Thousands of Jews Gather in Poland for Start of Ghetto Uprising Events

Solemn commemorations of the 50th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising against the Nazis began this weekend, with thousands of Jews from around the world attending special ceremonies at the city’s sole remaining synagogue and at the government’s Palace of Culture.

Jews, Polish dignitaries and Catholic Church officials joined together in a host of other commemorations as well, all of them just a precursor to ceremonies Monday, when the actual anniversary of the April 19 uprising was to be marked with addresses by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and U.S. Vice President Al Gore.

The events Sunday, on Holocaust Remembrance Day, also included the unveiling at the city’s Jewish cemetery of a monument dedicated to the child victims of the Holocaust.

At a special interfaith service at Warsaw’s Nozyk synagogue, the chief rabbi of Poland, Pinchas Menachem Joskowicz, opened the ceremony, which also included an address by Archbishop Henryk Muszynski, who represented the Catholic Church in Poland.

Pawel Wilestein, head of the Jewish Religious Organizations of Poland, also addressed those assembled, speaking about the uprising fighters.

“Though these fighters did not see the final victory of good over evil, they will always remind us that Jews were in the forefront of the struggle for human freedom,” he said.

Joskowicz emphasized the religious message of the uprising, saying: “As important as the military resistance was, we must remember the spiritual resistance.”

“The Jews of Warsaw, and those in the camps, never stopped praying and never stopped believing. Jews have never put down these weapons,” the Hasidic rabbi said.

Archbishop Muszynski relayed the prayers of Pope John Paul II to the victims of the uprising.

And parallel to the ceremonies in Warsaw, the Polish-born pope in Rome paid special homage to Jews as part of his weekly Sunday message to the public, read out at noon after mass from the balcony of St. Peter’s Basilica.

POPE RECALLS ‘UNHEARD OF CRIMES’

At the Polish government’s Palace of Culture and Science, the governor of Warsaw sponsored an evening rally in honor of Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Representatives of local and international Jewish organizations addressed those gathered, as well as members of the Polish government and uprising survivors.

The Jewish theater of Warsaw also presented a play in both Yiddish and Polish.

Earlier in the day, over 1,000 people attended the unveiling of the monument to the child victims of the Holocaust.

Jack Eisner, an American who survived the war as a child in the ghetto, dedicated the monument and played a recording of him singing in a choir in the Tlomackie Street Synagogue before the war.

The Nazis, upon finally subduing the uprising after nearly a full month of fighting, blew up the Tlomackie Street Synagogue as a symbol of their victory over the Jews.

In Rome, the pope marked the uprising anniversary by saying that “the days of the Shoah represented a true night in history, registering unheard of crimes against God and man.”

Speaking to scores of thousands of people filling St. Peter’s Square, including a group of Italian Jews and concentration camp survivors, the Polish-born pontiff asked:

“How can I not feel close to you, beloved Jews, and to remember in prayers and in meditation such a painful anniversary?”

The concentration camp survivors wore symbolic yellow stars on their chests with the slogan “I will not forget” to mark the ghetto uprising anniversary.

“Be certain, you are not alone in bearing the pain of this memory. We are praying and are with you,” the pope told those assembled.

‘PART OF OUR COMMON HISTORY’

Earlier, the pope marked the uprising anniversary with a call for dialogue and cooperation between Christians and Jews in fighting anti-Semitism and other prejudices.

The pope made that call in a letter to the Coordinating Commission of Jewish Organizations in Poland. The letter, dated April 6, was made public Friday.

It is “necessary for us, Christians and Jews, to be first blessing to one another,” the pope wrote. “This will effectively occur if we are united in the face of the evils which are still threatening: indifference and prejudice, as well as displays of anti-Semitism.”

In Germany, state officials also marked the uprising anniversary.

The German president, Richard von Weizsacker, acknowledged the uprising as a “a shattering and living reminder of those people who have given their lives for freedom and dignity.”

The mayor of Berlin, Eberhard Diepgen, also recalled the uprising and honored its heroes.

“These were not our crimes, but they are a part of our common history, and we, as well as future generations, are responsible to it,” he said.

(Contributing to this report were JTA correspondents Ruth E. Gruber in Rome and Igal Avidan in Berlin.)

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