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Warsaw marks 70 years since 'dignified' ghetto uprising

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Warsaw city authorities on Thursday recalled the ghetto uprising here 70 years ago as a doomed but "dignified" bid by hundreds of young poorly-armed Jews to throw off their Nazi German oppressors.

"The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising was the first instance of an urban revolt in Nazi-occupied Europe," the capital's city council said in a statement.

"With no chance of success, it was a desperate act of choosing a dignified death with arms in hand, as well as a chance to take revenge on the oppressors by hundreds of fighters," it added.

Poland's chief rabbi Michael Schudrich said this 70th anniversary, which is on Friday, was special not only for the round number but because "we still have among us those who actually fought".

"There's a sense that we have an obligation to make sure we really remember to pay tribute now while we still can hear from (the fighters) and so we can thank them for what they did," he told AFP Thursday.

Around 7,000 Jews died in the ghetto uprising, most of them burned alive, and more than 50,000 were sent to the Treblinka death camp.

But several dozens managed to survive by escaping through the sewers.

One of those survivors present for the anniversary ceremonies is 89-year-old Simcha "Kazik" Rotem, who never thought he would live through the revolt.

"We didn't think we were going to win against the Germans. That was clear," the Jerusalem-based Pole told AFP Wednesday at the opening of a Holocaust-themed art exhibition in Warsaw.

"As for me, I wanted to choose a nicer, more decent death than at the gas chambers," he said.

Poland has planned a host of events around the anniversary, including a prayer service at the capital's only synagogue that survived the war and a midnight concert at the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes.

Facing the memorial is a new museum which opens Friday to celebrate the rich 1,000-year heritage of Polish Jews, a presence broken by the Holocaust.

The design itself of the Museum of the History of Polish Jews reflects that break: a wide fracture splits the facade of the luminous glass building.

"The Germans attempted to wipe out the Jewish community of Poland. They almost succeeded, and here this museum is a tribute to those who created Jewish life for over a millennium," Schudrich told AFP.

"And in some ways also to show the continuity, that it still goes on."

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130418/warsaw-marks-70-years-dignified-ghetto-uprising