My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt

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EAU CLAIRE, Wis. Wednesday—In my home city of New York, April 20th was declared Warsaw Ghetto Day by Mayor Robert F. Wagner to commemorate the eleventh anniversary of the Jews of Warsaw against their Nazi oppressors. This day has a meaning for all people everywhere because it proves that in the face of almost impossible difficulties men and women preferred certain death and fought together for the reputation and dignity of the individual human being. Warsaw was the center of Jewish spiritual and cultural life. We are apt to forget history and it is well for us to remember such incidents as this one that occurred in Poland.

After conquering Poland, the Germans created the world's largest ghetto and set about exterminating all life within that ghetto. Every method was tried to instigate division amongst the Jews. Setting one group against the other, they made it more and more difficult for anyone in that area to get enough food, and starvation seemed to be spreading everywhere. They treated all Jews with utter contempt and the spiritual degradation that was forced upon them was more humiliating, and in some ways more terrifying than the outright murder which they often found awaiting them in unexpected places.

These Jews of the ghetto were allowed no weapons and very few could be concealed. So it was an incredibly grave decision when finally in 1943 the Jews of the ghetto decided to strike back at the Germans. All they had to fight with were their minds and their bodies and they knew that every modern mechanical instrument of war would be opposed to them, as well as a trained army personnel.

You might call it the courage that comes from desperation, but it is a page in the history of the Jews of which as a people they must be very proud. For it was a great triumph of the mind and spirit to fight in the face of certain death, for only a minute number of people escaped alive from that uprising of the ghetto of Warsaw in 1943.

The book, "Martyrs and Fighters," by Philip Friedman, contains accounts gathered from the few surviving eyewitnesses of the events which occurred during the uprising. They saved a few documents, battle reports, and last testaments. So this book published by the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith and the Club of Polish Jews is to honor the many heroes who died.

To paraphrase, "when the bell tolls, ask not for whom it tolls for it tolls for everyone of us." In commemorating this great heroic action we commemorate not only the high spirit and the courage of these Jewish people, we commemorate and call to mind also the many instances in history when men and women in other areas of the world belonging to other nations, members of other races and of other religions, have also chosen death rather than humiliation and slow extermination.

Human beings rise to great heights at certain times and it is well to commemorate those heights and not to forget them, for they spur others to live with high standards and to dare greatly and to face even death with great fortitude.



Names and Terms Mentioned or Referenced

  • Eau Claire (Wis., United States) [ index ]

About this document

My Day by Eleanor Roosevelt, April 22, 1954

Roosevelt, Eleanor, 1884-1962
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Digital edition created by The Eleanor Roosevelt Papers Project The George Washington University 312 Academic Building 2100 Foxhall Road, NW Washington, DC 20007

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Digital edition published 2008, 2017 by
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MEP edition publlished on 2008-06-30

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Transcription created from a photocopy of a UFS wire copy of a My Day column instance archived at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library.