Warsaw Ghetto

From Academic Kids

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany in General Government during the Holocaust in World War II. In the three years of its existence, starvation, disease and relocations to concentration camps dropped the population of the ghetto from an estimated 380,000 to 70,000. The Warsaw Ghetto was the scene of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising the first mass uprising against Nazi occupation in Europe.



Plans to isolate the Jewish population of Warsaw and its nearby suburbs in a ghetto first circulated immediately after the German occupation of Poland in 1939. At the time, the German administration of the General Government had not been fully organized, and there were conflicting interests among the three major players: the civilian administration, the military, and the SS. Under these circumstances, the Jewish Council, or Judenrat, headed by Adam Czerniakow, was able to delay the establishment of the Ghetto by one year, mainly by appealing to the military to consider how Jews were a valuable labor resource.

Missing image
Map of Warsaw Ghetto on remaining section of wall

The Warsaw Ghetto was finally established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. At this time, the population of the Ghetto was estimated to be about 380,000 people, about 30% of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw. Nazis then closed off the Warsaw Ghetto from the outside world on November 16th that year, building a wall. During the next year and a half, Jews from smaller cities and villages were brought into the Ghetto, while diseases (especially typhoid) and starvation (rations for Jews were officially limited to just 333 kcal per day per day, as opposed to 1,800 for Poles and 2,400 for Germans in Warsaw) kept the inhabitants at about the same number.

On July 22, 1942, the mass expulsion of the inhabitants started; in the next 52 days (till September 12, 1942) about 300,000 people were taken to the Treblinka extermination camp. Czerniakow became openly despondent over the mass deportations and killed himself in July 23, 1942. A big role in these expulsions was played by the Jewish Ghetto Police which carried out German orders of delivering daily "quotas" of Jews to Umschlagplatz train station

The situation for the remaining 55,000 to 60,000 Jews changed for the better initially: the famine ended and the once overcrowded houses were largely empty. The Jews either worked in German factories within the Ghetto or lived in hiding.

During the next six months, what was left of several political organizations was brought together under name ŻOB (Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa, Jewish Fighting Organization), headed by Mordechaj Anielewicz, with 220-500 persons; another 250-450 were organized in the ŻZW (Żydowski Związek Walki, Jewish Fighting Union). The members of these groups had no illusions about the German plans and wanted to die fighting. Their armament consisted largely of handguns, homemade explosives and Molotov cocktails; the ŻZW was better armed as a result of better contacts to the Polish underground outside the Ghetto.

Social and cultural life in the ghetto

A soup kitchen for women in the Warsaw Ghetto
A soup kitchen for women in the Warsaw Ghetto

Despite the enormous hardships of day-to-day life, the Judenrat and youth movements succeeded in organizing various institutions and organizations in the Ghetto to meet the various needs of the inhabitants. The major concerns were overcrowding, hunger, inactivity, and work detail. In response, the Judenrat took the bulk of the responsibility for allocating housing-with an average of seven people per room, while charitable organizations such as CENTOS organized free soup kitchens: at one point as much as two-thirds of the Ghetto's population was provided for by these soup kitchens. For a brief time, the Judenrat was also permitted to organize four elementary schools (grades 1-3) for ghetto children, but there was also an extensive underground school system run by the various youth movements, which covered all grades (often disguised as soup kitchens) and even offered university-level courses on Sundays.

The Judenrat was also responsible for the hospitals and orphanages that operated in the Ghetto. One orphanage, headed by the pediatrician and author Janusz Korczak, was run as a model democracy, called the Republic of Children. This and the other orphanages were evacuated in 1942 and their occupants and staff were sent to Treblinka.

Cultural life included a lively press in three languages (Yiddish, Polish, and Hebrew), religious activity (including a church for Jews who had converted to Catholicism), and lectures, concerts, theater, and art exhibits. In many cases, the artists and performers were prominent figures in Polish cultural life during the war.

One of the most remarkable cultural efforts in the Ghetto was headed by the historian Emmanuel Ringelblum and his group Oyneg Shabbos, which collected documents by people of all ages and positions to create a social history of life in the Ghetto. In all, it is estimated that some 50,000 documents were collected, including essays on various aspects of ghetto life, diaries, memoirs, art work, underground journals, drawings, school work, posters, play bills, recipes, notes from lectures, etc. These documents were hidden in three separate batches, two of which have since been recovered and provide an invaluable insight into life in the Ghetto. (Plans are now underway to find the third cache), which is believed to be buried under what is now the Chinese Embassy in Warsaw.


On April 22, 2002, members of the Polish Council for Christians and Jews commemorated the 59th anniversary of the 1943 anti-Nazi uprising in with visits to memorial sites connected with the city’s former Jewish quarter.

Ghetto prisoners

See also


eo:Varsovia geto fr:Ghetto de Varsovie it:Ghetto di Varsavia he:גטו ורשה pl:Getto warszawskie pt:Gueto de Varsóvia


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