To Die Free: The Warsaw Ghetto Tether
By Matthew Webb
Warning: Thoughts herein may be disturbing or upsetting to others. I recognize this is a sensitive subject to this day, and I try to handle such things with the most respect possible.
"Of course, I can answer your question, and I can see in your eyes that you can and will pay the price required. Yes, I was there in those final days, those final moments. I walked amongst the Jewry and the ghettos. I watched the children begging for bread after sneaking over the cinder-block walls. Even I had no idea what was coming, the explosion of passion and fury that would come from that place. I was there to wonder at God's Chosen People... yes, I say that with contempt, to this day I have little mercy or sorrow for those who called me 'child-killer'. Their chains were so obvious, and even after it was obvious those chains were leading them to their own deaths, they would not break them."
"And then they finally broke them, and the Symphony shook with the sound."
The city of Warsaw was a city divided, a city under siege and a city occupied all at the same time. In the 1940s, celestial activity in what was considered the cultural capital of Eastern Europe was reserved, almost to the point of impotence. Neither angels nor demons had any great sway over the German occupiers, and only a modicum of position within the local police and other institutions. Roles had been shattered, many of the local celestials lie in trauma after the extended bombing and siege of the city, and every Tether had been gutted and destroyed by the blind carpet violence of the mortal armies or by the other side exploiting the opportunity during the chaos of war.
When the Germans ordered all Poles of Jewish descent or religion into the walled ghetto in 1941, the angels were in no position to resist it. What angels that survived occupied themselves with lessening the suffering. Those few peace factioners who had the energy to continue on amongst the flames of war occupied themselves with helping the wounded, sick and starving. Gabrielites were encouraged to leave - for acting out their vengeance upon a German soldier or the corrupt and cruel police officers of the city only brought down death and destruction upon those mortals they were trying to avenge. And the war faction had mostly moved on to more "active" fronts.
The suffering and starvation in the ghetto continued for a year. Corpses of those who died of starvation or sickness piled up in the streets, gathered every morning at 5 o'clock sharp by wagons "generously" supplied by the occupied government. And as the horror continued, the Judenrat, the government of the ghetto that served the Germans as a tool to control the Jewry, told everyone to be calm and to persevere as their people always had. Both sides were convinced the other had agents within it. They did not. Both sides were convinced of a grand plot by the other. There was not one.
Lilith began to walk among them in 1942. After witnessing the Winter War of the Finns against the Soviets, a war which gave the name to the Molotov cocktail, she casually strolled down into this pit of tyranny and despair. She was of two minds, for she despised the patriarchal law-giving culture of these people, yet the oppression and tyranny weighed heavily against her Word. She thought as she walked among them, a beautiful creature amongst the dirt and grime. She became a minor myth, and the small children went to their mothers and fathers and said they had seen an lovely angel walk the streets of the ghetto last night. That amused her, but that was not the reason she stayed. She felt something deep within her. She felt a foreboding of things to come, and she wished to see the end of this measure within the Symphony.
The Germans finally came in that year's warm summer. The "Angel of the Ghetto" watched as the powerful storm troopers rolled in with trucks and barbed wire, and collected the helpless. Three hundred thousand were taken from the ghetto. The Nazis took the weak and the sick. They took the old and the young. They took those who could not defend themselves and were of no use in the labor pools. Lilith watched as those trucks loaded trains, and those trains steamed loudly toward Treblinka, where she already felt the rhythmic pounding of a Tether forming.
A scant sixty thousand were left to carry on their shattered lives. They had cowered in fear as their lovers, their children, their parents and their friends had been beaten and taken away. Their lives were stripped from them by faceless helmeted thugs, and they did nothing. The anger began to swell against the dam of fear, and the planning began. Resistance groups began swelling with numbers. Weapons began to be gathered and fortifications made. "Never again" became a motto here long before anywhere else.
Lilith felt the anger and the fury. She felt it, and she waited.
In January of 1943, the Jewish Fighting Organization successfully drove back a second invasion by the German army to gather a small group of new prisoners. Unexpecting troopers retreated as they were fired upon from windows and alleys by the urban guerillas. Lilith smiled as the oppressors ran from the oppressed, but expected little would come of it. The thrashing of a dying animal is what it seemed to be.
The nineteenth day of that April proved her wrong. The Germans had decided to gather every last Jew from the Ghetto, and a full scale operation was begun. And the moment they entered, there was fighting. In the heart of the German-occupied territory, a scant thousand men armed themselves with smuggled weapons and fought the greatest military machine mankind had ever known.
And they won.
The Germans fled from sniper fire, booby-trapped basements and ceaseless gunfire. But they soon returned, and the fight was on. A thousand desperate men fought off ten times their number in trained soldiers for one month as the Nazis attempted to occupy the ghetto. The choice was finally made to systematically decimate the ghetto and all its buildings. The ghetto would never be retaken by the Germans, only its dead corpse.
The Jews of Warsaw had not made the choice to fight on their feet or live on their knees.
They had not even made the choice to die on their feet or live on their knees.
They had made the choice to die fighting rather than die serving, and that is a powerful choice indeed.
And Lilith smiled, as a sweet thundering sound of a Tether to Freedom appeared on that lonely April day.
Today, the Tether covers all of the former Warsaw Ghetto in downtown Warsaw. Its focus is on Leszno Street, where the first shot of the uprising was fired. Its current Seneschal, a Lilim by the name of Mordeka, claimed it after riding with the Soviets into Warsaw in 1944. She takes the form of a quiet young woman with sharp features and dark hair. She watches the Tether closely, walking the streets at all hours.
Lilith is pleased with her new territory. It has lasted a considerable amount of time for one of her Tethers. Like the Winter War that came before it, it showed that passion and the will for freedom could overcome an industrial tyranny. The local demons know that Mordeka demands chimenage for using or abusing her tether grounds and thus avoid the area unless they have business with Mordeka or Lilith. Local angels, even those serving the most war-like Archangels, refuse to consider plans to assault the Tether - if only out of respect and the dream that it could be shifted to a divine word such as War or Stone.
Mordeka is of two minds as she walks the streets, much like her mother once was. She has learned much about the human spirit from the story of her Tether and the words of survivors who have visited here from time to time. She has watched tyrants fall and freedom ring true - the kind of selfless true freedom that sings within pure hearts. Her dedication to her mother is fierce, but as she wonders at that which men will do not for their own freedom but for the freedom of others... a few bright specks begin shining in her soul.
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