Warsaw Ghetto

Jewish ghettos are not an invention of wartime Germany, nor the deplorable conditions found in some of them during wartimes. It demonstrates calloused indifference, at best, to force people to live in close quarters with insufficient food supplies and inadequate medical care and sanitary installations, as was the case in the Warsaw Ghetto and many other similar wartime ghettos. The suffering and loss of human life resulting from this was tragic. But it was not a deliberate, systematic policy of mass extermination that led to this, which is why the details of this ghetto and others like it will not be covered in detail in this encyclopedia.

The Polish underground had spread black propaganda since early 1942 claiming that the German occupational forces in Poland and elsewhere implemented a policy of total physical extermination of the Jews. Beginning in July 1942, hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were being deported, most of them via the Treblinka Camp. Reports coming back to the ghetto indicated that Jews were being killed there by various means, when in fact they were generally being transited through to other destinations further east. (See the entry on Treblinka for details.)

Jewish leaders in the Warsaw Ghetto therefore decided to fight back. They started an uprising on 19 April 1943. It was put down brutally by German armed forces, for the most part within a few days, but skirmishes carried on until mid-May. Jews who survived were again generally deported via Treblinka. While the immediate victims of this uprising represent a tragic loss of life, armed resistance against an occupational force during a war has always been, and will always be, met with force.

Because the ghetto uprising was not part of a premeditated, systematic mass extermination, it will not be covered here in detail. The fate of the survivors deported via Treblinka, however, is very much of interest, and is dealt with in the entry about Treblinka.

It is difficult to establish the death toll caused by all the events occurring in this ghetto. It is not even known exactly how many Jews passed through the ghetto. Orthodox sources for this vary between 400,000 and 600,000. (Friedman 1954, p. 79: 420,000 to 500,000; Corni 2003, p. 195: 400,000. Dean 2010, p. 342: “some 450,000”; Longerich 2010, p. 167: 410,000 to 590,000.) Daily death tolls also vary greatly, ranging from 100+ per day claimed by orthodox scholars to 10,000 daily (!) reported by The New York Times on 7 February 1943, although that may have included those deported from the ghetto. The sources by which orthodox scholars determine day-to-day deaths in the ghetto are rather questionable. Much needs to be researched before anything safe can be stated about this. (For details, see Dalton 2020, pp. 83-89.)

There is one media item which links the Warsaw Ghetto with a premeditated, systematic, even industrialized plan to exterminate the Jews, however. The Polish monthly periodical Wieś i Miasto (Village and City) published the following news in November 1943 (Vol. IV, No. 7, p. 7):

“In the area of the former Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans built gas chambers, which went into operation for the first time on 17 October of this year [1943]. Since then, they have been killing ten [sic] people a day there.”

All historians agree, however, that no such puny homicidal gas chamber ever existed in the area of the former Warsaw Ghetto. This was simply black propaganda. For the propagandists, no tragedy is heart breaking enough to stop them from sullying its commemoration with some pernicious lie.

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