Wednesday, March 6, 2013


In honor of women's history month we are profiling women in the Holocaust:

"We worked frantically and with impatience, our hearts filled with prayer. We longed for the hour of revenge, that it might come soon. And behold, the day came!"

Zivia Lubetkin, active in Zionist youth movements before the war, was one of the founders of the ZOB (Jewish Fighting Organization) in Warsaw. At the outbreak of World War II, she was in eastern Poland, but she returned to Warsaw to participate in the underground activities there. She was an organizer of the earliest resistance movements in the Ghetto, and also fought in the first attempt at armed resistance in the Ghetto in January 1943, as well as the final revolt of April-May 1943. Several days before the fall of the Ghetto, Lubetkin and a group of surviving fighters escaped to the "Aryan" side of Warsaw through the sewer system. Lubetkin stayed in hiding in the Warsaw underground through the end of the war, and fought in the Polish revolt of 1944. After the war, Lubetkin and her husband, Yitzhak Zuckerman, settled in Palestine, where she was among the founders of Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta'otand Bet Lohamei ha- Getta'ot (Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz and Memorial). Lubetkin appeared as a compelling witness in the trial of Nazi war criminalAdolf Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961.

“She had blazing eyes and a penetrating glance,” recall those who knew Zivia Lubetkin, adding that she “was simple and direct, demanding the maximum of others and of herself. For her, thought and action were one.” 

Zivia Lubetkin was born on November 9, 1914 to a well-to-do, traditional Jewish family in the town of Beten in eastern Poland. During the Holocaust Zivia’s parents went into hiding but were discovered in 1942 and shot on the spot. Zivia was one of seven children born to her parents - four of her siblings died in the Holocaust. 

Zivia Lubetkin studied at a Polish government school and received education in Hebrew from private tutors. From early childhood she was a member of the Zionist-Socialist youth movement Freiheit (Freedom), which sent her to the Kielce kibbutz. There, together with other young people, she studied and worked (in the bakery, the laundry, the latrines and in the fields). She answered the call to work for He-Halutz in Warsaw, where she was appointed coordinator of the training department and travelled from place to place, teaching and offering encouragement. 

After spending her youth as an active participant in Zionist youth movements and representing those movements at conferences she began to assume leadership positions. After the Nazi invasion of Poland, Lubetkin found herself in Soviet-controlled Lvov where she became active in underground activities.

She was one of the pioneer group that left the Russian-controlled area for German-occupied Poland. In January 1940 she reached Warsaw and continued her underground activity in the Dror house at 34 Dzielna Street, which served as a support and information center for the members of Dror and Gordonia, and also as a public kitchen. In the ghetto Lubetkin was responsible for the organizational system and communications with the outside. She negotiated with the Joint Distribution Committee and the Judenrat for funds for the everyday needs of the movement members and their dependents. Within the movement, she was a decision-maker at critical moments. When the situation in Lodz deteriorated, she demanded that the women members who remained there be evacuated so as not to endanger their lives. She also took an active part in the discussions on establishing agricultural farms that would provide members with work, an income and a social milieu as well as some distancing from the degradation of ghetto life. 

In autumn 1941, Lubetkin’s attitude towards the Jewish condition in Europe crystallized. Realizing the extent of the annihilation, she decided to resist. “After we heard about Vilna on the one hand and about Chelmno on the other, we realized this was indeed systematic. … We stopped our cultural activities … and all our work was now dedicated to active defense,” she testified at the trial of Adolf Eichmann (1960–1962). 

During the aktions and the killing she was among the founders of the anti-Fascist bloc, the first organization in the Warsaw Ghetto to engage in armed combat against the Germans. On July 28, 1942, during the mass deportation from Warsaw, she was among the founders of the Jewish Fighting Organization(Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa, or ZOB), a member of its command and among those who planned its organization. She was also a member of the Jewish National Committee (Zydowski Komitet Narodowy), the ZOB’s political leadership, as well as a member of the Jewish Coordination Committee (the committee that coordinated with the Bund). Lubetkin participated in the ZOB’s first resistance operation in January 1943 and in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising in April 1943.

After the first days of fighting during the April 1943 uprising, the fighters were trapped in the bombed and burning ghetto. During this period Lubetkin served as a liaison to the groups of fighters who, together with the general population, had dug into the bunkers; she went between the various bunkers and maintained communication between the leadership of the rebellion and the fighters who remained in the burning ghetto. The day before they were discovered by the Germans, the ZOB command, located at 18 Mila Street, decided that Lubetkin should set out in order to find a connection to the outside via the sewage tunnels that led to the Aryan side. On May 10, 1943 she went through the sewers with the last of the fighters. To the end of her days she was haunted by the thought that she had abandoned her remaining friends to certain death. Until the end of the war she hid in Polish Warsaw, serving in the underground and in the rebellion there from August to October 1944, part of a ZOB company that joined the fighting units of the Gwardia Ludowa (the People’s Guard, a Polish underground army organization). Together with the last of the fighters, she was rescued from a hideout in November 1944. 

She was liberated in Warsaw in January 1945, together with Yizhak (Antek) Cukierman (Zuckerman, 1915–1981). Among the strongest advocates for revival of the movement and its rapid transfer to Palestine, she searched for every Jew, meeting the trains carrying returnees upon their arrival from the Soviet Union and establishing kibbutzim and training places. “However, apart from all the different approaches, we were all aware of one thing: we could not rebuild our ruined lives in Poland. … We saw before us tens of thousand of Jews and knew that the only solution for them was to get them out to Erez Israel immediately” (The Last Ones on the Wall). 

On learning that there were fifteen thousand Jews in Lublin, she and Zuckerman moved there, meeting the surviving members of the pioneering group who had gathered with Abba Kovner (1918–1987). Kovner presented his vision of a great exodus from Europe, and Lubetkin decided to emigrate to Palestine as quickly as possible. On March 1, 1945, equipped with a Greek refugee certificate, she left Lublin together with Kovner and the members of his group on the way to Romania. They were stopped at the border, arrested, questioned and released by a Jewish NKVD officer. When they reached Bucharest, they learned that the way to Palestine from Romania was blocked. Lubetkin returned to Warsaw and was forced to wait more than a year to reach Palestine.

While waiting to emigrate Lubetkin worked with fellow survivors to create the frameworks of Youth Aliya to rehabilitate survivors and absorb those who came from the Soviet Union, their intention being to ensure the political unification of the entire pioneer community.  As in the past, she was an important support for the members of the emerging group of young trainers and emissaries, who described her and Zuckerman as the “spiritual leaders of the survivors.” 

She left Poland in May 1946, traveling via Alexandria and in June arrived in Palestine where members of the Labor Movement, the Haganah, the Palmahand colleagues gave her an extraordinary reception. The couple did not know which kibbutz to choose as their new home. Zivia went to Yagur and it is possible to perceive her arrival there as the start of the social group of ghetto fighters. The first core group that later became Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta’ot (the Ghetto Fighters Kibbutz) formed in Yagur at Lubetkin’s initiative and through her energetic efforts. Alone or in small groups, survivors came to Yagur and gathered around her. In June 1947 this group, together with Lubetkin and Zuckerman (who were married that year), comprised fifty-two members, who together with “the core group in memory of the ghetto fighters,” numbered one hundred and forty. On April 19, 1949 the establishment of Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta’ot was announced. The groundbreaking ceremony took place on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 

Lubetkin and Zuckerman built their home and raised their family at Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta’ot. Lubetkin attended the Zionist Congress in Basel in 1946 as a representative of the United Kibbutz Movement. As she stepped onto the podium, the Congress rose to its feet to cheer the pioneer and fighter. She was embarrassed, but also deeply disappointed that the Congress discussions did not relate at all to the Holocaust apart from a ceremony devoid of any representative of the ghetto fighters. 

Lubetkin became an emissary of the movement and was later active in the secretariat of the United Kibbutz Movement, the Histadrut and the Zionist Organization. She combined manual labor on the kibbutz with public activity. Although she was one of the founders of the Itzhak Katzenelson House of Testimony on the Holocaust and Rebellion, she chose not to occupy herself with memorializing and documenting. She likewise chose not to be a public figure. She lived as an ordinary member of her kibbutz home until her death on July 11, 1978, at age sixty-four. Her children, Shimon (b. 1947) and Yael (b. 1949), were born in Kibbutz Lohamei ha-Getta’ot, where they still live. 

Lubetkin’s book In the Days of Destruction and Revolt was published in 1979.

No comments:

Post a Comment