Search our Archives:
» Opinion & Society
A Train in Poland
My grandfather, of blessed memory, was an underground fighter – a partisan –
in Nazi-occupied Poland during World War II. One of the main objectives of
the partisans at the time was the destruction of eastbound train tracks, in
order to prevent both the transport of German troops to the Russian front
and the transport of Jews to their internment and ultimate deaths in Nazi
concentration camps in the East.
On one occasion in 1944, my grandfather told me, his unit of partisan fighters blew
up a railroad bridge and waited in ambush. When the train eventually
approached, and was forced to stop in order to avoid plummeting into the
depths of a canyon, the partisans charged aboard and killed all of the Nazi
troops who were manning the cars. Afterwards, the partisans opened a
passenger car from which they heard the sound of people excitedly talking
and crying. Inside was a group of Jews dressed in their finest clothes and
grasping suitcases filled with possessions – as if they were on their way to
a long vacation. For their part, the Jews on board were shocked and
apprehensive about the strange-looking people from the woods who had
attacked their train and killed all of the Nazi soldiers. My grandfather
told me that the rescued Jews, who moments before had been locked in the
car, at first refused to believe that their liberators were Jewish
After some discussion, it became clear that the Jews in the railroad car
were from occupied Belgium. The partisans described what awaited them in the
Nazi concentration camps, but the Belgian Jews refused to believe their
ears. They protested to the wild Jews from the forest that it was utterly
impossible that the train was to take them to their deaths. “After all, the
Germans told us that this was evacuation east for military purposes,” and,
with a glance at the dark, foreboding Polish woods, "Who can believe that the cosmopolitan Germans would plan such a thing as you are telling us?
In fact, the opposite is the case, we have to try and survive under the
terms set by the Germans – your way is dangerous and only brings down the
fury of the Germans on all the Jews.” The partisans tried to convince,
cajole, plead, cry – nothing helped. They had to return to the sanctuary of
the forest before the arrival of Nazi reinforcements.
The Belgian Jews waited patiently for the train to be repaired. Then, they
continued on their journey eastward.
That story is one of the saddest, most chilling stories from that most sad
and chilling period in history. However, more chilling is our failure to
learn from those who have come before us. We still, in the words of Elie
Wiesel, trust the promises of our friends more than the threats of our
While it is undeniably true that today’s train, the Arab-Israeli “peace
train”, has run off the tracks, there are still those obstinate people who
insist on remaining on board until the Arabs come to repair the train and
carry all of us, for the sake of peace, of course, to our final destination.
When Jewish leaders say that all that they are waiting for is a new
leadership among the Arabs, they are saying that they are waiting for a new
crew to fix the derailed train. They have no intention of leaving the train
and confronting the truth of its ultimate destination.
Often, those Jewish leaders mired in the ideology of Olso appeasement pose
what they deem to be a rhetorical question, “What’s the alternative?” The
Belgian Jews in that Polish forest also made a calculation of “what’s the
alternative.” They asked themselves: the woods or the camps? Total defiance
or cooperation in an effort to appease our attackers? The answer to those
now stuck in the “peace train” has to be
the same as the response of my grandfather and his unit of partisans to the
condemned Belgian Jews: the alternative, my brethren, is to take
responsibility for yourselves and to live.
Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is Opinion Editor for IsraelNationalNews.com.
from the September 2002 Edition of the Jewish Magazine