Like in a thriller, the story begins with finding an old tin box from the Second World War. Letters in Polish and old photographs were hidden for 69 years, the only record connected to the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, according to Prof. Yisrael Gutman. Watch on YouTube.
Ofer Aloni, writer, multidisciplinary creative artist and producer, helped his father move house after his mother died and found among the memories in the attic the tin box with letters written by his aunt to his mother Ruth who came on aliyah to Israel, containing a piece of history about the truth behind the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, who initiated the uprising and why their story was censored.
“My aunt Rachel Leah Zylberberg was known as Sarenka, which means ‘fawn’ in Polish,” says Ofer. “Sarenka was born in 1920, she was an outstanding student and was active in the youth movement. When the Second World War began and Warsaw was occupied, my aunt and my mother Ruth fled to Lithuania, which was ruled by the USSR (Melech Neustadt, Destruction and Rebellion of the Warsaw Jews, 1946, p. 294).
The sisters reached Vilna with Mordechai Anielewicz’s best friend, Moshe Kopito who would later become Sarenka’s husband and the father of her daughter Maya.” Ofer continues, “On June 22, 1941, Operation Barbarossa began and Nazi Germany invaded Vilna. Within a short time, Vilna was conquered. The Jewish community included many community leaders who had fled after the conquest of Western Poland, and some of them continued to flee westwards and even reached China, but Sarenka and her husband Moshe remained in the city with their daughter Maya. The mass murder of the city’s Jews was only a matter of time and all the Jews of Vilna were shot in the Ponary forests. The survivors returned to Vilna and told the Jews, who in the meantime had been rounded up into a ghetto, about the massacre in the Ponary forests.
“Moshe Kopito, Sarenka’s husband, was killed when he left the house to get milk for Maya, who was born on February 20, 1941” Ofer continues, and he says “Sarenka had to hide in a monastery together with Abba Kovner, his mother and another 15 friends, and from then onwards, all traces of Maya vanished.
“When they were in the monastery (Prof. Dina Porat, Beyond the Reaches of Our Souls, p.51), the idea arose of a youth rebellion. Abba Kovner, Sarenka and their friends realized that the massacre was not an isolated incident but part of a systematic program to murder all the Jews under the German occupation. They also realized that they had to send emissaries to the Jewish communities to tell them the bitter truth and call on them to defend themselves.” Ofer cites the book by Haika Grossman, later a member of the Knesset: “I had to move Sarenka from Vilna to Warsaw” (The Underground Army, 1950, p. 120).
Haika was given the assignment of getting Sarenka out of Vilna to Warsaw, together with two major assignments: 1. To tell about the massacre of the Jews of Vilna. 2. To arouse the first civil uprising in the world against the Nazis.
“In January 1942 Sarenka handed over and metaphorically sacrificed Maya and returned to the Warsaw Ghetto for the sake of others. The one-year-old girl was handed over to a Communist woman doctor in an orphanage, under an alias – Yodviga Sogak,” says Ofer.
The girl vanished without a trace. Sarenka did this in order to enter the ghetto by choice, with two horrifying messages that determined the fate of the ghetto and thereby made history, which molds our democratic path until today: one, a living and powerful response to the systematic murder begun by the Nazis in Vilna; the other, in consequence of this, “We have decided to rebel.” According to Vitis-Shomron (Youth in Flames, 2002, p. 74).
According to Vitis-Shomron (Youth in Flames, 2002, p. 74), “One day, we were called to an assembly of the brigade, a meeting with the emissary, Sarenka, who had come from the Vilna ghetto, I think her name was Sarenka; we were all seated on the floor, and a young woman, about 22 years’ old, with a streak of gray in her hair, faced us. In the low light she appeared beautiful and noble, and she had a downcast look in her eyes." Ofer quotes Vitis-Shomron’s testimony: “I have come to tell you and warn you. We have definite knowledge of the annihilation of ghettoes in all of eastern Poland, Ukraine and Lithuania. We have decided to defend ourselves. The youth that remain in the ghetto have decided not to go like sheep to the slaughter. Half of us will remain in the ghetto, and the others will try to break out to the partisans.” The peak of her speech is in the following text: “The crier calls for armed opposition to the Nazis: We will not go as sheep to the slaughter! We have decided that when our end comes, we will not die without defending ourselves. And if we lack weapons, we will spit in their faces; at least we will show them the scorn we feel towards them, and thus we will fall. But our deeds will not be forgotten.” “What man with tattoos, etc., would sacrifice his child and his life for the sake of the community in Warsaw?” asks Ofer.
“Sarenka’s important and decisive part in the uprising movement, was documented on YouTube by Ofer’s meetings with Prof. Yisrael Gutman, Aliza Vitis-Shomron and Prof. Matityahu Mintz (see Prof. Matityahu Mintz, on Sarenka’s very important role in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, on YouTube), who were there, and also in Melech Neustadt’s book, Destruction and Rebellion of the Warsaw Jews, (1946, p. 294) and at greater length in Shmaltzovnik, by Moshe Domb, who was in the battalion of Anielewicz and Sarenka.”
Moshe Domb says: “Sarenka ranted at her friends and particularly at Anielewicz: ‘What are you doing, what is the matter with you? Are you living in a fantasy world? Our people are being annihilated and you are playing make-believe games, distracting yourselves from reality? Sarenka stormed and shouted at Anielewicz that he was causing the youth to sleep and preventing them from seeing reality and in the end, they would be led as sheep to the slaughter together with the Jews who were fooling themselves into thinking that ‘it won’t happen to us.’ Later Domb said that Anielewicz admitted that “It seems you are right; we have wasted valuable time and who knows whether we have not left it too late! We were swept up by the opinions of wretched leaders and people in authority.”
The Germans were surprised by the opposition of the fighters and the residents of the ghetto who entrenched themselves in bunkers and other hiding places.
Sarenka “fell and kissed her hand” (The Book of Jewish Partisans, 1959, p. 707) – a rare expression in the Holocaust and even more so in relation to a woman, in the command bunker at 18 Mila Street Warsaw, where her name is engraved as one of the 51 names of the rebels.
In 1948, a few months before the founding of the state of Israel, the most famous sculpture in the world (see photograph below), the Ghetto Heroes Monument, created by the sculptor Nathan Rapoport from a photograph given to him by Ofer’s mother, Ruth Aloni, was dedicated in the center of the ancient Jewish ghetto in Warsaw.
The monument was sculpted from a black stone that was intended by Hitler for the German triumphal arch. The front of the monument portrays seven figures breaking out from the fire; the one in the center is Anielewicz, and at the top of the sculpture is the figure of a woman waving a baby above her.
Ofer’s father told him that his mother Ruth sent a copy of the photograph in the tin box, which shows Mordechai Anielewicz, Sarenka, Zvi Baron, Moshe Domb and Aviva. “This is a rare photo of Anielewicz and the original is in the tin box,” says Ofer. “The photo was taken by my mother Ruth on Lag Ba'Omer. The fact that my aunt is represented in this important monument, is further proof of her significant role in the uprising, and it is absurd that Sarenka on the one hand has been ignored for 70 years and on the other hand is at the top of the most important monument in the world, which is visited constantly by the world’s leaders and presidents, who are unaware of the figures in the sculpture."
In a meeting “Beyond the Dark” that took place in Kibbutz HaOgen in 1973 to mark the 30th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Abba Kovner attacked the senior leadership of Hashomer Hatzair and of the Zionist movement in general, which vanished from Poland and Vilna when the war began and left three million Jews with no leadership in the face of the circle of fire and only the young people remained, with historical censorship (Prof. Dina Porat, Beyond the Reaches of Our Souls).
“I am named after my aunt – the Warsaw Ghetto rebel, and this is my mission,” says Ofer decisively. “The conclusions from the story of the uprising are:
- It’s always a woman. The first people to rebel against Pharaoh were the Hebrew midwives and if we were aware of this historical fact, our attitude to women would be different.
- The defect of ingratitude affects our society in all kinds of strange ways.
- We should learn from the story of the uprising about the rebellion of the people of the heart against the people of the mind – the Nazis, and therefore the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was the first civil rebellion in the world (although the Nazis conquered many countries), because it was derived from Jewish morals, the essence of which is the connection to the heart, not the mind – the narrow interest. This conflict, between the heart and the mind, accompanies us in life that is concerned only with the present and is manifested in the story of Jacob, the man of the heart, and Laban, in the story of Rachel, in the meeting between Jacob, who represents the innocence of the heart compared to Laban the Aramean who represents the people of the mind (the wheeler-dealers).”
How can we help you?
“Over the years, I have spent much energy and money in order to bring the story to light, together with searching for Maya, and I have only begun,” says Ofer. “I am looking for investors with a heart and financial means, for a book and a film, who want to open a place under the name: “The Secrets of Sarenka” in New York, because the Warsaw Ghetto was the inspiration for modern democracy, for Martin Luther King and for the teenage rebellion (see “Prof. Eyal Naveh: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising – Inspiring Martin Luther King, Woodstock and Pink Floyd,” on YouTube).
In New York, there is awareness of the subject and of the situation of the uprising and therefore our museum will “compete” with Anne Frank’s House – the number one museum in Amsterdam, and the income from the center will make it possible to find Maya and express gratitude to the women who had an important role in the uprising. It is my opinion that in this way it will be possible to create historical justice for my aunt and her friends and to fly the banner of the story of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.”
Ofer continues: “In Jerusalem, at 120 Sderot Herzl in Beit HaKerem, we have founded the “Mini Museum Holocaust or Hope” where we carry out events and lectures. The museum is divided into four parts: a. Understanding reality – about the philosophy of life, the conflict between the personal and the social and the history of the movement;
b. An escape room, or escape ghetto; c. The uprising – the only documentation of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, including letters, books, testimonies in films and drawings; d. Hope – because a person without hope is considered dead (in all languages), but what is hope?
On Tuesday, January 21, 2020, a lecture was held on the philosophical and graphic difference between the Star of David and the swastika and “A dynamic campaign – the rebellion against the swastika with a line of hope,” and at the same time the painting “Auschwitz in Color” was auctioned to raise funds to find Maya, the daughter of the rebels. If the painting is not sold at a reasonable price, another auction will take place on January 28, 2020 (entrance free of charge).
"The Mini Museum Holocaust or Hope"
Open Sunday–Thursday by advance telephone arrangement, and lectures can be booked on the subject
Telephone 050-2578313, 120B Sderot Herzl,
Beit HaKerem, Jerusalem, ground floor
(Light Rail stop before Yad Vashem)
Email: [email protected]