calories per day for Jews and 2,613 for their German overlords. Nazi forces shipped 254,000 residents to the Treblinka “labor camp” and murdered them there. Warsaw starvation and disease killed close to 100,000 more.

Jewish leaders at first bought the lie that Treblinka was a place to work rather than to die, but by 1943 the truth was out. Many Warsaw residents decided to fight back even though the Germans had tanks, flamethrowers, and other modern conveniences, while the ghetto residents had six rifles and one submachine gun along with handguns and grenades, but not much ammunition.

German soldiers day after day drove the Jewish fighters from the streets and houses into sewers and bunkers, then used flamethrowers: About 13,000 Jews died in the uprising, probably half from smoke inhalation or being burnt alive. Marek Edelman, one of the few who survived—he became a noted cardiologist and died only four years ago at age 90—said, “There was no air, only black, choking smoke and heavy burning heat radiating from the red-hot walls.?…?We were beaten by the flames, not the Germans.”

The winners shipped most of the 50,000 survivors to Treblinka and other camps, where almost all died. Edelman later said, “We knew perfectly well that we had no chance of winning. We fought simply not to allow the Germans alone to pick the time and place of our deaths.” He said the death of those at Treblinka “was far more heroic. We didn’t know when we would take a bullet. They had to deal with certain death, stripped naked in a gas chamber or standing at the edge of a mass grave waiting for a bullet in the back of the head.?…?It was easier to die fighting than in a gas chamber.”

Marvin Olasky

Marvin Olasky is editor-in-chief of the national news magazine World. For additional commentary by Marvin Olasky, visit
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