Last year, I wrote a post about an amazing talk delivered by Chavka Folman-Raban in the midst of Israel’s social justice protest. She was a founder of the famed Israeli kibbutz, Lohamey Ha’Getaot (“Fighters of the Ghetto”). Before she made aliyah, she had been a partisan in the Polish Jewish resistance who’d survived the Warsaw ghetto uprising by crawling out of the sewers with the last of those who escaped.
She’d lost none of her commitment to social justice in the years that followed, as can be seen from this speech she delivered at the Kibbutz on the 70th anniversary of Warsaw ghetto rebellion:
There is a unity in this commemoration–70 years since the [Warsaw Ghetto] Rebellion. We’re also nearing the end of the Shoah generation and the last of the [ghetto] fighters. Most of you in front of me, you are the generations of continuity: the second, third and fourth generations. I have mixed emotions and thoughts about the past, present, and future.
I will tell you about one experience from that time. Spring 1942. I was a courier for an underground operation. I arrived to visit my friend from the youth movement, Dror Bachrubishov, in occupied eastern Poland very close to the Nazis.
I stood in the small railroad station and from the window I could make out, on a field next to the railroad tracks, a great multitude, thousands of men, women, and children. Overseeing them were Germans running wild on horseback. A few meters from me, through the window, I saw four boys digging a hole. The soldiers shot them and they fell into it. The next morning the field was empty. At night, the trains had gone on their way: to the camps, to death.
These were the moments at which I understood and which I feared: this is the beginning of the end. This is the Shoah. With this terrible truth, I returned to the Warsaw ghetto, to my family which remained there, to my comrades.
The [Warsaw Ghetto] rebellion became for us [at that moment] necessary and clear. We continued educational activities and seminars, the underground school and newspapers. It was important to strengthen the sad, dying ghetto youth.
But at this point, it became most important to find weapons sources. The deportation of 300,000 Warsaw Jews to Treblinka in the summer of 1942 strengthened us and determined for us that the last battle–the armed rebellion–neared. That it must break out.
On April 19 1943, seventy years ago, the first rebellion in occupied Europe broke out–the Jewish rebellion. I wasn’t part of it. As a courier, I had been arrested during resistance operations in Kharkov and had been brought to Auschwitz a number of months earlier.
All of my nearest, most beloved comrades fought from the rooftops, in the fires, from the bunkers. Most of them perished. I hurts me that I can no longer remember all their names. We memorialize only a few. But in my heart I am not parted from them, from the forgotten.
Leave in your hearts and memories a place for them, younger generations. For the beautiful and bold, so young, who fell in the last battle. I wish for the thousands of you before me, lives enriched with love, beauty, laughter, and meaning.
Continue the rebellion. A different rebellion of the here and now against evil, even the evil befalling our own and only beloved country. Rebel against racism and violence and hatred of those who are different. Against inequality, economic gaps, poverty, greed and corruption.
Strengthen humanistic education and values of ethics and justice. These too are [a form of] rebellion against alcoholism among our youth and the terrible phenomenon of attacks against the elderly.
Rebel against the Occupation. No–it is forbidden for us to rule over another people, to oppress another [people]. The most important thing is to achieve peace and an end to the cycle of blood[letting]. My generation dreamed of peace. I so want to achieve it. You have the power to help. All my hopes are with you. If only [you could].
Chavka died on January 9th, one day before another considerably more infamous Israeli, Ariel Sharon, died. She was 89 years old (Sharon was 85) and one of onlyi seven remaining survivors of the Warsaw ghetto uprising. Her life is far more worthy of honor and commemoration than his. As Jews, as human beings we cannot be any prouder of someone of her moral fiber and stature. Israel, I am sorry to say, is no longer a place that produces many Jews like her. This is a Hebrew language documentary of her life produced by the Kibbutz.
H/t to Eitan Altman.