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Former Warsaw Ghetto

The Warsaw ghetto existed from November 1940 to May 1943 (when the Ghetto Uprising was put down) in the area of ​​today's Northern Srodmiescie and Wola districts. It was the largest of all the Jewish ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe during World War 2 with the area of around 2,9 square kilometres. The most important point there is Grzybowski Square - the former heart of Jewish culture in Warsaw. Other notable places of memorial are the remnants of the Ghetto Wall and Umschlagplatz.

 

Beginnings of the Warsaw ghetto

Before World War 2, Poland was home to the largest Jewish community in Europe. Most of the Polish Jews, lived in the cities. Warsaw was the center of Jewish social, cultural, political and religious life. In 1939, on the brink of Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland nearly 370,000 Jews lived in the capital, which constituted nearly 30 percent of the total population of the city. 

After German invasion, restrictive racist legislation was gradually introduced. The obligation of forced labor was imposed on the Jews. Ritual slaughter was forbidden and the synagogues were closed. From December 1939, Jews in the General Government were forced to wear an armband with the Star of David on their right forearm. The Jews started to be gradually separated from the rest of the population. They were banned from many public places, such as libraries, trains, and parks, restaurants and cafes. Many professions were forbidden for Jews, for example doctors and lawyers. Jews from the lands incorporated into the Reich and the General Government were forced to leave and move to Jewish ghettos in the East, among others in Warsaw. In total, there were about 600 ghettos in Poland during the war. The first of them was established in October 1939 in Piotrkow Trybunalski

In April of 1940 the Jewish council was forced to start building a wall around the ghetto area, allegedly to isolate "areas of the city at risk of an epidemic." On October 2, 1940, Ludwig Fischer, the governor of the Warsaw District in the occupied General Government, signed an ordinance on the official establishment of a Jewish district in Warsaw. It was set up in the old Jewish quarter of Warsaw. All the Christians residing in this area were ordered to move to the "Aryan side" of the wall, excluding the so-called German district. All Jews in Warsaw had to move to the ghetto by November 15, 1940. 

The final closure of the ghetto in Warsaw took place on the next day, November 16th 1940. On that day, almost 30 percent of Warsaw’s population was packed into 2.4 percent of the city's area enclosed with a brick wall. The gates were guarded jointly by the German police, the blue police and the Jewish police.

The ghetto covered the area located in today's Srodmiescie North and Wola. It was limited by streets: Wielka, Bagno, Grzybowski Square, Rynkowa, Zimna, Elektoralna, Bankowy Square, Tłomackie, Przejazd, Krasinski Garden, Nowolipki, Świętojerska, Freta, Sapieżyńska, Konwiktorska, Stawki, Okopowa, Zegarmistrzowska, Żelazna, Wronia, Waliców and Sienna. The area included places important for the Jews, such as Jewish Cemetery, Grzybowski Square and the synagogues, for example Nozyk Synagogue (the only one in Warsaw which survived the war and is still in use), Moriah Synagogue and the Great Synagogue. Mirowska Hall and courts in Leszno were excluded from the ghetto. 

In addition to the residents of Warsaw, Jews were deported from towns near Warsaw, among others Błonia, Góra Kalwaria, Grodzisk Mazowiecki, Jeziorna, Karczew, Piaseczno, Pruszków, Skierniewice and Wiązowna. Leaving the ghetto, as well as helping Jews on the Aryan side was punishable by death. The ghetto reached its highest number of inhabitants in April 1941. In total, there were approximately 460,000 inhabitants. The main problems in the ghetto were huge overpopulation (people were crowded in at about nine people per room), shortage of food and jobs. People had to struggle with hunger, infectious diseases (especially typhus), poor sanitary conditions, slave labor and contributions imposed by the German authorities. As a result of the tragic living conditions, there was a drastic increase in mortality. By July 1942, a total of 92,000 had died in the ghetto.

Nevertheless, in these inhumane conditions, attempts were made to lead a "normal" life. There were - legal and illegal - charitable, educational, religious and cultural institutions. The political underground developed, issuing dozens of underground magazines.

The Nazis established Jewish councils in the ghettos, called Judenraete. These Jewish administrations were required to ensure the execution of Nazi orders and regulations inside the ghetto. Members of the Jewish council also provided basic social services for the Jewish population in the ghettos.

 

The small and big ghetto

In December 1941, the section of Chłodna Street between Wronia and Żelazna streets was excluded from the ghetto. It became an important exit road to "Aryan" Warsaw, which divided the ghetto into two parts. The only connection between the two parts of the closed district was the narrow passage at the crossing of Żelazna and Chłodna streets. In January 1942 a wooden bridge, later called "The Bridge of Sighs", was erected between the Chłodna 23 and 26 tenement houses to improve communication bewteen the two parts of the ghetto. It reached the level of the second floor, thanks to which "Aryan" trams and cars could pass under it down Chłodna Street. From the bridge, the pedestrians could see the panorama of the Aryan part of Warsaw. North of Chlodna street there was a "big ghetto" with a predominance of the poorest people. This is where the poor and displaced people, small traders and craftsmen crowded around. To the south, there was a small ghetto inhabited by wealthier people, a kind of the ghetto elite - intellectuals, artists and rich townspeople. This is also where Judenrat was located, as well as Sienna Street, which was considered to be one of the best streets in the ghetto. After the mass deportation of Jews to Treblinka death camp, the small ghetto became incorporated into the "Aryan" part of the city. The Bridge of Sighs was no longer needed and was pulled down in August 1942. Nowadays, a monument in the form of an art installation located at Chłodna-Żelazna junction commemorates  the wooden bridge.

Mass deportation to Treblinka death camp

By summer of 1941 the implementation of the Nazi concept of the "Final Solution to the Jewish Question" took the form of a systematic murder. Warsaw Jews were killed in mass executions, and then at the extermination camps in Bełżec, Sobibór and Treblinka. In July of 1942 the Nazis began the 'Gross-Aktion Warsaw' - the operation of mass-deportation of Jews from the Warsaw ghetto to the Treblinka death camp. On July 22 announcements signed by the Jewish Council appeared on the streets of the ghetto, informing about the decision of the German authorities regarding the resettlement of all Jews living in Warsaw to the East, regardless of age and sex. Those excluded from resettlement were to be employed by the German authorities and German enterprises, members and employees of the Jewish Council, officers of the Jewish Order Service, staff of Jewish hospitals and all Jews who were members of the closest families (wives, children) mentioned above. The Jugenrat had to make sure that 6 thousand poeople were ready for transportation every day by 4PM (although this number increased in time). The train with 58 wagons carrying "relocatees" started to run every day between Warsaw and Treblinka.

What was officialy announced as "resettlement", was in fact mass extermination, but the Germans made sure that the Jews were unaware of that. In just two months, nearly 300,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were transported to Treblinka and killed there. Others were sent to labor camps or shot on the spot. By August 1942 only 60,000 Jews remained in the area of ​​the reduced ghetto - the nortnern part. These were people employed in enterprises producing for the Third Reich, the rest of them were in hiding. 

 

Ghetto Uprising 

In response to the deportations, in July of 1942, several Jewish underground organizations created an armed self-defense unit known as the Jewish Combat Organization (Zydowska Organizacja Bojowa. On April 19, 1943 the Warsaw ghetto uprising broke out after German forces intended to begin the operation to liquidate the Warsaw ghetto and deport its surviving inhabitants to Treblinka death camp. The revolt was crushed by the Germans four weeks later, on May 16. The Germans deported almost all of the remaining Jews, approximately 42,000, to the Majdanek camp and to several labor camps. The Nazis later murdered almost all of the Jews deported to Majdanek, Poniatowa, and Trawniki camps in November 1943 in Operation Harvest Festival (Aktion Erntefest). Those Jews who managed to escape deportation to camps found shelter on the Aryan side. After the uprising, the Germans demolished almost all buildings throughout the ghetto, including the Great Synagogue. Only a few buildings survived, including the Church of St. Augustine.

 

Memorial Route of Jewish Martyrdom and Struggle in Warsaw

In 1989, a memorial route commemorating Jews from the Warsaw ghetto was established in today's Muranow district. The route begins at the Ghetto Heroes Monument, then leads along Zamenhofa and Dubois Streets to Anielewicza Mound, and ends at Stawki street by the Umschlagplatz Memorial. It is designated by 22 blocks of black stone with important dates, events, as well as the names of the courageous Jews fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising or other merited Jews from Warsaw who lost their lives during Holocaust, for example Mordechaj Anielewicz and Janusz Korczak. 

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