70th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

 Nadeslal Peter Jassem

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Commemorative remarks by Peter Jassem before the lecture by Prof. Antony Polonsky in Toronto on Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Marek Edelman, one of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commanders, used to say:

Life is the most important thing; and once you have life, freedom is the most important thing; and you have to be ready to give life for freedom.

 Edelman, who died 4 years ago, had been the central figure of Warsaw Ghetto Uprising commemorations for years.

This year, the last surviving commander Simcha Rotem, known as Kazik, came from Israel to represent the dwindling number of insurgents.

 Sadly, his fight in 1943 was not for freedom to live but for freedom to die with dignity. Some 300 thousand inhabitants of the Warsaw Ghetto had already been deported to the gas chambers of Treblinka, while the ghetto with its remaining 60 thousand Jews was to be liquidated in days.

 But he survived and even helped to save lives of a dozen others. He, like Edelman, later joined the Polish underground to fight for the freedom of Poland in the Warsaw rising of 1944. They fought for freedom – ours and yours (za naszą i waszą wolność, as the famous Polish saying goes).

 The battle of the Muranów Square during the ghetto uprising, where two flags, the Polish white and red and the Jewish blue and white were mounted on the roof and the participation of Jewish fighters like Edelman, Rotem and others, including my father, in the Warsaw Rising, were literally brought to light 70 years later.

 The two beams of light, one coming from a searchlight mounted at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews, and the other at the Museum of Warsaw Rising 44 crossed in the dark Warsaw skies on April 19 as a symbol of the common struggle of the Jewish Poles and the Christian Poles against the Nazi tyranny.

 For his effort Simcha Rotem, the Jewish Uprising commander, received the Grand Cross of Polonia Restituta from Poland’s president Bronisław Komorowski, the highest distinction bestowed on those who fought for restoration of the Polish state.

 Marek Edelman used to place daffodils (żonkile in Polish) at the monument of the ghetto heroes every year. The flowers represent hope, respect and remembrance. Now, under the slogan “Remembering Together” hundreds of volunteers across Warsaw distributed paper daffodils (like this one) to tens of thousands of people. Please take one if you haven’t already and wear it. I brought them from Warsaw for you.


Before I conclude I will show you a few images of the Warsaw’s events:

Kliknij na zdjecie zeby otworzyc je w pelnym wymiarze


Grand Theatre – National Opera House: Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Zubin Mehta, with cantor Yaakov Lemmer and violinist Julian Rachlin.


President Bronisław Komorowski’s honorary patronage; representatives of all faiths and of all armed forces; sirens, church bells, call of a roll of honour, firing of an honorary salute, Simcha Rotem speaks and gets decorated, cantor Joseph Malovany’s sings.


Auditorium at the Museum of the History of Polish Jews: Sinfonia Varsovia conducted by maestro Krzysztof Penderecki with Israel Philharmonic Orchestra String Quartet, Polish singer Kayah and cantor Yaakov Lemmer.


The night of Lantherns in Warsaw and across Poland.


Masa 1943: bicycle ride of over 1000 participants along places of memory in the former Warsaw Ghetto.


Premiere of the film “Rotem” by Agnieszka Arnold.


Holocaust-related art by Polish artists: an exhibition at the Jewish Historical Institute opened by the President of Polan


A light beam linking the two museums. Flowers at all places of memory (here at the site of tragic death of the leaders of the uprising; a mural commemorating Marek Edelman.


Soft opening of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews with rich educational and cultural program. Full opening with the core exhibition scheduled next year.


Museum’s architecture stuns the visitors.


More than 7000 visitors lined up for hours to see the museum on the first day.

This Museum will become the best possible illustration to the story captured in the monumental work by Professor Antony Polonsky, the story he is about to tell us tonight.

Before I ask Professor Piotr Wróbel, Konstanty Reinert Chair in Polish Studies at UofT to introduce Professor Polonsky, I wish to acknowledge the presence of Consul Grzegorz Jopkiewicz and ask him to report to the Polish government that we, Canadians, including the Jewish and Christian Poles, who live here, appreciate the incredible and respectful commemoration in Warsaw.

 I also welcome the president of the Polish Canadian Congress Teresa Berezowski and ask her to convey the message of our respect and gratitude to the numerous Polish combatants in Canada, who fought the German Nazis.

 Finally I welcome those who remember, among them the former inhabitant of the Warsaw ghetto, Joseph Meshorer.

 And now, please rise for a minute of silence in memory of the heroic fighters and victims of the German Nazi tyranny.


This introduction was followed by:

Prof. Piotr Wróbel’s introduction of Prof. Antony Polonsky.

Prof. Antony Polonsky’s lecture on the Jews in Poland and Russia (below: program poster).


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