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Press Information published by the International Auschwitz Committee


Marian Turski's speech marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising

Marian Turski, Auschwitz survivor and President of the International Auschwitz Committee, during his speech delivered in Warsaw on 19 April 2023 at the state ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Image: Spiegel Online

Marian Turski, Auschwitz survivor and President of the International Auschwitz Committee, during his speech delivered in Warsaw on 19 April 2023 at the state ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Image: Spiegel Online




Speech delivered on 19 April 2023 in Warsaw by Marian Turski, Auschwitz survivor and President of the International Auschwitz Committee, at the state ceremony marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising.

“Clenching a crowbar or stick in our hands,

We beg you, oh God, for a bloody battle.

We cry out to you for a violent death.

And before we die, let our eyes never see

Any railway tracks running beneath us.

But, dear God, let our hands aim true,

To bloody the field grey uniforms […].

This is our Spring! Our Counterattack!

“Counterattack”: that is how Władysław Szlengel, a Polish poet and a Jew imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto, titled his poem. I have quoted only a few lines from it. The poem was written before the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on 19 April 1943. The poet himself survived the beginning of the uprising in a bunker, not far from here, just two streets away. On 8 May he was pulled out from the bunker on Świętojerska Street and murdered by the Germans.

Our civilization has acquired at least a dozen, if not more, symbols of resistance and heroism. I believe I have the right to say that the fighters in the ghetto uprising 80 years ago transformed the streets surrounding us – Gęsia, Miła, Niska, Muranowska – into a Jewish Thermopylae, into yet another Jewish Masada, into a Jewish Westerplatte.

Distinguished guests,

We are gathered here today in front of a memorial dedicated to the heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. It was designed by Natan Rapoport, a graduate of the Warsaw Academy of Fine Arts. I believe there are three reasons why we are now gathered here.

The first reason is to show our admiration and respect in recognition of their heroism, determination, suffering and martyrdom.

Take a look at this memorial. What we can see on the front, very clearly now, are figures of the fighters, with a knife, with a grenade, with a rifle.

But later on, do take a moment to look at the opposite side of the memorial. It depicts the last march of the civilians. Those who, to the very end, refused to desert their loved ones, defenceless elderly people, women.

These are the two aspects of the same suffering and the same heroism!

We pay tribute to the individuals who symbolize resistance, such as Mordechai Anielewicz of the Jewish Combat Organization, or Paweł Frenkel of the Jewish Military Union. None of the fighters are with us anymore. But only a very small number of people who survived the ghetto uprising are still with us now, because they were children at the time.

Today, one of those children is here with us: Hena Kuczer. At that time she was 11 years old. Her two elder brothers had been taken much earlier to the assembly point for deportation. It too was just a couple of streets away from here, but in the other direction. But before they were deported and murdered in the gas chambers, people like them were forced to endure several days of brutal torment and humiliation at the assembly point. They were badly mistreated by the Germans, as well as the Ukrainians and Lithuanians who collaborated with the Nazis. They had to give a watch, or pay hundreds of zlotys, for a mere sip of water.

At the end of the uprising 11-year-old Hena accompanied her father and mother through the sewers in an effort to escape the blazing inferno that surrounded them. Both of her parents died there. Fortunately, Hena Kuczer managed to escape. In order to survive, she had to hide her identity and take on a new name – Krystyna Budnicka. Today she is an Honorary Citizen of the City of Warsaw.

Dearest Krysia, you have my greatest respect and admiration. To me you are my sister, my companion in suffering and misery.

The second reason why we are gathered here today is to ask: how was it possible, and why?

I don’t intend to downplay the blame due to the Germans, ensnared by fascism and supporting Hitler, culpable in many respects for the sufferings of many countries, peoples and social groups. It was they who brought about something unimaginable – the near-total extermination of an entire people – the Jewish people.

But a fertile environment for this had been cultivated for many centuries – in the shape of anti-Semitism. And here, I am compelled to ask – why?

Why do people fear someone they consider strange?

Why do prejudices and hostile attitudes towards such strangers lead to their exclusion from society?

Why is this excluded human being later dehumanized?

Why has anti-Semitism developed from a wariness and distrust of strangers, into exclusion from society, and then into fanatical hatred, and finally extermination?

Why do we still have to combat anti-Semitism today?

Ladies and Gentlemen, the third reason is as follows: every generation interprets facts from the past from their own perspective. They compare events from the past with the present-day. I would like to tell you what especially comes to mind, when I think about the events of April and May 1943.

I wasn’t in the Warsaw Ghetto. I was imprisoned in a different ghetto – in Łódź (Litzmannstadtghetto). I was sent to Auschwitz and survived two death marches. The last one was from Buchenwald to Theresienstadt. There, I was liberated by the Soviet Army, which consisted mainly of Russians. The gratitude I feel towards those who liberated me from the German camps is something that will remain with me throughout my entire life.

Nevertheless, how can I remain indifferent, how can I remain silent, when today the Russian Army is invading one of our neighbours and annexing their land? Can I remain silent, when Russian missiles are destroying the Ukrainian infrastructure – as well as residential buildings, hospitals, cultural monuments? In the end, this will all lead to a massive increase in mortality and reduce the lifespan of hundreds of thousands of civilians!

How can I remain silent, when I see what happened in Bucha, knowing how the Germans annihilated Polish Michniów, Belarussian Khatyn, Czech Lidice or French Oradour?

Marek Edelman was one of the commanders of the ghetto uprising, and I had the honour of knowing him personally. We talked on many occasions, and he would often repeat these very significant words: “Life is the most important thing of all! And when you have life, freedom is the most important thing of all! And it often happens that, for this freedom, you have to sacrifice your life again!”

Honourable Mr Presidents,

Distinguished Guests,

Dear Friends

125 years ago, Emil Zola cried out: “J`accuse!” I accuse! This shout sent a shockwave vibrating throughout France – and to a certain extent across Europe as well. I think, in fact I am wholly convinced, that this cry should resound out again today, in honour of the Warsaw Ghetto Fighters. Loud and clear, it should be repeated and heard from here, in Warsaw: “J‘accuse!”

Against anti-Semitism!
Against the violation of human rights!
Against discrimination!
Against the invasion of your neighbour’s territory!
Against the falsification of history!
Against the abuse of the interests and will of a minority (no matter which) by a majority (no matter which) in power!

J‘accuse! I accuse people who are indifferent to evil.

People, be alert! Stoking up hatred is the easiest way to mobilize supporters. Will not this hatred determine my fate, your fate, and that of our children and grandchildren?

This is why I accuse those who incite hatred: J`accuse!


For further Information

Christoph Heubner

Executive Vice President
International Auschwitz Committee
Phone ++ 49 (0)30 26 39 26 81