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The Warsaw Ghetto: The Situation of the Jews in Warsaw after Nazi Occupation

"Until the entry of the Germans into Warsaw the Jews suffered equally with the Poles. There were dead and injured from among both peoples. From the day the war broke out people escaped, panic stricken. Tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands escaped. Main roads and side roads were crowded with refugees. Men and women, old men and youths, all escaped, most of them on foot, because it was impossible to obtain a cart, to say nothing of an automobile. In the confusion wives were separated from their husbands and children from their parents. To add to the panic German airplanes continuously fired on the refugees at all times and on all the roads. Tens of thousands died on the roads. Of course most of these were Jews, as most of the refugees came from the cities, and the villagers remained in their homes....

The Council of Elders

On October 4, 1939, the Gestapo disbanded the Jewish Community Council and appointed in its place a Council of Elders. This was composed of 24 members presided over by the Engineer Czerniakow. It was not the duty of this council to manage the affairs of the Community but – as was set out in the document appointing the members – to carry out Gestapo orders. It was thus not a body representing the Jews, but one carrying out Gestapo [orders] with regard to Jews. This Supreme Council does not represent the community and cannot supply the needs of the Jews. Nor was it in a position to carry out any serious action. The Jewish schools had been closed, and there were no means available to the Council to provide social welfare for the Jewish population.

In general the Council was not permitted to do anything. Every time it began some action, the Gestapo came and interfered. As soon as it was set up it received an order to hold a census of the Jewish population, and the whole Council had to busy itself with the census; when the census was finished, at the end of October, and the Council started to do something, there was the business of the ghetto, and again the Council could do nothing but attend to this matter; when the business of the ghetto was finished – on November 10**  and then there was the question of the Contribution [forced levy]; when the matter of the Contribution was finished – came the matter of the Jewish hospital, then – the business of the epidemic. And that is how it was in other cities too, and in the small towns....

One of the most troubling economic measures was this: the picking up of people in the streets, or in their homes, for forced labor. This situation robbed the Jews of all opportunity of carrying on any kind of activity; no business, no office run by Jews can operate, because neither the owner nor the employees can be sure that they will get to their place of work. Even the employees of the Jewish Council are picked up while they are on their way to work...."

Sources: Yad Vashem

B. Mintz and I. Klausner, eds., Sefer ha-Zeva’ot ("Book of Abominations"), I, Jerusalem, 1945, pp. 1-2.
* The report was written by Apolinary Hartglas, one of the leaders of Polish Jewry, whose evidence was recorded in Israel in 1940.
** The Warsaw ghetto was not set up in November 1939, but only in November 1940.