The Armed Jewish Resistance at the Warsaw Ghetto

April 19th, 2011

To commemorate the beginning of Passover, Dave Kopel links to an article he wrote about the Armed Resistance to the Holocaust.

On February 16, 1943, Heinrich Himmler ordered that the Warsaw ghetto be exterminated on April 19. The plan was to give Hitler aJudenrein Warsaw as a present for his April 20 birthday.

On that night of April 19, the Warsaw Jews partook of the Passover Seder. Since September 1939, they had eaten the bitter herbs of slavery. Now, they were drinking the wine of freedom.

When I visited Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Museum in Israel), I was quite touched by the exhibit on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. In the display case was a pistol used to fight the Nazis. On the handle of that pistol the fighters carved a Jewish Star. I shed a tear when I saw that.

I quote from Judge Kozinski’s dissent in Silveira v. Lockyer:

All too many of the other great tragedies of history — Stalin’s atrocities, the killing fields of Cambodia, the Holocaust, to name but a few — were perpetrated by armed troops against unarmed populations. 570*570 Many could well have been avoided or mitigated, had the perpetrators known their intended victims were equipped with a rifle and twenty bullets apiece, as the Militia Act required here. See Kleinfeld Dissent at 578-579. If a few hundred Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Ghetto could hold off the Wehrmacht for almost a month with only a handful of weapons, six million Jews armed with rifles could not so easily have been herded into cattle cars.

My excellent colleagues have forgotten these bitter lessons of history. The prospect of tyranny may not grab the headlines the way vivid stories of gun crime routinely do. But few saw the Third Reich coming until it was too late. The Second Amendment is a doomsday provision, one designed for those exceptionally rare circumstances where all other rights have failed — where the government refuses to stand for reelection and silences those who protest; where courts have lost the courage to oppose, or can find no one to enforce their decrees. However improbable these contingencies may seem today, facing them unprepared is a mistake a free people get to make only once.

Jews, of all people, should grasp the fundamental importance of the right of self defense and the right to keep and bear arms. Never forget–any of it.

Have a Kosher Pesach everyone.

Update: On a lighter note, a related story about a Rabbi bearing a very deadly weapon. Caption contest!