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A Surplus of Memory

jan peczkis|Monday, February 20, 2017

" I don't think there's any need to analyze the Uprising in military terms. This was a war of less than a thousand people against a mighty army, and no one doubted how it was likely to turn out. This isn't a subject for study in a military school. Not the weapons, not the operations, not the tactics. If there's a school to study the human spirit, there it should be a major subject. The really important things were inherent in the force shown by Jewish youths, after years of degradation, to rise up against their destroyers and determine what death they would choose: Treblinka or Uprising.

. I don't know if there's a standard to measure that." -Yitzhak Zuckerman From A Surplus of Memory A Surplus of Memory is Yitzhak Zuckerman's memoir of the events of 1939-1946, the period before, during and after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Zuckerman, or "Antek," his pseudonym in the Jewish underground, was a commander of the Jewish Fighting Organization (ZOB), which became the primary fighting force in the Jewish ghetto. After the Uprising, Antek led clandestine operations in Aryan Warsaw, then commanded a unit of Jewish fighters during the Polish Uprising. After the war, he helped Jews returning from exile in the Soviet Union from death camps, and those emerging from hiding after the Nazi occupation. Antek became a major figure in Brikha, the movement that smuggled Jews into Palestine after the war. He finally immigrated to Palestine in 1947 and co-founded Lohamei Ha-Getaot, the Ghetto Fighters' Kibbutz where he established a Holocaust museum. He was also a witness at the trial of Adolph Eichmann. Antek was a member of Zionist youth organizations in Poland before the war. At the age of twenty-four after the blitzkrieg stormed through Poland, he risked his life to travel into the Nazi occupied zone with his destination Warsaw, where he had been summoned to teach by Ha Shomer, a Zionist group. His mission was to help sustain the Jewish educational movement. After all was lost, Antek worked around the clock supporting the exodus of resistance survivors from the inferno of the ghetto to the relative safety of Aryan Warsaw where approximately 20,000 Jews were already in hiding. He arranged for transportation and shelter in temporary apartments for the survivors and devised subterranean escape routes though the sewers where he shepherded the survivors of the carnage. Many escaped via this route with Antek, but other tortured souls lost their way and died horrible deaths in the maze, eaten by rats or swept away by torrents. Others escaped through a tunnel to the other side. Antek continued his activities in the underground, in particular organizing a Jewish unit that fought in the Warsaw Uprising. After the war he stayed in Europe and continued to be an advocate for Jewish survivors. A tragic postwar chapter was his rescue mission to the town of Kielce where sixty Jews had been killed, victims of a pogrom. After the war, surviving Jews were met with hostility and violence when they attempted to return to their homes. Antek led a support contingent of Soviet soldiers and Polish government officials to Kielce and transported Jewish survivors to safety in Lodz. Antek also became a leader in the Brikha movement, smuggling Holocaust survivors into Palestine. During the remainder of his life in Israel, Antek told his stories of the Uprising to those on his kibbutz. He admitted that he suffered from a "surplus of memory," thus the book's title, the result of thirty-eight tapes and sixty hours of conversation. The burden of the events and comrades that lived and died with him in the Warsaw ghetto became more vivid with each passing year. He told friends," I feel in my soul that I'm a thousand years old, since every hour there counts for a year in me." . Antek's survival through the Holocaust and telling his Surplus of Memory were perhaps his greatest act of resistance.This is an essential piece of not only Holocaust history, but in the history of humanity's resistance to oppression. It's a tragic, yet inspiring book. Read more Comment| 20 people found this helpful. Was this review helpful to you?YesNoReport abuse 5.0 out of 5 starsA Treasure-Trove of War-Related Information: What to Discuss? ByJan Peczkison October 29, 2008 Format: Hardcover This review expands an earlier one. Consider first the Passover 1940 pogrom: "The Germans incited the Poles to attack the Jews and those attacks were filmed, with the Nazis playing the saviors of the Jews against the Poles." (p. 40).

Relative to the "resettlements" to Treblinka, Zuckerman faulted the tardiness of militant Jewish counteraction: "Our blame is that we could have delayed the sentence, we could have forced them to bring 10,000 Germans to do the work done by 2,000 to 3,000 Jewish police." (p. 209). The Germans would've used firearms, causing massive bloodshed, and thereby inducing more Jews to resist or escape instead of obediently boarding the death trains.

The retrieval of usable 1939-war weaponry for the Polish and Jewish Undergrounds wasn't straightforward: "With the defeat of the Polish Army, groups of Poles or individual Polish soldiers tried to hide weapons in woods and hiding places, and only they knew where they were hidden. Sometimes weapons were hidden near some village where the peasants were afraid to give them to Poles or partisans, because giving weapons to the enemies of the Germans was a death sentence on the whole village since the Germans applied collective responsibility. And there was always somebody, who, out of cowardice or obsequiousness, would tell the Germans where the weapons were. The ordinary person didn't keep weapons because that jeopardized himself, his family, and his courtyard. And everyone was afraid his friend or neighbor would denounce him." (pp. 252-253). Zuckerman's statements debunk the double-standard arguments, advanced against Poles (e. g., by Jan T. Gross), regarding risk-taking, denunciation, and neighbors'-silence, relative to hiding Jews vis-à-vis Underground involvement.

Zuckerman doesn't trivialize Polish aid to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (p. 292) despite his obvious anti-ZZW bias (e. g., pp. 410-412. However, he admits the existence of Iwenski/Iwanski). He presents a middle view of the extent of ZOB-Communist entanglement (p. 184, 360), though he also exhibits a rosy and undiscerning view of the Communist GL/AL (p. 362, 373, esp. p. 459, 502, and 525). He admits trying to hide his contacts with the GL/AL from the AK (Home Army)(p. 339).

As for the "balance sheet", Zuckerman comments: "I said honestly [in 1945] and I repeat it today: to cause the death of one hundred Jews, all you needed was one Polish denouncer; to save one Jew, it sometimes took the help of ten decent Poles, the help of an entire Polish family; even if they did it for money." (p. 461). And, while in gentile Warsaw, Zuckerman encountered as many Jewish denouncers as Polish ones. (p. 493).

Recounting the hardships under the German occupation, Zuckerman, unlike the Yad Vashem policy, appreciates even the paid Polish aid to Jews. (p. 461). And, realizing that devout Jews would've done the same, he doesn't despise those Polish rescuers who attempted to convert Jews. (p. 493).

Contrary to SOPHIE'S CHOICE, the Endeks never contemplated, let alone advocated, the extermination of Jews. (p. 437). Poles, except the fringe element, didn't rejoice when the Warsaw Ghetto burned--to the contrary. (p. 374, 393).

Zuckerman closely observed the Polish Warsaw Uprising (1944). He commented: "To the credit of the Poles, they were brave people who stuck to their guns. I didn't see any panic or running away." (p. 538). "When I was in the Old City, I didn't sense anti-Semitism even once, neither from the civilian population nor from the AK; the opposite was true." (p. 561). "Soviet officers who had been at Stalingrad said that Warsaw was the most destroyed city in Europe." (p. 560).

The 1946 Kielce Pogrom wasn't spontaneous: "The pogrom struck Jews in a radius of dozens of kilometers around Kielce--on the same day and at the same time, Jews were taken off trains and murdered...the day before the pogrom members of the UB and militia had come and collected weapons from the Jews...[who] now had nothing to defend themselves with!" (p. 661). [The shooting from inside the Jewish compound came from the UB, obviously to further inflame the crowd against the Jews.] Read less
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