Warsaw ghetto lecture discusses how Jewish community views its history

Professor Avinoam Patt of the University of Hartford presents the battle of the Warsaw Ghetto with the emphasis on the specific heroes remembered in Jewish media during the conflict and afterwards on Tuesday afternoon. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

Professor Avinoam Patt of the University of Hartford presents the battle of the Warsaw Ghetto with the emphasis on the specific heroes remembered in Jewish media during the conflict and afterwards on Tuesday afternoon. (Amar Batra/The Daily Campus)

As part of a Judaic Studies Faculty Colloquium Series, Professor Avinoam Patt from the University of Hartford gave a talk on Tuesday about understanding representations of the Warsaw ghetto uprising that emerged in the years after its occurrence. His main point was to discuss the ways Jews view their own history and what that says for their present and future.

Patt, the Philip D. Feltman Professor of Modern Judaic Studies and the Director of the Museum of Jewish Civilization in Hartford, taught several classes at the University of Connecticut last semester about Judaism, and has written several books on Jewish topics. His lecture was built upon a current book project about the uprising.

“It becomes this prism through which Jews all over the world will remember the identities of the heroes and the martyrs of Warsaw and of European Jewry as a whole,” Patt said.

Patt talked in the beginning of his lecture about how news of the Warsaw ghetto was presented in the media. The news varied based on media affiliations and misinformation. Different papers and news sources with different leanings tended to report the events differently. According to Patt, the New York Times, which tended to under-report Jewish tragedies, presented the news of the uprising very differently than The Forward, a New York-based Jewish magazine. As for misinformation, two Jewish women and members of the Jewish Underground, Tosia Altman and Zivia Lubetkin managed to escape the Warsaw ghetto and were reported dead, despite being very much alive at the time.

Another facet of the topic is who exactly the Warsaw ghetto heroes were. Literally, it was the Jewish Combat Organization and the Jewish Military Union, militant groups with little or no combat experience created to fight off the Nazis. But what did they want? A number of motivations have been brought to light: they were fighting for the creation of the Israeli state, socialism or the Allies and Democracy. However, as Patt explained, many survivors cited these motives later and initially described their actions as revenge.

In addition to the news that reached the rest of the world concerning the Warsaw uprising, Patt also discussed the different ways the event was memorialized and honored. There were pageants and radio plays that fed into, as Patt described, “mythologizing heroes” and “fictionalizing events.”

All of these different factors at play - the media coverage, the motivations and the memorials - contribute to the way Jews see their own history.

“I think there was a point where he talked about what’s remembered in history,” third semester pre-teaching major Kiana Foster-Mauro said after attending the lecture. “He made comparisons between Auschwitz and Warsaw, death and resistance.”

Beyond just the events that took place and how they were reported and represented, Patt uses these events to look at what their memorials and representations say about the Jewish community today. One big point however, was that their image and understanding of themselves is in part built on the events that took place in Warsaw.

“The revolt was too powerful a symbol not to be seized upon by Jews,” Patt said.


Alex Houdeshell is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at alexandra.houdeshell@uconn.edu.