So what have they done to our very Yiddish so?
because he claimed that a group of 16 Poles, led by himself, had fought for one day alongside the ZZW at Muranowska; his son had died in the fight. Thus, Yad Vashem early on recognised the ZZW as such. The problem was that, as it was later proved, Iwanski, a cheat and a liar, never had a son (only an illegitimate daughter), never set foot in the ghetto, and had invented the whole story, probably at the behest of the postwar Communist regime in Poland in order to set one group of Jews against the other. Two excellent historians, Dariusz Libionka of Poland and Laurence Weinbaum of Israel, collaborated in writing the history of the ZZW, the translation of its Polish title being Heroes, Hucksters, and Storytellers (Warsaw, 2011); hopefully a Hebrew and an English translation will appear before long. They identified the ZZW commander as a young man (probably 21 or 22 years old) who went by the name of Pawel Frenkel, whether that was a pseudonym or not. The weapons the ZZW obtained came from a shady group of Polish wheelers and dealers, called the “Security Corps” (Korpus Bezpeczienstwa, or KB), who may have maintained some contact with the Germans, and in any case were treated with great suspicion by the mainstream Polish Underground, the “Home Army” (Armja Krajowa or AK). KB were out to get money, and the ZZW paid for the arms by forcing Jewish smugglers to cough up money (the ZOB did the same, with the blessing of the treasurer of the Joint Distribution Committee in the ghetto, David Guzik). One light machine gun, and small arms in some quantities, were obtained. The ZOB was initially refused all help by the AK command, and then given a number of Images from the Uprising: Fire breaks out (main picture); two Jewish resistance fighters arrested by German troops (top right), Nazi soldiers question Jews handguns, and instruction how to make hand grenades and electrically activated mines.
The ZZW fought valiantly at Muranowska, for three days; according to German sources, one German was killed, as were quite a number of ZZW fighters. After three days, the ZZW retreated through a tunnel to the Aryan side, but they were there betrayed by a Polish collaborator, possibly by someone of the KB, and many were killed by the Germans. The survivors then retreated to an area outside of Warsaw, but were soon found and killed by the Germans. No one survived, which is the basic reason for the silence about them. There were two other, smaller, groups of ZZW in other areas of the ghetto. The number of ZZW fighters is estimated to have been about 80 at Muranowska, and a few dozen in the other places, together probably some 120-130 at most.
ZOB comprised, not as we had thought (and I for one had written), 400 to 500 fighters, but probably 250 to 300. We wrote that it comprised 22 or 23 groups, organised by political of movement affiliation, and that the structure was a topdown military one. We now know that the number of the groups was in flux, the figure of 22-23 being an invention, and that while Anielewicz, aged 23/24, was certainly the charismatic leader, he (just as, probably, Frenkel of the ZZW) was the head of a committee that made the decisions. Within the ZOB, the most influential person, next to Anielewicz, was Zivia Lubetkin. She was the wife of Yitzhak “Antek” Zuckerman who was on the Aryan side trying, unsuccessfully, to get weapons to the ZOB from the Polish AK. Even that structure slowly became irrelevant, as ZOB groups, after the first few days, became increasingly isolated from the command post (at Mila Street 18), and had to act on their own, at night. Party and Movement membership became totally irrelevant, and the ZOB and the remnant of the ZZW merged as time went on.
The source for the original story of the ZOB were, as we now know, documents and pleas directed first and foremost at the AK command which, contrary to its claims, had enough weapons to supply the Jews with considerably more than it did. In order to impress the Poles and get more arms, ZOB described itself as a typically military organisation, with a command and organised units. It was not, and could not be. Both Jewish groups were underground movements run by committees at whose centre stood charismatic personalities, first among equals. It was precisely this loose, yet at the same time effective structure, that made it possible to withstand the tremendous German onslaught. ZZW, in effect, participated in it for three or four days, whereas ZOB units held out for months.
The overall picture has not changed. A hopeless fight, fought not for victory but, as a fighter in Cracow aligned with the ZOB said, for “three lines in history”. There are many more than three lines. It was not a legend, but a real event, done by very young and very real people who decided that radical evil must be met with resistance, armed if there is no other choice. That, basically, is the story. Kazik is still there to remind us.
Yehuda Bauer is professor of Holocaust Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
MORE THAN four decades ago, the American singer known simply as Melanie (surname Safka, rhyming with “Dafka” — which is kind of relevant to this column) created and widely performed a great song called, Look What They’ve Done To My Song, Ma.
My theme here echoes Melanie’s sentiments, with the slight alteration of “My” to “Our” and “Song” to “So”. What I am saying is: Look What They’ve Done To Our So, Ma. For, as the word “so” is turning day by day into a meaningless utterance, its wealth of real and potential meanings is being lost, including those that flow from what could justly be called “the Jewish so”.
For about a hundred years now, “so” has been threaded through Anglo-Jewish discourse as an anglicised version of the Yiddish “nu” and is regularly interlinked with it — So? Nu?
It has enlivened spoken English by giving it an expressive verbal shrug: What’s happening? And a means of urging somebody on: Are you just going to stand there, or what? Or a sarcastic rejoinder: You think I care? So many are the nuanced (or nu-anced) meanings implicit in that one little word.
But now, “so” is no longer a question but an answer. Not a proper, revealing answer but a mere preface to an answer. The interrogative Jewish infusion that has added flavour to a simple English word, is being drained away. Or, as Melanie sang about her song’s fate, “they’ve put it in a plastic bag and turned it upside down.”
Not that long ago, on radio and television news programmes, when the presenter in the studio cut to the reporter in the field to ask for an update — “What are those Israelis up to now, Jeremy?” Or, perhaps, “Lyse, can you tell us the latest about the rumours that Ken Livingstone is going to live on a kibbutz?” — the reporter would respond by saying: “Well…” which is a considered, reflective term indicating that the reporter is weighing up the matter carefully and thoughtfully before answering.
Now, by contrast, reporters respond: “So!” Which is calculated to leave a very different impression. The reporter is indicating that things are moving rapidly along and that he or she is on the case, moving along with them. We live in a world in which reflection and contemplation are no longer valued as highly as they once were. Now, our news is constant, quick, disposable; our conversation lacking imagination and leaning towards infantile conformism. Tempora mutantur, as the Yiddish saying has it.
Rather like the use of the phrase, “I’m good,” in reply to polite enquiries about one’s health, which I must confess makes my spine tingle (not in a good way) when uttered by somebody over 50, the modern over-use of “so” appears to be unstoppable.
It has eclipsed the recent, rather endearing, usage for exaggerated emphasis, as in “I sooooh do not want to go to that wedding”, “this chicken soup is sooooh delicious”. Or, in a lower key: “You are soooh Moneysupermarket” — incidentally the most complained about TV ad for the past two years running.
The new and relentless reliance on “so” as a conversational prop is something akin to the verbal tics of yesteryear’s inarticulates, as in those painful interviews with footballers who would say “y’know” every other sentence.
But “so” has spread far beyond such exchanges. Just listen to how many people structure their conversations as an agenda or menu of small points, each introduced by “So…”
Unlike “Omigod”, or the ubiquitous “like”, which is scattered at random through all kinds of speech, the newly spreading “so” is not confined to young people. Nor to any particular class or level of education. You can even hear academics on Melvyn Bragg’s highbrow In Our Time discussions on Radio 4 using it — repeatedly, even — to introduce their erudite points.
The decline of the “Jewish so”, with its intonation borrowed from “nu”, is happening more or less in sync with the rise of the automatic “so,” what Lenny Bruce would surely categorise as the “Goyish so”. Just like the transmission of actual words, like shlep or chutzpah, Yiddish inflection and gesture has enriched English.
And I’m sure that there are people who have grown up believing that “so”, like “aggravation” and “already”, is actually a Yiddish word.
And that’s what makes it so sad. Bad enough that “so” as meaningless reflex has reached epidemic proportions, but it has done this at the expense of a piece of Jewish linguistic fertility — oy gevalt!
Yes, Ma, look what they’ve done to our “so”. Even LXÝW\ on Radio Four use the new ‘so’