Education Minister in Warsaw: 'Imagine This Square if They Were Still With Us'

Attending Poland's official ceremony commemorating the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Shai Piron speaks of 'deep commitment to peace and human dignity' that motivated Warsaw Ghetto uprising fighters.

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Education Minister Rabbi Shai Piron was in Warsaw on Friday, representing Israel at Poland's main ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. The ceremony was held in Ghetto Heroes Square, which houses a museum commemorating Poland’s Jewish community. In a speech given in Hebrew in front of an audience including the Polish president and prime minister as well as representatives of the European Union, Piron talked about the murder of Polish Jews during the Holocaust.

“Since the Babylonian exile there hasn't been a place like, in which Jews created such a great intellectual and spiritual enterprise," he said. "We lost six million people in the Holocaust, among them 1.5 million children. I would like us to imagine what this square would have looked like now if they were still among us. Close your eyes and picture the trailblazing intellectuals, the great rabbis, musicians and artists who could have been standing here were it not for the enormous tragedy which befell us, which no words can describe.

“It’s empty, nothing. A great void opened in the soul of the Jewish people after the murder of most of Poland’s Jews," Piron said. "They were very diverse and heterogeneous, including orthodox, secular, Zionists, communists, anti- Zionists – the Nazis made no distinctions, seeing them all as Jews.

“I’ve come here from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, as the Minister of Education, wishing to declare our commitment to perpetuating the spirit that motivated and inspired the ghetto fighters: an uncompromising battle against evil, along with a deep commitment to peace and human dignity. Education is the key to establishing a society that is peace-loving and humane, and that can inspire national pride without oppressing others. From Zion shall come forth the Torah and the Lord’s words from Jerusalem."

Reflecting on the ghetto fighters, Piron said: “The uprising was an expression of the fight against evil, of not accepting injustice, of the striving to change history in the name of morality and purity. The fighters were murdered, but the spirit of their uprising and their legacy has inspired many generations of freedom fighters and lovers of mankind. Their story commands us to make demands of ourselves, before demanding of others, to take responsibility and construct an exemplary society and engage in tikkun olam [repairing the world]."

Piron also spoke about the approximately 6000 Righteous Gentiles in Poland.

“In the great darkness which descended over Europe, they glowed and shone as candles in the dark, maintaining humanity and dignity," he said. "They showed us all that even in the face of evil one can stand up, occasionally even at the cost of one’s own life."

The ceremony began with the sounds of a siren, beginning a minute of silence.

Speaking before Piron, Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski said, “there is no other European capital like Warsaw, which became a heap of rubble.” In his speech, Komorowski drew a connection between the uprising and the uprising of (non-Jewish) Poles against the Germans.

“Jews and Polish resistance fighters fought shoulder-to-shoulder, banner alongside banner. This should be remembered in advancing Polish-Jewish relations and Polish-Israeli ties," he said. “The essence of the uprising was to maintain dignity, even to die honorably."

At the end of his speech, Komorowski presented an award to Simcha Rotem, one of the last fighters in the Ghetto Uprising who is still alive. 

A street in Warsaw destroyed during the failed 1944 uprising against Nazi occupiers.Credit: Reuters
In this 1943 file photo, a group of Polish Jews are led away for deportation by German SS soldiers during the destruction of the Warsaw Ghetto by German troops after the uprising.Credit: AP

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