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The Silence of the Lamb

May 9, 2009 | by Rabbi Benjamin Blech

Could the victims somehow be seen as accomplices in their own death?

The Jews were rounded up and herded like cattle to the slaughter. For some, strangely enough, that makes the victims guilty of becoming accessories to their own murder!

Yes, it is true that the Jews didn't rise up en masse against their executioners. Like the rest of the world, which couldn't believe the horrors of the Holocaust even once they were over, the Jews couldn't imagine the extent of the Nazi atrocities until it was too late to do anything about it. They believed they were going to be resettled and given an opportunity to be granted life in exchange for labor. They believed the sign at the entranceway to Auschwitz that proclaimed, "Arbeit Macht Frei" – "Work makes one free." They believed they were herded into the synagogue to be addressed by the Nazis, not to be doused with gasoline and burned to death.

And when they finally suspected the worst, no one in the world would help them. They could get no guns; arms to defend themselves were unavailable. If one rose up to fight, a thousand would be cruelly punished and tortured. Jews were not led like lambs to the slaughter. They were deluded, as was the world. They were isolated, and they were abandoned.

And yet these "lambs" managed an unparalleled demonstration of courage in the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto. They were able to hold off the Nazis longer than it took these Germans to conquer all of Poland.

Mordechai Anielwicz, who died with his colleagues in the command bunker at 18 Mila Street, Warsaw, at age 24, wrote in the last entrance of his diary: "The last wish of my life has been fulfilled. Jewish self-defense has become a fact. Jewish resistance and revenge have become actualities. I am happy to have been one of the first Jewish fighters in the ghetto. Where will rescue come from?"

Rescue never came, but the Jews proved that given the slightest opportunity, they would fight to the death to protect and preserve their people.

No wonder then that the official day designated by the Israeli Knesset, its parliament, to commemorate the Holocaust is known as Yom Ha-shoah ve-ha-Gevurah – "the Memorial Day for the Holocaust and for Acts of Courage." It is observed annually on the Hebrew date of the 27th of Nissan to coincide with the start of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In that way, the memory of the persecution and death is linked with the recollection of Jewish valor and courage.

from "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Jewish History and Culture," Alpha Books


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