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Tisha B’Av in the Warsaw Ghetto

By L. Domnitch Jewish Voice July 2001

Before the Germans captured
the city of Warsaw in the 1939
Blitzkrieg, there were 360,00
Jews in the Polish capital. It was
a city enriched by centuries of
Jewish life.

The Warsaw Ghetto was
established November 15, 1940
in a small area within the city
that would become a halfway
stop to death for hundreds of
thousand of Polish and German
Jews.

Jews from outlying areas
poured into the ghetto. By 1940
its population reached 460,000.
Thousands of ghetto residents
died of disease and starvation,
however, the population was
maintained by the continual flow
of refugees. Little did they know
that they were being forced into
what was a preparation for the
slaughterhouse.

On July 22, the eve of Tisha
B’Av 1942, the death sentence
for Warsaw’s Jews was issued.
In the early morning hours the
Judenrat was convened and the
Plenipotentiary for Resettlement Affairs ordered the “resettlement in the East of all Jews
residing in Warsaw regardless
of age and sex.” The order called
for 6,000 Jews per day to be
rounded up and deported.

When Warsaw was under
siege by the Germans in September 1939, its Jewish Council appointed Adam Czerniakow
as mayor of the ghetto. As head
of the Judenrat, Czerniakow
attempted to assist the many
starving and destitute of Warsaw and defended Warsaw’s
Jews, often at risk to his own
life. Czermakow always kept a
tablet of cyanide by his side in
the event the Nazi’s asked him to
obey an order he felt he had to,
refuse.

His despair at the plight of,
the children of the ghetto tormented him. On the 14th ofJune,
1942, he wrote in his diary:

commanded that the children be
brought to the garden from the,
detention room organized by the
local Ordmingsdienst. They are
living skeletons, street beggars.

I’m ashamed to admit it’s
been long since I cried so.

Cursed are those among us who
eat and drink and forget these
children.”

A week before the
anouncementof the deportations,
rumors had already spread.
The ghetto and the Jews were
gripped with terror. Czerniakow
asked the Nazi officials for an
explanation, but received nothing but denials.

On the 22nd of July, at 7:30
in the morning, Czerniakow,
along with the miriibers of the
Judenrat, were told that the deportations were to begin the next
day – Tisha B’Av – and the expulsions, would include children.
He immediately understood the
gravity of such an order and that
his previous policy of cooperation with the Germans was a
grievous error. This was an order he refused to sign since it
was one his conscious could not
live with. The night following
the first deportation, he took the
cyanide he had kept with him.

He left the following note
to the Jewish council: “I am
powerless, my heart trembles in
sorrow and compassion. I can
no longer bear all this. My act
will show everyone the right
thing to do.”

The diary A Cup of Tears,
by Abraham Lewin, offers the
following description of the
events that occurred on the 23rd
of July: “Disaster after disaster,
misfortune after misfortune. The
small ghetto has been turned
out on to the streets…
…Rain has been falling
all day.. Weeping. The Jews are
weeping. They are hoping for a
miracle. The expulsion is continuing. Buildings are blockaded.”

– Chaim Kaplan, in his diary
on the Warsaw Ghetto, foresaw
the doom that awaited the Jews
of Warsaw with the issuance of
the decree. He described the
decree as “The total destruction
of the Jewish nation.” He cites
several signs-all ominous and surmises that the deportations can only be a death sentence and those who deny it,
grasp at straws.”

In a July 26 entry, Kaplan
writes, “We, the inhabitants of
the Warsaw ghetto are now experiencing the reality. Our good
fortune is that our days are numbered-that we shall not have to
five long undercondition as these.”

According to the decree,
all were to be deported except
those who worked in German
industries or for the Judenrat.
Over the next nine days 66,701
Jews were deported to
Treblinka.

At Treblinka, there was a
sign outside the death camp that
attempted to maintain calm. It
stated:’Do not worry about your
future. … all of you are headed
for the East, to work; while you
work, your wives shalt take care
of your houses. But first you
must bathe and your clothes
must be cleaned of lice. Only
moments later, after merciless
beatings by SS and Ukrainian
guards, the Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto were herded into
the crematoria.

On July 19, the second
round of Warsaw’s deportations
began. A proclamation was
posted by – the Jewish police
(most of whom were concerned
fore most in saving themselves)
urging Jews to volunteer for resettlement. The SS, along with
Latvian and Lithuanian troops,
closed off individual blocks and
brutally forced the masses out
for deportation. Shots rang out
and many were shot on the spot;
others were savagely beaten.
When the crowd’s numbers
reached a few thousand, they
were herded off to the
“Umschlagplatz”-a deportation railway yard.

Every morning and evening
the roundups took place. Over
the month of August, 142,525
were deported, with 135,120
Jews being sent to Treblinka.
By the middle of August it was
widely understood that “resettlement” was a myth. Enough evidence had already reached the
Ghetto by word of mouth from
witnesses to the Nazi camps that
resettlement actually meant
death at Treblinka.

By October 3, 310,00 Jews
were deported, including most
members of the Judenrat. Many
were deported on September
21-Yom Kippur, the Day of
Atonement.

On Tisha B’Av 1942, the
well-organized Nazi killing
machine was set into high gear
and its horrors knew no bounds.
That day marked the forthcoming end of Warsaw Jewry. Of
the 40,000 Jews who remained
in the Warsaw Ghetto following the deportations, several
hundred armed themselves and
fought against their oppressors.

Hillel Seidman in his diary
of the Warsaw Ghetto, wrote in
an entry he entitled “The Night
of Tears,”: “We Jews of Warsaw, sons of those exiles, sit on
the ground to mourn our own
personal churban [destruction],
the destruction of a major
kehillah [community]-the
largest and most vigorous-in
Europe-which resulted from
that earlier Churban [destruction of the Temple]. We weep at
our fate, a nation without a land,
within the grasp It our fiercest
enemy and follows to death.
We grieve both for the loss of
the Beis Hamikdash [Temple]
and the-extinction of our lives.
True our lives were full of suffering, yet we always harbored
hopes that will now never be
realized. Yes, our lives were
tough but despite everything
they were still rich and purposeful. Now, however, our enemies
scheme to wipe us all off the
face of the earth.”

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