Kulturbesitz, Bildarchiv P. Polish Citizens Walking by the Ghetto Wall. 1940. Warsaw, Poland. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Nov. 2007.
“I feel like as if I were in prison. Yet I cannot console myself by looking out the window, for when I peer from behind the curtain I witness hideous incidents.” –Mary Berg from Life in the Warsaw Ghetto, by Gail Stewart
What is the Warsaw ghetto?
How did the Warsaw ghetto start? What were the living conditions like? What were the different rules? What was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising? What were the causes of death? Works Cited
1. What is the Warsaw ghetto?
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, Holocaust Biographies: Emmanuel Ringelblum, by Mark Beyer, and Life in the Warsaw Ghetto, by Gail Stewart, the ghettos of Warsaw were homes for more than half a million Jews from 1940 to 1943. The ghettos were limited spaces where Jews from smaller communities were transported from towns that are nearby. It was one of the first steps to concentration camps. The ghettos were made to segregate the Jews from the outside world. For example, the ghettos were all closed off by a ten foot high brick wall with barbed wire on top. There were also bridges that connected areas of the ghettos to prevent Jews from entering the streets that were not part of the ghetto. At first, the Germans tried to make the ghettos as normal as possible, but still more than eighty-five thousand died in the Warsaw ghettos. The Warsaw ghettos were located in Warsaw, Poland which was the second largest Jewish community in the world. The Warsaw ghetto covered only 2.4% of the city. The ghettos were controlled by the Jewish council, called the Judenrat, which was led by Adam Czerniakow. They treated the Jews decently, but were spied on by the Germans so that the Germans would know what was going on. The German soldiers however would terrorize and often kill people in the ghetto, and they would also humiliate them in front of others for their own entertainment.
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2. How did the Warsaw ghetto start?
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, Holocaust Biographies: Emmanuel Ringelblum, by Mark Beyer, and Life in the Warsaw Ghetto, by Gail Stewart, before World War II, Warsaw, Poland had the largest Jewish community in Europe with a population of over three-hundred and fifty thousand people. It was the center of Jewish life and culture. The Warsaw ghettos started following the Germans invasion of Poland. On September 1st, 1939, Warsaw suffered air attacks and canon shootings form Germany. Warsaw surrendered on September 29, 1939. German officials then ordered the Judenrat to be established. Judenrat was the Jewish council that the Germans spied on. On November 23, 1939 the Germans ordered all Jews to wear white armbands with the Star of David on them. The Jewish schools were closed, their property was taken, their organizations were stopped, and the Jewish men were forced to work. On October 12, 1940, the Warsaw ghetto was established. After the German occupation, Warsaw became the largest ghetto in Europe.
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Children on Streets of Warsaw Ghetto
Photographer Unknown. Children on Streets of Warsaw Ghetto. 1940. Warsaw, Poland. United Sates Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Nov. 2007
3. What were the living conditions like?
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website,and Mark Beyer, from the book, Holocaust Biographies: Emmanuel Ringelblum, the living conditions in the ghetto were uncomfortable, fearsome, and extremely unsanitary. There were shortages of food, clothes, medicine, and housing. People would often smuggle these objects along with weapons into the ghettos. Warsaw at its highest point in population had up to four-hundred thousand Jews between its closed walls, which was thirty percent of the town’s population. The ghetto residents live in an area of 1.3 square miles, with an average of seven persons per room. According to a Jewish ghetto survivor, Channa Morgensztern, from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website,“the hunger in the ghetto was so great, was so bad, that people were lying on the streets and dying.” Also (from the same website) a man, Beno Helmer who went through living in the ghettos explains, “Filth was also tremendous,” and that in the winter the toilets were iced. He explained how people would die of malnutrition and if you didn’t have food, then it’s too bad. Food supplies were rationed by the Germans and there was not enough food and nutrition for them to survive. What at first seemed like an okay place to live, soon became an area of filth, disease and death throughout time.
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Kulturbesitz, Bildarchiv P. SS Guards Search Jews for Weapons. Oct. 1939. Warsaw, Poland. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 7 Nov. 2007.
4. What were the different rules?
From the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, and Mark Beyer, from the book, Holocaust Biographies: Emmanuel Ringelblum, the rules in the ghettos were very strict. The Jews had to wear armbands to show they were Jewish One of the rules was that the Jews had a curfew that they could not be outside after 7:00 PM. The Nazis also banned the Jewish people from teaching, studying and writing. Some people did write, yet it was extremely risky to keep a journal. People buried their records of what happened in old milk cans or strong boxes. Some Jews also broke the rules such as they helped worship services or school for the children. The consequence if the Germans found out they were breaking the rules and not doing what they were told, would be death.
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Yad Vashem. Germans buring the Warsaw Ghetto. Aish.com. November 6th 2007.
5. What was the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising?
According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum website, the Warsaw ghetto between July and September 1942, the Germans deported about 300,000 Jews; reducing the Jewish population in Warsaw at about 55,000 people. Two main armed self-defense organizations were created by Jews, The Jewish Fighting Organization and the Jewish Fighting Union. Both organizations began to work together to stop the Germans deporting people. However, in January of 1943, the Germans began to mass deport the Jews. People from the two fighting groups broke into a column of Jews who were being escorted to the transfer point and fought with the German soldiers who were escorting them. After this revolt, Germans stopped deporting people for a while, the fighting groups of Jews began to feel confident that their resistance was working. Nevertheless, the Germans began to deport people again on April 19, 1943; though when the Germans went into the ghetto to take the Jews to the transfer point, the streets were empty. The Jews hid underground and fought with the Germans for the next month until May 16, and in the end the Germans burned places to force people out of their hiding places. The Warsaw ghetto uprising was the first urban resistance and the largest.
For more information, on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, click here or here. Back to Top
6. What were the causes of death?
Over eighty-five thousand Jews died in the ghettos for several of different reasons. There was disease such as colds, malnutrition or there were beatings, shootings, torture, or random harassment. Also mass executions were common. People who were found breaking the rules would often be punished and most of the times killed. Jews who didn’t do exactly what the Germans said would be killed as well. Over four thousand, six hundred people died in the Warsaw ghetto in February 1942, and more than five thousand, one-hundred deaths recorded in January 1942. According to the Warsaw Life website, by April 1941 the death rate in the ghettos was about six thousand people per month. Also, funeral carts would come and collect the naked bodies every morning from four to five AM. The Jews were forced to strip the dead bodies to sell their clothes. There were shootings on April 18, 1942 known as “the bloody night.” On this night, there were lots of German soldiers and SS guards that take Jews out form their apartments and shoot them in the streets. In total, fifty-two Jews die. This results in lots of terror and rumors throughout the ghetto. According to the Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Learning Center website in 1940, Chaim A. Kaplan talks about how to keep hope in the ghettos when she says, “We are left naked, but as long as this secret power is still within us we do not give up hope. And the strength of this power lies in the indigenous nature of Polish Jewry, which is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live.”
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Ghettos. 25 Oct. 2007. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Nov. 2007. Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. 25 Oct. 2007. Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies. 7 Nov. 2007. Beyer, Mark. Holocaust Biographies: Emmanuel Ringelblum. New York. The Rosen
Publishing Group, Inc, 2001.
Stewart, Gail. Life in the Warsaw Ghetto. San Diego, California: Lucent Books, Inc,
“The Warsaw Ghetto.” Warsaw Life.com. 2003-2007. Lifeboat Limited. November 8th,
“Daily Life in the Ghettos.” Museum of Tolerance Online Multimedia Learning Center.
1997. The Simon Wiesenthal Center. November 8th 2007. .
Photographer Unknown. Children on Streets of Warsaw Ghetto. 1940. Warsaw, Poland. United Sates Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Nov. 2007. Kulturbesitz, Bildarchiv P. Polish Citizens Walking by the Ghetto Wall. 1940. Warsaw, Poland. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 6 Nov. 2007. Kulturbesitz, Bildarchiv P. SS Guards Search Jews for Weapons. Oct. 1939. Warsaw, Poland. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. 7 Nov. 2007. Yad Vashem. Germans buring the Warsaw Ghetto. Aish.com. November 6th 2007.