Keeping Their Memory Alive

Carolyn Ben Natan (left), director of public affairs for the office of the Consulate General of Israel in LA, and Ignacy Zarski, consul for public affairs with the Consulate General of Poland in LA, pose in Malibu City Hall after speaking at the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

The largest single revolt by Jews during World War II was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in Warsaw, Poland, in 1943. When Nazi Germany began shipping the remaining Jews to the concentration camp at Treblinka on Passover Eve, the Jews refused to surrender to the police commander and fought back with 400 armed fighters. The Germans ordered the Ghetto to be burned down one block at a time, which took over a month. Nearly 13,000 Jews died—about half of them burned alive or suffocated. 

Germans first started herding Poland’s three million Jews into big-city ghettos in 1939. The Warsaw Ghetto had about 400,000 people packed into a tiny 1.3-square-mile area, and thousands died from disease and starvation even before deportations to extermination camps began.

John Honigsfeld, 76, a retired teacher and active participant at the Malibu Senior Center, got the city’s blessing to hold the first such commemoration in Malibu at City Hall last Friday on Passover Eve.

He explained to the group of about 40 that the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was connected to Passover, which begins with the eve of the 14th day of Nisan on the Jewish calendar. 

“Passover marks the freedom from being enslaved in Egypt,” he said. 

Honigsberg pointed out that “LA is one of the biggest Jewish cities in the world,” in terms of sheer numbers, including a “tremendous population of Jews whose family came from Poland.” He said the uprising was being commemorated “all over LA,” with more than a half-dozen events.

He spoke about the importance of Israel. 

“To Jews, it’s the Promised Land, and to non-Jews, it’s the Holy Land,” he said. “Before 1948, before Israel existed, the worldwide support that Jews had for the formation of Israel was tremendous in terms of both wanting to move there and contributing money. No movement was stronger.”

He said during WWII, Jews in the Lodz Ghetto learned how to grow trees for when they moved to Israel. After the war, “As the world was deciding whether to form a Jewish state or not,” he said young U.S. Jews formed clubs that began the strongest letter-writing campaign in history to elected federal officials, asking them to support the formation of Israel.

Ignaci Zarski, consul for public affairs with the Polish Consulate in LA and a native of Warsaw, spoke about the importance of remembering the uprising as a part of history. 

“Many people forget about the Warsaw uprising,” he said. 

At the time of the Nazi takeover of Poland, Zarski said about 10 percent of the Polish army was made up of Jews—about the same proportion as the general population. Zarski pointed out that some Jewish Polish Army members later went on to help create the Jewish army of Israel, including future Prime Minister Menachem Begin.

Zarski wore a yellow paper daffodil on his lapel, explaining it was Poland’s traditional way of remembering the uprising. 

“Daffodils used to be placed at the Warsaw Uprising Museum, and now they’re handed out on the street in front of the museum, symbolizing respect and hope,” the diplomat said.

Carolyn Ben Natan, Director of Public Affairs for the office of the Consulate General of Israel Los Angeles, said, “We honor the young who stood up against an unspeakable evil. 

“We all need to remember them and tell their story and make sure the world never forgets,” Ben Natan continued. “They taught us the lesson that Jews could never be powerless again. Today we have a safe harbor in Israel. We are strong, and we can and we will defend the Jewish people. For us, ‘never again’ is a sacred promise.”

State Senator Henry Stern also spoke. 

“[Malibu] is where I learned to be a leader, and learning about the Holocaust woke me up and made me realize our heritage,” Stern described. “We can’t let the living memory of the Holocaust lie dormant … These are the final years of the remaining survivors of the Holocaust … I hope the fire of passion will never be put out.”

During the remainder of the program, Marcia Chon gave a talk, Diane Carroll read a passage from “The Tree of Life,” Rabbi Levi Cunin sang a tale in Yiddish accompanied by a violinist and Cantor Marcelo Gindlin sang Yiddish songs while playing an acoustic guitar.

Cunin said celebrating the Passover Seder was personal to him, because his grandmother lost all of her siblings in the Holocaust. 

“I think of the miracle of all of us being here today living in freedom,” he said. 

Gindlin has visited Warsaw, and said seeing the site of the uprising “was a powerful thing.”