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Destruction of the Great Synagogue in Warsaw
On May 16th, 1943, the Nazis forces, led by General Jürgen Stroop, blew up the Great Synagogue on Tlomackie Street in Warsaw and destroyed what remained of the Jewish presence in the Ghetto after 27 days of intense fighting. The Great Synagogue was destroyed to symbolize the triumph of Stroop’s troops over the Jewish Ghetto fighters. According to Moshe Arens, writing in the Jerusalem Post article in 2003, Stroop was a committed Nazi, who went beyond usual duty in destroying the Ghetto: Stroop was the archetypal Nazi- a sadistic anti-Semite who took joy in hunting Jews, whom he considered subhumans. He remained unrepentant right up to his execution in Warsaw, after being convicted of war crimes. In the Warsaw Mokotow prison awaiting his trial, he regaled his cellmates with stories of how he had succeeded in liquidating the Warsaw Ghetto.
One of those cellmates was a Pole named Kazimierz Moczarski. Moczarski was accused at the time of conducting activity against the Polish Communist regime. In his book titled, Conversations with the Hangman, Moczarski recounted Stroop’s description of how he had dynamited the great synagogue on Tlomackie Street. Moczarski wrote that Stroop’s eyes “sparkled with enthusiasm. ‘What a wonderful sight!’ I called out ‘Heil Hitler!’ and pressed the button. A terrific explosion brought flames right up to the clouds. The colors were unbelievable. An unforgettable allegory of the triumph over Jewry. The Warsaw Ghetto has ceased to exist. Because that is what Adolf Hitler and Heinrich Himmler wanted.”(1)
This is a Tish B’av anniversary – another day when we remember that the enemies of Israel tried to destroy the Jewish people. They failed because the God who chose the Jewish people preserved them. And so we say, Shehechiyanu, “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the Universe, who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this occasion.” Yet, at the same time, we grieve over what we lost. According to reports, 56,065 Jewish people were captured, 5-6,000 killed in the fighting, 7,000 were shot and thousands of others were sent to Treblinka, where the Jewish people of the Ghetto had been sent over the last year to their deaths in the gas chambers…
1. Moshe Arens, “The Changing Face of Memory: Who Defended the Warsaw Ghetto?” Jerusalem Post, May 2003 (this essay was written to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising). See http://www.freeman.org/m_online/may03/arens.htm