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In Warsaw, the capital of Poland, the Nazis established the largest ghetto

in all of Europe. 375,000 Jews lived in Warsaw before the war about 30% of
the citys total population. Immediately after Polands surrender in
September 1939, the Jews of Warsaw were brutally preyed upon and taken
for forced labor. In 1939 the first anti-Jewish decrees were issued. The Jews
were forced to wear a white armband with a blue Star of David and economic
measures against them were taken that led to the unemployment of most of
the citys Jews. A Judenrat (Jewish council) was established under the
leadership of Adam Czerniakow, and in October 1940 the establishment of a
ghetto was announced. On November 16 the Jews were forced inside the
area of the ghetto. Although a third of the citys population was Jewish, the
ghetto stood on just 2.4% of the citys surface area. Masses of refugees who
had been transported to Warsaw brought the ghetto population up to
450,000.
Surrounded by walls that they built with their own hands and under strict and
violent guard, the Jews of Warsaw were cut off from the outside world. Within
the ghetto their lives oscillated in the desperate struggle between survival
and death from disease or starvation. The living conditions were unbearable,
and the ghetto was extremely overcrowded. On average, between six to
seven people lived in one room and the daily food rations were the
equivalent of one-tenth of the required minimum daily calorie intake.
Economic activity in the ghetto was minimal and generally illegal, smuggling
of food being the most prevalent of such activity. Those individuals who were
active in these illegal acts or had other savings were generally able to
survive longer in the ghetto.
The walls of the ghetto could not silence the cultural activity of its
inhabitants, however, and despite the appalling living conditions in the
ghetto, artists and intellectuals continued their creative endeavors.
Moreover, the Nazi occupation and deportation to the ghetto served as an
impetus for artists to find some form of expression for the destruction visited
upon their world. In the ghetto there were underground libraries, an
underground archive (the Oneg Shabbat Archive), youth movements and
even a symphony orchestra. Books, study, music and theater served as an
escape from the harsh reality surrounding them and as a reminder of their
previous lives.
The crowded ghetto became a focal point of epidemics and mass mortality,
which the Jewish community institutions, foremost the Judenrat and the
welfare organizations, were helpless to combat. More than 80,000 Jews died

in the ghetto. In July 1942 the deportations to the Treblinka death camp
began. When the first deportation orders were received, Adam Czerniakow,
the chairman of the Judenrat, refused to prepare the lists of persons slated
for deportation, and, instead, committed suicide on July 23, 1942. Two events
made April 19, 1943, an especially tragic day in the history of the Holocaust:
In an exclusive resort on the island of Bermuda, British and American
delegates began a 12-day conference supposedly to consider what their
countries could do to help the Jews of Europe. Very little, they concluded. At
the very same time, on the other side of the world in Poland, the Nazis
moved to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto. In a desperate last stand, the
remaining Jewish inhabitants of the walled-in enclave began a hopeless
month-long battle against the Nazis. It was the first time during the war that
resistance fighters in an area under German control had staged an uprising.
It would end in the complete destruction of the ghetto.
The Nazis had established the ghetto two and a half years earlier. In midNovember of 1940, after ordering all Jews in Warsaw to collect in a
designated part of the city, they sealed it off from the rest of the city with a
medieval-like 10-foot high wall. Moving to the ghetto was a ghastly
experience; it was like moving to prison. One inhabitant wrote, "we are
segregated and separated from the world and the fullness thereof, driven out
of the society of the human race." Jews weren't allowed out. In November
1941 the Nazis went so far as to institute the death penalty for any Jew found
beyond the ghetto walls. And very little information was allowed in. Earlier in
the occupation, the Nazis had already taken away radios. Now they also
removed telephone lines, censored mail and frequently confiscated incoming
packages.
Conditions in the ghetto were appalling. At one point, more than 400,000
Jews were crowded inside its walls. Typically several families lived in one
apartment. Unable to buy food on the open market, they had to rely on the
Nazis to supply the ghetto, and the Germans made it their policy to keep the
inhabitants on the verge of starvation. The Nazi occupation authorities had
instructions to provide Jews with half the weekly maximum food allowance
needed by a "population which does no work worth mentioning." Within
months, the hunger, overcrowding, lack of medical supplies and fuel
shortages had a devastating effect. In 1941, typhus epidemics, which started
in the synagogues and institutional buildings housing the homeless,
decimated the ghetto. Matters were made worse when the sewage pipes
froze and human excrement was dumped onto the street. By the end of the

year, disease had killed more than 43,000 people or ten percent of the
ghetto population.
In the spring of 1941, German industries set up workshops in the ghetto,
which operated with the use of forced Jewish labor. For the most part, these
small factory operations were created to support the German war effort. For
that reason, Jews employed in them were saved from the first deportations to
the death centers. The Nazis began transporting Jews in the summer of
1942. On July 20th, they issued an order for "non-productive" elements to
prepare for a "resettlement" program that would begin two days later. The
order provoked widespread panic throughout the ghetto. Jews who didn't
have work cards frantically tried to get them. Ordered to organize the
deportations, the head of the Jewish council committed suicide. The very
same day, a group of Jewish leaders met to discuss whether or not to resist
the orders. The majority decided not to. It was thought the Germans would
take no more than 60,000 people and it was agreed that resistance would
simply hasten the end of the ghetto.
Between that meeting and mid-September, the Nazis actually deported more
than 300,000 Jews from the ghetto. Most of them were taken to the Treblinka
death camp. In the fall of 1942, almost all the factions in the ghetto decided
to resist future deportations. Each political group formed its own "battle
group" which came under the central command of a 24-year-old named
Mordecai Anielewicz. The armed resistance prepared for the conflict by
building bunkers and shelters. In January 1943 the Nazis surprised the Jewish
fighters, by suddenly deporting 6500 Jews. A struggle ensued in which a
German police officer was badly injured and the planned mass deportation
came to a halt. Enraged by the incident, Nazi leader Heinrich Himmler
ordered the liquidation of the ghetto. The emptied district was then to be
razed to the ground.
At 3am on the morning of April 19, the Nazis surrounded the ghetto and the
battle began. Between 2000 Germans armed with a tank, two armored cars,
three light-anti-aircraft guns, one medium howitzer, heavy and light machine
guns, flame throwers, rifles, pistols and grenades faced off against 700-750
Jewish resistance fighters. The Jews had managed to stockpile a few
thousand grenades, as well as a few hundred rifles, revolvers and pistols. But
they possessed only two or three light machine guns. The Germans planned
to clear the ghetto of 60,000 Jews in three days. The Jews hoped to hold out
as long as possible.

By April 22, fire was devouring several sections of the ghetto, forcing many
Jews to leap from burning buildings. In the next few days, the Germans
began capturing and killing more and more of the ghetto inhabitants some of
whom reported that the resistance fighters in the bunkers had become
"insane from the heat, the smoke, and the explosions." Some Jews tried to
escape through the sewers. The Germans responded by blowing up the
manholes and using poison gas. On May 8, Anielewicz was killed. By May
15th, the shooting had become so intermittent that it was clear the ghetto
fighters had been defeated. As a sign of the German victory, the Nazi
commander blew up the great Tlomacki Synagogue.