German president marks former leader’s Warsaw ghetto tribute

December 7, 2010 (AFP)

German President Christian Wulff on Tuesday honoured Jews who fought and died in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against the Nazis, 40 years after a landmark tribute by his nation’s chancellor Willy Brandt.

Wulff and Polish opposite number Bronislaw Komorowski laid wreaths at the Warsaw monument inaugurated in 1948 where the doomed Jewish fighters had made their last stand.

During a visit to Poland on December 7, 1970, Brandt fell to his knees at the same monument.

“I was 11 years old, but I was deeply marked by Willy Brandt’s great gesture, a sign of remorse, sadness and shame in the face of the huge suffering inflicted by Germans on eastern Europe,” Wulff said earlier during a meeting with young Poles.

Besides being seen as a plea for forgiveness for World War II, Brandt’s gesture also came to symbolise his drive to rebuild ties with eastern Europe, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1971.

Anti-Nazi activist Brandt, a Social Democrat, spent the war in exile in Scandinavia.

A fixture in post-war German politics, he was chancellor from 1969 to 1974. He died aged 78 in 1992.

Pre-war Poland was Europe’s Jewish heartland. Its Jewish community numbered some 3.2 million, or around 10 percent of the country’s total population.

Polish Jews represented around half of the six million victims of the Holocaust.

After invading Poland in 1939, the Nazis isolated Jews in ghettos, before beginning a systematic campaign of mass murder.

On April 19, 1943, they began liquidating the Warsaw ghetto, where just 60,000 people remained after the vast majority of the 450,000 held there had died of hunger or disease or had been sent to death camps.

It was then that hundreds of poorly-armed paramilitaries in the ghetto rose up, in Europe’s first urban revolt against Nazi Germany. Against all odds, they held out for three weeks.

Wulff and Komorowski also laid wreaths at a monument to the 1944 Warsaw uprising.

Around 18,000 Polish fighters and 200,000 civilians died in that failed revolt, in which Warsaw was all but razed by the Nazis. 

© 2010 AFP

A Hero for Our Children
by Harriiet Mohr

Our children were crammed
into nightmarish
subhuman conditions
in the Warsaw ghetto
where they became
Hitler’s children 

In this hideous world
a hero emerged
who twisted the facts
and gory details
present and to come
by designing a way
to divert their attention
to distract and hide
their awareness
of the monstrous
homicidal drives
surrounding them
coming closer and closer
everyday to their little
defenseless bodies
a concentration of evil
that still make us tremble inside
where no one can see it

A book written about the hero Janusz Korczak shows how he comforted the children in the Warsaw Ghetto and as they made their way to the death camps. It is a remarkable story written for children but with a very deep message for adults as well. (A Hero and the Holocaust by David A. Adler, Holiday House 2002)  

His life and action plan
offer a sobering
and inspiring account
what one person’s caring
can accomplish
for the good of others
even in the most horrific
of all conditions

 H.M. October 2010


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