Warsaw Ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto ( Getto Warszawskie in Polish ; Warschauer Ghetto in German ) was the largest ghetto Jew established in Europe by Nazi Germanyduring the Holocaust , in the context of World War II . It was implanted in the center of the Polish capital between October and November of 1940. In the ghetto were confined mainly the Jews of Warsaw, as well as of other regions of Poland under German control. Also detained were the Jews deported from Germany and from the different countries occupied by the Nazis .

It was conceived mainly as a transit field for the deportations to a final destination: the extermination camp of Treblinka , among others, and as such was part of the mass extermination organized, called with the euphemistic expression of ” Final solution of the question Jewish “.

The Warsaw ghetto had an estimated population of 400 000 people, 1 30% of the population of Warsaw, which were overcrowded in an area equivalent to 2.4% of the same city. During the three years of its existence, hunger , disease and deportation to concentration and extermination camps reduced its population to 50,000. This ghetto was the scene of the biggest action of Jewish resistance against genocide , known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising , which began on the night of Passover the 19 of April of 1943 and finished on May 16 the same year, and this Uprising one of the first revolts against Nazism in Europe .

Formation of the ghetto

The first plans to isolate the Jewish population from Poland had emerged immediately after the German invasion of 1939 . In the General Government the definition of a Jew was adjusted to the Nuremberg laws , to the December 1, 1939 using a beat bracelet white with the star of David in blue and began to implement a series of discriminatory measures: ban The use of public transportation and assistance to parks and restaurants, and exclusion of certain professions, among others. The change of residence was also banned, but there was no global order to create ghettos and the reason for doing so was adjusted to each particular case; as well as in Lodz it was intended to free up space for the settlement of Baltic Germans in Warsaw epidemic prevention alleged. 2

Although the works were temporarily interrupted in the summer of 1940 by Governor General Frank Frank , at a time when the possibility of deporting the Jews to some place like Madagascar was considered briefly , 3 and on 12 September announced to his subordinates the decision Definitive to close the ghetto. The order was given on October 2 , district governor of Warsaw Ludwig Fischer , and the 12th was officially informed Adam Czerniakow , chairman of the Jewish Council of Warsaw, who was also who should bear the works. 4 The ghetto was finally established by the German Governor General for Poland, Hans Frank , on October 16, 1940 [ citation needed ] . At that time, the population of the ghetto was about 380,000, about 30 per cent of the total population of Warsaw, and would reach a maximum of 445,000 in May 1941. 5 On the other hand, 4% of the territory. During the next year and a half, Jews from the city and surrounding minor towns were forcibly transferred to the ghetto. The predominant diseases ( typhoid fever ) and hunger, however, contributed to maintaining a stable population. Food rations for Jews were officially limited to just 184 calories per day, while the Polish had 1800 and the Germans 2400. 1

The Nazis closed the Warsaw ghetto outside on November 16, 1940, 5 by first fencing it with barbed wire and then building a wall three meters high and 18 kilometers long. 1

Social and cultural life of the ghetto

For the functioning and order of the ghetto, in some cases, and the support and mutual help of the people who lived there, in others, there existed organizations and institutions operating in the ghetto.

The Judenrat and youth movements, among others, tried to alleviate the inhuman conditions of life. The biggest problems were overcrowding in homes, hunger, inactivity in some and poor working conditions in others.

Jews captured by German soldiers were taken to deportation, April 1943.

In response to this, the Judenrat took responsibility for bringing the average accommodation to seven people per bedroom. Other organizations such as CENTOS (funded by the Joint American-Jewish Joint Distribution Committee ) organized canteens where soup dishes were given free of charge and other solutions for the redistribution of goods and food available to the dispossessed. During 1941 , the soup canteens came to feed two-thirds of the population of the ghetto.

For a short time, the Judenrat also had permission to organize four elementary schools , from grades one to three, for the children of the ghetto. Alongside this existed an extensive clandestine system organized by youth organizations that covered all grades. Often, this last system was concealed like soup canteens.

The Judenrat was also responsible for the hospitals and orphanages operating in the ghetto. One of the orphanages, led by educationalist Janusz Korczak , was called the “Republic of Children”. These health centers were closed down in 1942 and their officials deported to Treblinka .

Cultural life included a daily press , sometimes clandestine, in three languages: Yiddish , Polish and Hebrew . Religious activity included for a time open Jewish celebrations while, on other occasions, meetings were held in private homes with the rabbis . In addition, there was a church for Jews converted to Catholicism .

Also, there were classical music concerts in the ghetto. Marcel Reich-Ranicki says that there was no difficulty in finding excellent violinists and string musicians in general; More difficult, according to him, was the search for musicians of wind instruments. Overall, they had no experience in symphony orchestras, as musicians were jazz and small groups. However, they worked hard for this purpose and achieved good results. There were also plays and art exhibitions. In many cases, artists were prominent figures in Polish cultural life at the time.

One of the most notable cultural preservation efforts was led by historian Emanuel Ringelblum and his group Oneg Shabbat who collected documents of people of all ages and positions to create a social history of life in the ghetto. In all, it is estimated that they have obtained nearly 50,000 historical documents, including essays on various aspects of life in the ghetto, journals, memoirs, art collections, illegal press publications, designs, school work, posters , theater tickets And recipes, among others. These documents were hidden from the Germans in three separate places, and two of them have been recovered, being the primary source of research on the Warsaw ghetto. It is now thought that the third roll of documents could be buried under the current building of the embassy of China .

The Ghetto Times

Reminder plaque of the wall that marked the limits of the ghetto of Warsaw.
Corner of the area where the ghetto of Warsaw was still preserved without restoration.

On January 20, 1942, the National Socialist leaders decided at the Wannsee Conference to exterminate the Jews of Europe. The first phase of what they called the Final Solution was Operation Reinhard , for the extermination of the Jews in Poland. For this, the construction of the Treblinka extermination camp was begun in May 1942, and the work was completed in July, coinciding with the beginning of the liquidation of the Varsovian ghetto.

On 22 July the Große Umsiedlungsaktion (‘Great relocation action’) began. The Judenrat was then informed that all Jews, except those who worked in German factories, personnel Jewish hospitals, members of the Judenrat and their families and members of the police force Jewish and their families would be “deported to the East” .

The Jewish police had to drive daily to 6000 Jews to the meeting point Umschlagplatz next to the railroad tracks of the Transfertelle . In case of default, the Germans would shoot hundreds of hostages, including the wife of Adam Czerniaków . After unsuccessfully attempting to convince the Nazis to give up their plans, the leader of the Judenrat committed suicide, leaving a note that read “I can not take any more. My action will show everyone what needs to be done. ” The suicides a common occurrence turned to the harsh conditions of life; The father-in-law of Marcel Reich-Ranicki, literary critic Judeo-German, would be another on that long list. On the very day of Czerniaków’s suicide, on July 23, the Jewish clandestine resistance met and decided not to revolt, believing that the Jews were being sent to labor camps rather than extermination .

In the ensuing fifty-two days, until 21 September , 263 002 people were transferred to Treblinka and, to a lesser extent, Majdanek . During the end of July, Jewish ghetto police were responsible for carrying out the deportations of a total of 64,606 Jews to the death camps. From August onwards, the Germans and their allies would take a more direct role in the deportations, and in August they transferred 142 223 people and in September to 56 173.

The final phase of the first mass deportation took place between 6 and 11 September 1942. Between these dates, 35 886 Jews were deported, 2648 executed on the spot and 60 committed suicide. After this first stage, approximately 55 000 people remained in the ghetto, more than 30 000 working in German industries and about 20 000 living in hiding, avoiding deportations and without legal status. Another 8000 were hidden outside the ghetto all over Warsaw. 6

During the next semester, clandestine Jewish resistance was grouped into two major organizations. The ŻOB ( Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa , ‘Jewish Wrestling Organization’) was led by Mordechai Anielewicz and had between 220 and 500 members; The other was the ŻZW ( Żydowski Związek Wojskowy , ‘Jewish Military Union’), which had a similar number of members. Members of these groups believed that it was necessary to aggressively resist oppression. Its armament consisted mainly in handguns, homemade explosives and Molotov cocktails ; The ŻZW was better armed as a result of more clandestine contacts with the outside of the ghetto.

The uprising and the definitive destruction

Main article: Uprising of the Warsaw ghetto
German troops on the street during the burning of the ghetto, April 1943.

The 9 of January of 1943 , the SS commander Himmler visited the ghetto and ordered the resumption of deportations. On the day of the beginning of the second mass expulsion of Jews, nine days later, the first instance of armed resistance occurred. The Jewish insurgents achieved some success: the expulsion was halted after four days, and the two main fighting organizations came to control the ghetto, building numerous barricades and acting against the collaborationist Jews. During the next three months they prepared for what was the final fight.

The final battle took place on April 19 . On that day, the Germans, commanded by Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg , arrived with 2054 soldiers, 7 36 army officers, 821 SS commanders and 363 Polish collaborators 8 to quell the rebellion, confident that the Jews, seeing them in such Number, would feel incapable and would give up. As the Nazis advanced by the desert ghetto, the Partisans Jews hiding in windows of houses and roofs of buildings, waiting armed with pistols, rifles and explosives. At that moment, they attacked the troops who, on a lower level, were exposed from numerous flanks. The Jewish attack was extremely successful and forced the Nazis to retreat without even being able to arrest civilians, since these were properly hidden in underground bunkers built for the occasion.

This event provoked the wrath of Himmler, who replaced von Sammern-Frankenegg by Jürgen Stroop , who had experience in the non-formal combat of the partisans. In the days that followed, Stroop, following instructions from his superior to use all necessary means, ordered the burning of all the buildings of the ghetto to force the rebels out of their hiding places. The area was filled with flames and black smoke, to which even the Jews resisted going to the bunkers, which would soon prove inefficient due to poor conditions for food and water conservation, as well as smoke-tainted air. Many Jews died gassed by the Nazis in the bunkers, while others preferred suicide by jumping from burning buildings.

The major resistance was submitted on 23 April and the general uprising on 16 May 1943. On this last date, the Germans flew the Great Synagogue of Tłomackie Street, which was outside the ghetto, as a sign of the end of existence Of the Warsaw ghetto.

According to data Stroop would provide in his report, after the uprising, 56,065 Jews were captured during the days of confrontation and 631 bunkers destroyed. Stroop estimated that 13,000 Jews died in the fighting and 37,000 deportees to Treblinka , very few survived there. 9 Only 10,000 to 15,000 Jews managed to survive in Warsaw, hidden by Poles or with false identities. 10 The captured Jews not deported to Treblinka were sent to the forced labor camps of Majdanek , Poniatowa and Trawniki .

Later estimates point out that 700 to 1,000 German soldiers were killed or wounded, 11 although Stroop only 16 points in his report.

Anthem of the partisans of the ghetto

The author of the original poem in Idish was Hirsh Glik (1922-1944), who took the melody written by the Russian composer Dmitri Pokrass . Written in the Ghetto of Vilna , the United Partisan Organization took it as an anthem in 1943. It is sung in the celebrations, especially on Yom HaShoah ( ‘Holocaust Remembrance Day’).


Never say that this path is the end,

Steel and lead cover a heavenly sky

Our so dreamed time will come

It will redound our singing, here we are!
From the snow to the palms of Tzion

Here we are with the pain of this song

And in the place where we spilled our bleeding

Our faith and our courage must spring forth.
A sun of ours will light up today

Our enemy in yesterday will vanish

And if dawn will delay its aspiration

Which emblem is always this song.
This song was written with blood and fire.

It is not bird song that free can fly

Between the walls that without fear downed

It is sung by a people who courageously armed their arm.
Never say that this path is the end,

Steel and lead cover a heavenly sky

Our so dreamed time will come

It will redound our singing, here we are! 12

Idish (Phonetics)

Zog nit kein mol az du gueist dem letstn veg,

Jotsh himlen blaiene farshteln bloie teg.

Kumen vet noj undzer oisgebenkte sho;

S’vet a poikt on undzer trot: Mir zainen do!
Fun grinem palmenland biz vaisn land fun shnei,

Mir kumen on mit undzer pain, mit undzer vei.

A vu gefaln s’iz a shprits fun undzer blut –

Shprotsn vet dort undzer gvure, undzer mut.
S’vet di morgnzun bagildn undz dem haint,

Un der nejtn vet farshvindn mitn faind.

Nor oib farzamen vet di zun in dem kaior,
I have seen the pain of the pain.

Two lid geshribin iz mit blut un nit mit blai,

[Geshribn iz dos lid mit blut un nit mit blai,]

S’iz nit kein lidl fun a foigl oif der frai.

Two hot a folk tsvishn falndike vent

Two lid gezungen mit naganes in di hent.
To zog nit kein mol as du gueist dem letstn veg,

Jotsh himlen blayene farshteln bloye teg.

Kumen vet noj undzer oisgebenkte sho;

S’vet a poik ton undzer trot: Mir zainen do!

Hebrew (Phonetics)

Al na na tomar “Hine darki ha’ajarona

Et or haoim histiru smei ha’anana

Ze iom nijsafnu lo od ya’al ve’iabo,

U mitzadeinu od iar’im:

Anajnu po!
Me’eretz hatamar ad iarketei kforim

Anajnu po be’majhovot ve’iesurim

Ve’asher tipat dameinu sahm nigra

Ha’lo ianuv od oz rujeinu be’gvura.
Amud hashajar al iomeinu or ye’el

Im ha’tzorrer iajlof tmuleinu as tzel.

Aj im jalila iajer lavo haor –

I have burned sisma ie’he hashir me pain and pain
Be’ktav hadam ve’haoferet hu nijtav

Hu lo shirat tzipor hadror ve’hamerjav

Ki bei kirot noflim ssaruhu kol ha’am

Yajdav sharuhu ve’naganim be’iadam.
Al ken al na take “Hine darki ha’ajarona

Et or haim histiru smei ha’anana

Ze iom nijsafnu lo od ya’al ve’iabo,

U mitzadeinu od iar’im:

Anajnu po!

Another translation

Never say that this path is the end,

Because the gray sky covered the sunlight.

The moment so longed for will come

And the sound of our march will listen.

The cry for so much anguish and pain

From the tropics to the pole will sound,

And watering our inheritance with blood,

Strong and pure hope will grow.

It is not a happy song, it is a rifle song,

Is not also bird of freedom,

Is a song of a people forced to suffer,

That with blood and lead the verse will write. 13

Famous prisoners of the ghetto

  • Władysław Szpilman , whose memoirs form the basis of the feature film The Pianist directed by Roman Polański .
  • Marcel Reich-Ranicki , famous literary critic nationalized in Germany.
  • Simon Pullman , conductor of the Warsaw Ghetto Symphony Orchestra.
  • Mordechai Anielewicz
  • Adam Czerniaków
  • Marek Edelman
  • Bronisław Geremek
  • Janusz Korczak
  • Emanuel Ringelblum
  • Yitzhak Katzenelson , poet and playwright.
  • Irena Sendler , a Polish social worker who saved more than 2500 children from the ghetto.


  1. ↑ Jump to:a b c A census of 1939 showed the number of 359 827 people in the ghetto, to this is added the people transferred to the ghetto from other areas of the city and from surrounding areas [1]
  2. ↑ Jump to:a b Friedländer, 2009 , p. 79.
  3. Back to top↑ Friedländer, 2009 , pp. 133-134.
  4. Back to top↑ Friedländer, 2009 , pp. 162-163.
  5. ↑ Jump to:a b Friedländer, 2009 , pp. 163.
  6. Back to top↑ Letterman, John B. (2003). Survivors: True Tales of Endurance . Simon and Schuster, pp. 276. In English. ISBN 9780743245470 .
  7. Back to top↑ According to the report Stroop Commander (English)
  8. Back to top↑ «70 years of the Warsaw Ghetto: the uprising of the boys» . Newspaper Clarín . March 19, 2013 . Retrieved on April 19, 2013 .
  9. Back to top↑ Katz, Alfred (1970). Poland’s Ghettos at War . New York: Twayne Publishers, pp. 85. In English.
  10. Back to top↑ Katz, 1970: 86
  11. Back to top↑ Katz, 1970: 86
  12. Back to top↑ Hashomer Hatzair – Buenos Aires, Argentina | Articles
  13. Back to top↑ http://www.lainsignia.org/2004/abril/int_049.htm URL accessed on 07/07/06