JERUSALEM (Oct. 12)
A five-day international conference on Jewish resistance to the Nazis was a notable success here last week. Jewish partisans and soldiers in the Allied armies gathered from around the world to meet former comrades-in-arms from Israel and attempt to correct what they believe is a distorted “sheep to the slaughter” concept of Jewish passivity during the Holocaust.
Conference participants estimated that some 50,000 Jews fought as partisans in occupied Europe, some in purely Jewish groups, others in broader underground frameworks.
“I will remember to my dying day,” said Labor Alignment-Mapam MK Chaika Grossman, “the startled shout of an SS man in the Bialystok Ghetto: ‘The Jews are fighting’.” In Bialystok, 300 young Jews, poorly armed, attempted to rush the perimeter fence and open an escape route for their trapped brethren. Grossman was a leader of the Bialystok Ghetto uprising.
Stefan Grayek of Tel Aviv, a leader of an organization of former partisans now living in Israel, said of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, “Once the fight for our self-respect began, it was easier to die.”
Other speakers dwelt on heroism of another kinds the maintenance of human and communal values in the ghettoes and in the camps. “This revealed great internal strength,” said Sara Stern-Katan, a former National Religious Party MK who survived the Holocaust.
1.4 MILLION JEWS WERE IN THE ALLIED ARMIES
British historian and biographer Martin Gilbert noted that some 1.4 million Jews were enlisted in the various Allied armies. The Polish army alone contained 140,000 Jews, of whom 6,000 were killed in the initial Nazi blitzkrieg. There were some half-million Jews in the U.S. army, according to Gilbert, and a similar number in the Soviet aimed forces. Some 60,000 Jews fought in the British army and another 90,000 in Commonwealth armies.
President Reagan, in a message to the gathering read by U.S. Ambassador Samuel Lewis, wrote: “… It is ennobling to remember that even this ineffable darkness was pierced by rays of light as courageous men and women from many parts of the world chose to resist such inhuman tyranny and the enormity of the Holocaust. In doing so, they set standards of valor which still hearten free people everywhere.”
The conference was marred by the non-participation of former U.S. Supreme Court Justice and UN Ambassador Arthur Goldberg who was to have delivered the keynote address. The organizers had booked the 73-year-old jurist to fly tourist class to Israel. El Al in New York refused to allow Goldberg to pay the difference to upgrade his ticket to first class. He did not make the flight.
Goldberg told Haaretz from his home in Illinois that he was pained at not having been able to attend the gathering and deliver his address. He said he had knee joint trouble and could not sit in the cramped tourist section on long flights. But he said he bore no grudge and would continue to use his best efforts on Israel’s behalf.
Another keynote speaker, Yitzhak Shamir, then still Premier-designate, stressed as his theme the existence of modern day Israel which was the guarantee, he said, that Jews would never be placed in the situation they were in during the Holocaust.