As daughter of Holocaust survivors, I decry occupation of Gaza

The Warsaw Ghetto was liquidated and burned to the ground by Nazi soldiers in May 1943 in response to Jewish resistance to the mass extermination of the Jews of Warsaw. (PHOTO BY STANISLAW PAWELEK)
 
Jenny Pressman, The Cap Times, May 30, 2018

Let Gaza live.

The bitterly ironic confluence of the personal and political, of past and present, is pressing down on me so hard I cannot stop shaking in grief and anger. Whatever you think about the right of the State of Israel to exist or the long horrible history of hatred and violence in the Middle East, what is happening in Gaza is a humanitarian crisis. Israel and the United States are on the wrong side of history and humanity. It is painful to acknowledge but, with the occupation of Gaza and current violence against Palestinians by the Israeli army, Jews have shifted from being oppressed freedom fighters to military occupiers and I have to say NOT IN MY NAME.

I usually think about my family history and being Jewish on May 16 because most of my mother’s and father’s extended family lived in Warsaw, Poland, during World War II. May 16, 1943, was the day the Nazis slaughtered the remaining Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto after their desperate attempt at resistance failed.

May 16 marks the 75th anniversary of the end of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, a still-not-widely-known act of Jewish resistance in German-occupied Poland. In 1939, when the Nazis began to force Poland’s population of over 3 million Jews into crowded ghettos, my parents and their families were among the 300,000–400,000 people packed into a small walled-off area of Warsaw guarded by soldiers and surrounded by barbed wire.

Dozens of my extended family lived in a small apartment meant for one family without enough food, water, or heat. Germans controlled who could enter and leave the ghetto, who could work and at what jobs, what goods, food, and medical supplies could come in, and virtually every aspect of daily life. They humiliated, tormented, and killed Jews at will. Thousands of Jews died from disease and starvation. My paternal grandfather died of typhus.

My maternal grandfather was beaten to death by German soldiers. My maternal grandmother and most of her large extended family were rounded up and sent by train to the Treblinka death camp where they were likely immediately gassed and dumped in an unmarked grave.

When it became clear that the transport trains were not bringing Jews from the ghetto to “relocation camps” but to extermination camps, Jews began to fight back. Their resistance culminated in an uprising which began on April 19, 1943, the first night of Passover. A ragtag group of adults and children with nothing to lose fought back against Nazi Germany’s final effort to send the remaining Jews to their death. Most of the Jewish fighters didn’t see their actions as an effective way to save themselves, but rather as a battle for the honor of the Jewish people and a protest against the world’s silence.

After days in which the vastly outnumbered Jews fought Nazi tanks and machine guns with smuggled-in handguns, rocks, and gasoline bottles known as Molotov cocktails, the German military chose to end the uprising by incinerating the ghetto, block by block, until it was nothing but ash and ruins. Most of the remaining 13,000 Jews died, about half of them burnt alive or suffocated.

The photo of the ghetto in ruins that accompanies this column was taken by my uncle and smuggled out. The world really didn’t much care about Jews — and truthfully still doesn’t, which makes what’s happening in Gaza all the more painful because it feeds still-virulent anti-Semitism.

After the war — after fighting for their lives, hiding, and being in forced labor camps — my parents eventually made their way to the United States, a country that did little to stop the extermination of Jews during the war and made it difficult for Jews to immigrate afterward. They became part of the Warsaw Ghetto Resistance Organization and dedicated themselves to keeping alive the memories of their families and the millions of other murdered Jews. I spent much of my childhood going to Holocaust meetings and commemorations. I knew many Holocaust survivors and their stories. What they endured was unfathomable — and has at times been painfully and wrongly denied.

I also had close ties to Israel. My father’s mother and brother were among those who went to what was then Palestine when almost no country would let in the thousands of Jews who survived the Holocaust. As the child of survivors I celebrated the story of the modern founding of Israel and how important it was to have a country where Jews would never again be oppressed and murdered for who they were. Every year in NYC we went to Israeli “independence day” marches and rallies. I visited relatives in Israel and have memories of floating in the Dead Sea and visiting Yad Vashem.

I did not know or even think to ask who lived on the land before my family. I knew about the British and partition and all the “heroic” wars but I did not see that history as I do now, as an extension of European and U.S. colonization.

In recent years I’ve come to believe that the post-Holocaust rallying cry of “Never Again” means I must speak out against the Israeli occupation of Gaza, both because of the injustices and to honor my family’s memory and the inhumane way my relatives lived and were killed in the ghetto and camps during the Nazi occupation of Poland. This year is no different but feels much more heartbreakingly urgent given the many recent deaths and the injuries of thousands of Palestinians by the Israeli army. Palestinians who were displaced and forced into areas far too small, with limited food, water, medical supplies, electricity, jobs, goods and hope, and who rose up to protest their inhumane occupation with rocks, gasoline bottles and a few weapons, are being murdered by a vastly outgunned army.

Being Jewish is a huge and celebrated part of my identity but I cannot support the Israeli occupation of Gaza. To do so would go against my personal and cultural belief in the right of all people to self-determination and freedom. It would also dishonor the memory of my parents, the enormous losses they suffered, and the hardships they endured during a brutal occupation by those who did not see them as human.

Jenny Pressman is a social justice activist and the daughter of Jewish Holocaust survivors.

June 5, 2018
Protest Israel’s Ambassador in Milwaukee

Milwaukee County Progressives No Palestine Exception
Jewish Voice for Peace – Milwaukee

Tuesday, June 5, 11:15 AM – 1:30 PM
Milwaukee County War Memorial
750 N Lincoln Memorial Dr
Milwaukee, WI   [Map]

Since March 30th, Israeli snipers and military have killed at least 113 unarmed Palestinian in Gaza, and wounded more than 12,000. On May 14 alone, 19 medics were shot. Now one of Netanyahu’s closest allies, Ron Dermer, is coming to Milwaukee!

Dermer is also close to Trump relative Jared Kushner, who withheld his role in funding illegal settlements on the West Bank when Trump put him in charge of bringing “peace” to the Middle East. Our taxes are paying for these murders. We cannot be silent.

Sponsors

    United Action Oshkosh
    Milwaukee County Progressives No Palestine Exception
    Friends of Palestine Wisconsin
    Madison-Rafah Sister City Project
    Milwaukee FRSO
    Peace Action Wisconsin
    Welfare Warriors
    Jewish Voice for Peace – Milwaukee
    Milwaukee Anti-war Committee
    Wisconsin Bail Out The People Movement
    Milwaukee Coalition Against Trump
    Students for Justice in Palestine – University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Gaza hospitals and clinics are overwhelmed


Gaza Needs Your Help

DONATE NOW!

I am far from Gaza right now, in the UK, but I am speaking with my friends, my family and my medical colleagues there every day. I know doctors and nurses are working night and day to treat the people injured in the recent massacres.

The aftermath of this massacre is overwhelming every health facility in Gaza. I’m writing now to ask you for your help to fund a medical shipment.

Here are some statistics that show the enormous challenges health workers in Gaza are facing:

  • The Israeli army killed 112 Palestinians and injured 13,190 since the March for Return began on March 30th
  • 13 Palestinian children killed and 2,096 injured
  • 323 emergency medical workers hit by live fire and gas bombs, one worker killed and 37 ambulances damaged
  • 785 people shot in the head, neck, chest and or back
  • 27 leg amputations

Some of the injured will heal, others will be left with chronic pain and disabilities that will last a lifetime. Hundreds of thousands will suffer from psychological wounds, especially children.

The number and seriousness of injuries would be overwhelming in a normal situation. But, as you know, nothing in Gaza is normal. The Israeli siege, now in its eleventh year, has caused shortages of everything from anesthesia to fuel to keep the electricity running.

While doctors, nurses and volunteer medical students are working around the clock, you can support their efforts in a very significant way. Every dollar you give will go directly to Gaza. And with your contribution you’ll be sending a powerful message of solidarity.

DONATE NOW!


Shukran (Thank you),
Dr. Mona El-Farra
MECA Director of Gaza Projects
 

WPR and a Pro-Palestinian Take On The Israel-Gaza Violence

Palestinian protesters run for cover from teargas fired by Israeli troops near the border fence, east of Khan Younis, in the Gaza Strip, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Israel faced a growing backlash Tuesday and new charges of using excessive force, a day after Israeli troops firing from across a border fence killed 59 Palestinians and wounded more than 2,700 at a mass protest in Gaza. Adel Hana/AP Photo

On Thursday, May 17, Wisconsin Public Radio’s “Central Time” program featured an interview with Playgrounds for Palestine’s Susan Abulhawa as a counterweight to earlier pro-Israel coverage of current events in Gaza.

This is significant: for years WPR and NPR have avoided this type of coverage. Lately NPR has been running a few mildly sympathetic stories about Palestine and Gaza, and this is the first time WPR has ventured into the fray.

Apparently WPR is now receiving significant criticism from pro-Zionist sources, and we are asking you to let them know that you appreciate this kind of coverage and hope it continues.

Besides her role with Playgrounds for Palestine, Susan Abulhawa is an acclaimed author of two novels and has been featured at the Wisconsin Book Festival. MRSCP has worked with Playgrounds for Palestine nationally and locally for many years, including the installation of a PfP playground in the Tel Al Sultan neighborhood of Rafah.

Please listen to the show and then write, individually or together, to:

Recall that during the Intifada of the early 2000’s NPR also had some mildly sympathetic coverage, and a campaign was launched by Israel’s supporters to smear NPR as “National Palestinian Radio” and seriously threaten their funding. Ever since NPR and its affiliates have been reluctant to give air time to Palestinian voices or their supporters. We need to speak up.