Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The Mosquito

It happened 73 years ago nearly to the day, on 19th April 1943. My grandfather Zdzislaw told me about it one evening as we sat in his tiny kitchen at a laminate table piled with bills and newspapers.
           It had been a warm spring day in Warsaw. The daffodils in the park were the color of the sun, the sky a dusky blue. But the dull grey uniforms of Nazi soldiers patrolling the streets were more noticeable.  On the ‘Aryan’ side of the Warsaw ghetto wall, Zdzislaw sat in a streetcar packed with men of sullen faces He alighted at a wide road, near Krasinski square.  He noticed two flags fluttering above the wall, one Polish and one with the blue star of David.  Drawing closer, he heard voices from inside the ghetto. Someone yelled through a megaphone, "we are uprising against the Germans and we will fight them!”
Zdislaw saw German soldiers and SS rushing into the square.  Streetcars were blocked in. Startled passengers emptied out into the street. He watched horrified as mortars boomed, blasting buildings inside the ghetto. Screams and dust spilled over the wall. A thin powder fell on the bystanders.
Crowds gathered close to the walls. Women cried. Others looked on in admiration. A few said, ‘let them burn!’ 
Zdzislaw scuttled along the wall, down Swietojerska Street, toward the railway station where he worked as an engineer building warehouses. He’d escaped the ghetto nearly nine months before and couldn’t afford to be spotted carrying false papers.
 Fighting continued throughout the day. The Polish underground attempted to break down the ghetto wall at Bonifraterska Street to help those trapped inside. The boom of cannons and the rat-tat-tat of gunfire rattled windows in apartments and shops. The city buzzed with stories. People told of hundreds of dead Germans, wrecked tanks, and wounded, frightened soldiers carted off to hospitals.
That evening, Zdzislaw traveled in a streetcar back across the city. Passengers nattered excitedly about the rebellion. Most admired the Jews for taking a stand against the enemy.  Suddenly someone sitting across from him yelled, "the ghetto is burning!  The Jews are burning, and we will finally be rid of them."
Passengers turned in their seats. Some threw punches at the man, who bolted for the door and scrambled from the carriage.


My grandfather’s experience reminds me that it often takes human suffering to connect us to those who might be ethnically or religiously different.  In his case, it was the Nazi regime.  Hitler’s goal was not only to kill Polish Jews, it was to purge all of
Poland, to ‘remove the subhuman Slavic population’(i), turning many into slave labor to serve a Germanic state (ii).
Today you can take your pick – it could be the Syrian father fleeing Assad and ISIS, as fearful of the medieval barbarism as we are, or a pregnant woman lugging water up a hill in the favela slums of Brazil, swatting mosquitos that could infect her with the Zika virus.
The mosquito does not care about the color of your skin, or if you cover your head or raise your arms to pray.  A bite is a bite.    
Photo courtesy of http://www.cdc.gov/


[i] Forgus, Silvia P. "German nationality policies in Poland: Bismarck and Hitler."East European Quarterly 20, no. 1 (1986): 108.

[ii] ibid : 114.

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