Daffodils to mark 75 years after Warsaw ghetto uprising

Many Polish Jews lost their lives fighting against Nazi forces. (AFP pic)

WARSAW: Sirens will sound and paper daffodils will fill the streets of the Polish capital on Thursday to mark 75 years since hundreds of young Jews took up arms against Nazi German forces in the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

The Jewish fighters launched their attack on April 19, 1943, after the Nazis began deporting the surviving residents of the Jewish district they had set up after invading Poland.

The insurgents preferred to die fighting instead of in a gas chamber at the Treblinka death camp, where the Nazis had already sent more than 300,000 Warsaw Jews.

Polish President Andrzej Duda is due to visit a Jewish cemetery in the morning before taking part in the official ceremony at the Ghetto Heroes Monument.

Scheduled for the same time on the site of the former ghetto is a march organised by anti-fascist organisations, which will end at the Umschlagplatz monument where Jews were rounded up and taken to Treblinka.

In the afternoon, at a square in the district, the Shalom foundation plans to inaugurate the Tree of Tears, a weeping willow whose leaves are meant to symbolise the tears of Jewish mothers who handed over their children to Catholic mothers in order to save their lives.

But the most visible symbol for Warsaw residents will be the daffodil pins on their clothes, a recent tradition that gains momentum with every year.

“Two thousand or so volunteers will distribute the paper daffodils in Warsaw this year, or almost two times more than last year,” said Maria Mossakowska, who coordinates the initiative at the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews, which launched the project five years ago.

More than 120,000 daffodils are expected to be distributed across the capital alone this year, but the flowers will also be handed out in other Polish cities.

Around 1,000 cultural institutions, libraries, and schools across the country have joined the project, with some institutions due to hold local educational events on the history of Jews in Poland.

The selection of the daffodil as symbol is a reference to Marek Edelman, a cardiologist and uprising commander who died in 2009.

“For many years, on the anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising, Marek Edelman would receive a bouquet of these flowers from an anonymous sender,” Mossakowska said.

“Then he would lay them at the ghetto hero monument.”

Because of their colour and form, daffodils also resemble the yellow star Jews were forced to wear by Nazis during the war.

The remembrance ceremony takes place this year amid tension between Poland and Israel over Warsaw’s new controversial Holocaust law, which came into effect last month.

The legislation, which penalises statements attributing Nazi German crimes to the Polish state with fines or a jail term of up to three years, was meant to protect the country from false accusations of complicity.

The main aim is to prevent people from erroneously describing Nazi German death camps like Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau as Polish simply because they were set up on Polish soil.

The law has drawn strong criticism from Israel and Jewish organisations, which accused Warsaw of denying the participation of individual Poles in the genocide of Jews.

Israel also expressed concern that the law could open the door to prosecuting Holocaust survivors for their testimony.

During World War Two, Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany. Six million Poles, including three million Jews, were killed.