Never Again: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
by Staff Reporter
"Part of why I wanted to tell the story is because the people whose story it is aren't alive to tell it. It's been 58 years since the uprising and no one has told this story," said Jon Avnet, whose Brooklyn films produced Uprising together with Raffaella DeLaurentis, the daughter of legendary filmmaker Dino DeLaurentis and Silvana Mangano.
This quasi-documentary or docu-drama is presented to the public by Warner Home Video. The Uprising is the unique story of the Jewish revolt against the Nazi murderers at the Warsaw Ghetto. It took place from April 16, 1943 to the end of May. Most of the fighters were killed. Some survived to tell the story of this unique heroism. Uprising is a good production. The script is good, the acting is good. Many stars contributed to the success of this film (video): Hank Azaria as Mordecai Anielewicz, Donald Sutherland as Adam Czerniakow, Jon Voight as Gen. Stroop, and other stars such as Leelee Sobieski, David Schwimmer, Cary Elwes, Mili Avital and Sadie Frost.
The script was written by Paul Brichman. Jon Avnet was the director of Uprising. It is not surprising that writers and producers like to join the crowd: The Holocaust ritual or new theology. To relate to the Holocaust today is to be 'in.' The irony of history is: In the 1940's, when the Holocaust took place, only a few American were willing to help and try to rescue the Jews from the Nazi Genocide, the 'Final Solution.' Among the elites which were silent was also the elite which produced films especially in Hollywood. Of course there were some exceptions. The famous one was: Ben Hecht who joined the only group which protested in real time against the silence of America: "The Bergson Group" or the 'Irgun' delegation to the U.S.A. I am not sure that Jon Avnet is aware of this fact! He has also omitted or declined to point out in Uprising the fact that the world and America knew in April/May 1943 about the 'uprising' itself. It is an important element of the Holocaust era: "We did not hear, we did not know." Furthermore, Jon Avnet could have done some research here on how the uprising was reported. He even could have come across a song, namely 'The Warsaw Ghetto Revolt' which was composed in Hollywood!
Avnet declined to use Jewish-Yiddish music, songs of the Jewish underground and partisans, as musical background. For example, the famous legendary anthem of the Jewish partisans which, in English means "Do not say that this is my last way". I do not know if Avnet had an expert for Jewish history in his production team. Speaking about history, Avnet did not explain the roots of the Z.O.B. or the resistance organization which was established in the ghetto. The commander of this organization, the Jewish underground, was Mordecai Anielewicz, a member of the youth movement, the pro-Marxist one, 'Hashomer Hatsair' (the Young Guard).
The conclusion: The roots of the uprising has to do with young Jews but also with Zionist youth movements like Hashomer Hatsir. The second, perhaps more important youth movement was 'Baitar' the Revisionist-Jabotinsky youth movement which had some contacts in the Polish section of Warsaw. By the way, Avnet did expose the anti-Semitic attitude of the Poles to the Jewish fighters. Poles hated the Nazis who destroyed their country from September 1, 1939 and killed approximately two million of their people, but they did hate the Jews more than they hated the Nazis! Only the Polish communist helped the Jewish fighters and provided them with guns and explosive materials.
Avnet was right in showing the activities of the legendary fighter, Antek Zuckerman and his wife, Tsvia Lubotkin. The couple survived the uprising and managed to go to Palestine and there established the Kibbutz of fighters and partisans. As I explained, they were, first of all, young Zionists and socialists. But the Z.O.B. (Polish: Jewish Fighting Organization) was an umbrella of parties, youth movements and factions such as the non-Zionist part in Poland, the 'Bund.'
Also, some fighters can from religious factions such as the Zionist Mizrachy. It should be explained that always among the Jews, it was very hard to form an effective coalition. Jews in 1939 fought among themselves. The Jewish society was too much divided.
After the Holocaust, in Israel, each party developed its own story of the uprising. You could find many versions of this Ghetto Warsaw revolt. Avnet remarked that at first he planned to use Leon Uris' bestseller Mila 18 for his script. But he decided to research the topic of the uprising. Instead of a feature, Avnet produced a miniseries. NBC went along with Avnet's original concept of a docu-drama. He researched the topic. He went to the archives. He read the proper books (Dr. Israel Gotman and he met with two survivors: Simcha 'Kazik' Rotem (see his memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto fighter: The Past Within Me) and Marek Edelman.
The film was produced in Bratislava, Slovakia (NBC four hour story) and from December 18, 2001, Warner Home Video released a double disc DVD and VHS of the original NBC miniseries of Uprising. Uprising is a fine contribution to the history of the Holocaust. The Ghetto fighters could not save the Jews. The Ghetto was destroyed. The Nazis, in order to win the war with the Z.O.B., simply set the Ghetto on fire. But the fighters were new heroes. The died with pride. They fought, too late, against their fate. They refused to go without resistance into the gas chambers. They demonstrated the fact that there was another way. Thousands fought in many uprisings, in other Ghettos such as the Vilna Ghetto, thousands ran away to the forest to join the partisan movement. Never again! Too late?
When the Z.O.B. declared its revolt, the Ghetto of half a million Jews was almost empty: most Jews were departed to the gas chambers and many died because of illness or starvation. Avnet did relate, to his credit, the fact that the older generation objected to the idea of revolt. The chairman of the 'Judenrat' (Jewish council), like many others believed that by helping the Nazis and their many collaborators to deport one segment of Jews, you could save the other Jews. Of course, it was an illusion. When the chairman, Adam Czerniakow, realized that the Nazis apply a 'Final Solution' he committed suicide. In the Holocaust literature, a long debate is going on: were the 'Judenrats', the Jewish council and their Jewish Ghetto police-traitors, members of the Nazi machine or just the victims of the terrible circumstances?
Some Judenrats helped to save Jews, some helped to mitigate the suffering of others. After the war some were persecuted in Israel but the courts had a problem: it was 'another planet.' In uprising, the ones who collaborated with the Nazis expressed regrets, remorse, and join the Z.O.B., the chairman committed suicide, and other Jewish collaborators were assassinated by the Z.O.B. as traitors.
The uprising, in the belly of Satan, was a miracle, a Jewish national myth of heroism. "Mordecai always said, there's only one thing we can control in this terrible Nazi situation and that is how we die," said Hank Azaria. And Jon Avnet concluded: "They wanted to live with honor and if necessary, die with honor and that's the heart and soul of the movie."
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