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The Warsaw Ghetto: Report on Steps Leading to the Establishment of the Warsaw Ghetto

(January 20, 1941*)


The establishment of Jewish quarters and limitations of the right of Jews to take up residence or establish an economic existence are not new in the history of the East [i.e., Eastern Europe]. Their beginnings go back to the 13th century and have been observed again and again in the course of history, down to the establishment of the Polish Republic.2*

A new method is being applied when these limitations are imposed according to National-Socialist principles and perception.

Back in February 1940  shortly after the establishment of the Department for Resettlement – the idea came up for the creation of a Jewish quarter in Warsaw, and the first preparations were made. It had originally been planned by the Governor to place the Jewish quarter in a suburb of Warsaw which is bordered on the east by the [River] Vistula.

The head of the Department of Resettlement was instructed to carry this out.

It was clear that this idea must at first appear to be incapable of execution, owing to the specific and extremely complicated conditions in the city of Warsaw. Objections were raised on various sides, in particular by the City Administration. It was argued that the forming of a ghetto would cause serious disruption to industry and the economy. As about 80 percent of all the skilled labor was Jewish, it was indispensable and could not be shut away. Finally it was argued that the feeding of the Jews would not be possible if they were concentrated in a closed area.

The discussion on March 8, 1940, produced the conclusion that the plan for the establishment of a ghetto should be postponed for the time being.

About the same time it was being considered in the Government-General that the district of Lublin might be declared a collection area for all the Jews in the Government-General, and in particular for the evacuated Jews arriving there, and refugee Jews.

Cases of illegal emigration of Jews and unauthorized border crossings by Jews increased greatly at that time, particularly on the border of the sub-districts of Lowicz and Skierniewice. Conditions had become dangerous in the city of Lowicz as a result of the illegal move there of Jews, both as regards hygiene and from the point of view of the Security Police. The sub-district Commander (Kreishauptmann) of the Lowicz sub-district rightly considered that he should remove these dangers by means of the establishment of areas of Jewish residence in Lowicz and Glowno. The experience of the establishment of the Jewish quarters in Lowicz and Glowno have shown that these methods are the only ones that are correct to banish the dangers that emanate from the Jewish world (Judenwelt).

At the beginning of April 1940 we were informed by the Higher SS and Police leader (Hoeherer SS- und Polizeifuehrer) in krakow that it was not intended to concentrate the Jews in the district of Lublin.

The Department of Resettlement then turned once more to the preliminary work for the establishment of Jewish quarters in the Warsaw district. The Governor gave instructions that the establishment of the Jewish quarters should be begun by a date which would make it possible to carry out the resettlement before the beginning of winter.

The plan now submitted by the Department of Resettlement provided for the establishment of two ghettos, both situated on the outskirts of the city – one in the west, including the suburbs of Kolo and Wola, and in the east of the city the suburb of Grochow. This idea was based on the realization that these ghettos on the outskirts of the city would cause the least harm and disruption to the economy, industry and traffic of the city of Warsaw. The start of these Aktionen was set for July 1, 1940, in order to complete the most important measures in time before the onset of winter.

In the first stage of the preparations, orders were sent out from krakow that all work on the establishment of the ghettos should be stopped in view of the fact that, according to the plan of the Fuehrer, after the war all the Jews of Europe would be resettled in Madagascar,3* and that the creation of ghettos was therefore in fact illusory.

Upon this, the preliminary work of the Department of Resettlement was halted again. At the end of August 1940 the establishment of ghettos was once more pushed ahead by the Department for Health Care, in view of the increasing concentration of troops in the Warsaw District, and for the protection of the German Army and population. The Department for Interior Administration in the office of the Governor General on August 20, 1940, confirmed that it was necessary to establish Jewish areas of residence, but these would not be hermetically closed ghettos, but Jewish districts which would permit just enough economic contact with the Aryan surroundings to keep the Jewish quarter viable.

It was now already very late [in the year] to establish ghettos on the outskirts of the city, and this would have taken at least four to five months, as it would have involved regrouping almost 600,000 persons. But the resettlement Aktionen had to be completed by November 15, in particular according to the recommendation of the District Medical Officer, or at the latest by the end of November, as there was always an increased incidence of epidemics during the winter months, and these would have been speeded up dangerously by the resettlement operation.

The plan for ghettos on the outskirts of the city was therefore abandoned. The area chosen now was one that had been marked as endangered by epidemics (Seuchensperrgebiet), which in its present condition offered no secure protection against epidemics.

After voluminous preliminary discussions and negotiations, visits to the area and preparations, a promising plan was submitted to the Governor.

On October 2, 1940, general instruction went out from the Governor of the Warsaw District to all local leaders and the representatives of the district Governor of the city of Warsaw to begin work by November 15, 1940, on the resettlement required for the establishment of Jewish quarters. It was clear that this problem would have to be attacked all along the line if there were to be certainty of success.

On the same day the Governor issued Decree No. 40/50 concerning the establishment of a Jewish quarter in the city of Warsaw, and instructed the head of the Department of Resettlement to take charge of the whole resettlement operation.

The reasons for the establishment of a Jewish quarter in the Warsaw District, apart from general principles concerning ethnic restructuring (Volkstumsordnung) in this area, are as follows:

1. The German Army and population must in any case be protected against the Jews, the immune carriers of the bacteria of epidemics.

2. The separation of the Jews from the rest of the population, both Poles and ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche)4* is a political and moral requirement. Jewish thinking and action had up to now dominated the population of the eastern lands. The beneficial effects of the elimination of Jewish influence can now already be seen. If the German task of reconstruction is to be successful at all, then the freedom of Jewry to act in the area must be ended.

3. A further reason derives from the need to secure the execution of war economy measures and the safeguarding of the nutrition level in general by stopping the black market and the raising of prices.

The Resettlement

Aktionen in Warsaw

The resettlement Aktionen started at the beginning of October 1940. The first date set for the completion of the operation was October 31, 1941.

For a start, 700 Volksdeutsche had to be pulled out of the section which had been declared a Jewish quarter and moved into the provisional German area.

Altogether, 113,000 Poles and 138,000 Jews were exchanged. As the Jews who had been living outside the Jewish area in most cases had fairly large apartments, it was possible to carry out the change without disturbances by placing several Polish families in one of these larger apartments. A total of 11,567 Aryan apartments were vacated in thJewish quarter and about 13,000 Jewish apartments taken over outside the Jewish quarter....

It is surprising that the resettlement of roughly 250,000 persons was carried out in the comparatively short period of not quite six weeks without any blood being shed and with the aid of police pressure only in the final stage. This was done by bringing in the Polish mayor on the one hand and the Judenrat, on the other, to give their help.

On November 16, 1940, a major police Aktion was carried out under the direction of the head of the Department of Resettlement, in which all parts of the city outside the Jewish quarter were combed and 11,130 Jews caught and taken forcibly to the Jewish quarter. On the same day 1,170 food stores and 2,600 other stores owned by Jews were sealed by the police, handed over to the appropriate departments and organizations and cleared by them....

The Appearance of the Jewish Quarter

The Jewish quarter extends over about 1,016 acres. According to the figures supplied by the Judenrat, which claims to have carried out a census, about 410,000 Jews live in this area; according to our own observations and various estimates, carried out by other bodies, they number between 470,000 and 590,000.5*

Based on the statistics supplied by the Judenrat, and subtracting empty spaces and cemeteries, there are [in the Jewish quarter] 1,108 persons living on a built-up area of one hectare (2.5 acres), i.e., 110,800 persons per sq. km. [approx. 277,000 per sq. mile]. The population density of the city of Warsaw is 14,400 persons per sq. km. of the total area and 38,000 per sq. km. of built-up and inhabited area.

It should be noted that the number will be increased by the new resettlement of 72,000 Jews from the western section of the District. This is needed in order to make room for 62,000 evacuated Poles.

In the Jewish area of residence there are about 27,000 apartments with an average number of 2½ rooms. Occupancy therefore works out at 15.1 persons per apartment and 6 to 7 persons per room. The Jewish area of residence is separated from the rest of the city by the use of partition walls and fireproof walls and by walls sealing off streets, windows, entrances and spaces between houses. The walls are three meters high and are raised another meter by means of a barbed-wire extension. Additional control is assured by motorized and mounted police patrols.

At first 22 gates in the surrounding wall were retained for the maintenance of necessary traffic, but these have since been reduced to 15. Reinforced German police guards were at first posted at these openings; these were later replaced by Polish police, with German police taking over mainly the supervision.

The units of the German police for the Jewish quarter – consisting of 87 men under the command of an Oberleutnant – are accommodated in three posts outside the wall....

Permits to pass these gates are issued for absolutely essential passenger traffic: the permit cards are yellow for German citizens, ethnic Germans and Poles; for Jews there are yellow cards with an oblique blue bar. The permits are valid only together with an identity card with a photograph....

Sources: Yad Vashem

Eksterminacja, pp. 99-104.
1* From a lecture by Waldemar Schoen, Head of the Department of Resettlement in the Warsaw District.
2* The reference is to the independent Polish Republic between the two wars.
3* See Documents 97, 98.
4* Volksdeutsche – persons of German origin or persons who declared themselves to be of German origin and lived outside Germany.
5* The German estimate is deliberately exaggerated. According to J. Ziemian, Gvulot Getto Varsha ve-Shinuyehem ("The Borders of the Warsaw Ghetto and Their Changes"), Jerusalem, 1971, p. 17, the population census taken on Jan. 1, 1941, gave the number of persons in the ghetto as 380,740. According to the calculations of the Judenrat, based on the food-ration cards of Jan. 1, 1941, the number of Jews was 394,836.