Monday, November 14, 2011

Resistance and Assassination

     One of the major forms of resistance in the Warsaw  ghetto was assassination. In late 1942 after the "Great Aktion" when most of the ghetto population was "resettled" to the Treblinka death camp and other  camps established by the German Nazis in German-occupied Poland, Jewish underground fighters began targeting Jewish collaborators. They began carrying out death sentences for those Jews who assisted the Nazis in the deception that resulted in fellow Jews going to their deaths. Those Jews went to the Umshlagplatz to board transport trains on the ruse that they were merely being resettled to work camps where life would be better for them.
     No longer could the Jewish Police or Judenrat members act with impunity after the first assassinations in late August, 1942, which sent a shock wave through ghetto and drilled home the message that collaboration that harmed Jews or undermined the Jewish underground would be severely dealt with.

     To those Jews who remained in the ghetto after August, 1942, it was finally clear that resettlement meant extermination which was precisely what the underground warned about before the Great Aktion. Before then, the Germans, assisted by their Jewish collaborators, were able to deceive the ghetto population into getting onto the trains. The lies resulted in the deaths of many thousands of Jews-most of the ghetto population in fact. When the lies became obvious after the August transports, the mood in the ghetto changed to anger, desire for revenge, and determination-especially among young Jewish fighters-to resist at all costs.

                                Heading to the Umshlagplatz,

      In Yitzhak Zuckerman's A Surplus of Memory, Zuckerman describes a number of these assassinations in some detail. Zuckerman himself carried out some of the killings. The most notorious of the ZOB's (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or Jewish Fighting Organization) assassinations was related to a death sentence that the ZOB leadership, including Zuckerman (1915-1981), issued for Dr. Alfred Nossig (1864-1943) who, according to Zuckerman, "was known to be working with Germans." ZOB members shot Nossig on February 22,1943.
     The ZOB assigned Zuckerman to carry out the sentence but Zuckerman remained in the vicinity as three other ZOB fighters physically assisted in the killing. Zuckerman writes that the ZOB received reliable information that Nossig had visited Gestapo headquarters just outside the ghetto on Sucha Boulevard. Zuckerman also writes in the memoir that Nossig had supplied the Gestapo with written advice on "how to behave" relative to Jews by use of "different methods" so as to "not stir up Jewish resistance." He said Nossig advised that Nazis "cruelty" toward Jews during the January, 1943 Aktsia was a mistake and that Nossig "recommended other methods" of dealing with the ghetto Jews.
     A footnote appearing on Page 321 states that the group assigned to execute Nossig consisted of Zacharia Arstein, Abraham Breier, and Pawel Schwarstein. Zuckerman didn't participate because, as a ZOB leader, he did not want his face to be known. "I told them he was a person collaborating with the Gestapo and I emphasized that it was desirable to get a confession out of him. And, in such a case, it was obvious-the death sentence." Nossig had been a German journalist, sculptor and Judenrat member and was a distinguished individual, according to Zuckerman.

"Antek" Zuckerman
     Describing the incident, Zuckerman says in his memoir, "...I didn't want him (Nossig) to know my face,in case he remained alive...I sat nearby and waited. They came back and said they had killed him. They made the decision on the spot. Apparently when they started pressuring him and threatening him, he got down on his knees and begged for his life. Then he threatened them with German vengeance, saying that Brandt would avenge his blood. They searched him and found a document in German and gave it to me...I was stunned. It was a report to the Gestapo about the mood among the Jews after the January Aktsia..."

Dr. Alfred Nossig
   The first person the ZOB condemned to death was Jacob Lejkin, Deputy to Jozef Szerynski, who was injured during an assassination attempt on August 20, 1942. Lejkin had a leading role in the mass deportations, according to an April 9, 2006 article entitled, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (Aktion Reinhard Camps website). The next assassination, the article states, was directed against Yisrael First, a senior official of the Judenrat. "First had been one of the directors of the Economic Department, but his influence extended far beyond that sphere. From the earliest of the Judenrat, he had been the council's liason officer with the various branches of the German police, and he played a part during the "Great Action". The killing was accomplished on November 28, 1942, by David Schlman, of Dror He Haluz, on Muranowska Street, the article states.
     According to Zuckerman, the Germans didn't carry out retaliations if the assassination was directed at a Jew. However, there were extreme consequences if it was a Polish policeman, for example, or a German. Zuckerman also stated that he and Mordechai Anielewicz, ZOB commander during the uprising, didn't go along with others in their zeal to assassinate all collaborators. They were more selective as some of the Judenrat members and Jewish police were aiding the underground including the ZOB.
     It is estimated that some 300,000 Jews were transported to Treblinka in the summer of 1942. Zuckerman believed that there were some 70,000 to 80,000 Jews left in Warsaw between September, 1942 and January, 1943. "That was a time when the Jews of the ghetto recognized only one institution-the Jewish Fighting was the Jewish Fighting Organization that wasn't anonymous (Zuckerman here contrrasts the public perception of the ZOB with that of the Jewish National Committee) but tangible for the public, because they knew it had issued death sentences, and they thought that anyone who issued death sentences was really an organization of fighters..."

Nine ZOB members

     "For a new effective force had arose," Zuckerman added, "the Jewish Fighting Organization which revolutionized the lives of Jews. This new attitude began to take shape after the attack on Szerynski, followed by the execution of Lejkin, Furst, and Nossig who were well known in the ghetto."



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