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The Warsaw 'Grossaktion' begins
23rd July 1942: One of the largest Jewish communities in the world faces extermination - yet the reality of what is happening defies belief
After the German invasion of Poland as many as 460,000 Jews had been crammed into detention in the Jüdischer Wohnbezirk in Warschau, "Jewish Residential District in Warsaw", otherwise simply known as the Warsaw ghetto.
Some 100,000 had died from starvation and disease by the summer of 1942. But the rate of deaths was not quick enough for the Nazis who had decided to take direct action. The scale of what they were now undertaking was almost impossible to comprehend - and this contributed to the level of co-operation they received from the Jewish community itself.
So mass deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto now began on an unprecedented scale. The first train left on 22nd July.
It would take time for the wider Warsaw ghetto community to accept what the deportation of people for "resettlement" actually meant - that those chosen were going to their deaths. Only among the realists within the ghetto were there were few illusions about what was happening.
But still the Nazis sought to sustain the fiction that there was hope for some. It was announced that:
"All Jews qualified for labour are exempt from deportation and may remain in the ghetto; those Jews who were not heretofore included in the labour force may henceforth be included. They will be taken to barracks where they will work."
It was a lie - but it prevented many from facing up to the reality of their long term fate.
Amongst the thousands who were not registered for work was Chaim Kaplan1, now suddenly threatened. Somehow he managed to keep writing his diary of life in the ghetto, despite the appalling sense of impending doom:
23 July 1942
The ghetto residents found some consolation in the paragraph which speaks of ‘all Jews qualified for labour’. Labour - that can mean both physical and mental; no age limit is specified. That means even men who are over sixty.
Everyone suddenly became eager for work. Everyone is prepared to give up hot meals and a comfortable bed at home to go and live in barracks, if only to stay put. To be deported means to prepare for death, and it is a lingering death which is the hardest kind of all.
The deportees are, to begin with, taken for killing. They are not qualified for work. And as to food, even if a crust of bread were available, would the Nazis give it to them? It has become known that the Nazis flay their corpses, remove the fat, and incinerate the bodies.
This accords with a prestated plan: The strength of the healthy and productive is to be exploited for the needs of the German army; the weak, the crippled, and the aged are to go to eternal rest.
‘In these two days the emptiness of the ghetto has been filled with cries and wails. If they found no way to the God of Israel it is a sign He doesn't exist.’
Such a plan could have been invented only by Satan.
This is no more than a curiosity of history. The Jews aid the Nazi victory so that the Nazis can expel them from Europe and destroy them. Their cynicism is such that the Nazis say this bluntly. Sometimes a labourers work pleases them; then they praise him and say, ‘May you be recompensed by being the last one to be shot.'
The industriousness of the ghetto is a credit to everyone. It produces three times what was demanded. This is skilled and industrious work which produces goods for the use and enjoyment of the Nazis. The Jewish worker is compensated by having his relatives deported to a valley of death and destruction, while he is left locked within the walls of the ghetto.
The expulsion has already begun. It is being carried out by the Jewish people under German supervision. On the first day the Jewish police furnished the requisite number of 6,000 people; the second day of the expulsion, the police could round up only 4,700 men, women, and children. The Nazis filled in the deficit.
We remember the words of the elegist: ‘On this night my sons will weep.’ In these two days the emptiness of the ghetto has been filled with cries and wails. If they found no way to the God of Israel it is a sign He doesn't exist.
A new death 'camp' had opened at Treblinka on 22nd July This was the last of three ‘extermination centres’ or ‘death factories’ set up by the Nazis under what had became known as 'Operation Reinhard’, in memory of Reinhard Heydrich. Belzec and Sobibor were already operating.
These were not concentration camps where people might exist as slave labourers. The victims, the vast majority of them Jews, were brought here by the trainload and then immediately gassed.