Debating the Slaughter: a Historical Retrofitting

In the summer and into the fall of 1942, the Germans deported over a quarter of a million Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto to be exterminated at the Treblinka death camp. In the ensuing uprising in the spring of 1943, about 14 thousand Jews were killed or captured and then killed. By the end of the “liquidation” of the ghetto, only about 2o thousand of the roughly 400,000 detained in the squalid ghetto survived.

Morgan Pierce: My guests tonight couldn’t be farther apart in their views about the conflict everyone’s been talking about for months. Since we on “Unhinged” try our best to be fair and balanced, I’ve invited the opposing sides to confront each other directly about the unspeakable bloodshed, who started it and what to do about it.

My first guest will be known to my Yiddish-speaking audience. He’s a leader of the Jewish Fighting Organization, or ŻOB in Polish, Yitzhak Zuckerman. He thinks the Germans are committing unforgivable crimes in Warsaw, and that the Jewish partisans under his command have every right to kill soldiers and, if necessary, even civilians, in order to stop them.

My second guest, SS-Gruppenführer Jürgen Stroop, strongly disagrees. He is heading up the German campaign to suppress the Jewish uprising, and he says the Jewish Fighting Organization are terrrorists and bandits with no respect for the law or civilized norms of combat. He tells us that the Germans are only doing their best to save their country under attack from Communists, Jewish Bolshevists and British bombers.

Yitzhak Zuckerman, let’s start with you in Warsaw. Why do you think the Jewish Fighting Organization isn’t committing acts of terrorism that will only bring more suffering to the people in the ghetto you claim to represent?

Yitzhak Zuckerman: You are joking, right? The Germans are genocidal maniacs. Everyone knows this.

Morgan Pierce: SS-Gruppenführer Stroop, what do you say to that?

Jürgen Stroop: The Führer has made it very clear. We are under attack day and night by British and American aggressors who firebomb our people indiscriminately. Tens of thousands killed in only a few days just for being German. Then there’s Stalin and the Communist hordes, who seek to overrun us, destroy our Reich, and rape our women. We will continue fighting in Warsaw until the British-supported Communist bandits are completely removed. As you well know, if we don’t eliminate every last one of them, they will only regroup and attack us again tomorrow. Besides, we only kill those who resist; the rest have a ticket reserved for resettlement in the East.

Yitzhak Zuckerman: Right, resettlement. Even before they started the deportations, we could hardly survive in the lice-infested ghetto they stuck us in. People were dying of starvation like flies. If the hunger didn’t get them, the cholera did–

Jürgen Stroop: Based on whose numbers? The World Jewish Congress? The Jewish-led Roosevelt regime?

Morgan Pierce: Well, Yitzhak, let me put it to you then. Why don’t you just accept the terms being offered to you in order to avoid more bloodshed?

Yitzhak Zuckerman: You’re joking again, yes? You know what they are doing in Warsaw? Lining people up by the hundreds  and shooting them. Burning women and children in their houses alive. We have a right to self-defense.

Jürgen Stroop: Outrageous lies! If the cowardly terrorists didn’t hide behind innocent civilians, if they didn’t slither like snakes into and out of their houses at night, we wouldn’t have to attack them. If you are so concerned about the women and children, Mr. Zuckerman, then here’s a simple solution: just surrender. That would show you care about saving lives. But obviously that’s not going to happen, and may I tell you why? Because the ŻOB hates Germans. They will only stop when every last one of us is driven into the Baltic Sea.

Yitzhak Zuckerman: You want to talk to me about dead children! You lying dirty murdering–

Morgan Pierce: Well, I’m afraid that’s all the time we have today on the program. I want to thank my guests for the passion they bring to this debate. I’m sure some people will agree that on some issues, we can’t always agree. Let’s hope all this suffering and death is soon a thing of the past. Just maybe, we can all agree on that.

Tomorrow my guests will be Polish Prime Minister in exile, Władysław Sikorski and Dr. Hans Frank, the head of the German General Government in occupied Poland. They will be debating the fate of the Danzig Corridor and who started the war. Until then, I’m Morgan Pierce and this is Unhinged. Good night.

Matt Rubenstein is a classical pianist who lives and works in Berlin. His recordings have focused mainly on modern German piano music, and his articles on politics have appeared at