Ghetto Uprising commemorated


April 19, 1993|By Carl Schoettler | Carl Schoettler,Staff Writer

WARSAW, Poland -- Even with the thousands gathered for the 50th anniversary of the Ghetto Uprising, there were still more Jews among the dead in Warsaw than among the living.

And the living stood among the dead yesterday as a new monument to the children killed in the Holocaust was unveiled in the city's old, battered and disheveled Jewish cemetery.

Clustered just inside the gate of the cemetery were perhaps 2,000 of the 6,000 or so people who have come here to celebrate the civilian heroes who offered the strongest Jewish resistance to Nazi forces.

Only 2,000 to 3,000 Jews live in Warsaw, remnants of the 500,000 who died in Warsaw's Jewish ghetto after the Germans smashed Poland in 1939.

Over nearly two centuries, 300,000 Jews were buried in the vast, overgrown cemetery that stretches away from the new memorial in tumbled disarray. In a blank lot just beyond the wall just past the gatehouse lies the mass grave of 100,000 Jews who died of hunger or disease or were murdered during the occupation of Warsaw by Nazi Germany.

Another 300,000 or 400,000 Jews from the Warsaw ghetto simply vanished into the gas chambers and ovens of the Treblinka concentration camp. Among the glades of trees that have grown thick over the tombs here in the last half century, survivors have built symbolic monuments to the dead of Treblinka who had no graves.

The new memorial, roughly built of bricks and crowned with barbed wire like the wall that enclosed the ghetto, is dedicated to "the memory of one million Jewish children murdered by Nazi German barbarians [from] 1939 to 1945."

Jack Eisner, a New York businessman who sponsored the building of the monument, was a child in the ghetto during the Nazi years.

"I welcome you in the name of their silence, their supreme silence," Mr. Eisner said. "They were with me when I was 14 and I shall always remain 14 with them.

He belonged to a group of child smugglers who sneaked out of the ghetto and slipped back in with their ragged baggy clothes filled with contraband.

Hannah Fried, a pretty black-haired 11-year-old from Washington, read a poem called "The Little Smuggler" in a tiny, brave voice.

"Through a hole, through a crack or a cranny, starving yet stubborn and canny, I daily risk my neck. . . . Only one worry besets me, my mother. When I'm lost in the dust of the streets. . . . Who will bring you bread tomorrow?"

A cantor from New York and a dark-voiced woman from Warsaw sang a mournful Yiddish lullaby. And the rabbi from the last synagogue in Warsaw intoned in a thin, high voice the Hebrew words of the Kaddish, the memorial prayer for the dead.

And on this day of mourning for the children of the Holocaust, Max Roston, a small man in a Greek fisherman's hat and a checkered coat, looks for the graves of his parents. He is a retired tax man from Toronto who was born in Warsaw 76 years ago.

His father died of disease in the early years of the Nazi occupation.

"I don't know what happened to my mother," he says.

He searched nearly an hour, but he did not find the graves of his parents.

On a path worn through the rows of tombstones, Irena Siedlecka leaned on a cane and said calmly: "My family all perished. They were murdered in 1943 in Lvov."

"My sisters and father were gassed in trucks. My mother died alone of hunger. My brother died alone of very hard work. I can speak of it now. For a long time I couldn't speak without crying."

They vanished without a trace. She had a symbolic grave made out of shards of broken tombstones.

Mrs. Siedlecka put three red tulips and a slip of pine needles on the grave.

"I will say a poem in Hebrew: I come to my vineyard to work the land so the vines will grow thick with grapes."

The wind rustled the bare branches of the trees over the grave. And an eerie harmony drifted to the new memorial to the dead children of the Holocaust.

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