Final journey of the Warsaw orphans
5th August 1942: The noose tightens for the men, women and children in the Warsaw Ghetto - no one is spared the trip to Treblinka
The Grossaktion in the Warsaw ghetto continued. Trainloads of thousands of Jews were being sent for deportation for ‘resettlement’ every day. They did not know that they were being sent to Treblinka to be immediately gassed - but most guessed that they were being sent on a journey from which they would not return.
Many in the Warsaw ghetto were desperately trying to evade the deportations - but there were also those who were resigned to their fate. The orphanage run by Janusz Korczak was listed for ‘evacuation’ on the 5th August.
It is believed that the Nazis wanted to send Korczak alone to the Theresienstadt concentration camp, the 'model' camp where they kept some prominent Jews in relatively decent conditions as a smokescreen for their other activities. Janusz Korczak refused to be separated from his children.
In a move that was witnessed by many in the ghetto he did his best to ensure their last journey was as trouble free as possible:
I happened to see Janusz Korczak and his orphans leaving the ghetto. The evacuation of the Jewish orphanage run by Janusz Korczak had been ordered for that morning. The children were to have been taken away alone. He had the chance to save himself, and it was only with difficulty that he persuaded the Germans to take him too.
‘He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful.’
He had spent long years of his life with children and now, on this last journey, he could not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them.
He told the orphans they were going out into the country, so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange the horrible suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers, streams where they could bathe, woods full of berries and mushrooms.
He told them to wear their best clothes, and so they came out into the yard, two by two, nicely dressed and in a happy mood. The little column was led by an SS man1.
Their calm and orderly departure was not typical.
‘People run from place to place like madmen.’
4th August 1942
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.
… 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.
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?
Kaplan managed to have his diary, written in Hebrew in small booklets, smuggled out of the ghetto by his friend Rubinsztejn, who was working on a forced labour gang. He passed it to Wladyslaw Wojcek, a member of the Polish resistance, who buried it for the remainder of the war. Wojcek eventually brought the diaries to New York in 1962.
How long Kaplan and his wife Tzipora managed to evade the deportations is not known. They were both murdered in Treblinka, possibly even on the 5th August transport, but probably later in 1942, in January 1943 at the latest.