Warsaw Ghetto


The Ghetto was established in November 1940 and was the largest Jewish ghetto in occupied Europe. When the ghetto was at its largest in 1941, the ghetto’s population was about 450,000. This represented about 30 percent of Warsaw’s total population. Warsaw was the city after New York with the largest proportion of Jewish residents. These inhabitants lived on an area of about 400 hectares, which corresponded to 2.4 percent of Warsaw’s total area.

The Ghetto was surrounded by a wall and barred from the rest of the city and it was only allowed to leave or visit the ghetto with special permits. Residents of the ghetto were assigned 253 calories per day/person, non-Jewish poles were assigned 2353 calories per day/person and Germans were assigned 5613 calories per day. As in other ghettos, there was a great shortage of food, medicine and other supplies. The spread of typhoid was therefore extensive.

In 1942, the Nazis began deporting Warsaw’s jews to Treblinka. The deportations took place from umschlagplatz (location site) in the northern part of the ghetto. Deportations continued throughout the year and rumors of Treblinka reached the residents of the ghetto. In january 1943, a minor uprising was carried out in the ghetto when the nazis started the second major action against the jews (the first action was between july and september 1942). The uprising lasted only a few days but it must still be seen as a temporary victory for the rioters because only 5000 of the planned 8000 deportations could be carried out.

But the inhabitants of the ghetto understood that the Nazis would come back for a final liquidation of the ghetto. For this reason, the Jewish fighting organisations Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ZOB) and Zydowski Zwiazek Wojskowy (ZZW) began, as far as possible, to smuggle in weapons and prepare a defence. When the nazis began the final settlement on April 19, 1943, the jews were able to defend themselves to some extent in a way they had not previously done. The Jews had good local knowledge of the ghetto both above and below ground, thereby delaying the cleansing actions by primarily hiding in the sewers and in bunkers.

But the Nazis slowly but surely drove the Jews out of their hiding places by blowing up the houses and using both flamethrowers and tear gas. On May 8, the Nazis located the command center at Mila 18, which resulted in most of the rebellion’s leadership being killed or committed suicide. For lack of leadership, the majority of other armed Jews surrendered a week later. The former ghetto was in ruins.

As a symbolic end to the fighting, the Nazi commander SS-Brigadeführer Jürgen Stroop blew up Warsaw’s great synagogue on May 16. Sporadic fighting continued until early June 1943. Among the ruins, the Nazis set up a concentration camp where one of the tasks for the prisoners was to clear up the former ghetto. The camp was called KL Warschau and was submitted to Majdanek in April 1944.

The cleansing action that the Nazis thought they could carry out relatively painlessly in a few days continued for about three weeks and was of great symbolic value. The Jews had shown to the outside world, themselves and the Nazis that they could fight back. Exactly how many people died during the uprising is hard to estimate. According to the Nazis, the purge action had resulted in 56,065 Jews either being arrested or killed during the action. The Nazis reported 16 dead and 86 injured.

After the fighting, Jürgen Stroop compiled a leather-bound report entitled Es gibt keinen judischen Wohnbezirk in Warschau mehr (Warsaw ghetto is no more). In both image and text, day by day Stroop presented the actions. After the war, Stroop was arrested by the Western allies but handed over to Poland and brought before a court in Warsaw where he was sentenced to death in 1951. The verdict was executed 1952 in Mokotow prison, Warsaw.

Current status: Partly preserved/demolished with monument (2015).

Location: 52°14'59.09" N 20°59'39.12" E (monument).

Get there: Tram or Bus.

My comment:

There are parts of the ghetto wall left at three sites, ul Sienna 55, ul Zlota 60 and ul Walicow. There are even houses left from the ghetto’s period at ul. Pronas. The monument to the insurrection is along ul. Ludwika Zamenhof. The square where the main monument is located has become a place of extensive commercialism with various souvenir stalls. On the seventies anniversary (19 April 2013) of the uprising opened next to the monument the Museum of the History of the Polish Jews. Monuments and museums in all honor but something that would be interesting would be if any of the all bunkers that the Jews hid in were preserved. Would be a special feeling to step into such and to the best of our ability try to imagine what it was like during the uprising.

Follow up in books: Gilberg, Martin: Holocaust: A History of the Jews of Europe During the Second World War (1987).