Flags Over the War­saw Ghet­to: The Untold Sto­ry of the War­saw Ghet­to Uprising

  • Review
By – January 18, 2012

The War­saw Ghet­to Upris­ing in April, 1943 is gen­er­al­ly rec­og­nized as a momen­tous event dur­ing the Holo­caust and a major event in Jew­ish his­to­ry. In addi­tion to the pub­lished aca­d­e­m­ic his­to­ries of the ghet­to resis­tance, such as the schol­ar­ship of Yis­rael Gut­man, him­self a fight­er in the Upris­ing, there is also John Hersey’s nov­el, The Wall, and Leon Uris’ Mila 18, which have famil­iar­ized a large read­ing audi­ence with the his­to­ry of the revolt. Main­stream his­to­ries of the valiant ghet­to defend­ers, how­ev­er, focus on Mordechai Anielewicz, the com­man­der of the Zion­ist Jew­ish Fight­ing Orga­ni­za­tion (ZOB), and the Jew­ish Social­ist Bund, as the pri­ma­ry lead­ers of the resis­tance to the Nazi plan to deport the rem­nant of the ghet­to Jews to the Tre­blin­ka death camp.

This is not the view, how­ev­er, of Moshe Arens, the for­mer Israeli defense min­is­ter, who also served as Israel’s ambas­sador to Wash­ing­ton and one of the Likud party’s elder states­men. In his book, which is meant to set the record straight, he bewails the fact that the Revi­sion­ist Jew­ish Mil­i­tary Orga­ni­za­tion (ZZW), led by its com­man­der, Pawel Frenkel, receives lit­tle or no recog­ni­tion in the his­tor­i­cal works that recount the fight against the Nazis in the War­saw Ghet­to Uprising.

Arens traces the bit­ter ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences between Ze’ev Jabotin­sky, the founder of the Revi­sion­ists (the fore­run­ner of today’s Likud), and the World Zion­ist Orga­ni­za­tion, dif­fer­ences which pre­vent­ed these armed net­works from work­ing togeth­er to face their com­mon ene­my as the Nazis com­menced deport­ing some 365,000 ghet­to Jews to the Tre­blin­ka death camp. The result, argues Arens, was that the sur­viv­ing mem­bers of the ZOB who fought the Nazis refused to acknowl­edge the role of its rival orga­ni­za­tion, and exclud­ed them from the mem­oirs and books that sub­se­quent­ly con­sti­tut­ed the his­to­ry of the ghet­to upris­ing. As for the ZZW, all of its senior com­man­ders fell in bat­tle against the Ger­mans. There was, con­cludes Arens, nobody left to tell their sto­ry. Using doc­u­ments, includ­ing the Nazi view of the revolt as doc­u­ment­ed in the Stroop Report, Arens seeks to rec­ti­fy the his­tor­i­cal omis­sion of the role played by the ZZW in the War­saw Ghet­to Upris­ing, and pro­vide the read­er with a more bal­anced his­to­ry of this coura­geous moment in Jew­ish history.

Jack Fis­chel is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of his­to­ry at Millersville Uni­ver­si­ty, Millersville, PA and author of The Holo­caust (Green­wood Press) and His­tor­i­cal Dic­tio­nary of the Holo­caust (Row­man and Littlefield).

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