By Sholem Asch
THE WARSAW GHETTO
IN THE DINING CAR of the reserved train that runs from Berlin to Warsaw--a special train for high-ranking military men and government functionaries of the German Reich--there sat an extraordinarily high official whose sudden appearance in the car had evoked tense attention from the military men and dignitaries seated comfortably around the table that was being served. The official himself, whose modesty was well known, did everything both by his unobtrusive behavior and his amiable smiles (which were painstakingly forced from his nearsighted eyes and small mouth) to bring his companions back into the easy humor in which he had found them on entering the car. He did not succeed, however.
His position as chief of the Gestapo, his reputation as a pitiless, bloodthirsty, cruel man, his close ties with the Fuhrer--all this kept not only the military men but his retinue, his aides who accompanied him everywhere and formed a guard to protect him, in an attitude of alert watchfulness. Under the pressure of fear which his personality radiated from itself, the orderlies served the food with trembling hands, which communicated the nervous tension from the waiters to the guests.
On the second day, Gestapo Chief Himmler in the company of his official retinue rode through the crowded streets of the Warsaw ghetto to examine it before its destruction.
What did the Gestapo Chief see?
That which was called the Warsaw Ghetto was concentrated in the poorest, most over-populated Jewish quarter. The population of the Ghetto contained now, according to official figures, upwards of five hundred and fifty thousand human beings. People who had spent their whole lives under civilized conditions, were driven out overnight from their homes, which they or their fathers had built, from the cities and countries to which they had belonged for hundreds of years and scores of generations; were transported under the most inhuman conditions to Poland and thrown into the Dantean hell which was called the Warsaw Ghetto.
At that time, in the Ghetto more than twenty souls lived in a single room, which in normal times would have accommodated only one or two. The Ghetto was cut off and isolated by a thick wall from the poorest streets of the city of Warsaw. German police and Gestapo men, armed with rifles and machine guns, guarded the wall. To leave the ghetto without permission meant to be shot without trial. A small portion, healthy young people whom the Germans used in their war industry, got skimpy rations--just enough to sustain the soul. The rest of the population--the old, the women, the children--were sentenced to a slow death of starvation.
All education for children and grownups was forbidden; all social life and its pastimes were strictly interdicted. And yet the Ghetto went on, organized itself, and continued to spin the thread of life, which even the sharp German sword had not been able to cut. If one was unable to live in freedom, in God's shining sun, then one crept under the earth. In the labyrinthine corridors of the old houses, work continued, a fruitful cultural activity which could only be carried out by a people that had survived the persecutions and the sufferings with which Jewish history is so amply filled, a people that is destined by the Almighty to live forever.
The Jewish student youth gathered the children together. In the courtyards, war gardens had been planted, and there, in spite of the Gestapo, regular classes for the children were conducted. In the darkened rooms, cut off from electric light, evening courses were given for adults.
Musical concerts were held which ghetto artists gave for their ghetto brothers. Lectures by learned men and writers were read on scientific and literary themes. A regular technical school was conducted with advanced courses given by experienced teachers and savants.
In secret bakeries Jewish bakers baked bread out of the white flour smuggled into the ghetto; often the flour came from the Gestapo, which sold it dearly to the Jews. Jewish women stood in secret community kitchens, and with their accustomed skill, with family sorcery which they inherited from their mothers, cooked meals and soups composed of nonexistent materials. Other women and old men sat in attics or cellars and sewed and patched old clothes.
And meanwhile death did its work. There was a contest between the Angel of Death and the Gestapo as to which could surpass the other.
When Himmler and his retinue, in strongly armored cars, made their early morning inspection tour through the streets of the ghetto, they noticed, among the sick children who were playing there with the living corpses, also the dead corpses, which had been ejected, stark naked and covered only with papers, from the houses of the ghetto. But this was not enough for the German power--the Jews were not dying fast enough; so the Nazis overtook the Angel of Death and left him behind.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani? (My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?)" That same cry was heard on the streets of Warsaw from hundreds of souls who, with their crosses, were being whipped on the way to Golgotha.
"Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?"--with this difference, that the cry on Golgotha was heard in the company of the swords and spears of the Roman idolaters, while the cry on the Warsaw streets sounded among clubs and bayonets of people who had been converted, who called themselves Christian folk.
"Ropes of death have encompassed me, and toils of the pit have overtaken me. I meet with sorrow and trouble. I then called on the name of the Lord. I pray thee, Lord, release my soul."
"My tears have become my bread by day and night as they say to the whole time, 'Where is thy God?'"
And the answer which the Christian martyrs once made to themselves as they waited for death in the cellars of the Roman arenas, a death which they heard in the roaring of the lions--that same answer and consolation were now given by the Jews one to another as they joined hands together.
"Why art thou bowed down, my soul, and why must thou murmur within me? Trust in the Lord, for I will praise him, my supporter and my God."
"Whither shall I turn from Thy spirit? And where shall I escape from before Thy countenance?"
This article is Part 2, from Sholem Asch's book, ONE DESTINY, written in 1945, in the aftermath of the Holocaust of World War II. Although it was written more than half a century ago, his words speak just as clearly to our hearts as if they were written yesterday. Randolph Parrish, of David's Quiver Press, 6813 E Loma Land, Scottsdale AZ 85257 emailed this for publication. Randolph Parrish has a number of highly recommended books, many of which are no longer in publication. Prices are extremely reasonable. Some, such as this one, ONE DESTINY, are abridged versions of the original text.
In the death trains which stretched from the streets of the Ghetto to the places of execution were all kinds of Jews. There were Jews who, from birth, had not known that they were Jews, whom Hitler instructed in the Judaism in which their parents had failed to instruct them. They did not know or understand the meaning of their life, still less the meaning of their death. There were Jews from Germany, Jews who had reckoned themselves Germans throughout their existence. Many of them considered themselves Aryan and campaigned within the very ghetto walls for the recognition of their Aryan status. They looked upon their Jewishness as a mistake, as an oversight on the part of authority. There were Jews from Amsterdam and Antwerp who thought themselves Hollanders and Belgians. Notwithstanding these differences, all of them were thrown into the same pot.
And suddenly everything becomes under-standable, realizable, clear, and beautiful. Suffering acquires a reason, an explanation--it is the highest price exacted for one's faith. The Jew from Paris, Amsterdam, Antwerp, Berlin, Frankfurt, becomes simply a Jew. The Jewish Aryans, the Jews who are half-Aryans but want to become whole ones, have disappeared. There are no longer nationalist or assimilated Jews, no longer Jewish Bundists or Zionists; no longer religious or irreligious Jews. There is only one kind of Jew--the plain, unadorned Jew, the son of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, who goes on his eternal way, the way of everlasting Zion, the way of the salvation of Israel.
We do not know what will become of the German people. The German people will live again after the war, will even return someday perhaps to the moral standard set in the days of Goethe and Schiller. Certainly the German people will become again a portion of the civilized world, and we all hope and wish for that time to come quickly, when German genius--and who dares to deny it?--may become as productive for the welfare of humanity as it has been for its destruction. But whatever the fate of the German people as a whole, every German will bear the mark of Cain on his forehead forever. And as it was with Cain, so to every German for the remainder of his days on earth the question will be put, "Where is thy brother Abel?" Where are the European Jews? And as the Lord said to Cain, so to every German will be said these words, "What hast thou done? The voice of thy brother's blood cries up to Me from the dust."
Because the earth will not cover up the spilt blood of Israel. And for this desecration which Hitler made of the Jews, for this choice which he conferred upon them, for the freedom with which he could slaughter a whole people, for this crying sin, the guilt is carried, the accessory guilt if not the full one, by the whole Christian world.