Monday, November 10, 2014

Betar's History and the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

From an interview with Professor Anthony Polonsky, the vice-president of the Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies in Oxford and of the American Association for Polish-Jewish Studies, Cambridge, Massachusetts:

During the Second World War, the Polish Home Army was suspicious of the Jewish Fighting Organization for its leftist tendencies, yet was friendlier towards the pro-Polish, conservative Jewish Military Union. Poland’s communist elites suppressed memory of the latter and celebrated the former. A quarter century after communism, has much previously obscured material become available to scholars of Polish Jewish history?

This a complex question and is the subject of an important monograph in Polish by Dariusz Libionka and Laurence Weinbaum, Bohaterowie, hochsztaplerzy, opisywacze. Wokół Zydowskiego Związku Wojskowego (Warsaw: Stowarzyszenia Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów, 2011). They show that, almost from the moment the fighting stopped, the history of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April and May of 1943 has been politicized and instrumentalized. They show the role of the Jewish National Committee (Żydowski Komitet Narodowy – ŻKN), an umbrella organization which included most of the Jewish political groupings in Warsaw, with the exception of the Revisionists. The ŻKN was stressed at the expense of the somewhat smaller but equally militant Jewish Military Union (Żydowski Związek Wojskowy – ŻZW) and the youth movement Betar, which had their ideological roots in the Revisionist movement led by the Russian-born Zeev (Vladimir) Jabotinsky, a strong advocate of Jewish self-defense, until his death in 1940.

At times, too, among the revisionists in Israel and some in Poland who attempted to exaggerate their role in providing assistance to the ŻZW, history has also been falsified. The fascinating and path-breaking monograph by Libionka and Weinbaum is, in fact, two books. The first is a detailed examination of the sources to show how this process of falsification and distortion has continued in the seventy years since the uprising, while the second is an attempt to reconstruct the largely neglected history of the Jewish Military Union. I very much hope it will soon be translated into English.


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