Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Fair winds and following seas

Irving Mitchberg, survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto:
Irving Milchberg, who has died aged 86, was the wartime leader of the “cigarette sellers of Three Crosses Square”, a gaggle of Jewish youths who sold smokes to German officers in wartime Warsaw while covertly spiriting food into the city’s ghetto and smuggling arms to the resistance. 


The Ostbahn workers became a channel to resistance units within the ghetto. Using a network of contacts, including an uncle and a tram-conductor , Milchberg smuggled in small arms hidden in hollowed-out loaves (the only food allowed through the barricades). The weapons added to the cache used by the Jewish fighters in the Warsaw Uprising of April and May 1943.

To the other boys and girls he was a natural chief. “In their eyes he was grown-up and experienced,” wrote Ziemian. “Bull had authority.” Milchberg, however, took a practical view of his wartime bravery. “To tell you the truth, I never thought much,” he said last year. “If I had to do something, I did it. I didn’t have time to analyse it.”
 It's quite a remarkable story about a remarkable man.  RTWT.

This was brought to my attention by reader Jeff, who emails:
As the reference to the cobbler shows, Many Poles were far from anti-Semitic. For some years in the 1980s and later, I took subcontract work from a Polish accountant living and working in Edinburgh. George had been an infantry officer at the start of the War, and had escaped encirclement by the Jerries. He and his company moved east, towards the Ukrainian border.

Round a bend, they came to a village on fire. It had been attacked by Ukrainian bandits. George led his company in an immediate charge, and they wiped out most of the Ukrainians. The village Jews had been slaughtered before George arrived, so he put the remaining bandits up against a wall.

You will probably guess that the Soviets were coming west, and George had to lead his men south. Decent, presumably anti-Soviet Ukrainians helped them. Eventually they escaped to Britain, and after service with us in North Africa and Italy, invaded France.

George himself did not make it to Germany: a shell went off close to him and left a dent in his forehead which never came out. I think I am right in remembering he had the Polish equivalent of the Victoria Cross. Given that the standard Polish military condition is Insanely Brave, that is remarkable.
Another remarkable man.  We are surrounded, but tend not to notice.


Goober said...

Jeez. I just had this mental picture of storming Post Falls, Idaho (the town next to mine) with a company of soldiers to run off a group of marauding Canadians who had just killed all of Post Falls' Jewish population.

The idea is so foreign to me that I can hardly comprehend it.

I'm sure that the idea was hard for George to comprehend, too.

The idea that a man who is an accountant was put into a situation where he made the decision to "put men against the wall" for genocide is just awful.

I'm trying to comprehend, but I just can't get there.

Dave H said...

I agree, Goober. Canadians aren't that organized unless they're on skates.


Seriously though, two things come to mind:

1) Regardless of what you, your neighbors, or your government might think, evil CAN happen.

2) When evil DOES happen, good people step up and smite the **** out of it.

Goober said...

Oh yeah, Dave. I'd be right there with you smiting like a boss, but it still is hard to comprehend that I'd ever need to.

Cap'n Jan said...

Hey, that title's my tag!

But since you've used it, I get to ask if you have read the Aubrey/Maturin series yet? (I have mentioned it before, but occasionally need to remention it ;->)

My guess is you will love the series. I have the entire series on audio and pretty much cycle through them while in the car. Well worth it and makes travel time so much more pleasant. I'm an avid reader, but everything now is compared to Patrick O'Brian. I maintain that never was such a writer. (Some compare him to Jane Austin, and I do love her novels, but O'Brian trumps all...)

Do not, do NOT make a comparison to the movie. The movie was good, but Crowe was no Aubrey and Maturin was one dimensional. Master and Commander the novel, the first of the series of 20 novels, is a brilliant character study.

Whether or no you are interested in the Napoleonic era, I am also sure having 'known' you for a few years now, you will appreciate the 'life lessons' available on 2nd 3rd and 4th readings...

Sorry for gushing, but if you read Master and Commander and do not hanker for more, I would be very surprised. The very best of narrators is Patrick Tull. I do suggest listening. The artistry of the reader is amazing. He makes you believe you are hearing the very words... He becomes his characters.

Fair Winds and Following Seas - Indeed!

Cap'n Jan