When we sit down to our Seders tomorrow night, we should all take a moment to consider the date - April 19th. On this day, in 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto uprising began. It also happened to be the date of the first Seder, just as it is this year.
Shortly before dawn on April 19, 1943, two thousand German troops entered the Warsaw Ghetto in an effort to liquidate it in honor of Hitler’s birthday, the following day, April 20. They were met by Jewish Guerillas, of the ZOB (The left-wing Jewish Combat Organization) and the ZZW (right-wing Jewish Military Union), armed with a meager, motley supply of ammunition, pistols, some rifles, one machine gun, and homemade bombs. Together, they fought back destroying a number of tanks and even killing some German troops. The German’s had intended to liquidate the Ghetto in three days and against all odds, the Jewish fighters managed to hold them off for nearly a month, until May 16, 1943, when the uprising tragically came to an end.
These brave men and women knew that it was impossible that they would survive the uprising, yet they chose to take their fate into their own hands and fight as long and hard as they could.
As Mordechai Anielewicz, leader of the uprising wrote to his colleague Yitzhak Zuckerman,
“My life’s dream has now been realized: Jewish self-defense in the ghetto is now an accomplished fact.…I have been witness to the magnificent, heroic struggle of the Jewish fighters.”
In the last moments of their lives, they were briefly granted that freedom we speak of at the Seder. They freely chose to die fighting, and many chose to die at their own hands and not by those of the oppressor. They chose not to be slaves to their fate. The ability to choose is what differentiate slaves from free people.
Pesach is a holiday that epitomizes Jewish continuity. For thousands of years, families around the world have gathered around a table to tell the story of the Exodus. Here in Poland, and wherever you find yourselves this year, we will be sharing the same tale. This story survived our exile from Jerusalem, the Spanish Inquisition, and even the Holocaust. Through all these tragedies we have told the story of our difficulties, and our ultimate survival. In Krakow, we see this survival every day, and as over 200 people sit down to our Seder tomorrow night, we know that we aren’t merely surviving – we are thriving.
Not all our stories of Jewish heroism end in victory. Moses bravely succeeded in leading his people out of Egypt, Mordechai Anielewicz knew he would never have the same success. Yet all these stories deserve to be retold. Tomorrow night, at your Seder take a moment to remember the brave souls of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.
Wishing you a Chag Pesach Kasher V’Samech!