Advanced Search Filters

In addition to or instead of a keyword search, use one or more of the following filters when you search.

Skip to main content

1 of 14 items in

Wartime Jewish Press

Bookmark this Item

"Lessons from the Recent Past"

Lessons from the recent past, Der ruf, Warsaw ghetto, newspaper article 1942
Der ruf no. 1, Warsaw ghetto, May 15, 1942

Orders, regulations, and restrictions published in newspapers communicated to Jews the Nazi policy to control (and, eventually, destroy) Jewish life in the territory under German occupation.1 But these newspapers were far outnumbered by underground Jewish publications—both inside and outside of the ghettos in German-occupied Europe.

Publications in the underground press were usually typewritten or mimeographed, printed on bulk paper, and passed by hand to trusted contacts. It was difficult to find printing paper during the war, especially for Jews producing underground publications. Distribution was also a problem, because print is bulky and difficult to move around without being noticed. Even so, there were dozens of such publications, and they reached many Jews throughout Europe.

The print runs of these newspapers were limited, but they were often passed on by hand to other trusted readers. Each copy likely reached dozens of eager readers. Deciding whom to offer the news bulletin to next was tricky. It had to be a trusted person, for distributing illegal press—especially outlawed Jewish press—was often punished by death. But underground publications were still distributed widely, and most people were aware of their existence.

The Warsaw ghetto alone boasted around fifty underground press titles.2 These newspapers differed in their outlooks, physical and literary qualities, and readership—the prewar political lines in the sand were rarely crossed in the press, and each newspaper voiced the worldview of its political supporters. They advanced views ranging from the various brands of mainstream and revisionist Zionism to leftwing ideologies like socialism and communism. These newspapers were published in Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew.

Der ruf ("The Call") was one of the several leftwing journals published and distributed in the ghetto in 1942. It was published by a coalition of communist, socialist, and pro-labor Zionist groups. In May 1942—a year and a half into ghetto life—Der ruf published an article in which the authors imagined the possibilities of a future Polish state for all communities in Poland. Given their allegiance to the Soviet Union, the activists behind Der ruf would not criticize Soviet policy towards interwar Poland. This article shows that they believed that Jewish life after the war would be firmly tied to a strong and socialist Polish state.

Jüdisches Nachrichtenblatt (Jewish Journal) was the "official" Jewish newspaper published throughout Germany and in the German Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia. Gazeta żydowska was the equivalent of the Nachrichtenblatt in Kraków, the "capital" of the Generalgouvernement. For more on the Nachrichtenblatt, see the related items in Experiencing History "Saxa Loquuntur" and "As an Emigrant in Shanghai."

For more details about the underground press in the Warsaw ghetto, which also describes this phenomenon in general, see Israel Gutman, The Jews of Warsaw, 1939-1943: Ghetto, Underground, Revolt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1989); and Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).

The palace in Warsaw that was once the residence of Polish kings and in the nineteenth century was occupied and used by the Russian rulers of Poland. This paragraph is a reference to the partition of Poland in the late 18th century by neighboring Prussia and Russia.

In opposition to the Soviet Union.

Anton Denikin (1872-1947), one of the leading generals of the anti-communist White Army in the Russian Civil War (1918-1921). The Allies viewed Denikin in particular as the leader of the White forces and began to support him financially after the retreat of the German army in 1918 left a power vacuum in Ukraine. It was also under Denikin's rule that some of the worst pogroms against the Jews in Ukraine during the Civil War were carried out.

The 1920 Kiev Offensive, a turning point in the Polish-Bolshevik War of 1919-1920. Polish armies advanced through Ukrainian lands and took Kiev in April 1920; however, they were driven out by the Bolsheviks and forced to retreat in June of that year. When the Red Army reached Warsaw in August 1920, the Poles organized a fierce resistance, driving back the Bolsheviks and winning the war.

Also known as the Peace of Riga or the Treaty of Riga, concluded on March 18, 1921.

Marshal Józef Piłsudski (1867-1935), the commander-in-chief of the Polish army and head of state during the Polish-Bolshevik War. After a brief retreat from politics, Piłsudski led a victorious coup in 1926, and he maintained supreme political influence until his death in 1935.

Peter Wrangel (1878-1928), a commanding general of the White Army. He replaced Denikin in the final stages of the Civil War.

Alexander Kolchak (1874-1920), a commanding White Army general who ruled out of Omsk, in Siberia, and eventually marched west, advancing almost to the Volga. Kolchak was heavily supported by the Western allies. They, however, soon became disillusioned with the corruption of the Kolchak regime and the mass desertion that followed the forced conscription of peasants. The Kolchak offensive came to an end in April 1919, when the Red Army forced him to retreat. After his resignation in January 1920, Kolchak was taken by the Bolsheviks and shot in February 1920.

As a socialist publication and a member of the Anti-Fascist Bloc, a coalition of communist and labor Zionist groups, Der ruf would naturally have portrayed the Soviet Union in a positive light. Here, for example, they omitted what everyone in Poland knew: that the Soviet Union occupied the eastern part of Poland in the fall of 1939, in accordance with the secret annex of the Ribbentrop-Molotov agreement.

The Central Industrial Region, the brainchild of vice premier and Minister of the Treasury Eugeniusz Kwiatkowski, was a project initiated in 1936 to develop a particular industrial region of Poland. Kwiatkowski launched a four-year plan with the goal of developing Polish industrial capabilities and, specifically, its own military industry. In reality, the Central Industrial Region was situated a relatively long distance from both the western and the eastern borders of Poland, in case of future invasion from either side. Its western border lay east of both Łódź and Kraków, and it was based on the concept of the "security triangle" developed in Poland in the 1920s. However, it obviously failed to withstand the German blitzkrieg in 1939. The Polish state took on the main financial burden for the project, with additional assistance from French loans.

Józef Beck (1894-1944), Polish foreign minister from 1932 until the outbreak of World War II.

Edward Śmigły-Rydz (1886-1941), marshal of Poland after the death of Piłsudski.

A confederation of Polish noblemen who opposed the movement for Polish political reform of the late eighteenth century that culminated in a new Polish constitution of May 1791. In response to the constitution, and in defense of the old order, these magnates drew up their own manifesto under the guidance of the Russian empress Catherine II in St. Petersburg. The Act was announced on May 14, 1792 in the town of Targowica. It led directly to further Russian intervention and to the final two partitions of Poland.

"Sanacja"—literally, cleansing. The political system introduced by Piłsudski following his coup in 1926. Initial goals included reform of the economic and political conditions that had marked Poland in preceding years.

Close Window Expand Source Viewer

This browser does not support PDFs. Please download the PDF to view it: .

Der ruf                                                                                                                         May 1 [19]42

Lessons from the recent past


Postwar Poland rose up to life again as a new, independent state due to the disintegration of the state apparatus of its rulers. If the German masses had not removed Wilhelm II and his generals from power in November 1918, the German occupier would have remained on Polish soil. And if the Russian masses had allowed for a restoration of the bourgeois regime, a tsarist general would have continued to rule in Warsaw's Belvedere.1

The Poland that rose up once again found mighty protectors in the capitalistic western states. French and English financial capital entrusted Poland with a mission: to be a bastion of capitalism in the East.2 When the hopes (and also the money…) that the Western states had placed in Denikin3 and the other White generals did not bring the desired results, Poland, with the help of worldwide capital, organized its march on Kiev.4 This march failed just as badly as all the other armed attempts at intervention against the young Soviet regime.

The Riga Peace Agreement5 between Poland and the Soviet Union did not place only purely Polish provinces—ethnographically speaking—at Poland's disposal, but also provinces that were inhabited by other national elements. In the Ukrainian and Belorussian provinces, the noble stratum was Polish, but the broad masses of workers and peasants were Ukrainian or Belorussian. The fact that Poland was initially built as a nationally mixed state, where national oppression became an organized component of the system of rule, led to sharp internal conflicts in Poland itself from the very beginning, and therefore constituted Poland's internal weakness.

The Riga Peace Agreement did not open a period of truly peaceful relations between Poland and the Soviet Union. Piłsudski6 later openly acknowledged that in the years 1924-25, after Lenin's death, he devised more or less concrete plans of aggression against the Soviet Union.

However, neither the means nor determination sufficed in order to realize these plans. And those giving orders in London or Paris, after their bitter experience with Denikin, Wrangel,7 and Kolchak,8 were not in a hurry to repeat, once again, an intervention scandal against the Soviet Union. It was therefore necessary to wait patiently and watch for the appropriate moment. Piłsudski, the embodiment of the Polish military spheres, rode up to power again and gradually reorganized the Polish state machine along military lines. The greatest part of the Polish state budget, not controlled by anyone, went for militaristic purposes. This most certainly would not have been a misfortune if the Polish army had prepared for resistance and struggle against a real assailant. Unfortunately, however, this was not the case. The target of Polish aggressive politics was the Soviet Union, precisely the state that had declared Poland's right to free self-determination in the year 1917. The Soviet Union, with its socialist outlook, could not have had and also did not have any aggressive intentions towards Poland.9 Not so the Polish ruling strata. The western borders of Poland were not fortified and remained without protection; the center of gravity of Polish military preparations was transferred to the East. In the decisive hour it turned out that the Polish army was not prepared for resistance against its true enemy. 

When Hitler came to power in Germany, thanks to the assistance of international capital, the Polish masses suddenly sensed that the true danger threatened from the West—from Hitler's Germany. How then did the Polish ruling circles, the Polish government proceed? Contrary to the national interests of Poland, they formed close ties with aggressive Germany. All doors and gates were left open for Hitler's agents. With the participation of German capital, they set out to build the Central Industrial District (COP) in direct proximity to Germany, almost in the reach of German artillery in the conditions of a blitzkrieg.10

The direct executors of this particular political line were Beck11 and Rydz-Śmigły.12 It is difficult to find a similar example in Polish history of anti-Polish politics administered by Poles in power. Even a comparison with the famous Targowica Confederation13 does not hold up because its members needed 100 years in order to destroy a torn and weakened Poland, while Sanacja14 accomplished the same over the course of a few years...

Poland fell. It fell because the reactionary individuals in power, contrary to the interests of the broad masses, harnessed it to the chariot of fascism. The Polish people is now paying for these criminal politics—with a tremendous number of victims, with blood, and with slavery.

The history of the political sins of the Polish government is a sad history. We would remain silent about it, since now is not the time to touch on it in detail. If we have dwelled on it in passing, it is only because—in the words of the great Polish poet Adam Mickiewicz—when a man turns backward, he is given a strong impetus to leap forward.

In the current moment, the decisive leap is being prepared in the battle for Poland. The masses in Poland, recalling the tragic lessons and experiences from the years 1918-39, must not allow the old treason and old political crimes to repeat themselves.

The struggle for a strong, independent and free Poland goes on because until now, Poland has neither been free, nor independent, nor strong!

Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Der ruf no. 1, Warsaw ghetto, May 15, 1942
Date Created
May 15, 1942
Page(s) 3
Der ruf
Warsaw, Poland
Document Type Newspaper Article
How to Cite Museum Materials

Thank You for Supporting Our Work

We would like to thank The Alexander Grass Foundation for supporting the ongoing work to create content and resources for Experiencing History. View the list of all donors and contributors.


Learn more about sources for your classroom