Vice President Joe Biden today paid tribute to Jewish fighters who battled Nazi Germany in the 1943 Warsaw ghetto uprising, which has come to symbolize courage against overwhelming odds. Flanked by a Polish army honor guard, Biden stood at the foot of the monument unveiled in 1948 near the site of the fighters’ last stand in their ill-fated revolt.A wreath of red, white and blue flowers – the colours of the US flag – bore a ribbon reading, “In Memory of the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.”
Biden then stood with his right hand over his heart as a bugler played a salute, before a choir of children sang a Jewish song and he spoke with dignitaries including Poland’s chief rabbi, Michael Schudrich.
After invading Poland in 1939, Nazi Germany isolated Polish Jews inside ghettos across the country, before beginning their systematic campaign of mass murder in the Holocaust.
At its height, around 450,000 people were crammed into the walled Warsaw ghetto, including Jews brought from other European nations. About 100,000 died inside from starvation and disease. Most of the rest were sent to the Treblinka death camp in northeast Poland in mass deportations in 1942.
A handful of Jewish paramilitary groups, mostly made up of people in their teens and twenties, were formed in the Warsaw ghetto.
The poorly armed fighters first clashed with Nazi troops on January 18-22, 1943, managing to hinder the deportations.
On April 19, the Nazis began liquidating the ghetto, where just 60,000 people remained, and the fighters rose up again.
“We knew perfectly well that there was no way we could win. It was a symbol of the fight for freedom. A symbol of standing up to Nazism, and of not giving in,” the uprising’s last commander, Marek Edelman, told AFP in a 2008 interview. Edelman died in Warsaw on October 2 aged 90.
The insurrection lasted three weeks, until the Nazis razed the ghetto, killing and deporting the vast majority of those who had been unable to flee.
Biden arrived in Poland late yesterday, kicking off a tour of eastern Europe that will also see him visit Romania and the Czech Republic.