Poland Commemorates the 75th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Warsaw pays homage to hundreds of Jewish fighters who rebelled against the Nazis despite knowing they were doomed

Polish President Andrzej Duda lays a wreath during state ceremonies in homage to the victims and fighters of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, on the 75th anniversary of the start of the revolt, in front of the Monument to the Warsaw Ghetto Heroes, in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

Sirens wailed, church bells tolled and yellow paper daffodils of remembrance dotted the crowd as Polish and Jewish leaders extolled the heroism and determination of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising fighters on the 75th anniversary of their ill-fated rebellion.

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People watch a ceremony commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in front of the museum of the history of Polish Jews, in Warsaw, Poland April 19, 2018.
\ KACPER PEMPEL/ REUTERS

Newscasters on TV, politicians and regular citizens wore the daffodils that have become a symbol of mourning for the Jews who died fighting, as well as the millions of other Jews murdered in the Holocaust.

President Andrzej Duda presied over official commemorations and will pay homage to the hundreds of Jewish fighters who took up arms in the 1943 rebellion against the German forces that occupied Poland during World War II. The revolt ended in death for most of the fighters yet left behind an enduring symbol of resistance.

The daffodils tradition comes from Marek Edelman, the last surviving commander of the uprising, who on every anniversary used to lay the spring flowers at the monument to the fighters. He died in 2009.

At a separate ceremony at Warsaw's Town Hall, three Holocaust survivors — Helena Birenbaum, Krystyna Budnicka and Marian Turski — were given honorary citizenship of the city.

A man touches a monument when attending an independent ceremony in honor of the fighters of the 1943 Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on its 75th anniversary in Warsaw, Poland, Thursday, April 19, 2018.
Czarek Sokolowski/AP

In addition to the official observances, hundreds of other people attended an emotional "independent" gathering by Poles furious at a government that sometimes seems to tolerate or even support anti-Semitic views despite its official denunciations of anti-Semitism.

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Open Republic, an association that fights anti-Semitism and xenophobia, said it was organizing its ceremony in opposition to what it called the "hollow nationalist pomp" of the government, recalling how the prime minister earlier this year paid tribute to a Polish wartime insurgency unit that had collaborated with the Nazis.

The Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out April 19, 1943, when about 750 young Jewish fighters armed with just pistols and other light arms attacked a German force more than three times its size. In their last testaments they said they knew they were doomed but wanted to die at a time and place of their own choosing.

In the end, the fighters held out nearly a month, longer than some German-invaded countries did.

The Germans razed the ghetto and killed most of the fighters, except for a few dozen who managed to escape the ghetto through sewage canals to the "Aryan" side of the city.

Thursday's ceremonies in Warsaw marked the first major anniversary without any survivors of the revolt in attendance, though several surviving noncombatants who had been in the ghetto as children commemorated the loss of their loved ones and their community.

Among those was Marian Kalwary, 87, a Polish survivor of the Warsaw ghetto.

In an interview with The Associated Press, he said he is horrified to see violence in the world today and what he asserts is the rise in Poland of the same nationalistic views that drove Nazi Germany into starting World War II and the Holocaust — notions that had long been condemned and seemed banished.

"I am terrified by the rebirth of fascism and nationalism and I can see nationalism being glorified and put on a pedestal as something noble," Kalwary said. "Nationalism is being confused with patriotism."

Israeli dignitaries usually attend the major ghetto commemorations, but mostly remained home because the Warsaw anniversary this year coincides with major celebrations in Israel marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of that nation in 1948.