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Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and Gaza Compared
July 26, 2014
by William P. Meyers

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The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in 1943. Essentially, some of the Jews who had been trapped in the Warsaw Ghetto took up arms against the German army. They were aware that Jews from the Ghetto were being systemically taken to death camps.

This essay is about comparing the current militant movement in Gaza, and more broadly among non-Jews in Palestine/Israel, to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. There are some similarities and many differences. A lot can be learned about people by noting how they interpret this data.

The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising took place in the context of World War II and the Holocaust, which was Adolf Hitler's plan to exterminate the Jews. The situation in Gaza today is in the context of the aftermath of the establishment of the Jewish state in Palestine, known as Israel, and the contemporary U.S.-led "War on Terror."

While Adolf Hitler was raised as a Roman Catholic in Austria, where anti-Semitism (more properly, anti-Judaism) was virulent among the Church hierarchy, his stance towards Jews was essentially racist, not religious. While Hitler and the Roman Catholic Church agreed on many things in the 1930's (notably the need to exterminate socialists, atheists and communists), they disagreed on the disposition of the Jews in Europe. The Catholic Church sought to convert them.

Hitler, who had added racist doctrines to the Church's anti-Judaism, thought the Jews were genetically inferior (actually, different in a dangerous way). Converting them would simply allow their genes to mix more with his beloved concept of the Aryan race. Hitler and his more radical followers within the National Socialist Workers Party (Nazis), decided to exterminate the Jews in the midst of World War II.

Anti-jewish laws came first, in the mid 1930's, but they were not much different than similar anti-Negro laws in the U.S., or discriminatory laws common in most of the world's nations at the time. Then came concentration camps, at first used to house political prisoners (atheists, socialists and communists), and then increasingly to use Jews for slave labor. Ultimately some of the concentration camps became death camps.

The Warsaw Ghetto, created in 1940, was effectively a concentration camp within a city. Perhaps 300,000 Jews were packed into about 1.25 square miles of city. Gaza is much less densely populated, currently estimated to have a population of 1.8 million enclosed in an area of 139 square miles. However, because Gaza is desert terrain, most of the population lives in Gaza City and other urbanized areas. In both the Warsaw Ghetto and Gaza the citizens were (or are) not free to travel outside of the designated limits.

The Warsaw Ghetto was meant to be temporary; its residents were meant to be deported to death camps beginning in 1942. The residents of Gaza have been there, for the most part, since 1948 and have hereditary refugee status. They are being confined, not exterminated.

The "uprising" began around January 18, 1943. Only a small percentage of Jews, perhaps 1000, appear to have fought the Germans. This may have been partly due to a shortage of weapons. Still, the German army needed only about 2000 troops to regain enough control of the ghetto to continue the deportations.

The same is true of Gaza. While people, when given the opportunities in elections, voted for Hamas, and to a lesser degree for the PLO, the number of active Hamas militants is estimated at about 10,000 (estimated by Israel), but that includes irregular volunteers. The other resistance groups in Gaza appear to be much smaller than Hamas.

Tunnels played a crucial role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. Tunnels were used to bring in food and weapons. Without tunnels, the earlier death rate in the ghetto from malnutrition and consequent disease would likely have been higher. In the end, many of the fighters used the tunnels to escape the fate of those who did not fight: transit to a death camp.

The various groups in Gaza did not build tunnels because they like to dig. They were dug for the same reasons the Jews had in Warsaw: to get supplies. And both some of the Jews and some of the Palestinians used the tunnels to get the weapons they needed to fight the army of the nation that had put them in their respective ghettos.

Very few German soldiers, officially just 17, were killed by the Warsaw Jewish resistance, and it is unlikely that the real total was over 100. The Germans disproportionately killed civilians, most of whom died from fires or smoke inhalation.

The army of Israel, and its air force, have elected to fight in a manner that kills far more civilians in Gaza than actual Hamas militants.

In both cases the resistance fighters were poorly armed compared to the army they fought. The Polish Jews had only one machine gun and a limited number of small arms. Gaza is confronted with an Israeli army far better armed than the German army was. In addition, Israel conducts much of its war on non-Jewish Palestinians from the air. The use of (mostly inneffective) rockets launched from Gaza is also a new phenomena.

So we have a paradox. In matching the contenders up, Hamas gunmen match up well with ZOB and ZZW, the Jewish Warsaw gunmen. The civilians of Gaza match well with the civilians of the Warsaw Ghetto.

And the Israeli state matches the Nazi German state well. And the Israeli Army matches the German army quite well.

But once racism, religious intolerance, or even nationalism enter the picture, this obvious way to connect the dots goes out the window. Racism makes it impossible to do a rational analysis of who is in the right, and who is being wronged. See my recent essay Ethical Asymmetry [July 22, 2014] for a treatment of the ethical problems resulting from bias.


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