Poland commemorated the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, a heroic Jewish revolt against the occupying Nazi Germans that marked a symbolic stand against the Holocaust. (Report: R.Tompsett)
Israeli President Shimon Peres paid tribute Tuesday to Jews who took part in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising against Nazi tyranny, saying there had never been a greater victory even though the insurgents perished.
"The majority of the insurgents died, murdered in cold blood," he said at the Warsaw ghetto memorial in a ceremony marking the 65th anniversary of the insurrection.
"They lost the battle, but from history's point of view there never was a greater victory, a victory of humanity over human bestiality," said Peres.
The Jewish revolt that was crushed by the occupying Germans marked a symbolic stand against the Holocaust.
Ceremonies began at the site where the Nazis sent more than 300,000 Jews by train to the Treblinka death camp, 100 kilometres (60 miles) to the northeast.
Peres spoke of the insurgents' "historic heroism, surpassing all legend, all celebration, all measure -- a heroism which our children will carry with pride in their hearts."
Polish President Lech Kaczynski said World War II had seen many acts of heroism, "but among them the insurrection of the Warsaw ghetto is exceptional.
"The soldiers of the ghetto fought not for victory but for honour," he said.
Leading Polish and Israeli personalities as well as holocaust survivors attended the ceremony.
Guests included US Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, who decorated Marek Edelman, the last surviving leader of the uprising, with the French Legion of Honour.
Another survivor, Stanislaw Wierzba, 83, recalled the event: "It was the only solution," he said. "What other fate awaited us? It was a case of either die with dignity or be deported to crematorium ovens like my relatives who were probably killed in Treblinka."
On the eve of World War II, Poland was Europe's Jewish heartland, home to 3.5 million Jews.
Warsaw alone had a Jewish community of 400,000, making it the largest Jewish city in Europe and the second in the world after New York.
After invading Poland in 1939, the Nazis set up ghettos nationwide to corral and eventually kill the Jewish population.
Half of the six million Jews who died in the Holocaust were Polish.
At its height, around 450,000 were crammed into the walled Warsaw ghetto.
About 100,000 died inside from starvation and disease. Most of the rest were sent to Treblinka in mass deportations in 1942.
A handful of Jewish paramilitary groups, mostly made up of people in their teens and twenties, were created in the ghetto.
With an estimated strength of 1,000, they scraped together a small arsenal of home-made arms and weapons smuggled in by the non-Jewish Polish resistance.
They first clashed with Nazi troops on January 18-22, 1943, managing to hinder the deportations.
On April 19, 1943 they decided to take up arms again rather than face near-certain death in the Nazis' "Final Solution".
"We knew perfectly well that there was no way we could win," Edelman, 85, told AFP in an interview.
"It was a symbol of the fight for freedom. A symbol of standing up to Nazism, and of not giving in."
For almost a month, the fighters battled 3,000 Nazi troops who began razing the ghetto with explosives and fire after failing to crush the revolt as easily as expected.
Around 7,000 Jews died in the revolt, most of them burned alive, and more than 50,000 were deported. Estimated Nazi losses were 300, dead and wounded combined.
Many ghetto survivors fought in the later Warsaw uprising which began on August 1, 1944 as the Polish underground tried to seize the city.
That failed, 63-day revolt and the Germans' brutal response cost the lives of 200,000 civilians and fighters, and led to the near-total destruction of Warsaw by Nazi troops.
"I still recall women with children in their arms hurling themselves from the fourth floor of buildings the Germans had set on fire so that they would not be burned alive," Wierzba recalled.
Date created : 2008-04-15