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Special to the JTA a Day to Remember

April 20, 1983
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On this sunny morning in the small park dominated by the imposing memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto fighters, a thousand Jewish visitors and many Polish citizens gathered to pay homage to the gallant dead.

A military guard of honor draped the base of the monument flanked by banks of red and white Polish flags with wreaths and the flowers of spring. The eternal flames on each side glittered brightly and gustily in the breeze.

A corps of soldiers marching smartly lined the approaches. On this very spot, now hallowed by history, began the heroic battle just 40 years ago. And the monument marking their last stand was erected in 1948.

Those assembled, ranging in age from 8 to 80, included about 100 children from Israel, garbed in blue. Then, with a blare of trumpets and the rumble of drums marched the 70-piece military band followed by a hundred more soldiers who filed alongside. World War II veterans in uniform and bearing regimental banners faced the young recruits.


At the stroke of noon, the Polish national an them resounded, with the soldiers standing stiffly at attention. To the solemn beat of the drums, the processional of wreath-bearers from countries around the world headed by W. Sokorski from the Union of Fighters for Freedom and Democracy, advanced slowly.

The wreaths were handed over to soldiers, one by one, who ascended and placed them carefully. And they came forth in the hundreds with their offerings which slowly mantled the austere monument in a blaze of color, these flowers for the fallen. When the last wreath had been placed, the strains of Hatikvah sung by the Israeli youngsters mingled with the band’s concluding anthem, a strange counterpoint indeed.

As the soldiers disappeared, the huge crowd surged forward to the monument. Kaddish was intoned and the Hebrew national anthem was again sung. Spontaneous Orthodox chants filled the air and suddenly the assemblage seemed at one with the larger-than-life figures on the monument, and with Jews everywhere past and present.

In short, it was a simple and moving ceremony that made all prior contentions and factionalism curiously inappropriate and irrelevant. The huge crowd was loathe to leave, as though trying to prolong the communion with the dead. It was a day that will go down in history.


As one participant, Greville Janner, a member of Britain’s Parliament and president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews who led a Board delegation, expressed it:

“We’re very glad we came. We simply had to express our own solidarity with the Polish Jewish martyrs on a human and profound level. I express my admiration for the superb security measures taken on our behalf, and that the government saw to it that the PLO would not turn this significant occasion into a farce.”

There had been some concern among the Jewish delegations that the PLO would be allowed to lay a wreath on the memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto fighters. But Rabbi Alexander Schindler, president of the Union of American Hebrew Congregations, who led a delegation of Reform Jews from the U.S., said last week that he had received assurances that the PLO would not be allowed to participate in the official Jewish ceremony.


Nevertheless, in a separate ceremony to which diplomatic delegations were invited this afternoon, the PLO representative here laid a wreath on the memorial. Despite the fact that this ceremony was relegated to a side event and not part of this morning’s official ceremony, anger was expressed by some of the Jewish delegations.

Mayor Shlomo Lahat of Tel Aviv, a senior member of the Israeli delegation, said the PLO’s participation was a betrayal of the assurances the Polish authorities had given last week. He said that the PLO “murderers have found a way to desecrate the holy memory of the heroes of the Ghetto.” Lahat said he would protest to the Polish authorities over the PLO participation.

Yesterday, some of the heads of delegations had met with Prime Minister Wojciech Jaruzelski in a private two-hour session. It is reported that Jaruzelski had given them unqualified assurances of total support for Jewish institutions, places of worship, cemeteries, and the cultural aspects of Jewish life.

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