WARSAW - The powerful, muscle-bound figures on the monument designed by Nathan Rappaport in memory of the Warsaw Ghetto fighters emphasized the emptiness of the square that was once a lively Jewish area, and later a killing ground. None of its inhabitants resembled the strong people on the sculpture. They were heroes of a different ilk.

The last of these heroes were central to the event marking the 65th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising. This was the last memorial ceremony of the old era, whose witnesses still live among us, and the first ceremony of the new era, in which Poland is confronting its past.

The two presidents, Lech Kaczynski and Shimon Peres, have made themselves architects of history, establishing a bridge linking these two periods. Both chose every word carefully to serve this goal. In his address, Peres spoke of "a new Poland" that has "set out on a new road;" Among Kaczynski's warm words was a pledge for a "strong Israel."

The event drew important people from around the world, among them French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner and U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff. But even these VIPS were extras in the great spectacle of the heroes of the uprising, the Jewish partisans and the survivors.

The Polish Parliament devoted a special session to the event, and the Polish media covered it continuously. For them, these were not only Jewish heroes, they were Poles, part of their history.

"This is a memorial day for the Polish people," said Kaczynski, summing up the feeling at the ceremony at the presidential palace for those he called "the preservers of memory."

Ghetto fighter Simcha Rotem waxed somewhat cynical when he told Haaretz: "Maybe the Israelis will someday learn to remember and appreciate," before being then swallowed up by the admiring Polish media.

The daughter of Penina Grynspan, a ghetto fighter, said she had never seen her mother moved, except this morning.

Grynspan had been invited by her commander, the legendary Marek Edelman, to witness his being awarded the French Legion of honor medal. He was now in a wheelchair, but he was still her commander.

Peres moved those present when he injected the word "vengeance" with new meaning, saying that the establishment of the state, victory in seven wars and the aspiration to peace were "Jewish vengeance." The Polish president, once mayor of Warsaw, described the unimaginable details of the ghetto - 450,000 people concentrated in an area of four square kilometers, and two years later, the systematic deportation of 6,000 a day to the extermination camps.

Perhaps the inscription in Polish on the common grave of the fighters captured the spirit of the moment: "Buried where they fell, a sign that the whole land is their grave."

Yesterday's event also restored the honor of the uprising's Beitar fighters, led by Pavel Frankel, with both Peres and Kaczynski frequently mentioning the contribution of these figures, long historically sidelined.

A small reminder of a different Poland outside the presidential palace could not mark the great spirit of the moment - a few demonstrators with a poster: "Poland will not be a second Palestine," that is, it will not be stolen by the Jews.


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