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political world

Between tumbling walls

Jan Peczkis|Saturday, March 20, 2010

This book is unusual in several respects. It contains a diary of life in Warsaw--not in the Warsaw Ghetto before the Jewish Uprising, but covert life in Aryan Warsaw after this Uprising. (pp. 115-157).

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    Between tumbling walls          
  4.0 out of 5 stars An Atypical Perspective of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (1943). Insights into Cruel Jokes, Wartime Plunder, etc., March 20, 2010 This book is unusual in several respects. It contains a diary of life in Warsaw--not in the Warsaw Ghetto before the Jewish Uprising, but covert life in Aryan Warsaw after this Uprising. (pp. 115-157).

Seldom-presented information is included. For instance, she describes the mental state of the Jews after the first deportations to Treblinka: "It is almost impossible to describe the mood of the ghetto Jews in those days, shortly after the first extermination action. They were broken people, deprived of all human feelings. They accepted everything, did not even hesitate to step over dead bodies, and all eyes expressed the same self-evident truth: `We'll all end up as soap'. Cynical jokes circulated in the ghetto. One could hear people jokingly calculating how much fat in somebody's body would produce for the German war machine." (p. 18). Now consider those accounts (not this one) which state that some Poles made "Jews are frying" remarks, etc., as the Ghetto burned. Could some of these accounts reflect Jew-on-Jew cynicism converted, by psychological projection in Jewish writers' minds, into Pole-on-Jew cynicism? In addition, remembering that Poles also were experiencing mass murder by the Germans, could the same psychological processes that created the cruel Jew-on-Jew jokes have also have created the cruel Pole-on-Jew jokes? [Indeed, Poles made similar cruel jokes about their own victimhood. See the Peczkis review of A Jump for Life: A Survivor's Journal from Nazi-Occupied Poland].

Polish suspicions of the ZOB (Z.O.B) being tainted with Communism find support in the author's glowing portrayal of her memories of celebrating May Day: "...we had a short moment of elation coupled with nostalgia for the good old days. What street demonstrations there used to be on May 1, with thousands of workers marching, red flags waving the in the wind, bands blaring!" (p. 87).

Was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising an answer to "Jewish passivity?" In a way, she thinks so: "In the four days of fighting we had made up for the shame of Jewish passivity in the first extermination action of July, 1942." (pp. 29-30).

The reader is reminded once again that plunder is a common feature of wartime--unlike Jan T. Gross and his obsession with Poles acquiring post-Jewish properties. During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, Jewish shabrovniks (looters) went to the bunkers destroyed by the Germans, and: "Not only food was the aim of the "shabrovniks". In those days, when the most precious items had lost all value, the ghouls searched the pockets of the dead for jewels and currency. They removed rings and watches from the victims of the deadly gas, or even a good pair of shoes." (p. 79).

After the Uprising, the author briefly hid in the nearby Lomianka Woods (Puszcza Kampinowska) before hiding among Poles in Warsaw. She alludes to the help provided by Zegota. (p. 123). Instead of focusing exclusively on Polish blackmailers and denouncers of Jews, she notes that Germans often identified fugitive Jews directly (p. 120), and that the blackmailers/denouncers (szmalcowniki) included Germans (p. 120) and specifically-named Jews. (pp. 143-145). There is a bit of irony to Jan T. Gross and his portrayal of Poles willing to incur the German-imposed death penalty for possession of firearms but not for hiding Jews. Systematic German searches of Polish Warsaw apartments, done for the purpose of suppressing the Underground by uncovering hidden weaponry, also uncovered hidden Jews. (p. 136).

Borzykowski features not only the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, but also the Polish Warsaw Uprising (1944). Finally, she describes life while hiding in the ruins of Warsaw in the months prior to the belated arrival of the Red Army.
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