How do we honour the ghetto resisters?

JSG statement on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

How do we honour the ghetto resisters?

“The most important thing is life, and where there is life, the most important thing is freedom.”

These words were spoken by Marek Edelman, a Jewish socialist, an internationalist and proud anti-fascist, who was Second in Command in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that began on this day, 19th April, in 1943. He died in Poland in 2009, the last surviving member of the command group that led the Uprising.

We honour him and his hundreds of comrades, aged 13-43, who fought an armed guerrilla battle for nearly four weeks against the vastly superior numbers and firepower of their oppressors, who had forced them into a walled ghetto in November 1940, cutting them off from the world. Their occupiers and oppressors dehumanised them and used enslavement, starvation and the spread of disease as weapons long before they brought in their tanks to finish the job.

Those hundreds who rose up in open combat against their oppressors were part of a ghetto population that peaked at nearly half a million, which had been waging a battle for life and for hope, every day.

They did so by holding on to their humanity, by building the most incredible networks of mutual aid, and by somehow keeping their vision of a world of freedom and dignity that could come into being beyond their immediate dire situation.

Today we remember and honour those who fought in that final battle, as well as those who were deported to death camps many months before that battle, and those who stubbornly fought for life but succumbed to starvation and disease before that uprising.

In 2024, in a world where the forces of hate and destruction are running rampant in real time before our eyes, and where authoritarians, ethno-nationalists, racists and fascists are gaining in strength in many countries across the globe, it is important to remember the examples of courage and resilience that were shown in the Warsaw Ghetto. We need to acknowledge the efforts of those of all ethnicities and nationalities today who campaign and fight for a better, more sustainable and peaceful future for humanity.

The best way to honour the ghetto resisters is to commit ourselves to opposing injustice wherever it exists. We must continue to challenge those with power in our own community to stop aligning with the oppressors in the world but to stand up with and for the oppressed and participate in building the world of dignity and freedom that those resisters dreamt of.

In Warsaw today, 19th April, at 12 noon, there will be a grassroots commemorative march that will gather at the monument to Szmul Zygielbojm, Józefa Lewartowskiego 6