Defiance and Rebellion: Then and Now
It is a necessity ... an imperative, due to the historical truth and the legacy that our generation will bequeath to those who will come after us, to speak not only of the loss ... but also to reveal, in its fullest scope, the heroic struggle of the people, the community, and the individual, during the days of massacre and at the very epicentres of destruction.
Thus wrote Yitzhak (Antek) Zuckerman, one of the leaders of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, in the early 1950s. Today his words remain a guiding principle as we mark the 70th anniversary of the uprising.
The notions of defiance and rebellion are fundamentally important to any discussion concerning the Holocaust—and rightly so. In the ghettos and camps, indeed in every place with a Jewish populace and Jewish life, there was some form of protest or resistance to the plot to obliterate the Jewish nation.
The most notable armed uprising that took place in a ghetto broke out in Warsaw on the first night of Passover 5703 (April 19, 1943). Jews, condemned to death by the occupying Germans, organized two underground networks with little means and no outside support. Although they knew they had little chance of survival, 50,000 Jews—left in the ghetto following the death of hundreds of thousands of men, women, and children from disease, starvation, and mass murder at Treblinka—took to the bunkers and fought with utmost courage and resolve. They put up the bravest of resistance for almost a month, until they were brutally suppressed.
Today, the most inspirational example of defiance and resistance is found in the lives of Holocaust Survivors. Said Elie Wiesel, “[S]urvivors could have chosen nihilism, hedonism, violent revenge, or just extreme selfishness…. Instead, they chose to emphasize hope and dignity.” Despite living through unspeakable horrors, Survivors overcame tremendous challenges while raising their families, starting successful businesses, and planting new roots right here—and Canada is the stronger for it. Turning away from despair, Survivors rebuilt their lives, demonstrating ultimate expressions of cherished values: love, compassion, generosity, strength, courage, faith, and determination.
In tribute to these Holocaust Survivors and to their spirit of defiance and resistance, the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem is honoured to present the remarkable stories of Holocaust Survivors. This is especially significant in 2013 as it is not only the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, it is also the year that Canada has assumed the Chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), an intergovernmental body committed to fostering and promoting Holocaust education, remembrance, and research around the world, and the tenth anniversary of the Government of Canada’s passing of Bill C-459, which established a national day to commemorate the Holocaust.
While the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising became a universal symbol of the heroic struggle by a handful of people in impossible conditions against genocidal oppression, Holocaust Survivors constitute the finest example of spiritual resistance and defiance in modern times.
May the lives of Holocaust Survivors light the way to a better future, and may their legacy resonate for the benefit of all people and future generations.