They Fought with their Bare Hands
To Mordecai Anielewicz (1919-1943)
Facing formidable forces,
Supported with tanks and artillery,
You knew that there was no way to win.
Nevertheless, you decided to fight,
Not for victory, but for Jewish honour.
So, one day in the spring of 1943,
You were 24 years old then,
The Zionist banner was hoisted
Over the Warsaw Ghetto wall,
Along with the Polish flag.
The SS troops preferred to use
Artillery fire, flamethrowers
And gas, or to blast the houses
By dynamite squads, rather than engage
In direct street fighting with untrained
And poorly armed young Jewish men
And soon the whole ghetto was aflame.
The news about the uprising spread in the world.
Broadcasts by the Underground Polish radio SWIT
Operating out of Warsaw were picked up,
As far as Sweden. The radio said that women
And children are defending themselves
With their bare hands.
The uprising galvanized resistance movements
Throughout Nazi occupied Europe. It was on May 8,
After three weeks of Combat, that you threw
Your last grenade from the bunker on 19 Mila Street
And fell together with your beloved bride Mira.
But, as you said, you realized your dream,
Because you had lived to see Jewish resistance
In its heroic greatness and resplendent glory.
You had stood up to the brutal Nazi empire
Of Adolf Hitler.
In spite of all his Military might,
The Fuehrer failed to drag you away to
Treblinka and you died as a free human being.
The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising
Transformed Jewish submission to resistance.
You helped to turn hopelessness to resolve,
Despair to vigour, degradation to courage.
You formed Dignity out of humiliation,
Sculpted from misery the grit of honour.
Like the North Star showing steadfast direction
To Desperate sailors, the light of your heroic command
Shines through the darkness of the Night.
Your young life sacrificed on the cruel altar
Of History is a luminous monument
To soulful conscience, a lofty triumph
Of the human spirit.
From your spilled blood that sunk into the earth
Of Poland, poignant sprouts of bravery and dignity
Blossom forth, flowers of freedom and buds of hope
Bear blooms of sacred petals.
Paul Hartal's Other Poems
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