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NAZI BRUTALITY: Warsaw ghettos of Jews before they were sent to be exterminated

Members of the Nazi occupation authorities gather outside a wall dividing the ghetto from the rest of Warsaw. Joseph Goebbels called the ghettos "death boxes."


The hunger in the ghetto was so great, was so bad, that people were laying on the streets and dying, little children went around begging, and, uh, everyday you walked out in the morning, you see somebody is laying dead, covered with newspapers or with any kind of blanket they found, and you found...those people used to carry the dead people in little wagons, used to bring them down to the cemetery and bury them in mass graves. And every day thousands and thousands died just from malnutrition because the Germans didn't give anything for the people in the ghetto to eat. There was no such thing. You can't walk in and buy anything, or getting any rations. It's your hard luck. If you don't have it, you die, and that's what it was.

Jews led through the streets by German police in Krakowskie Przedmiescie, Warsaw, Poland in the early 1940s.


We came to live in the ghetto in, in October 1940. By, by March my father was dead, starved to death, literally. Because, uh, once he was cut off from the ghetto, he was cut off from his clientele and from his, from his subsistence, you know, he, and a terrible hunger was in my father's house because sometimes I was running from the kibbutz to see how my father is doing. And it was a sight which I will never forget. And I run to see my grandmother, whom I loved because she was the substitute of my mother, you know. And Randy, what can I tell you? These sights of my father and of my grandmother dying from starvation, in terrible hygienic conditions, is a picture which haunts me till this very day, you know. And this is over half a century ago, and it torments me in terrible nightmares to this very day.

Two Jewish police in Wegrów, a part of the Warsaw Province.

Leah Hammerstein Silverstein
Describes lack of burial of the corpses of people who died in the Warsaw ghetto

At that time you still could have a burial if you paid to the, to the, uh, Judenrat, to the Jewish council, about 15 zlotys, they would bring a hearse and, and carry away the dead person. But we didn't have the money. So, what people, poor people, used to do is to put the cadaver out in front of the house, and then there were special wagons who came and picked up all those dead people and brought them to the cemetery on Gesia Street. So, the next day I ran to that cemetery hoping to find my father there. And what I saw is, it was, you know, a terrible nightmare. For the first time in my life I saw a pile of dead bodies, you know, like two stories high. Because the, the, the amount of dead people was so enormous and growing from day to day that the, the gravediggers couldn't keep up with the pace of the, of the dead, you know, of the amount of people who were pouring into that cemetery. So they collected them, you know, piles, one upon the other, you know. And, and all these corpses, you know, their limbs intertwisted between, you know, with open mouths, and I was a young girl, and the stench from that pile of human, uh, corpses was so terrible. It's a sweetish smell, you know. I, I don't have the, the words to describe it, but, it was, you know, hell was, even the word hell is not a word to describe it, you know. So I couldn't find him on that pile, you know. I just couldn't make it, and I went back to the kibbutz.

In 1940, this brick wall was built sealing the Warsaw ghetto off from the rest of the city. Approximately 138,000 Jews were herded into this ghetto while 113,000 Poles were evacuated from this section of the city.

Raszka (Roza) Galek Brunswic
Describes a roundup in the Warsaw ghetto and her escape from deportation

Before the ghetto was set afire it started to become real bad. People were murdered. People were just taken out for no reason at all and just killed, especially children were just thrown against the wall...just killed. Well, at one point they rounded us up all and they had lines..."you stay here, you stay here, you stay there." At that time we were already...the people started to get separated from their families. If somebody looked well to them enough to be transported to work--which I thought was work--was in one line. People that were sickly looking or meekly looking, they went another line. Elderly parents were in another line. The people that looked too sick to them, they just took care of them right away. Like my parents were, at that time, really very bad looking, and they just shot them right then and there. And not only my parents but a lot of them. I was in the line and I tried to run out to help but I was pushed back. You couldn't do anything. My sisters were younger than I. They took them a younger line. I was in the older line. However, somehow I got out of that line and I, I tried to hide. I got out of that line and I was able to, to get to a hiding place which I hide...I hid. That's how I got out.

Jews stand in line with what few possessions they can carry during their relocation to the Warsaw ghetto in late 1940. They will be searched by the German police before entry into the ghetto.

Vladka (Fagele) Peltel Meed
Describes her reaction to the burning of the Warsaw ghetto as she watched from a building outside the ghetto

While being there at night, I saw the flames of the ghetto. And I saw also certain pictures which were seared in my mind. Some Jews running from one place to the other and also seeing some Jews jumping from buildings, but I was observing this from a window and I couldn't do anything. And then flames burst into the ghetto. The Germans couldn't take over the streets, they start putting block after block on fire. They start burning the ghettos...the buildings, and this was the uprising which we...the small group on the Aryan side, we tried to get through. We tried to communicate. We decided even to go into the into the ghetto to be with them but it was, everything was in vain. We didn't have any communication. We saw only tanks coming in, tanks going out, or some ambulances going in and we're listening to the shooting and in that time it was...they...we have to let the outside know what is going on.

Warsaw ghetto. Boundary wall on Elektoralna Street.

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