Thursday, May 30, 2013

For your freedom and ours

By New Worker correspondent

SZMUL ZYGIELBOJM was a Jewish socialist political activist – a Bundist – in Poland in the 1930s who went on to become a representative of the Jewish community in Poland under Nazi occupation.
His activities meant he had to flee to London where he was a part of the Polish government in exile.
He was a man on a mission, a desperate mission to communicate to the western powers what was going on in the Warsaw Ghetto, in the death camps and what was about to happen with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and to plead for intervention and for rescue.
But his words fell on deaf ears. Those conducting the war on the Allied side had their own plans and agendas and did not want to hear the horror stories of what was happening to Zygielbojm’s comrades and community.
So he committed suicide as an act of protest, to draw attention to the plight of Jews and others under Nazi occupation, leaving a letter that is a remarkable political statement.
Today he is remembered and honoured around the world for his sacrifice. In May 1996, a plaque in memory of Zygielbojm was dedicated on the corner of Porchester Road and Porchester Square in London, near Zygielbojm's home while in London.
And last weekend, to commemorate the anniversary of his death on 12th May 1943 members and supporters of the Jewish Socialist Group packed into a meeting room in London near Euston Station for a moving evening of memories, poetry and song, chaired by Julia Bard.
David Rosenberg, who had done most of the organising for the event, opened with a brief account of the Warsaw Ghetto and the uprising and Szmul Zygielbojm’s efforts to secure a rescue.
Speakers included two veterans of those terrible struggles. Wlodka Blit Robertson was eight-years-old in 1940 when her family was forced to move into the Ghetto that the Nazi occupiers had created to house all the Jews in Warsaw and others from other parts of Europe.
She spoke of life in that ghetto: the random beatings, shooting and hangings and also the incredible level of social activity inside, with self-help committees, cultural groups – and active resisters.
Communists, socialists, Bundists and anarchists worked together – all sectarianism vanished in the struggle to survive. Food and messages were smuggled in – including information about what was really happening in the “work camps” they had been told they would soon be sent to.
Many children were involved in the smuggling – they could get through smaller gaps – and many were simply shot out of hand if they were discovered.
Wlodka was lucky – her family were able to get her smuggled out with false identification documents – to live with a non-Jewish family on the “Aryan side” of the wall.
The young people on the inside realised that whatever they did they were doomed and decided they would prefer to die resisting and so they organised the uprising, which took the Nazis by surprise but drew down a terrible revenge as the whole area was torched.
Wlodka could see the fires from the outside, knowing her friends and family were on the inside.
“There was billowing smoke; people were running out of buildings and being shot. A woman jumped from the window of a burning building; there were bits of burning paper everywhere. She was shot too. A terrible moment,” Wlodka said.
The family sheltering Wlodka became afraid of being caught harbouring a Jewish child. So the underground resistance moved her to a different family, in a rural area, and did not tell them she was Jewish, though she thinks they guessed.
Esther Brunstein, a survivor of the camps, told the gathering in London of her memories of Szmul Zygielbojm, who was her school-friend’s father when they lived in Lodz.
Robert Szaniawski, the Press Councillor at the Polish Embassy, who also is responsible for Polish-Jewish relations, told the meeting that Szmul Zygielbojm was “a man of honour and a member of the Polish government in exile”.
He recounted the events that left Zygielbojm feeling helpless as all his comrades in Poland were being killed; he wanted to be with them.
Now he is commemorated with a plaque and annual ceremonies in Warsaw. A museum of Jews in Poland is to open soon.
The speeches were interspersed with traditional songs from the Polish Jewish community under occupation sung by Rachel Weston, accompanied by Carol Isaacs on the accordion. Most of the audience joined in and sang along with the familiar strains.
It was a moving meeting, commemorating terrible events but it was never heavy or mawkish but inspiring instead, especially the accounts of the two veteran women who retain their vitality and their humour.

Zygielbojm’s suicide letter

May 11, 1943
To His Excellency The President of the Republic of Poland, Wladyslaw Raczkiewicz  Prime Minister, General Wladyslaw Sikorski  
 President, Mr Prime Minister, I take the liberty of sending you my last words and through your intermediary to the Polish Government and to the Polish people, to the governments and peoples of all Allied States and to the conscience of the world. From the latest reports received from Poland it is clear that the Germans are now destroying with terrible ferocity the remaining Jews still living there.
 Within the ghetto walls the last act of tragedy, unprecedented in history, is now being played: The responsibility for the crime of murdering the whole Jewish population of Poland rests in the first place upon the murderers themselves but indirectly it rests also upon all humanity, the governments and peoples of the Allied States which have not yet undertaken any concrete action to stop this crime.
 By passively watching the extermination of millions of defenceless children, women and men being tortured to death, those countries become accomplices of the murderers. I also wish to declare that although the Polish Government has contributed to a large extent towards influencing world opinion, it has done nothing commensurate with the scale of the drama now taking place in Poland.
 Out of some 3,500,000 Polish Jews and 700,000 Jews deported to Poland from other countries, only 300,000 remained alive in April 1943, according to information from the leader of the underground Bund organisation transmitted to us by the Government's Delegates. And the extermination continues without pause. I cannot remain silent.
 I cannot go on living when the remnants of the Jewish people in Poland of whom I am a representative are being eliminated. My comrades in the Warsaw ghetto died with arms in hand in their last heroic stand. It was not my destiny to perish as they did and with them. But I belong to them and to their mass graves.
 By my death I want to express my strongest protest against the passivity with which the world looks on and permits the extermination of the Jewish people. I know how little human life means in our times but since I could do nothing when alive, perhaps by my death I can help destroy the indifference of those who could save, perhaps at the last moment, those Polish Jews who are still alive.
 My life belongs to the Jewish people in Poland and that is why I am giving it to them. My wish is that the remnants of the several million Polish Jews may live to see liberation in a world of freedom and socialist justice, together with the Polish people. I believe that there will be such a Poland and that such a world will come. I am certain that you, Mr President and Mr Prime Minister, will transmit my words to all to whom they are addressed and that the Polish Government will immediately take appropriate action in the diplomatic field for the sake of those who are still alive. I send my farewell to everyone and everything that I hold dear and that I have loved.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Bruce Kent launches new anti-Trident campaign

By Eric Trevett

THE VETERAN peace campaigner Bruce Kent has started a new campaign with the aim of cancelling the Trident nuclear weapons system and its proposed replacement.
Reigate and Redhill Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, along with the local Stop the War campaign was among many around the country to host public meetings at the end of last month, addressed by Bruce Kent on this urgent topic.
He maintained that Trident is claimed not to be a first strike weapon. That means that if the order were given to release the missile, we would know that the earth had already been made virtually uninhabitable for human beings.
The local three-day peace campaign began with open air meetings in the town centres of Reigate and Redhill – the speeches interspersed with music from a small band of musicians.
Kent spent 45 minutes in both town centres, encouraging shoppers to stop and think about the issue of Trident renewal, the submarines, missiles and warheads.
 He cited the cost of renewal to the taxpayer of £100 billion, and linked this cost to the reduction in funding in services to the community, and maintained state funding in education and training, public health, job opportunities, conventional Armed Services and social welfare will all be reduced to pay for Trident.
David Hilder, coordinator for the Reigate and Redhill branch of CND, which organised the day of three free public meetings, said: “Those who sympathised with his point of view were given extra literature to help expand the background, and an opportunity to sign the “Scrap Trident” petition, which will be sent to the Government at the end of the year.”
This was followed by a very well attended indoors meeting on Monday 29th April evening in St Joseph’s Church in Redhill where Bruce Kent shared the platform with a representative of the giant union Unite, who pointed out that the union’s campaign against the cuts complemented Bruce Kent’s call for the withdrawal of Trident.
Bruce Kent told the meeting that despite majority public opinion against, there is no clearly articulated political opposition to replacement, except from CND and other disarmament groups. So the Government is just attempting to go ahead with its project through a series of small steps – all of which will make it very difficult, if not impossible, to say NO when a vote comes in 2016.
Yet many, many groups and organisations strongly oppose the cuts that will make humanitarian work of all sorts so much more difficult. We are supposed to “be in this together”. We are not. The cuts will hit the poorest hardest.
But the connection between the £100 billion to be spent on Trident and these savage cuts is not being made even by charities and NGOs that work in hardest-hit sectors. Nor is any link being made with our obligation, as a country, to negotiate the elimination of all nuclear weapons.
If we replace Trident, in any shape or form, other countries will take the message from us that we think nuclear weapons improve our security. It’s an open invitation to get their own. It’s hypocrisy to say we can have them but they can’t.

May Day in London

By New Worker correspondent

Comrades and friends joined communists from Britain and overseas for London’s traditional May Day march from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square with a cavalcade of union banners as well as those from the Turkish, Kurdish and Iranian community groups.
The procession from Clerkenwell Green to Trafalgar Square was very well attended this year even though it fell mid-week.  As always the South East Region TUC (Sertuc) held the event on 1st May, international Workers’ Day, and the sun was streaming down, banishing at last all traces of that very long, very cold winter.
The march was led by a representative of Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC) in his wheelchair being pushed by a leading pensioner activist.
They were followed by the Sertuc banner and a jazz band.
Turkish and Kurdish comrades were there in strength as usual in their colourful clothes, banners, songs and dancing.
But anger at Con-Dem Coalition cuts and austerity brought out over two thousand trade union activists, students and other campaigners against austerity.
Police were also there is huge numbers, keeping close watch on the various anarchist groups but the mood of the marchers was relaxed and positive and there were no clashes of any kind.
Speakers in Trafalgar Square included union general secretaries Christine Blower (NUT) and Len McCluskey (Unite), Islington North Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn and veteran campaigner Tony Benn.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Free Shaker Aamer!

By New Worker correspondent

Protesters demonstrated outside Parliament last week demanding the release of Shaker Aamer, a British resident who has been held  in the illegally occupied  US  Guantánamo Bay base in Cuba since 2002. The protest on 24th April followed a parliamentary debate in Westminster Hall in the morning.
The US government claims he was supporting the Taliban, but Aamer says he was only doing charity work.  He claims – echoing similar allegations by US detainees and victims of kidnapping and rendition – that he was tortured in Afghanistan, including by US personnel, and while British officials were present.
 Shaker, who has a British wife and four British children, was cleared for release in 2007. But Aamer still languishes in the American concentration camp and  he believes he may never be released because of an alleged "secret deal" between US authorities, Saudi Arabia and the British security services. At the time of his capture, in Afghanistan, he had indefinite leave to remain in Britain and had applied for British citizenship.
Shaker, together with at least 130 other prisoners held in the concentration camp have been on hunger strike for weeks. Some have been force fed others while others, accused of darkening windows and blocking spy cameras and  were fired on with rubber bullets when they refused to be moved.
The United States opened the prison camp at the Guantanamo Naval Base in 2002 to jail prisoners taken when US-led imperialist forces invaded Afghanistan branded as  “terrorist suspects”  U.S. President Barack Obama did not meet his 2007 electoral promise to close the camp, described by many as a "black hole" in terms of respect for civil rights.