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Warsaw ghetto (Poland)

Last modified: 2019-08-06 by andrew weeks
Keywords: warsaw | ghetto |
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Warsaw ghetto flags

Here is the most comprehensive account of chronology of the events in the Warsaw Ghetto.
Second is an account of the Uprising written by the only surviving commander of ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization), Dr. Marek Edelman:
Third is my personal recollection of the journeys with my father re-tracing his movements of his own "passage thru hell" during the Warsaw Uprising of August-September 1944. First of it happened after his return from England in 1947 when he took me to the sites of his traumatic experiences during that Uprising, but also to the incredible wasteland of the desert, which once was the Ghetto, and shown me the spot next to Muranowska Street, where his unit of the Home Army was trying to blow up the wall of the Ghetto and suffered heavy casualties. I remember vividly his description of uplifting sight of white and blue flag of ZZW (Jewish Military Union or Irgun) fluttering furiously next to white and red flag of Poland over the fierce battlefield behind the wall. That imaginary image stuck in my memory forever along with quite few others from both unprecedented Uprisings in my hometown. I lived myself thru both of them but don't have personal remembrance due to my age. I include several flags and pictures to help you understand better that difficult chapter of human history.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 14 Sep 2001

On the eve of the 65th Anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a major correction to our pages is urgently necessary.
In 2001, I have submitted to the editor of Polish pages a flag supposedly flown by ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) alongside the Polish one at their headquarters on Mila Street. It was based on accounts and statements of various ZOB survivors (Edelman and Zukerman included) that ZOB hoisted a Zionist flag and the Polish one over their main bunker.
The flag which I sent was one of the most popular among the Zionists in Poland, since there was no description of the supposedly actual one available from any sources.
In the light of recent developments it turned out as just a myth.
Dr.Marek Edelman admitted, somewhat reluctantly, in a series of recent interviews (among them in one given to the Swedish journalist Lennart Lindskog) that there was no Jewish or Polish flag over the bunker on Mila Street. In fact, the only flag the ZOB fighters unfurled during the Uprising was the red one, and that's was done inside the bunker while singing "Internationale", and the flag was placed on the wall.
In the decades since the Uprising, the communist propaganda machine in Poland almost succeeded in erasing the memory of the other organization participating in the Uprising - ZZW (Jewish Military Union).
To the lesser degree it happened also in Israel due to the leftist governmentś attitude toward the Betar movement.
But now, in free Poland, and thanks to the numerous researchers (Dr.Moshe Arens, former foreign and defence minister of Israel,included), the full truth is being unveiled pointing to the secondary role of the ZOB (not taking away any admiration of their heroism) to that of ZZW.
ZZW (Jewish Military Union) was created just months after the September 1939 campaign and was recognized (in December 1939) by the Commander-in-Chief of Polish Armed Forces, Gen.Wladyslaw Sikorski, as part and parcel of Polish underground army, albeit fully autonomous. The organizers of ZZW were either experienced officers of the Polish Army (like Lt.Dawid Moryc Apfelbaum) or trained militarily by the retired Polish Army officers in Betar camps, prior to war, members of Irgun Zvei Leumi (like Pawel Frenkiel).
The reason they hoisted the Jewish and Polish flags was that they were as much Jewish as Polish an organization and to underline the Polish-Jewish Brotherhood-in-Arms.
ZZW offered to ZOB unification prior to Uprising under the condition of the military leadership being in hands of one of their own officer, but it was rejected by ZOB, which didn't have a single member with even basic military experience and ,disparagingly, called the ZZW "a bunch of fascists".
Gen.Stroop, the commandant of the assault on Ghetto, reported only 19 fatal casulties of his forces.
The Jewish fighters claimed 1,000, but the most fair assessment is c. 300 of which c. 30 can be attributed to ZOB and the rest to ZZW.
ZZW's military skills can be also illustrated by the tactically brilliant placement of the heavy machine gun, which successfully kept in check the advancement of the German, Latvian, Lithuanian and Ukrainian troops for a pretty long while.
ZOB restricted their membership only to the members of leftist and ultra-leftist parties, while ZZW was open in the beginning of the Uprising to anybody who wanted to fight and numbered estimated 1,500 fighters, including not only Betarists, but also socialists,chassidic Jews and even some communists.
They were also supported by the unit of the Military Police of the Polish Home Army (AK), who entered the Ghetto and participated in fighting reliving exhausted Jewish fighters. Commanding officer of that unit, Capt.(later Major) Henryk Iwanski, lost two of his sons and the brother inside the Ghetto and was himself  wounded.
The other unsung heroes of the Uprising will finally receive the recognition they deserve, tomorrow, when Moshe Arens will take part in unveiling of the plaque commemorating them at 7 Muranowska Street.
At the same time, President Shimon Peres will pay his respects at the site of the ZOB bunker at Mila Street.
Already, the wrongs were being corrected, when few years ago, Polish President (then Mayor of Warsaw) renamed one of the squares in Wola District after Maj.Dawid Moryc Apfelbaum ( he was promoted to this rank posthumously immediately after the Uprising by the order of the C-in-C of the Polish Armed Forces in the West, Gen.Sosnkowski.)
It has to be added, that at the same time, Gen.Sosnkowski awarded postumously the highest Polish military decoration, the cross of Virtuti Militari to the heroic ZOB soldier, Michal Klepfisz.(Mordechaj Anielewicz also was awarded that decoration in 1944).
As the shade of blue of the Jewish flag raised by ZZW is concerned, there is no unanimity among those who witnessed it.
While visiting Warsaw two years ago I did interview several elderly people who have seen it, but there was no consensus, although majority tended to believe it was light blue - nobody was absolutely sure.
The woman quoted by Moshe Arens, who lived just across the street from the wall of ghetto, described young men who planted the flags on the roof, but doesn't mention the shade of blue - just blue.
The red flag of ZOB was supposedly captured by the Germans but I couldn't find anything about it's whereabouts.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 14 Apr 2008

Flag of Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat 1940

[Flag of Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat 1940] image by Chris Kretowicz, 14 Sep 2001

Flag of Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa-ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization)

[Flag of Jewish Fighting Organization] image by Chris Kretowicz, 14 Sep 2001

I'm not quite sure about the Fighting Organization flag. It wasn't a simple Zionist (Israeli) flag?
Nathan Lamm, 11 Nov 2001

Red flag of the Ghetto

[Red flag of the Ghetto] image by Chris Kretowicz, 14 Apr 2008

Flag of Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy-ZZW (Jewish Military Union)

[Flag of Jewish Military Union] image by Chris Kretowicz, 14 Sep 2001

Interesting to see that a Revisionist group uses a plain two stipes flag.
BETAR usually used flags based on the Zionist flags with inscriptions.
Dov Gutterman, 15 Sep 2001

Yes, it is quite puzzling. I am familiar with the fact that Betar used a variety of Zionist flags with slogans and images on it before the WW II and in Palestine, but it is also beyond the doubt that Pawel Frankel's ZZW units raised the white and blue bicolor (together with Polish flag) over their positions in the Warsaw Ghetto in the Uprising.
What was the reason for not using typical Betar flags?
I can't speculate on it. Maybe somebody knows, and will be kind enough to give us an input on this question ?
Chris Kretowicz, 15 Sep 2001

A possible link to the Polish (light blue replacing red)? They *were* trying to get Polish support.
Nathan Lamm, 11 Nov 2001

I came across a book in the store today entitled "Two Flags". It's a history of the ZZW, one of the groups fighting the Nazis in the Warsaw Ghetto, whose flag is discussed here. The cover shows (as illustrations, not photos) two flags, one white over blue (dark blue, not light as on FOTW), the other white over red. On the FOTW page, I suggest that the arrangement of the former may have been chosen to complement the Polish flag (although, I'll admit, it seems to have been common among Zionist flags of the era), and, while I could find no reference to the matching flags in a brief skimming of the book, the title would seem to indicate that someone associated with the ZZW saw the similarity as well.

One more point: I don't think we should underestimate the fact that in trying times, a simple blue/white flag would be much simpler to make than the actual Zionist/Israeli one. I've seen film and photos of Jewish survivors of a concentration camp- Buchenwald, I think- who made just such a flag immediately after they were liberated, by sewing together white and blue cloth. I don't recall if it was held vertically or horizontally, but I doubt that was even thought of- the symbolism was important on its own.
Nathan Lamm, 15 Jan 2008

Polish flag raised by ZZW

[Jewish flag raised by ZZW] image by Chris Kretowicz, 14 Apr 2008

Warsaw ghetto

Jose Luis Cepero from Cadiz likes to know:
What flag was hoisted in the ghetto of Varsovia next to the polish flag? (He knows that it was blue and white but doesn't know the arrangement)
What was the personal flag, if any, of the leader of the Jews in a ghetto (name is not remembered) where even coins were made and whose leader was a virtual small king?
Jaume Ollé, 2 Sep 2001

During the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of April-May, 1943, The ZOB (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa or Jewish Fighting Organization or Yidische Kampf Organizatzion) led by Mordechaj Anielewicz and composed of members of leftist and ultra leftist youth organizations:

  • Dror He-Halutz (= Freedom - The Pioneer, unites two youth movements) - (5 fighting units),
  • Ha-Shomer ha-tzair (= The Young Guard - Still exists today in Israel as the youth movement of MAPAM (United Workers Party) which is part of Meretz Party) - (4 units),
  • Bund (socialists) (4 units),
  • PPR (Polish Workers Party - communists)  - (4 units),
  • Gordonia (Named after A.D Gordon, the main spiritual leader of the labour movement) - (1 unit),
  • Akiva (Bnei-Aqiva, a religious youth movement. Still exists today in Israel as the youth movement of MAFDAL (National Religious Party) - (1 unit),
  • Ha-No'ar ha-Ziyoni (= The Zionist Youth) - (1 unit) and
  • Po'alei Zion smol (Zion Workers - Left (split from Zion Workers) - (1 unit)
hoisted the Zionist flag (now Israeli flag) alongside Polish white and red flag over the bunker at 18 Mila Street, at least during the first few days of the Uprising. The other group of heroic fighters, not associated with the ZOB for ideological reasons,but allied with them just prior to Uprising, was 250 fighters strong unit of ZZW (Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy or Jewish Military Union) also known as Irgun (Irgun or Irgun Zva'ei Leumi (National Military Organization) was the military wing of the Revisionist Zionist Federation. BETAR (Brit Yosef Trumpeldor) was its youth movement, still exists today in Israel as the youth movement of Kherut movement, part of the Likud Party.whose members where associated primarily with Betar, right-wing, revisionist Zionist organization. That group was led by former Polish Army officer Pawel Frenkel and cultivated excellent relation with Polish Home Army and the Delegation of Polish Government in exile in London.They distinguished themselves with unbelievable courage while fighting from their compound on Muranowska Street, from which they were flying the double bi-colors: white over light blue and white over red. Those flags were clearly visible from the "aryan" side over the walls and stayed up well into the second week of the Uprising.

The Jewish Council (Judenrat) of Warsaw Ghetto was flying a white flag with the blue shield of David in the center. The Jewish Police (or Ordnungsdienst) were wearing shield of David on their caps or berets. All of the "residents" of the Ghetto were required to wear white armbands with the shield of David. The president of the Judenrat in Warsaw Ghetto was dr Adam Czerniakow, a controversial and tragic figure,who commited suicide in 1942 after realizing his policy of appeasement and collaboration couldn't save any lives, especially those of children. The Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat issued paper money, which was, of course, absolutely worthless outside the walls.

The one with the ironic title of "king" or "emperor" was the president of the Judenrat in the Lodz (Litzmanstadt) Ghetto in Central Poland. His name was Chaim Mordechaj Rumkowski and he was generally despised and hardly has any apologists in contrast to Dr.Czerniakow in Warsaw. In his "realm", the Nazis let him issue postage stamps with his portrait in the upper right corner, print paper money and even mint two coins: the aluminum 10 Mark and the magnesium 5 Mark.
Chris Kretowicz and Dov Gutterman, 3 Sep 2001

The Warsaw Ghetto page on FOTW states that the Judenrat flew a blue Shield of David on white, while the resistance flew a standard Israeli/Zionist flag. On NBC's current series about the revolt, they show the revolt flying the first flag (almost square), however. Any info?
Nathan Lamm, 6 Nov 2001

The NBC miniseries is taking a lot of liberties with the historical truth about the events in Warsaw Ghetto, of which their depiction of the flag is only one of many and least significant, so believe rather FOTW pages than NBC.
Chris Kretowicz, 6 Nov 2001

Is it known what happened to the flags flown over the Warsaw Ghetto during the Uprising of 1943. I am curious as to if there is any information about where those flags are located, or even if they survived the Uprising. I know a few flags were captured but other than that I am not sure.
Robert Ballard, 28 Feb 2003

Considering the savagery and brutality of the suppresion of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising it is very unlikely any of the flags could survive. Soon, the new museum, dedicated solely to the memory of this uprising, is due to open in Warsaw and, if any of the flags survived, it would be the place to find them.
Chrystian Kretowicz, 1 Mar 2003

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