This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day will focus on the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, which took place 70 years ago. The uprising was the largest single revolt by Jews during the Holocaust.
Among those who were to be honored with lighting one of six memorial flames at the official state ceremony was Peretz Hochman, who fought in the Polish uprising in Warsaw that followed the ghetto uprising.
Peretz was born in Warsaw in 1927, and was named Pavel. He was the fourth of eight siblings.
When the Warsaw Ghetto was built his older brothers remained outside, while he and his parents and younger brother Zanek were trapped within. As the situation in the ghetto grew increasingly desperate, Peretz and Zanek managed to escape to the Polish part of the city and to pass themselves off as non-Jewish Poles.
The two sold cigarettes and newspapers and smuggled food and clothing to their parents. Their father Binyamin died of hunger despite their efforts, and their mother Miriam was shot and murdered in a Nazi operation in the ghetto in 1942.
When the Warsaw Ghetto uprising broke out in 1943 Zanek was in the ghetto. He was caught and taken to the train station to be deported along with thousands of others, but managed to escape to the Polish part of town, where he found Peretz.
On the eve of the Polish rebellion in Warsaw the next year, Peretz and Zanek joined the Polish underground.
“Volunteering for the Polish rebellion was a way of getting revenge on the Germans for my brother and I,” Peretz later said. “Whenever they needed a volunteer for a difficult mission, I volunteered. The commanders held me up as an example of a dedicated soldier.
“All I wanted was to hurt the Germans… My life wasn’t important to me. In a certain sense, something inside me was already dead, so I wasn’t afraid of death,” he said.
Peretz and Zanek were among those who survived the Polish rebellion. They were taken to a German POW camp disguised as Polish soldiers.
After the war Peretz was decorated for valor by the Polish army. He and Zanek returned to Warsaw, where they found their older brother Leon.
The brothers made their way to the land of Israel, then under the British Mandate. Peretz joined the kibbutz (agricultural cooperative) Shaar Hagolan. He fought in the War of Independence and was wounded.
Peretz passed away several days ago, shortly before he was to have lit the memorial flame. He is survived by widow Sima, three children and several grandchildren.
Sima will light the candle in his place.