Conservative Liberal

FDR would have been a Republican today.

Two Flags: the untold story of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and its relevance today

I wanted to add Book Reviews category to my blog for a while. Finally I got around to doing so. The book I have just finished reading and would like to review is "Two Flags: Return to the Warsaw Ghetto" by Marian Apfelbaum.

I learned about this book only recently when I was researching my post about the Polish Members of the European Parliament boycotting anti-Israeli anti-Semitic hatefest organized by UN. The title of the book refers to the well documented episode during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, when the defenders of one of the fortified buildings in the Ghetto raised 2 flags: white-and-red Polish and white-and-blue Jewish. This book tells the story of a less known resistance organization in the Warsaw Ghetto called Żydowski Związek Wojskowy, or ZZW, which is Polish for Jewish Military Union. I first learned about ZZW when I read "The Bravest Battle" by Dan Kurzman. It was an organization formed by the Jewish officers of the Polish Army. They obviously had personal connections with the other Polish officers. Politically members of the ZZW were followers of my fellow odessit Vladimir Jabotinsky, founder of Revisionist Zionism, an ideology similar to the modern Likud party in Israel. Because of the personal links the ZZW members had with the Polish resistance and because they were not Communist, the ZZW received significantly more help from the Polish Home Army than the leftist-leaning ZOB. Political views of the ZZW members are pretty close to my own political views. So, I was very interested to read a book that tells their story.

So, what have I learned that I did not know before? Well, first of all it turns out that ZZW was founded much earlier than ZOB: November of 1939 vs. July of 1942. ZZW was not smaller than ZOB: about 500 core members, the same as ZOB. Thus, since ZZW was much better armed than ZOB and had better military training, they had to be much more effective. So, why did ZZW receive more help from the Polish Home Army than ZOB? I mentioned personal contacts and pro-capitalist ideology. But, as it turns out, it was more than that. ZZW was in fact a part of the Polish Home Army, so much so, that ZZW members were getting rank promotions from the Home Army. For example, the commander of ZZW, Dawid Apfelbaum, was a Porucznik (Lieutenant) in 1939. But during the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising he held the rank of Captain, and after the uprising he was posthumously promoted to Major. By the way, to answer the obvious question, yes, the book author is related to the leader of ZZW.

Polish aid to ZZW was quite significant. The Poles formed a special unit dedicated to helping the Jews. It was ZOB whom they did not help much. And it is very hard to blame the Home Army for that. Besides ZOB pro-Soviet leaning, they were also viewed as political demagogues who would not be very effective soldiers. Given relatively limited resources of the Home Army (remember, they were operating in a country occupied by a ruthless enemy), it is hard to blame them for allocating their resources to ZZW, whom they had often seen perform in combat back in 1939.

The charge that ZOB were to a large extent political demagogues does have merit. ZOB was plagued by political in-fighting. The talks between ZOB and ZZW about uniting their efforts failed because ZZW suggested that combat leadership should have some combat experience. This suggestion seems very reasonable. But since combat veterans were members of ZZW for the most part, ZOB viewed this idea as a power grab. ZOB even went as far as calling their ZZW counterparts "fascists". Now it seems eerily similar to the present-day Left. The ZOB leaders were political leaders for the most part. On the other hand "ZZW recruited on the sole basis of previous military training, physical fitness and courage, deliberately seeking an apoliticalism that the left always found extremely suspect if not downright diabolical" (page 259). So, members of an armed resistance organization should have military training and courage and be physically fit?! What a revolutionary concept! ZZW in fact did not care much about political views of its members. For example, one of the ZZW units during the uprising was commanded by someone named Moishe the Bolshevik.

After the war the Communists took over in Poland. Thus, anybody associated with the non-Communist Home Army was a suspect. Most of the ZZW leadership died during the uprising. The fact that the leftist ZOB did not get enough attention from the Home Army suited the new rulers of Poland very well: now it was very convenient to accuse the Home Army of anti-Semitism. True Polish heroes, like Henryk Iwanski, whos 2 sons and a brother died while fighting shoulder to shoulder with the Jews during the uprising, were even initially jailed by the Communists. Many leftist Jewish historians in the West were happy to oblige the Communists. The Poles were accused of mass anti-Semitism. (As a sidenote, I read in a Russian-Jewish magazine that the post-war pogroms in Poland were in fact staged by the NKVD – the predecessor of KGB.) But while anti-Semitism was rampant in Poland, please tell me where it was not present at that time. Whenever someone like Henryk Iwanski would claim that they helped the Jews, these historians would dismiss such claim, saying that they are not confirmed by Jewish sources. In fact, Iwansky for a while was not recognized in Israel as a Righteous Gentile (it has been fixed since). And when people like Tadeusz Bednarczyk try to argue with such historians, they are accused of anti-Semitism. But even if Bednarczyk said something anti-Semitic in nature, still, he risked his life to help the Jews in Warsaw. As my favorite talk show host Dennis Prager often says, you know the man by his actions, not his words.

So, how is it all relevant today? Well, both then and now the Left demonizes its political opponents, even in the face of a ruthless enemy that would kill us all. Both then and now the Left is willing to lie in order to achieve some dubious political objective. This finally has to stop. Marian Apfelbaum says at the end of his book:

"Out of respect to the Warsaw ghetto uprising , the time has come to complete its history. As imperfect and provisional as this book may be, it is an attempt to break the silence".

To this I would like to add 2 more things. First, it is time to restore Poland’s honor. Second, it is time to finally realize that all the Left-Right political differences don’t mater when a ruthless totalitarian enemy is ready to kill us all.

Finally, read the book. I learned a lot from it and highly recommend it.

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October 7, 2007 - Posted by | Book Reviews, History


  1. 2007.10.08 Politics and National Defense Roundup

    [Updated frequently throughout the day. Please come back often.] A repeat from Saturday but too important to let you miss: 25th Vietnam Wall Memorial Dedication Anniversary A Political and Corporate Event, Not A Memorial At AllHarry Riley, COL, USA, Re…

    Trackback by Bill's Bites | October 7, 2007 | Reply

  2. This is most interesting! Thanks for bringing this to our attention. I never fails that a fuller, more honest understanding of history promotes clearer thinking about the future

    Comment by Yaacov Ben Moshe | October 8, 2007 | Reply

  3. Some of your post is correct but unfortunately portions of it parrots Polish Nationalist propaganda.

    The Home Army was indeed anti-semitic. So was much of Poland. To say that the pogroms which spontaneously arose against Jews was an NKVD plot is to repeat the worst Polish apologetics. The raw hatred there was so fresh it ignited even during the filming of Schindler’s List a generation later.

    An extensive reading on the fate of Jews in Poland after the defeat of the Nazis should put that to rest. Fear: Anti-Semitism in Poland After Auschwitz by Jan T. Gross is a good source. Whitewashing the massacre of Jews by Poles in such as the massacre of Kielce is deeply wrong and next door to Holocaust denial. I know quite well what I’m talking about. My father’s family were Polish Jews. The majority of them were killed by their own neighbors. When my father returned after the war, he was nearly killed as well, despite his army uniform.

    It’s why I feel the need to repost the following excerpt from the narrative of the Kielce pogrom

    “On July 1, 1946, Henryk Blaszczyk, eight years old, hitched a ride from Kielce, an unremarkable mid-size city in south-central Poland, to visit friends in a village fifteen miles away. He returned two days later, telling his parents that he had been kidnapped by Jews and hidden in the cellar of their Kielce headquarters on Planty Street, from which he had escaped. The following morning, July 4, the boy, his father, and a neighbor reported the crime to the police and then proceeded, accompanied by police officers, to the Jewish Committee building, spreading the word en route of Henryk’s kidnapping and their plan to arrest the Jews and liberate the other children held there. It was quickly discovered that Henryk had been lying: the building had no cellar. But a crowd of police and civilians had already gathered. A confrontation ensued between the police and the state Security Service, which had been called in on the suspicion that the incident was a “provocation” on the part of the Jews to stir up unrest. Soon about a hundred soldiers appeared and the crowd briefly settled down; the Jews in the building, according to one witness, “sighed with relief, convinced that this was our rescue. And shooting began. But directed at us, not at the assailants.”

    The police and the military entered the building and forced its inhabitants outside for the crowd to attack with pipes, stones, and their bare hands. Once they saw the soldiers engaged in violence against the residents, the mob let loose. One policeman testified that “Jews were brought from the building into the square, where the population cruelly murdered them, and the armed soldiers … went back into the building and kept bringing out other Jews.” A Jewish woman deposed two days later recalled that a policeman threw two girls off a third-floor balcony “and the crowd in the courtyard finished them off.” The head of the Jewish Committee was shot in the back while telephoning the Security Service for help. Despite efforts from individual army commanders to restore order, the violence went on all morning.

    The violence spread throughout the city: according to one historian, up to one-quarter of Kielce’s adult population was actively involved. Anyone who appeared to be Jewish was in danger. There was no coordination; in many cases, people who banded together to carry out attacks did not even know each other.

    Regina Fisz, a mother with a newborn baby, was taken from her home, along with a male friend, by an impromptu gang of four men, among them a police corporal. The men had no plan for how to dispose of their victims, so they flagged down a truck driver to ask for a ride, telling him, in the corporal’s words, “we had Jews whom we wanted to take out to kill. The driver agreed, he only asked for a thousand zloty, and I said, ‘It’s a deal.'”

    Such incidents were not limited to the city center. A student walking by a creek on the outskirts of Kielce that afternoon came upon a crowd stoning a young Jewish man. “I remember that he had a vest and a white shirt, and he wasn’t screaming or moving anymore. With head hanging low he was just standing in the middle of that creek.” The people “were throwing stones in a somehow detached, leisurely manner–a stone would fly, people saw whether the man fell, then somebody else would throw a stone.” All the while they were talking among themselves in what the student described as a “picniclike atmosphere.” “They shared their impressions, observations, how this one caught a Jew here, and that one somewhere else…. They were lifting stones and throwing them calmly, as if the death of a human being … were not at stake here. This was the most incredible sight.”

    As the hysteria spread to the railway station, even Jews on trains passing through Kielce became potential targets. As Gross reports, Boy Scouts aboard the trains helped to finger Jewish passengers, who were either pulled out and murdered in the station or thrown off as the trains passed through. In at least one instance the dispatcher held a train at Kielce longer than the scheduled stop to allow more time for the “impromptu pogrom” to proceed. One man waiting to meet a passenger at the station testified that when he tried to help the victims, he was threatened by a crowd yelling, “Jews have killed our children and you dare to defend them!”

    A historian who passed through the station that day as a ten-year-old boy later recalled it as a defining moment of his life. He remembered an atmosphere of excitement after the train stopped; then a boy appeared at the door of his compartment and looked all the passengers over. Soon a group of armed railway guards came for one of the men: “Today I know that he was a Jew, a man with Semitic features.” The man was shot on the spot. Years later, the historian was still “helpless” to explain what had happened:

    Comment by Sultan Knish | October 21, 2007 | Reply

  4. […] response to a comment on my first book review I recently wrote a review of a book I have read: "Two Flags: Return to the Warsaw Ghetto" by Marian Apfelbaum.  I submitted this review […]

    Pingback by My response to a comment on my first book review « Conservative Liberal | November 4, 2007 | Reply

  5. magnificent submit, very informative. I wonder why the opposite experts of this sector do not understand this.
    You should proceed your writing. I am sure, you have a huge readers’ base already!

    Comment by Blog wojskowy | July 29, 2014 | Reply

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