The excerpts below are from the diaries of Chaim Aron Kaplan, a writer, Hebrew scholar, and educator, who perished with his wife at Treblinka in December 1942 or January 1943. Born in Horidiszczie, White Russia, in 1880, Kaplan was educated at the Yeshiva of Mir and the Government Pedagogical Institute in Vilna. In 1902, he settled in Warsaw, where he founded a pioneering elementary Hebrew day school, whose principal he remained for forty years. When the war broke out, Kaplan pledged himself to keeping a daily record of events, regardless of the risks entailed. “I do not know whether anyone else is recording the daily events,” he wrote on January 16, 1940. “I sense within me the magnitude of this hour and my responsibility to it. . . .” Kaplan wrote in Hebrew, in small notebooks of the kind used by schoolchildren; in all his published works he signed himself “Ch.A.”
The existence of the Kaplan diaries was discovered by Professor Abraham I. Katsh of New York University, in the course of a visit to the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in 1960. Two years later, Wladyslaw Wojcek, a Pole, who had been active in ghetto underground activities, and who had been responsible for the discovery of the Second Ringelblum Archives, arrived in New York with several of the Kaplan notebooks in his possession—which he showed to Professor Katsh. The notebooks, it subsequently transpired, had been smuggled out of the ghetto singly by Kaplan to a Jewish friend working at forced labor outside the ghetto who delivered them into Wojcek's hands for safekeeping.
Later this month, Macmillan will publish selections from Kaplan's diary under the title, Scroll of Agony, edited, translated and with an introduction by Professor Katsh. The excerpts which follow are from that book.
The Enemy is at the gates of Warsaw, and we are a beleaguered city. The masses have an eye that sees and an ear that hears. I too perceived it in the darkness of the night. The window of my bedroom faces toward Karmelicka Street, and even though I was sunk in slumber, voices and the noise of passers-by reached my ears. I got up and looked out the window, and I knew at once that the government was fleeing. . . .
September 10, 1939
The streets are sown with trenches and barricades. Machine guns have been placed on the roofs of houses, and there is a barricade in the doorway of my apartment house, just under my balcony. If fighting breaks out in the street no stone will remain upon another in the wall within which I live. We have therefore fled to my wife's sister's at 27 Nowolipki Street, which is nearby. Her apartment is supposed to be safer, since it faces a courtyard.
The enemy of the Jews attested long ago that if war broke out Jews would be eliminated from Europe. Now half the Jewish people are under his domination. Why has God embittered our lives so cruelly? Have we indeed sinned more than any nation?. . .
September 11, 1939
. . . In two more days it will be Rosh Hashanah. . . .
Warsaw is full of refugees from all corners of the country. In the midst of the turmoil an unplanned and undirected exodus started, with some fleeing from Warsaw and others fleeing to Warsaw. Among the refugees there is a preponderance of people from the left bank of the Vistula. They were so frightened by the approach of the barbarian enemy that they left a lifetime's labor behind in order to save their skins. Camps, camps of tens of thousands, filled with movable property and children, line all the roads that lead to the capital, when the capital itself is not safe from disaster.
September 17, 1939
Warsaw, a city of two million, is being laid waste by fire and sword. . . .
September 20, 1939
. . . The enemy has surrounded the city from four sides, no one is permitted to leave or enter, and there is no way of getting bread. The stored provisions are all but exhausted. . . . Human beings spend all their energies and talents in the pursuit of bread. Man has become an animal, concerned only with brute existence and fear of starvation. Holidays and festivals no longer exist. During Rosh Hashanah, haphazard public prayers were held in some synagogues, but will we be able to recite the Kol Nidre? . . .
September 29, 1939
. . . Beautiful Warsaw—city of royal glory, queen of cities—has been destroyed like Sodom and Gomorrah. There are streets which have been all but wiped off the face of the earth. Hundreds of houses have been destroyed by fire or changed into islands of rubble. Dozens of streets have turned into desolate heaps of gravel. . . . It is difficult to walk among the still smoldering and smoking ruins. . . . And we are waiting for Hitler's army. . . .
After all the horrors that we have endured, we wait for Hitler's army as for the spring rains. We are without bread and without water. Our nerves are shattered from everything that has happened during the last awful days. In such a condition, our only desire is to rest awhile, even if it is under Hitler's rule. And so, today at 8:00 P.M., Hitler's soldiers will enter the gates of Warsaw like victorious heroes.
Poland has fallen. Will she yet arise?
October 5, 1939
Eve of Simhat Torah, 5700
Our holiday is no longer celebrated. . . . The windows of the synagogues are dark. After 7:00 P.M. there is a curfew in the city, and in the hours before the curfew we live in dread. . . . The Nazi policy toward Jews is now in full swing.
Every day brings its share of grievous incidents. . . . Bearded Jews are stopped on the streets and abused. During the morning prayers on Shemini Atzeret, a hundred and fifty men were pulled out of the Mlawa Street synagogue, herded into a truck, and taken to enforced labor. A Jew was stripped of his coat in the street and the coat was given to a Christian, so that he could benefit from the theft. A broken Jew, standing in a food line for long hours, was picked up for a twenty-four-hour work detail, hungry and thirsty as he was.
Midian and Moab have joined forces in order to oppress Israel.
The last lesson has not yet been learned by our wise Polish neighbors, for even though they have suffered a national catastrophe as horrible as hell, they have not forgotten their animosity toward the Jews. Even though they are dull-witted and uncultured and do not know German, they have nevertheless learned to say: “Ein Jude!” in order to get him thrown out of line. . . .
October 10, 1939
Only Jews are taken for forced labor. Young, energetic, muscular Poles stand and mock from afar the Jews who kneel under the burden of their toil. The enemy picks Jews particularly for the most distasteful work—cleaning toilets, scrubbing floors, and other jobs of this sort. And there was an occurrence that I heard of from a youth—“It happened to me, myself!” he said. They caught him for work and ordered him to clean out filthy places and gave him no tools. When he asked for tools, they advised him to do it with his hands and to use his coat in place of a vessel. When he objected to this they beat him. Some soldiers were present at the time who couldn't stand to see an innocent man tortured, and explained to the strongarm that one should not behave in that manner toward a human being. The officer replied to this that the Jews wanted the war so it was just that such great misfortune befall them; that more than ten thousand German soldiers have already fallen victim, and that the Jews are making a business out of this war. Afterward they beat him some more, and after seven hours of degrading and despicable work, without tasting bread or water, he returned home.
October 16, 1939
Life moves along by itself. There is no transportation, no water, no electricity. Everything creeps, and this has given foundation to flourishing rumors that the conquerors won't remain here. But there is one thing the conquerors do not ignore, that they return to incessantly, as though from the very outset they had come here for that purpose alone. A certain psychosis of hatred and loathing toward the “Jude” has infected them. . . .
[Today], in a conversation which lasted two minutes, and which assumed the character of an order through the addition of a threat that “otherwise, they alone are responsible for their lives,” the Jewish Council2 was ordered to furnish a list of the Jewish residents of Warsaw from sixteen to sixty years of age. For what purpose? Nobody knows. But it is certain that it's not for the benefit of the Jews. Our hearts tell us that a catastrophe for the Jewry of Poland is hidden in this demand. . . .
October 18, 1939
Our lives grow gloomier from day to day. Racial laws have not yet been formally decreed, but actually our defeat is inevitable. The conqueror says bluntly that there is no hope for Jewish survival. There is room for the assumption that a beginning is being made now. . . .
Let anyone who wishes to consider the depths of the tragedy of Polish Jewry come to the Joint3 building (13 Leszno Street) and see the vale of tears. But even the Joint has no legal authority, and the conqueror knows nothing of its existence. It is our good fortune that the Joint's funds are in the hands of the American consulate and the enemy has no access to them. Otherwise he would confiscate them to the last cent. But the Joint's relief money is like a drop in the ocean. Great God! Are you making an end to Polish Jewry? “Your people” cannot understand: Why is the world silent?
October 20, 1939
. . . The Judenrat, which was orphaned when its money was stolen and its appointed president (commissar) fled, attempted to organize the matter of seizing people for labor. Czerniakow offered to supply a certain number of workers if only they would stop seizing for forced labor whoever comes to hand in the streets. They scarcely listened to this proposal, merely explained in passing that it was not detailed enough. Finally they agreed that the Judenrat will supply five hundred laborers a day, and that the street captures will stop. Tomorrow will be the first day for this new arrangement. The Judenrat will pay each worker four zloty a day out of its treasury. Let us see if they find people willing to work, if the Judenrat can meet its obligation, and if the conqueror will be satisfied with the new arrangement. If, heaven forbid, the contract with the enemy doesn't succeed, the evil will be worse than it has been up to now. We have all become orphans. . . .
October 21, 1939
. . . Our future is becoming increasingly clear. Today the legal destruction began, with an order barring Jews from the two branches of, the economy in which 50 per cent of the Jewish community supported itself. It makes one's blood freeze, and a man is ready to commit suicide out of desperation. This isn't just a small economic deprivation that makes things difficult but will not endanger our survival. It is a savage slash that has no equal in the history of the oppression of the Jewish people. The cruel decree is short and decisive, comprising only seven paragraphs, but it suffices to topple our entire economic structure. The decree says: It is strictly forbidden for Jews to trade in textile goods (manufactures) and processed hides (leather) and any sort of manufacturing that involves these materials. With terrible savagery the ax has struck at the most active artery of the Jewish economy. All violators of this order will be severely punished, even by capital punishment. . . .
October 22, 1939
. . . Radios are being confiscated. Through the long chilly evenings we sit desolate and mournful, and there is no end to our tears. In every family there is misfortune and in every house, destruction. The “legal” destruction has darkened our world, but even this has become a subject for Jewish jokes. But this is gallows humor. I am afraid of a despair psychosis which is permeating our whole lives. We have stopped reacting. Even if they forbid us to breathe, we will make peace with that too. This too will furnish a subject for a new joke.
October 25, 1939
. . . Another sign that bodes ill: Today, notices informed the Jewish population of Warsaw that next Saturday (October 29) there will be a census of the Jewish inhabitants. The Judenrat under the leadership of Engineer Czerniakow is required to carry it out. Our hearts tell us of evil-some catastrophe for the Jews of Warsaw lies in this census. Otherwise there would be no need for it. . . .
November 5, 1939
What has today brought us? Nothing less than a Jewish ghetto! A ghetto in Jewish Warsaw! Who could have believed it? Proclamations have not yet been posted, but our fate is already known to us. The conqueror has decided to establish a Jewish ghetto, consisting of some ten streets which the 360,000 Jews of Warsaw will be permitted to occupy.
Besides the insult inherent in this decree, it will create a social catastrophe for the entire population of Warsaw, even for the non-Jews; and the livelihood and occupations of the Jews who will be evicted from their homes will be lost. Those who are dispossessed will lose their property and become unemployed. Where will this great mass of people go? This order strikes especially at the wealthy Jews, the rich professional intelligentsia whose Judaism has been only surplus baggage, and whose suffering as Jews makes no sense.
November 8, 1939
. . . Terrible rumors reach us from the country. Dozens of Jewish towns have been burned, wiped off the face of the earth. In Wyszkow, for example, only three houses remain. As for the towns that were not burned—the Jews were exiled anyway. First their property was confiscated, then they were beaten and seized for forced labor, and finally, after they were searched and their money stolen, they were forced to flee. The unfortunate exiles have been burned, robbed, assaulted, left naked and penniless and exiled from their birthplaces. This has happened to the Jews of Pultusk, Mlawa, Wloclawek, and other Jewish towns too numerous to list.
Almighty God! Are you making an end to the remnant of Polish Jewry?
[Whether the Germans actually intended to build a ghetto remained unclear for about a year, during which time the Jewish community of Warsaw alternated between hope and despair over its fate. On June 27, 1940, according to Kaplan's diary, it was rumored that the ghetto plan had been temporarily abandoned. Again, on October 3, Kaplan notes with relief that “the fear of the ghetto has passed.” But two weeks later, the official order for construction of the Warsaw Ghetto had gone into effect—Ed.]
October 12, 1940
End of Yom Kippur, 5701
On the New Year we prayed illegally. The ban on communal worship was still in effect. In secret, in side rooms near the dark, closed synagogues we prayed to the God of Israel like Marranos in the 15th century. . . .
At last the ghetto edict has gone into effect. For the time being it will be an open ghetto, but there is no doubt that in short order it will be closed. In Lodz the ghetto edict was not carried out all at once, but rather step by step, and many signs indicate that it will be the same in Warsaw. After the ghetto plan was postponed two weeks ago, we were almost tranquil. But the enemy of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers. . . .
Before the thirty-first of October the Jews who live in the streets outside the walls must move lock, stock, and barrel to the streets within the walls; and all the Aryans (read Poles) living in the streets within the walls must move to the Aryan quarter. To a certain extent the edict has hurt the Poles more than the Jews, for the Poles are ordered to move not only from the ghetto, but from the German quarter as well. Nazism wants to separate everyone—the lords by themselves, the underlings by themselves, the slaves by themselves. . . .
October 14, 1940
There is a rumor that in one of the congregations the prayer leader came and dressed himself in a kittel and prepared to lead his poor and impoverished people in the Neilah4 service, when a boy from his congregation broke in with the news about the ghetto. At once the Jew dispensed with Neilah, took off his kittel, and went back to his seat. There was no point in praying when the “Gates of Mercy” were locked. . . .
October 17, 1940
. . . The publication of the official order has settled all doubts, but to our disadvantage. They took streets away from us that have been Jewish since ancient times, and which no one imagined would be outside the boundaries of the ghetto. Walls had already been erected at the end of them, and this was taken as a clear indication that they would be within the boundaries.
A closed ghetto means death by starvation in a concentration camp with inhuman living conditions. All of the Jewish quarter will be fenced in with walls and barbed wire, and at the gates will be the sword which turns every way, to prevent the prisoners from escaping. In a closed ghetto everything is locked and bolted. No one enters or leaves. Anyone who tries to flee risks his life. The guards of the ghetto do not permit the farmers from the villages to bring any food in through its gates. Babies ask for bread and there is none. In the Lodz ghetto no one had anything hot to drink or any cooked food because there was no wood for fuel. They paid ten zloty for a kilo of onions. The people of Warsaw, who are clever, are laying in provisions to be ready for whatever misfortune may come, and for this reason prices have gone up.
October 22, 1940
The creation of the ghetto is accompanied by such severe birth pangs that they are beyond description.
When it came time to carry out the ghetto order, everything became chaotic. The Polish side began to haggle—in this suburb they have a church; another is mainly inhabited by Aryans; here is a beautiful school building; there is a factory employing thousands of Aryan workers. How can the rightful owners be driven from all these places? Thus they excised piece after piece, street after street, of the Jewish area, and the boundaries of the ghetto grew more and more constricted. . . .
The Judenrat is powerless to grasp the helm in these events. It is true that it has the power to use force, but it is not always desirable or possible to use force. Our troubles are unhinging our minds and weakening our powers of judgment, and in our despair, we do not obey the orders of the Judenrat, thus making its work, which is so full of responsibilities, all the harder.
Several days ago the Judenrat furnished a questionnaire to all the courtyard committees in which they were asked to give detailed replies to questions about the number of apartments, the number of rooms in each apartment, the number of tenants, and the prices of apartments. On the basis of this information they will confiscate vacant rooms and settle homeless people in them, of their own choice. Incidentally, they are raising the rents sky-high. They are afraid that the Judenrat will match them up with the wrong people and make them stick to the prescribed rents. . . .
October 24, 1940
The night of Simhat Torah, 5701
The Warsaw ghetto is making its full appearance. Everyone is vacating his forbidden apartment in advance of the deadline, and taking some new apartment in the Jewish area. So long as poverty can be locked in the innermost places, people forget it exists; but when it is brought outside it awakens disgust and loathing. Now we see the used furniture and household utensils of the poor as they search through the streets for a new refuge. There is no sense to this. For what reason are these miserable and oppressed creatures made to roam around like shadows, these who have nothing to keep themselves alive with even under their own roofs?
The naïve among the Jews and Poles ask: Can the world sit silent? Will the evil and the corrupt always have the upper hand? Will the ax fall upon the entire world? O Leader of the city, where are you?
But He Who sits in Heaven laughs. . . .
Will it be a closed ghetto? There are signs in both directions, and we hope for a miracle—which doesn't always happen in time of need. A closed ghetto means gradual death. An open ghetto is only a halfway catastrophe.
October 27, 1940
As long as the ghetto is open and there is still a gap, no larger than the eye of a needle, through which we may come in contact with the outside world, the Judenrat has jurisdiction only over internal affairs; from the time when the ghetto is closed, we will become a foreign national organism, separated from the civil life of the nation. We will stop paying taxes to the government, and be exempt from paying rent. . . . The Judenrat will be the representative of the Jewish people both within and without. In a closed ghetto we will not only have cultural autonomy, but administrative autonomy as well.
And in this lies the essence of our tragedy. Out of the frying pan, into the fire. The Judenrat is not the same as our traditional Jewish Community Council, which wrote such brilliant chapters in our history. Strangers in our midst, foreign to our spirit, sons of Ham who trample upon our heads, the president of the Judenrat and his advisers are musclemen who were put on our backs by strangers. Most of them are nincompoops whom no one knew in normal times. They were never elected, and would not have dared dream of being elected, as Jewish representatives; had they dared, they would have been defeated. All their lives until now they were outside the Jewish fold; they did not rejoice in our happiness nor mourn our misfortunes. Who paid any attention to some unknown engineer, a nincompoop among nincompoops, who was an assimilationist not for ideological reasons but for utilitarian ones? Zionism had already thrown these men over its shoulder, and they moved about among us like shadows. Small minds, artists at poker, schooled in a foreign culture.
How did we come to this state of affairs? Only chance was involved. Even the conqueror didn't choose them, but rather found them already there. After they became his loyal and dedicated minions in heart and soul, he found no flaw in them and left them in their place. . . .
October 31, 1940
This is the last day for the evacuation of apartments, for both Jews living in the Aryan quarters and Christians living in the Jewish quarter. The conquerors' rag of a newspaper makes everything more difficult of its own accord and on its own responsibility, in order to destroy the nerves of the Jews. Its threats, which had no basis in fact, magnified the weight of the catastrophe. But be that as it may, the open ghetto has already been created. A great herd of half a million people has been compressed and squeezed into a small area where it will live its degrading life in terrible crowding without any income. Rich families who lived in five and six-room apartments must content themselves with one room. Everyone hurried to insure a place of refuge as well as he could. There was no choice. . . .
November 5, 1940
They have begun sending children of various ages to peddle in the streets. I saw a boy of six selling “badges of shame,”5 conducting his business with eagerness and industry. Little vendors like these are hard to catch, because they are fleet-footed and quick to slip away—and when they are caught their liability is not great. So boy vendors fill the Jewish section with their deafening cries. . . .
The sidewalks are crowded beyond belief. Most of all, mothers take up positions on the sidewalks with their children's cradles, and they lean against the sides of buildings all along the street. The conquerors have closed the city parks to us. . . . The Jewish mothers have already gotten used to their bad fortune, and in order not to deprive their babies of the sunlight, they take their stand with their cradles wherever there is a square or a vacant lot, or a sidewalk covered with sunlight.
A second phenomenon—characters out of Men-dele. The inescapable beggars and paupers have gathered in Warsaw from all parts of the country. And they are types the like of which you have never seen before. By the thousand they beg for food and sustenance in the streets of the Jewish quarter. They surround you and tug at your sleeve wherever you turn. This is not ordinary panhandling, it is artistry. Every business likes to try new things in order to succeed, and those who work at this one are adept at it, as is proven by their inventiveness and originality in appealing to the hearts of passers-by. Thus at one intersection you encounter a group of children of poverty ranging in age from four to ten, the emissaries of mothers and fathers who supervise them from the sidelines. They sing, and their voices are pleasant and their songs permeated with Jewish sorrow and grief. The music touches your heartstrings. Little groups of idlers and strollers stand near the childish quartet, their eyes filled with tears; they find it hard to leave. . . . A short distance away there is a cantor with a complete choir of singers. The synagogues are closed, and they cannot sing before their Creator, so they pour forth their supplications under the open sky. A concert of this sort attracts hundreds of people. They sing prayers and hymns for all the holidays in the year, and since everyone has more than enough free time, the audience grows larger and larger, and the choir does a good business.
. . . Sometimes a single artist who relies on his own talents goes into business for himself. An excellent basso sings arias of all kinds all day long, and sometimes he is even favored with a penny for his efforts. Aside from artistic panhandling there is physical panhandling everywhere you turn. Lamed, crippled, and blind people; people missing an arm or a leg; all manner of misshapen people who inspire physical repulsion; epileptics and those afflicted with skin diseases; naked people and people dressed in filthy rags; and all of them shouting: “Give! Give!”
This particolored picture represents the Jewish quarter at the present moment. Sometimes you get fed up with yourself and your people. Is all of this symbolic of the “eternity of Israel”? Have we sunk so low? Do these living dead represent national strength? But the bustling, noisy street is not interested in your sad thoughts. Everywhere there is noise, motion; in every corner the pulse-beat of life is unceasing.
November 10, 1940
The conquerors' radio emphasized and re-emphasized that this is not a ghetto, but rather a Jewish quarter, like the Polish quarter or the German quarter. In whispers the constant rumor was that Roosevelt had a hand in these concessions. . . . It is good in our terrible troubles to believe that some mighty hand is guiding us, that our sufferings are seen and our sighs are heard.
But we woke up, and our souls were empty. . . .
The Judenrat is building this great mass grave with its own funds. All of this is a clear proof, because if the conquerors wished to leave the ghetto open they would not need to build high, fortified walls that block the path of life before us.
The Judenrat is burdened with much other work in preparing to organize life within a closed ghetto. Under its supervision a Jewish police force is being recruited which will have authority over the buried-alive Jews of the ghetto. Nine thousand young men have already registered as candidates for this force. By the way, each applicant included a five-zloty registration fee, which even the abject poor paid in the hope of being accepted for the ghetto police. . . .
The day is not distant when we will be penned in like cattle, forcibly removed from the outside world like a camp of unclean lepers.
November 13, 1940
. . . There is scarcely any doubt that we will have a closed ghetto, although in a form somewhat different from that of Lodz. Four or five through streets will be left, and at these streets military guards will be posted to watch who enters and leaves. Jews may be allowed to leave for several hours each day after they obtain a permit at a certain price. Air will be bought with money. . . .
November 17, 1940
. . . What we dreaded most has come to us. . . . On the eve of the Sabbath of Parashat Vayera, the fourteenth of Marheshvan, 5701, we went to bed in the Jewish quarter, and the next morning we awoke in a closed Jewish ghetto, a ghetto in every detail. In the morning hours of the Sabbath a three-man guard was set up in all the open places where walls were not erected because of the trolley connections. They would not allow Jews wearing the “badge of shame” to cross over into the Aryan quarter. Thus we have been granted “full civil rights” to the extent of having a Jewish police force in the state of Poland, an idea which the Jewish autonomists in every generation hoped for with all their heart and soul. We have entered into a new life, and it is impossible to imagine the panic that has arisen in the Jewish quarter. Suddenly we see ourselves penned in on all sides. . . .
November 28, 1940
The ghetto is empty of all Gentiles and has turned into a Jewish kingdom. The police are leaving and the Jewish police will inherit their place. The same applies to the post office; Jews working for the Judenrat will head it and all the jobs there will be filled by Jews. An exceptional concession will apparently be made in the case of the tax bureau, and for the public utility department—if the cruel conquerors do not forbid us to use gas and electricity. In short, a Jewish state complete in every detail, but a closed, cramped one, imprisoned, mummified within its narrow borders.
November 29, 1940
. . . The concept that “all Jews are responsible for one another” has stopped being merely a slogan or a metaphor. It is realized in us.
The courtyard committees operate on the principle that the affairs of their own courtyard come first. And so they impose a double monthly payment upon their “subjects”; one for the benefit of the Self-Aid, which supports the soup kitchens in the ghetto, the other for courtyard needs. This payment need not be in cash. It may be made in foodstuffs, prepared meals, or used clothing.
When the ghetto was about to be set up and people were concerned about the hoarding, the courtyard committees began taking care of all the residents of the courtyard without exception, including even the middle-class and wealthy ones. It was deemed entirely possible that a day would come when all the private hoards would be eaten up and it would be necessary to set up a common soup kitchen for all the residents of the courtyard. So the courtyard committees hastily created a “permanent fund” for the establishment of soup kitchens. At once the necessary (relatively speaking) sums were collected to enable them to buy in advance a certain quantity of foodstuffs, to be stored in a special cellar belonging to the courtyard committee. It will thus remain, ready for whatever trouble may come.
When historians come to write the history of the courtyard committees during the days of the Nazi war against the Jews, let them end their chapter with a blessing of consolation: “May the Lord remember them with favor!”
December 2, 1940
Life in the ghetto is becoming “normal.” The chaos lasted no more than a week. When half a million people are locked in a small cage, faced with hunger, privation, epidemics, atrocities, naturally it causes a stir. Even the conquerors were confused. This is a unique political experiment. The intention was to starve and impoverish us in body and in spirit; to segregate us from the outside world; to undermine our very existence. A great project of this sort demands extraordinary exertions and cannot be brought into effect by words alone. But to our sorrow, it must be admitted that the tyrants succeeded. . . .
December 3, 1940
. . . The ghetto state needs civil servants, and it employs thousands of people. The janitors, the “Lords of the Broom,” have left us because they were Ayrans born and bred, and Jews have been appointed in their place. Then there are the Jewish policemen with their rubber clubs (they were not given arms). Those who have been beaten say there is no difference between them and the ones carried by their Polish and German colleagues; only they have a special, Jewish flavor. At all events, four thousand Jewish youths who were eliminated from their former jobs were given these new “posts of honor,” and thereby an opportunity for living on bribes and food smuggling. Both they and the ghetto dwellers benefit.
The post office employs several hundred people, and the Jewish building agents have returned to their jobs and scared all the tenants. The jokesters have made up a new prayer: “Let us fall into the hands of Gentile agents, only let us not fall into the hands of a Jewish agent!”
The administrative work within the Judenrat itself also engages thousands of people. Their salary is small and is never paid on time, but at least they have a foothold.
In short, there is no shortage of jobs, and we will live in spite of the murderers.
December 5, 1940
When Warsaw was conquered, the “Lord of the Broom” was at the height of his power. He literally had power of life and death over his neighbors. At his pleasure he would tell the Nazi robbers, who made the rounds of the gates of the Jewish buildings in search of loot, that rich Jews with a lot of money lived in his courtyard; and at his pleasure he would deceive them by saying that in his yard there are only poor people.
Now that the ghetto has been created, a day of recompense has come for Pan Josef as well. He is forced to leave the sinful Jews and move among his pure compatriots, and here his tragedy begins. Where everyone is pure, there is neither honor nor lucre for him, so Pan Josef does not want to leave his Jews. Against his will he moves to the Aryan quarter, but every day he risks his life, smuggles himself across the border, and returns to his nest. Here he finds a Jew holding a broom, and tears fill his eyes. I swear that with my own ears I heard a Josef say, “They won't take me away from here alive! If my livelihood is gone, why should I live?”
That is the Aryan side of the coin, but it has a Jewish side that is tragic too. There are thousands of candidates for Josef's glorious job among the unemployed Jews. The courtyard committee, which has the decisive say in the matter, receives dozens of applications from former big shots in which they pour forth their supplications for mercy upon their starving children through their appointment as janitor. Among them are former merchants, jurists, engineers, teachers, and even landlords—and only one in a hundred is awarded the job.
But Pan Rubinsztejn is not like Pan Josef. The Jews were afraid of Pan Josef, and so his income was assured; but Pan Rubinsztejn is our own flesh and blood, and so they will support him like a dog.
December 16, 1940
. . . We have become accustomed to the miserable life of the ghetto. There are even some few hours when life begins to vibrate again with such strength and vigor that, for a short moment, we forget that we are no longer human beings, that we are members of an inferior race. At first we were afraid—simple, physical fear of the famine knocking at our door. Hoarding of food for evil times to come became a psychosis, and caused terrible turmoil in our minds and emotions. But by now we have come to realize that it was an exaggerated fear. We are not short of any foodstuffs, and if you have the money you can enjoy all good things. In the show windows of the ghetto stores you can find all manner of delicacies, from honey cakes to the choicest wines. . . .
December 21, 1940
The Aryan policemen, big, powerful, with red noses and faces that testified to their drunkenness and coarseness, who would do anything you wanted for a copper penny, have disappeared. In their stead, thousands of Jewish youths have appeared in the streets of the ghetto wearing policemen's caps, their right sleeves wrapped in an amber cloth on which there is an inscription testifying to the fact that the wearer belongs to the public safety service. The residents of the ghetto are beginning to think they are in Tel Aviv. Strong, bonafide policemen from among our brothers, to whom you can speak in Yiddish! First of all, it comes as a godsend to the street vendors. The fear of the Gentile police is gone from their faces. A Jewish policeman, a man of human sensibilities—one of our own brothers—would not turn over their baskets or trample their wares. The other citizens of the ghetto are relieved too, because a Jewish shout is not the same as a Gentile one. The latter is coarse, crude, nasty; the former, while it may be threatening, contains a certain gentility, as if to say: “Don't you understand?”
December 26, 1940
Hanukkah in the ghetto. Never before in Jewish Warsaw were there as many Hanukkah celebrations as in this year of the wall. . . . Polish Jews are stubborn: the enemy makes laws but they don't obey them. That is the secret of our survival. We behaved in this manner even in the days when we were not imprisoned within the ghetto walls, when the cursed Nazis filled our streets and watched our every move. Since the ghetto was created we have had some respite from overt and covert spies, and so Hanukkah parties were held in nearly every courtyard, even in rooms which face the street; the blinds were drawn, and that was sufficient. . . .
Just now I returned from a celebration at the Zionist soup kitchen. On every holiday the guests here arrange themselves at small tables, sip tea, and nibble on some sort of baked goods. But that is not important. That is only on the outside, for the sake of appearances before strange eyes. The important thing is the presidium, which is headed by Kirszenbaum and Kaminar, to the right and left of whom sit all the leaders of Warsaw's Zionists, who speak and debate with words that go straight to your heart.
This year's Hanukkah celebration was very well attended. We almost forgot that we are only allowed to go as far as the corner of Nalewki and Swietojerska streets. Dr. Lajfuner gave a speech full of jokes and we all laughed heartily. There was one truth in his speech which should be stressed: “In all the countries where they want to bury us alive, we pull the gravediggers in with us.” . . .
January 25, 1941
. . .Can we survive? That is the question everyone asks. The stereotyped answer is one you would expect from believers who are the sons of believers: Only God knows!
And at a time like this there is no more efficacious remedy than to be a believer.
Logic would indicate that we are going to starve to death. Anyone who spends money without replenishing it ends in ruin, and that is our condition. We need the Gentiles but they do not need us. We buy food from them, and whether it is legal or smuggled we pay for it in full. But the Gentiles are not allowed to set foot in our territory, and for that reason they have no opportunity to buy anything from us. As a result, the money that leaves does not come back. And yet we live.
Just as our ancestors who were imprisoned in the ghetto continued to create cultural values, even though they were hated and despised, so shall we do.
January 26, 1941
Today new tidings reached us. Once again hundreds of families have been uprooted from their homes and are coming to Warsaw on foot. Another expulsion in the midst of a bitter winter. There is a rumor circulating that another 72,000 people have gone into exile, and all of them will be coming to the Warsaw ghetto, which is well-schooled in hospitality. Further, there may be a plan behind all this barbarism, for we hear that the murderers have decided to set up three “concentrations” of Jews: the Warsaw, Lublin, and Radom concentrations. Except for these three concentrations, no Jews will remain throughout the area of the General Government. This will make it easier for the murderers to destroy them, not one by one but wholesale. . . .
But the guardian of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers, and good news comes from the dunes of Africa. The Jews continue in their belief that the downfall of the Germans is at hand, that their troubles are greater than ours. Their incompetent partner is already on his knees and will not rise again. It is the beginning of the end.
It is obvious to us that we will end in joy and redemption, while they will end in doom and destruction.
January 31, 1941
Today three thousand new exiles from Pryszkow and other Polish cities entered the Warsaw ghetto and it was our obligation to furnish a new shelter for the unfortunates, in addition to the 120 old shelters, which are nothing more than breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases and epidemics.
The exiles were driven out of their beds before dawn, and the Führer's minions did not let them take money, belongings, or food, threatening all the while to shoot them. Before they left on their exile, a search was made of their pockets and of all the hidden places in their clothes and bodies. Without a penny in their pockets or a covering for the women, children, old people, and invalids—sometimes without shoes on their feet or staffs in their hands—they were forced to leave their homes and possessions and the graves of their ancestors, and go—whither? And in terrible, fierce, unbearable cold! . . .
February 15, 1941
Jewish children learn in secret. In back rooms, on long benches near a table, little schoolchildren sit and learn what it's like to be Marranos. Before the ghetto was created, when the Nazis were common in our streets, we trembled at the sound of every driven leaf; our hearts turned to water at the sound of any knock on the door. But with the creation of the ghetto, the situation improved somewhat. The Jewish teachers engage in their teaching with confidence that they and their pupils are in relatively little danger. The Jewish police are assumed to be reliable; even if they uncover “forbidden learning” they will not betray us to the heathens. In addition, to a certain extent we do have a semblance of permission. The Self-Aid is authorized to open and support “training points” for Jewish children. We are allowed to feed, direct, and train them; but to educate them is forbidden. But since training is permitted, we allow ourselves education as well. In time of danger the children learn to hide their books. Jewish children are clever—when they set off to acquire forbidden learning they hide their books and notebooks between their trousers and their stomachs, then button their jackets and coats. This is a tried-and-true method, a kind of smuggling that is not readily detected. . . .
February 19, 1941
. . . A crowd of idlers gathers around two Jews fighting and wrestling. Each is trying to kill the other. Nobody knows what happened. But if you look closely at the wrestlers, you understand the reason for the battle. One of them was carrying a loaf of bread; the other sneaked up on him, took it away, and started running. The other man ran after him and caught him.
One claims: “I am as hungry as you are, why rob me? Go to the rich people.”
The street rabble gets into the quarrel, but the mob is divided into two camps. A student of the Bible decides it: “Men do not despise a thief, if he steals to satisfy his soul when he is hungry.”
Everyone agrees that King Solomon was right.
February 20, 1941
. . . There is a lot of frivolity in the ghetto in order to somewhat lessen its sorrow. In the daytime, when the sun is shining, the ghetto groans. But at night everyone is dancing even though his stomach is empty. Quiet, discreet evening music accompanies the dancing. It is almost a mitzvah to dance. The more one dances, the more it is a sign of his belief in the “eternity of Israel.” Every dance is a protest against our oppressors.
Will all this end now? I swear that it will not. On the contrary. Stolen water is sweeter.
March 2, 1941
There are no people as expert in politics as the Jews. Every event, whether political, military, or diplomatic, causes a storm in our world. There is no end to the arguments. One thing is compared to another—one fact to another fact—one statement to another statement—and they build up all sorts of hypotheses from all of them, produce logical proofs, and reach definite conclusions. Our terrible situation has made us sensitive to any sort of change. The fate of the war is our fate here in Central and Western Europe. In this conflict between two worlds, we are in the middle. If democracy falls, we fall forever. If Nazism wins, we are better off committing suicide. And so we weigh in a balance every victory and defeat. . . .
A notice posted in the Aryan quarter invites Polish, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian youths to apply for jobs as supervisors of the barracks being erected for the Jews. The questions arise: What barracks do the murderers mean? Are they for the labor camps which will begin working on the regulation of the Vistula when spring comes? Or perhaps we are facing an expulsion from Warsaw? Nothing, no matter how savage, is beyond the murderers. Perhaps it was for just this purpose that they concentrated all the Jews of the Warsaw district in one place?
March 13, 1941
. . . No one pays any attention to funerals, because for sanitary reasons the hearse is required to go at a fast pace, and the driver urges his horses on until you are no longer able to keep up. Lately the dead have been taken for burial not by horses but by a three-wheeled wagon which the black-clad driver pedals at full strength. The wagon looks like a coffin, but no one turns to watch it or pays any attention to the fact that in the coffin which goes by at such a clip lies one of the victims of starvation. Sometimes several corpses are placed in one coffin, one on top of the other, and all are taken for burial at one time. A wholesale business! And there is one madman in the ghetto who runs after every coffin shouting: “Did the departed leave his bread card?”
Under conditions of this sort we celebrated Purim, 5701. The Book of Esther was not read in the darkened synagogues, because all public worship is prohibited; but we were happy about the defeat of the Persian Haman. We celebrated Purim in the Zionist soup kitchen at 13 Zamenhof Street, which is the center of all Hebrew-Zionist social activity. . . . When we come here we forget our troubles and all the terrible events taking place outside. Here you can hear debates and sermons, arguments and quarrels as in the good days. And when your throat is dry you can wet it with a glass of black coffee without sugar. . . .
March 14, 1941
. . . The words of the prophet have been fulfilled by the Jews of Poland: “It is a time of trouble unto Jacob, but out of it shall he be saved.” We have been healed by our catastrophe. We have become a social community that realizes its obligations toward its brothers in misfortune. And social servants worthy of the name have been found who fulfill their functions in the highest degree. Out of the little experience with which Starowinski approached his task, the powerful Self-Aid organization which employs hundreds of starving intellectuals has grown and flourished, and its protection now extends to all areas of our social life. Our sufferings have been a balm for our souls—we have thrown away the beggar's pack and become self-reliant. . . .
No doubt the Self-Aid will find its own historian who will tell future generations of its scope and magnitude, and of the greatness of its influence and its educational value, using facts and figures. I do not intend to compete with him. I wrote this out of my own impressions as someone who is close to it, on the inside, and thus sees only certain aspects of it rather than the entire picture. . . .
March 20, 1941
. . . Roosevelt is our Messiah. The Nazi press argues with him and contradicts his premises, but in order not to embarrass itself it publishes excerpts from his statements, the excerpts most favorable to it. But we, in spite of their wrath, know of other excerpts which bring balm to our souls. He took words from our own hearts, as though he were in the ghetto and saw how we live, although he didn't mention us by name.
April 3, 1941
Like the Egyptian Passover, the Passover of Germany will be celebrated for generations. . . .
As the holiday drew near, the Self-Aid made the customary Passover appeal for money for the poor. But this project was born in an unlucky hour and its results will be nil. At present—one week before the holiday—the project's treasury is empty.
What, then, will we eat during the eight days of the coming holiday? I am afraid we will turn our holiday into a weekday. For prayer there are no synagogues or houses of study. Their doors are closed and darkness reigns in the dwelling places of Israel. For eating and drinking there is neither matzoh nor wine.
[The notebooks from April 4, 1941, through May 2, 1942 have not yet been located.]
May 3, 1942
. . . Since the dreadful night of mass slaughter,6 the terror has not ceased. The caretaker of the Jewish cemetery is the most reliable witness in such matters, and he testifies that there is no day when tens of people killed by shooting are not brought to burial. . . .
The walls of the Pawiak7 know all the secrets, but we have not yet seen the fulfillment of the words of the prophet: “The stone shall cry out of the wall.” No one brought into its gates comes out alive. This is the operational center of the Nazi slaughterers. The vicinity of the Pawiak strikes terror into the hearts of passers-by, and the inhabitants of the neighboring houses are in constant danger. The windows that look out on the Pawiak are shaded even in the daytime.
May 14, 1942
Cruelty is a disease. Man's natural inclinations are good from childhood, and the feeling of compassion is embedded in him from the day he leaves his mother's womb. But I speak of a normal man. When a man is lacking in humane sensibilities, it is a blatant sign of a sick mind. A man who takes pleasure in tormenting one who is weaker than he, stands accused of having a diseased psyche. The victim of cruelty deserves pity; the object of torment merits sympathy. The sadist too is a miserable man, but he does not deserve pity. From this standpoint the Nazi is a sick and miserable person. Before this we had seen cruel individuals, but from the time that Nazism came into being, cruelty became the disease of an entire party, and perhaps of an entire nation. Even the sadists used to be tempered with a sense of shame; their cruelty was perpetrated in secret places, not in public. But since the coming of Nazism public shame has ceased, and the more one practices cruelty in public, the better.
In the last few days the terror, cruelty, and savagery toward the Jews have reached a climax. There is simply no air to breathe. The only consolation is that Nazism is insanity—but this is no consolation to a Jew who is bruised and bleeding. . . .
May 16, 1942
Life in the ghetto is stagnant and frozen. There are walls around us; we have no space, no freedom of action. Whatever we do we do illegally; legally we don't even have permission to exist. Our sources of livelihood are all tenuous and temporary, based on chance. As many as sixty per cent are starving in the full sense of the word. Up to thirty per cent are in a state of terrible deprivation and hunger, even though it is not apparent from without; only ten per cent are exceptions, making their living from the misfortunes of Israel. These are the smugglers, the bakers, the traders in produce, and the functionaries of the Judenrat and those who revolve around it. Our lives—if this can be called living—have taken on their inert, monotonous forms and no changes occur in them. The only ones who bring some activity into the sordid life of the ghetto are the killer and his friend death—the killer with his decrees which are renewed from time to time, and death with his scythe. Today one person died; tomorrow another. When their names are mentioned people wake up for a moment and sigh out of fear for what may befall them tomorrow, then life returns to its usual course. The same is true with a new decree. When a new decree is made it stuns the soul for a moment. Thousands of families fall victim to its cruelty and barbarism, but in the end we “make friends” with it too. . . .
What do they argue about in the ghetto? About whether the downfall will come quickly, during this summer, or next summer. As usual, there are those who rush the end and those who put it off. But this is not the main point. What concerns us is whether we will live to see that debacle. Alfred Rosenberg has stated explicitly: “The Jews are awaiting the end of the war; but the Jews will not live to see it. They will pass from the earth before it comes!” Vilna, Kovno, Lublin, Slonim, and Novogrudok have proved that the Nazi may be relied upon to keep his word. . . .
May 23, 1942
. . . Last night was a night of watching. The Jewish police made the rounds of Jewish homes and awakened about eight hundred young men from their sleep to take them to the labor camp. Again turmoil and confusion. The police justify themselves: We are compelled by the conquerors' order to supply so many young men for labor, and we must obey orders.
The captured youths were led to the place designated for them, but half of them returned—specifically, the wealthy among them. This was a mystery. Later on, the secret was revealed; they were ordered to supply not eight hundred but four hundred. For greater security and for greater income, eight hundred were arrested, among them four hundred wealthy ones. The wealthy ones ransomed themselves and returned home; the poor ones were taken and are destined for hard labor and lingering death.
This is only an indication of what the Judenrat does. The rest will emerge in due time.
May 30, 1942
Outside—annihilation; inside—terror. . . .
The eleven people who were killed [on the preceding night] walked in our midst only yesterday and never thought it was their last day. They were shot like dogs, in the darkness of the night next to some gate, with their corpses left in the dust until daybreak. The worst part of this ugly kind of death is that you don't know the reason for it. They come and greet you with a “good evening” and invite you to follow them. Which means: You are going to the slaughter. . . .
The lack of reason for these murders especially troubles the inhabitants of the ghetto. In order to comfort ourselves we feel compelled to find some sort of system to explain these nighttime murders. Everyone, afraid for his own skin, thinks to himself: If there is a system, every murder must have a cause; if there is a cause, nothing will happen to me since I myself am absolutely guiltless.
But my friend Hirsch,8 who is a very clever Jew, thinks differently. The system is a lack of system. The guiding principle is the annihilation of a specific number of Jews every night. They go to the files, indiscriminately draw out a card, and whoever is picked, is picked: he is destined to die.
Hirsch's opinion has earned him many enemies. People do not want to die without cause.
June 3, 1942
As much as the first expulsion9 excelled in the cruelty, horror, and tragedy that accompany such total terror as this, the conquerors at least allowed the deportees to remain alive.
Now it is different. The deportees are transported as prisoners in tightly sealed freight cars under the supervision of Nazi oppressors. They are in the care of these angels of destruction until they come to the place of execution, where they are killed. Many of the deportees, among them mothers and their infants, are put to death along the way; the remainder are brought to some secret place, unknown even to the hawk, and there killed in satanic fashion, by the thousands and tens of thousands. The community of Lublin has lost all its sons. About 40,000 Jews of Lublin have disappeared, and no one knows their burial place. Aryan messengers were commissioned to search for them through the entire General Government, but they found not a trace. It is as though the 40,000 had been swallowed up by stormy waters. But there is no doubt that they are no longer alive. . . .
A joke is making the rounds: Rabbi Stephen S. Wise is helping. He has ordered the American Jews to say the memorial prayer for the departed souls of Polish Jewry. His foresight is accurate.
June 7, 1942
The transports do not cease. . . . But we were always a nation bound by hope—and so we shall remain. Jewish faith is marvelous; it can create states of mind that have nothing to do with reality. Like the believing Jewish grandfather who in anticipation of the Messiah always wore his Sabbath clothes, so we too await him, “and, though he tarry, I will wait daily for his coming.” The English radio, whose listeners endanger their lives, strengthens our hope. We listen to Reuters with great respect. Every word gives us courage; every small detail that points to any military weakness is carried through the length and breadth of the ghetto as though on eagles' wings, with even children talking about it. When the news doesn't tell us what we want to hear, we twist and turn it until it seems full of hints, clues, and secrets that support our views. We no longer count weeks, only days; and some have even started to count hours. Everyone asks everyone else about the news, certain that this time the report will be favorable. And the news from Reuters always contains a certain intonation or expression to satisfy and comfort a spirit thirsting for a speedy and quick redemption. A stubborn people!
Hirsch, my wise friend, is an exception. He is the only one who sits like a mourner among bridegrooms. “Idiots!” he shouts, and his face becomes red with anger. “Your hope is vain; your trust a broken reed. All of you are already condemned to die, only the date of execution has yet to be set. . . . You have eyes and yet you do not see. . . . Over half a million Jews who used to live in Poland have already been murdered; some by hunger, some by disease, some by the Nazi sword. Jews have been deported from hundreds of small communities, and no one knows their whereabouts, simply because they were killed along the way and never reached a new destination. Optimistic fools! Where is the great community of Lublin, and the hundreds of other smaller communities? Where did their deportees settle? The Nazis created ghettos in order to annihilate us but their plan did not succeed. Now they have decided upon the ‘final solution,’ annihilation through murder. . . .”
June 9, 1942
. . . Habit becomes second nature, even in matters of life and death. We are so used to the idea of being shot to death that this entire horrible matter no longer frightens us. Because no one knows what will happen to him at night, there are those who set their households in order before they lie down “to sleep”; they caution their wives in a quiet and practical way that should it happen—and of course it will not—but should the Nazis come, they must not make an outcry because it would frighten the sleeping children. Devout Jews utter their last prayer and whisper, “In Thy hands I entrust my spirit.”
Tremendous intellectual effort is expended to find some motive behind all the slaughter. If there is a motive, there is a possibility of estimating the proximity of individual danger. But none of the theories has a leg to stand on; there are always incidents that do not fit the alleged motive, that are beyond calculation and unbounded by logic.
Now there is an effort to substantiate the theory that the Nazi murder-machine strikes only at fugitives; but this theory is contradicted by the fact that an artist who voluntarily came from Vilna was put to death. Among the victims there are those who illegally fled from the ghetto of Lodz, but as far as a motive is concerned, it is the motive of Haman: to destroy, to murder, to annihilate. These are the only reasons. . . .
Today the news was received that a deportation decree was issued to Biala Podlaska. Of a Jewish population of 8,000 people, 6,000 must leave within three days. The rest work for the German army, and will therefore remain until they complete their work. After that they too will be deported. Where will the deportees go? No one knows. However, perhaps my “no one knows” is no more than self-deception. Where to? To a place from which they will not return. . . .
June 16, 1942
. . . The rumors that reach us from the provincial towns are worse than the tidings of Job. Every day entire communities are uprooted from their native soil. . . .
Seventeen thousand Jews are missing in Cracow. They are lost, and are no more. Here read: They were killed upon their departure into exile. Their trail has disappeared because they are no longer among the living.
About 40,000 people are missing from among the Jews of Lublin, almost all of those who were exiled. Our Aryan messengers could not find their trail, but their relatives would not rest until something of the fate of the exiles became known to them. Thus we learned that they were taken to some forest and killed to the last man. They dug their graves with their own hands while they were still alive—a great, giant, mass grave. They were made to stand at its rim to be shot. Was anyone saved? And if one was saved, would he risk becoming a chronicler of impressions?
The remnant of the community of Lublin was divided among four concentration camps. This is only a waiting room for death, for in a concentration camp no one lasts longer than eight weeks. . . .
The Jews of Hrubieszow were killed to the last man. The fact is genuine, its details unknown to me. The last two thousand people were exiled from Biala Podlaska. Where were they taken? We can rightly assume that they were taken to their death, for no remnant of them is left.
In Mlawa, twenty-two smugglers were hanged before the eyes of the entire Mlawa congregation; and among them were four women. When the Nazis had tortured the captives to their hearts' content, they ordered the Jews of the city to build a stage in the market place. The stage was a scaffold. In front of thousands of people ordered to be present, the Nazis hanged the builders' relatives and the members of their congregation. Here too details are lacking, but the fact itself is beyond dispute. And so it is in other towns and villages: expulsion, destruction, and the sword.
My Hirsch is screaming: “Cowards! A whole community of millions of people stands on the brink of destruction, and you keep silent! You delude yourselves out of hope that the evil will not reach you; you have eyes and see not. Are you any better than the people of Lublin? The people of Cracow? The people of Lodz? If not today, then tomorrow or the next day you will be taken out like lambs to slaughter. Protest! Alarm the world! Don't be afraid! In any case you will end by falling before the sword of the Nazis. Chicken-hearted ones! Is there any meaning to your deaths?”
June 25, 1942
Every day Polish Jewry is being brought to slaughter. It is estimated, and there is some basis for the figures, that three-quarters of a million Polish Jews have already passed from this earth. We are imprisoned within double walls: a wall of brick for our bodies, and a wall of silence for our spirits. Whatever happens or is done is cloaked in total silence. . . .
The Nazis kill Jews by various means. Some of them are sent to a labor camp where they survive for a month at the outside. More than that would be beyond human strength. Some are shot; some are burned; some are poisoned with lethal gas; some are electrocuted. Before the Lublin expulsion the critically sick people were put to death first; after them, the old men and women from the home for the aged; and lastly the children from the boarding schools. . . .
June 27, 1942
. . . The terror is increasing. Since that first night of slaughter it has not stopped. Around midnight, night after night, the Nazis come out to stalk their prey. Sleeping people are brought to death like sheep to the kill. Last night fourteen people were shot to death in the streets of the ghetto. In the morning their naked corpses were found near the gates of the houses. Yes, naked; for the Nazis strip their victims. All the possessions of those killed by the regime are forfeit. Two of those killed fell victim right before the window of my house, near the gate of 25 Karmelicka Street.
These lines are being written after midnight, and out of the silence of the night, the rumble of the wheels of the cars hurrying on their way to Pawiak, the house of slaughter, reaches my ears. . . .
July 2, 1942
. . . Would Roosevelt lie? Would Churchill make promises and not keep them? All the treasures of the world are in their hands; they rule immense realms; and at their hands will come the complete overthrow of the killers. Churchill spoke, and Roosevelt orated, and we forgot that a beautiful oration cannot keep Rommel out of the desert.
Suddenly we have awakened. It was but a dream. The news of the past two days has depressed our spirits to a degree unequaled since the day the war broke out. Our prophecies have not been fulfilled. Realities contradict them, and our hopes are shattered like a reed. The murderer has grown stronger. Instead of weakness, he shows incredible strength on every front. Rommel is before Alexandria; the British are fleeing weakly before their pursuers; Sevastopol has been captured; and along almost the entire length of the Russian front (except for the Leningrad sector) an offensive has begun of a sort that we may assume will end in victory. For were it not so, they would not be announcing it so loudly to the whole world.
Where is the mighty British army after three years of preparations? Where is the power of mighty America? Where is the second front? The Suez Canal is in danger, and isn't it the lifeline of the whole British Empire? If England's strength is insufficient to protect Suez, the most treasured possession of the Empire, what hope have we in our aspirations for its ultimate victory?
Besides all this, we fear for Palestine. The one spot in the world in whose shadow we believed we could seek protection is close to being destroyed by the same killer who destroyed the lives of all the Jewish communities in Europe. Two bombs have the power to demolish Tel Aviv as Sodom and Gomorrah were demolished. And if she is conquered, her sons and builders will be exiled and the Arabs will have dominion over her. It will be total destruction for the hope of a people. . . .
As we sat together like mourners, discussing our worries, Hirsch suddenly appeared, and his voice was like thunder: “Worthless onesl Do you know what has happened tonight? A hundred Jews have been killed; and ten Jewish policemen have been added to their number. You're worried about Palestine? Worry about your ghetto! The days of your life are numbered and counted. . . .”
July 10, 1942
. . . My friend Hirsch worried constantly about the disappearance of the 40,000 Lublin exiles whom our Aryan messengers never found. Finally one refugee managed to escape alive and reach a human habitation. We learned certain dreadful details from his lips.
It has been decreed and decided in Nazi ruling circles to bring systematic physical destruction upon the Jews of the General Government. There is even a special military unit for this purpose, which makes the rounds of all the Polish cities according to the needs and the requirements of the moment. But a total slaughter such as this can't be put into practice in one day; one can't kill tens of thousands of laborers and artisans who are adept in various trades needed by the German army. Besides that, it is necessary to give the whole matter an organized and semi-human appearance. Therefore the Nazis have established a gigantic exile center for three hundred thousand people, a concentration camp located between Chelm and Wlodawa near the village of Sobowa.
Jewish exiles from all the conquered countries are brought to this exile camp. All the exiled Jews of Czechoslovakia were brought there, and all the German Jews affected by the expulsion decree; and they continue to bring in whole camps—now the Jews of one village, now those of another. An ingathering of the Exiles on foreign soil! The lost and oppressed Jews of Lublin also found a resting place in that camp—and their grave. . . .
The great camp, which stands amid dense forests and swamps, is completely surrounded by barbed wire and is heavily guarded. After the exiles are taken there, the real tragedy begins. The young and healthy ones, those who are strong and under sixty, are taken for work. Throughout the region there are labor camps for various crafts. There the prisoners work at hard labor, and for all their toil they receive only a crust of black bread and the water of oppression. In the end they go to their death, for it is not in their power to survive and endure for longer than six months under such living conditions. This is the segment which is condemned to die, but slowly, after they have given their strength to their mortal enemy and aided his victory.
The fate of the other segment is even more tragic—they are condemned to die at once. Those who are over sixty or are incapable of physical labor because of some bodily weakness, as well as young children and their mothers who “eat and do not produce”—they go to death wholesale in a “civilized” way, by poisoning with lethal gas or by electrocution. . . .
The killing of thousands of people has turned into a business that employs many hands. After the souls expire, they strip the corpses. Their clothing, shirts, and shoes are not wasted, but are collected in piles upon piles and turned over for disinfection, mending, and repairs. Hundreds of Jews are employed in these tasks. The Nazis, who are lovers of truth, admit it, and say that the work of the Jews is quite satisfactory. They are efficient, intelligent, and quick to catch on. This merit has stood the Jewish workers in good stead, for their death has been deferred to an unspecified time, and they will be the last to be shot.
All that has been said refers to the Jews of Poland. And the Jews of the Ukraine? And the Jews of Russia? And the Jews of Lithuania? If they are still whole, they are on the brink of destruction.
July 11, 1942
. . . As long as there is no knowledge, hope still flows in the heart, but from now on everything is clear, and all doubt of our future is removed. . . . Death is hard; harder still are the moments before death; and even hardest of all is being condemned to a death which is inevitable, but whose time has not been set.
Everyone must wait until his turn comes. That is when life becomes too hard to bear. The desire to live grows stronger at just that point. . . . In every generation they have risen up against us to destroy us. The experiences known to us from our history are not, however, like the current experience. There is no similarity between physical destruction which comes about as a result of a momentary outburst of fanatical mobs incited to murder, and this calculated governmental program for the realization of which an organized murder apparatus has been set up.
Day after day new Jewish exiles are brought to the camps, and day after day new victims are taken out from among them, either for hard labor or to face the sword of the angel of death. The murder machinery does not stop for a single day. And this is not, heaven forbid, illegal murderous work. On the contrary, the program has been proclaimed throughout the world; it has in effect received formal sanction. . . .
July 13, 1942
. . . The past ten days have been days of tumult and confusion in the ghetto.
The decree concerning “labor camps,” which are merely a preparation for death, has been renewed. Since the day when war with Russia broke out, the camps had been idle and the ghetto had quieted down. Now the edict has been renewed. There is weeping and wailing in every house. The Judenrat was ordered to supply 1,500 youths, and the Jewish police began to make the rounds of the candidates' doors during the night. Their coming was accompanied by cries and wails, but the police, in spite of their being Jewish, harden their hearts and do their duty. Since every edict is in essence nothing but a business to its executors, so here too there is a business. Instead of 1,500, 2,000 are taken out of their home; 1,500 are turned over to the Nazis, 500 set free after paying a ransom to the Jewish police. . . .
July 15, 1942
. . . A decree has been prepared to expel seventy thousand Jews from the ghetto, but the German firms who had a vested interest in the ghetto dwellers, and who couldn't get along without them, opposed the expulsion. They served as our advocates and protected us with all their might. This is a tragedy as deep as the abyss—to help your enemy with your own hands, to save him from his misfortune so that he may turn around and kill you.
July 16, 1942
. . . If I were a student in a yeshivah today I would ask my Talmud teacher: What is the law concerning a Gentile who is buried among the dead of Israel? When the resurrection of the dead comes, will he too rise to his feet and live? Or when it is written, “Your dead shall live,” does “your dead” mean only the dead of Israel? There are daily instances of Polish youths being taken into the ghetto in broad daylight in a military car, and shot to death in a public place before the eyes of thousands of passers-by. One of these cases occurred in Orla Street the day before yesterday. Who was the victim? He was an Aryan, of that there is no doubt. The reason for his death cannot be ascertained, but we can be sure that he was one of the smugglers. The business of smuggling brings the Aryans and the Jews together. It unites them in joy and in sorrow. Why was this man brought to the ghetto to be killed? In order not to irritate the Aryans. An ugly killing such as this would have incited them. His relatives know only that he has been arrested, not that he has been killed, and his body is taken to the Jewish cemetery as soon as he has breathed his last.
As to the question of the “resurrection of the dead,” it bears study.
July 19, 1942
. . . Everyone is panic-stricken. Will he too be deported? . . . The emotional climate is feverish. In the morning hours the decree is final, and not to be rescinded. In the afternoon, the Judenrat negotiates. At this very moment a conference is going on in which Auserwald, Czerniakow, Heller, and the Gestapo representatives participate. The terrible decree is left in suspense—things can go either way. They argue back and forth, and are constantly in touch with Berlin. While one person is still telling you this, another comes and relates that Czerniakow is offering 10,000,000 zloty to nullify the decree. You are transfixed between fear and hope. It is hard to believe that all this is merely blackmail for the sake of spoils. The Nazis don't have to resort to blackmail to extort money from Jews. . . .
The ghetto is suspended over nothingness.
July 20, 1942
. . . The ghetto is quiet. All the terrible rumors are false. Judenrat circles deny them, saying that no proposal for expulsion has been made. All the canards about meetings and bribery are invented. To what end? This is difficult to determine with certainty. There are no grounds whatsoever to suspect one circle or another. When we are privileged to reach better days then these many secrets will be revealed to us, and among them even the secret of the panic which arose in the Warsaw ghetto on Sunday, the fifth of Tammuz, 5702. Who fathered it? From what source did it emanate?
July 22, 1942
What we dreaded most has come. The people had an instinctive feeling that some terrible misfortune was impending, but our official circles denied it completely and presented happy, smiling faces to the populace. “Expulsion from Warsaw? Nonsensel The Jews are sentencing themselves without reason. The Nazis will hear what they say and do just that.” They persisted in this deception in order to avoid a panic. But it was useless. . . . Even before the notices were posted in the streets of the ghetto, we knew we were being tried in absentia. The Judenrat building on Grzybowska Street was surrounded by police and closed to visitors. The Judenrat leaders met with the Gestapo for a final session about the expulsion. We were even able to determine the exact moment when the order was signed. From dawn to late afternoon we spent the most tense hours of our lives. The spark of hope flared up and then died. And at four o'clock the notice was posted. Our fate was sealed! They say that Himmler is visiting in Warsaw and that this is the gift he is leaving for the Jews. His visit also preceded the decree in Lublin, and for that reason they see a precedent. They also say it was his idea to promulgate the decree on the eve of the Ninth of Av, a day of retribution, a day fated for mourning through all generations. . . .
July 23, 1942
. . . The deportees are forbidden to take bundles weighing more than ten kilos. Silver, gold, and jewels may be taken without restriction. This is understood: all of that will be stolen from them, not on paper, but on the road. This tactic is already known to us. The time of deportation [began] at twelve noon on the twenty-second day of July in the year 1942. . . .
July 26, 1942
. . . We have a Jewish tradition that an evil law is foredoomed to defeat. This historical experience has caused us much trouble since the day we fell into the mouth of the Nazi, whose dearest wish is to swallow us. It came to us from habit, this minimizing of all edicts with the common maxim, “It won't succeed.” In this lay our undoing, and we made a bitter mistake. . . . An evil decree made by the Nazis does not weaken in effect, it grows stronger. The mitigating paragraphs are increasingly overlooked and the more severe paragraphs intensified. At the beginning, the time of the “negotiations,” a directive was issued to the Judenrat to deport 6,000 a day; in point of fact they are now deporting close to 10,000. The Jewish police, whose cruelty is no less than that of the Nazis, deliver to the “transfer point” on Stawki Street more than the quota to which the Judenrat obligated itself. . . .
The first victim of the deportation decree was the President, Adam Czerniakow, who committed suicide by poison in the Judenrat building. He perpetuated his name by his death more than by his life. His end proves conclusively that he worked and strove for the good of his people; that he wanted its welfare and continuity even though not everything done in his name was praiseworthy. The expulsion proclamation posted in the city streets on the afternoon of July 22 was not signed in the usual manner of Judenrat notices, “Head of the Judenrat, Certified Engineer Adam Czerniakow,” but merely “Judenrat.” This innovation astonished those circles who examine bureaucratic changes in notices. After the president's death, the reason became clear. Czerniakow had refused to sign the expulsion order. He followed the Talmudic law: If someone comes to kill me, using might and power, and turns a deaf ear to all my pleas, he can do to me whatever his heart desires, since he has the power, and strength always prevails. But to give my consent, to sign my own death warrant—this no power on earth can force me to do. . . .
He did not have a good life, but he had a beautiful death. May his death atone for his wrongs against his people before becoming president. There are those who earn immortality in a single hour. The president, Adam Czerniakow, earned his immortality in a single instant.
July 27, 1942
Anyone who could see the expulsion from Warsaw with his own eyes would have his heart broken. The ghetto has turned into an inferno. Men have become beasts. Everyone is but a step away from deportation; people are being hunted down in the streets like animals in the forest. It is the Jewish police who are cruelest toward the condemned. Sometimes a blockade is made of a particular house, sometimes of a whole block of houses. In every building earmarked for destruction they begin to make the rounds of the apartments and to demand documents. Whoever has neither documents that entitle him to remain in the ghetto nor money for bribes is told to make a bundle weighing 15 kilos—and on to the transport which stands near the gate. Whenever a house is blockaded a panic arises that is beyond the imagination. Residents who have neither documents nor money hide in nooks and crannies, in the cellars and in the attics. When there is a means of passage between one courtyard and another the fugitives begin jumping over the roofs and fences at the risk of their lives; in time of panic, when the danger is imminent, people are not fussy about methods. But all these methods only delay the inevitable, and in the end the police take men, women, and children. The destitute and impoverished are the first to be deported. In an instant the truck becomes crowded. They are all alike: poverty makes them equal. Their cries and wails tear the heart out. . . .
July 30, 1942
The seventh day of the expulsion. Living funerals pass before the windows of my apartment—cattle trucks or coal wagons full of candidates for expulsion and exile, carrying small bundles under their arms. . . . Most of the deportees seem to be resigned to their fate. Only an occasional sound, the tear-drenched echo of a protest, is heard from some unfortunate woman seized while she was engaged in the activities of everyday life. Misfortune descended upon her unforeseen. She knew that there was an expulsion, but she was almost positive that it would never come to her. . . .
All day long the ghetto has been deathly silent. During the working hours in the factories the number of passers-by decreased to a minimum. Those who have not yet managed to be accepted in some factory are afraid to stick their noses out for fear of being caught. They hide until the wrath shall pass. Perhaps salvation will come! Perhaps there will be a change for the better! But for the time being, the oppressor does not stay his hand. . . .
I have just been informed that 57,000 people have already been deported. The teacher and writer Aron Luboszycki, a refugee from Lodz, was among them.
July 31, 1942
The hunting goes on full force. The living funerals never cease. The Jewish police are fulfilling their humane duty in the best possible manner, and the Nazis are so pleased with their work that some of them are being sent to Radom and Kielæ, where expulsions have now been ordered as well. Those cities are both smaller than Warsaw, and local elements are not particularly desirable for this sort of operation, so the strangers from Warsaw come where no one knows them to carry out the Nazis' wishes.
How great the panic of the factories has become! Everyone fights to be enrolled in them, and everyone gives thousands of zloty for this privilege. For a genuine laborer it is enough if he brings a sewing machine with him, but a business or professional man contributes ready cash in place of a machine. None of the newly erected factories has any validity or future unless they are incorporated into the network of factories of some German firm; and this privilege too must be bought with cash from the Germans, who demand immense sums in return for the right to work for the German army. But no one has scruples about the size of the sum. A man will give everything he has in exchange for his life. The whole matter is clouded in doubt and no one knows what the day will bring; but the people of the ghetto, who see death face to face, are seeking security not for a day, but for an hour. . . .
August 1, 1942
. . . A command is suddenly given to evacuate an entire block of apartment houses within a single hour. This starts an uproar, a turmoil that Dante could not have envisioned. It is the Nazis' intention that every decree come as a complete surprise. Hundreds of families hurt by this decree become frantic. . . . Where will you go? What can you save? What first? What last? They begin to pack bundles in haste and fear, with trembling hands and feet which refuse to do their bidding, and to take their belongings outside, for they no longer have a home. . . .
At seven in the evening the S.S. arrived [at Nowolipie Street] and ordered the Jewish police to blockade an entire block. They made an announcement in each courtyard: “Prepare bundles weighing 15 kilos and go down into the courtyard. No one is exempt!” Terrible fear. . . .
August 2, 1942
Jewish Warsaw is in its death throes. A whole community is going to its death! . . .
After Nowolipie, henceforward to be known as Schultz Street, came the turn of Leszno Street from the corner of Zelazna to Solna. . . . A blockade was made on Leszno Street, and within two hours about 2,000 people were brought to the transfer point. All of them went forth empty-handed, naked and half-dressed. Woe to that family which must be routed out by the Nazis or the “alert” Ukrainians and Lithuanians. . . .
Some of my friends . . . who know the secret of my diary urge me . . . to stop writing. “Why? For what purpose? Will you live to see it published? Will these words of yours reach the ears of future generations? How?. . .”
And yet in spite of it all I refuse to listen to them. I feel that continuing this diary to the very end of my physical and spiritual strength is a historical mission which must not be abandoned. My mind is still clear, my need to record un-stilled. . . .
Today the population of the “little ghetto” drank the cup of hemlock. At four the murderers set upon their task, and at seven a crowd of 5,000 people was led out through Smocza to the transfer point. All their possessions were left in the hands of the enemy. . . .
Today I heard from Dr. Lajfuner, who in turn heard it from rumor, that the houses from 12 to 21 Nowolipki Street will be confiscated and turned over to the workers of a brush factory. This news will affect us both, for he is a resident at Number 14 and I at Number 20. If the rumor proves true I shall have no place to lay my head. And his fate is like mine. We shall both sleep out of doors—until we are caught and deported. Meanwhile we are without food—not even enough for a single meal.
We have no information about the fate of those who have been expelled. . . .
August 4, 1942
During the morning hours
. . . We await calamity at any moment. The houses are being confiscated for the factory workers, to whom the idlers must give up their apartments. And I, and all those like me, are idlers, for we haven't a place in a factory. Therefore it behooves one to be ready for the coming catastrophe. . . .
Yesterday, the third of August, they slaughtered Zamenhof and Pawia streets. They did not confiscate houses, but blockaded the entire block for expulsion. The S.S. killers stood guard while the Jewish police worked inside the courtyards. . . . All of them, all, without exception, were taken to the gates of death. The fabricated papers of the Self-Aid Society were as useless as though they did not exist. . . .
In the evening hours
I have not yet been caught; I have not yet been evicted from my apartment; my building has not yet been confiscated. But only a step separates me from all these misfortunes. All day my wife and I take turns standing watch, looking through the kitchen window which overlooks the courtyard, to see if the blockade has begun. People run from place to place like madmen. . . .
There is the silence of death in the streets of the ghetto all through the day. The fear of death is in the eyes of the few people who pass by on the sidewalk opposite our window. Everyone presses himself against the wall and draws into himself so that they will not detect his existence or his presence.
Today my block was scheduled for a blockade with Nazi participation. Seventy Jewish policemen had already entered the courtyard. I thought, “The end has come.” But a miracle happened, and the blockade was postponed. The destroyers passed on to the Nalewki-Zamenhof block.
When the danger was already past I hurried to escape. Panic can drive a man out of his mind and magnify the danger even when it no longer exists. But already there is a fear that my block will be blockaded tomorrow. I am therefore trying to lay plans to escape with the dawn. But where will I flee? No block is secure.
Thousands of people in the Nalewki-Zamenhof block were driven from their homes and taken to the transfer point. More than thirty people were slaughtered. In the afternoon, the furies subsided a bit. The number of passers-by increased, for the danger of blockade was over. By four in the afternoon, the quota was filled: 13,000 people had been seized and sent off, among them 5,000 who came to the transfer of their own free will. They had had their fill of the ghetto life, which is a life of hunger and fear of death. They escaped from the trap. Would that I could allow myself to do as they did!
If my life ends—what will become of my diary?
1 Copyright © Abraham I. Katsh 1965.
2 The Jewish Community Council (Hebrew: Kehillah) had been replaced, at German orders, by the Jewish Council (German: Judenrat) on October 4, 1939. The last head of the Kehillah, Mauryc Majzel, was not elected but was appointed by the Polish Government. He fled Warsaw immediately after the outbreak of the war, and Adam Czerniakow was appointed head of the Judenrat.
3 The Joint Distribution Committee is a Jewish international relief and rehabilitation agency.
4 The closing prayer of Yom Kippur—Ed.
5 The yellow badge, marked with a Star of David, that the Jews were required to wear during the German occupation of Europe.—Ed.
6 The night of Friday, April 18, 1942, when fifty-two people were shot down in the streets of the ghetto. This began a wave of killing in Warsaw and other Polish towns.
7 The Pawiak prison on Pawia and Dzielna streets, in the middle of the ghetto.
8 It would seem that Hirsch is an imaginary personage, invented by Kaplan to present the dark, hopeless, but realistic aspect of the situation.
9 The expulsion of the Jewish community of Lublin, the last phase of which took place in March, 1942.