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Labor Action, 23 May 1949


Artie Kahn

Readers Take the Floor ...

On the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising


From Labor Action, Vol. 13 No. 21, 23 May 1949, p. 2.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


To the Editor:

I was glad to see that the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which this year has not been noted even by most Jewish periodicals, was commemorated in Labor Action. “Jacques” expressed very well the significance which the battle of the Ghetto has for us. But I feel obligated to write and disagree with an idea implicit in his article.

In any history of the Jews, or of socialism, the “Bund” deserves an important place. It was this movement which emancipated the Jewish worker from clerical domination, which raised Yiddish from “jargon” to language, which took a leading role in the first Jewish self-defense units. It is almost impossible to describe the effect the Bund had on Jewish life, and so, indirectly, on world history. And the Bund – in general, socialist activity – has a rarely equaled record. Unfortunately, the present leadership of the Bund does not seem to be carrying on in this tradition. Certainly its attitude toward the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto is not what one would have expected.

The uprising in the Ghetto was something which touched the heart of every Jew and made him proud of his people. It will unquestionably be recorded in the same way as was the Hasmonean or Bar Kochba revolt. And at first it was made immensely more impressive by the unity which the fighting Jews showed. The tremendous differences in the Jewish community were forgotten in a united struggle for group survival. This unity was not maintained by those outside of the Ghetto. Certain groups have been loudly proclaiming their own ideological comrades as the leaders of the revolt. We could, I think, have expected this from the Revisionists. It is disillusioning to find similar actions by partisans of the Bund.

Many groups took part in the Ghetto revolt. But it is an indisputable fact that the first impetus to organized resistance, and afterwards the main force of that resistance, came from the ranks of the Socialist Zionist movement. At times the Bund has gone to extreme lengths to deny this. In March 1944, for example, it published in the American press a report that in London “a new list has been received of 36 members of the Bund who were killed in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.” This was true. It was also true that the list contained a total of 223 names, of which 150 were those of members of the Labor Zionist movement.

The revolt was organized and conducted by the Jewish Fighting Organization, with Mordecai Anilewitz, a member of Hashomer Hatzair, as commander. Out of the organization’s 22 fighting units, four were “Bund.” There were four Communist units and one General Zionist. The remaining 13 came from five Socialist Zionist groups. The Jewish National Committee, in a report dated May 1944, said:

“The Bund had no more than 18 per cent of the total number of fighters. The Bundist groups within the Jewish Fighting Organization fought bravely, just as all other groups without exception. But they gave no special color or character to the battles.”

Another committee report, dated May 24, said:

“Let the world labor movement organizations in all countries know that the pro-Palestine labor movement organized and conducted the battle of Warsaw, and that hundreds of fighters fought and died with the thought that [their] death would form one of the foundations of the socialist future of the Jewish masses in Palestine.”

The revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto was one of the noble events of this era, in. every sense of that overused and now cliche word. It was led by people who left and re-entered the Ghetto regularly, who could easily have saved their own lives. They felt it their duty, their socialist duty if you will, to remain and try to help others, to raise a banner of revolt in the Ghetto, to let the world know that the Jews did not propose to be annihilated without resisting.

There were many in the Ghetto, at first a majority, who refused to believe that the Germans would massacre a whole nation. The Socialist Zionist movement, and particularly its youth, had the courage to face the facts and proclaim them, and the idealism to sacrifice the chance for escape for their people’s sake. Later the Bund realized what was happening, and a united Jewish socialist movement was able to organize and carry through the uprising.

A dispatch from the underground Poale Zion in Poland expressed very well what our attitude toward party squabbling must be:

“The boasting of certain elements with deeds which were not theirs is so grotesque, and at the same time, in the light of our tragedy, so macabre, that any controversy on this subject would seem a disparagement of the greatness of the cause.”

Artie Kahn


Jacques had no intention of getting into the controversy which correspondent Kahn discusses in his interesting letter. – Ed.

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