On 70th anniversary of Warsaw ghetto uprising, survivor in Israel recounts experience
The resistance movement began to grow after the deportation of July 22, 1942, when 265,000 men, women and children were rounded up and later killed at the Treblinka death camp. As word of the Nazi genocide spread, those who remained behind no longer believed German promises that they would be sent to forced labor camps.
A small group of rebels began to spread calls for resistance, carrying out isolated acts of sabotage and attacks. Some Jews began defying German orders to report for deportation.
The Nazis entered the ghetto on April 19, 1943, the eve of the Passover holiday. Three days later, the Nazis set the ghetto ablaze, turning it into a fiery death trap, but the Jewish fighters kept up their struggle for nearly a month.
The Jewish fighters who had fortified themselves in bunkers and hiding places managed to kill 16 Nazis and wound almost 100, Dreifuss said.
They were ultimately brutally vanquished. Anielewicz and others died inside the bunker on 18 Mila Street, which later became the title of a famous novel by Leon Uris that fictionalized the events.
"It was a moral victory. No one believed the Jews would fight back," said Dreifuss. "It's amazing that after three years of Nazi occupation, starvation and illness, these people found the strength to disobey the Nazi orders, stand up and fight back."
Anielewicz, who was in his early 20s, became a heroic figure in Israel, with a village and streets across the nation named in his honor.
Vitis-Shomron remembers him well. She said he was a tall, charismatic leader of a younger generation who refused to submit quietly to the Nazis as their parents did.
"His theory was, 'don't get used to what is happening. Don't accept it,'" she said. "The Nazis wanted to turn us into slaves, and he said that only free people could resist."
The approach put Vitis-Shomron at odds with her parents, who objected to her activity in the youth movement. Often she would defy the Nazi curfew and only return home in the morning. She narrowly escaped S.S. officers in the streets as she posted underground leaflets calling on Jews to resist or escape.
She said the hardest part for her was escaping before the uprising began, joining her mother and younger sister in their hideout on the Polish side of town outside the ghetto. She remembers watching the red skies above the burning ghetto, where her friends were waging war.
"If it was up to me, I would have stayed behind and fought to the death with them. I had no fear," she said. "The uprising represented Jewish pride. It was us saying, 'we will not die the way you want us to. We will die the way we want to, as free people.'"
Vitis-Shomron was later captured and sent the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp with her mother and sister. They all survived and eventually made it to Israel. Her father was deported from the ghetto and killed in a Nazi death camp.
Today, Vitis-Shomron volunteers for Yad Vashem, collecting pages of testimony from fellow survivors that help build the museum's depository of names of the victims.
Despite her own past, she claims not to have experienced the psychological damage that plague other survivors.
"I never saw myself as a victim. I was on the active side, the resisting side," she said. "It helped me cope."
Online: http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/exhibitions/warsaw_ghetto_testimonies/index.asp Follow Heller at www.twitter.com/aronhellerap .
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