Israel Report

August 2002         

A Train in Poland

by Nissan Ratzlav-Katz - August 27, 2002
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 was the destruction of eastbound train tracks in order to prevent the transport of German troops to the Russian front and of Jews to their internment and ultimate death in Nazi concentration camps.

On one occasion, 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 canyon depths, 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 had heard the sound of people talking excitedly and crying. Inside was a group of Jews dressed in their finest clothes and grasping suitcases filled with their possessions—as if they were on their way to a long vacation. 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, initially refusing to believe that their liberators were Jewish themselves.

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 taking them to their deaths. “After all, the Germans told us that this was an evacuation to the East for military purposes,” they insisted, with a glance at the dark, foreboding Polish woods, “and who would 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 them by cajoling, pleading and crying but nothing helped and so they returned 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 enemies.

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 they are waiting for new leadership among the Arabs, they are really 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 Oslo appeasement pose what they deem to be a rhetorical question; “what’s the alternative?” The Belgian Jews in that Polish forest also grappled with “what’s the alternative?” They asked themselves: the woods or the camps? Total defiance or cooperation in an effort to appease our enemies? The answer to those condemned Jews, and to their modern day fellow-travelers now stuck on the “peace train”, has to be the same one given by my grandfather and his unit of partisans: the alternative, my brethren, is to take responsibility for yourselves and to live.

Nissan Ratzlav-Katz is Opinion Editor for

©2002 - Arutz Sheva -

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