Document 29 The leader of the Białystok Judenrat preaches ‘salvation through work’

This document is taken from the minutes of a meeting of the Bialystok Judenrat on 16 August 1942. Few sets o/Judenrat minutes have been preserved. The speaker is the head of the Judenrat, Efraim Barash.

Today’s meeting is being held under the severe impression of the events of the last weeks [the mass deportations from Warsaw and Slonim]. We must not shut our eyes to our own fate; we must face the truth squarely.

Bialystok has been living a more or less peaceful life during the past year ... Our task is to maintain that situation and to extend it to the end, which has to come someday.

But by what available means ... can we do this? ... We cannot simply come and say, ‘We want to live, we have wives and children!’ There is no pity. There is only one recourse: deeds! [We must] turn the ghetto into an element that is too valuable, too useful to destroy.

And we are doing this.

You yourselves have seen how in recent weeks ... delegations have come here. Some have included the highest ranks in the regime. They are coming ... to resolve the question of whether the ghetto should exist. These are the days when our fate will be determined ... We have now put 40 percent of the Jewish population - almost all who are physically able - to work. This makes a powerful impression and to a certain extent blunts the hostile actions of our enemies ...

(Blumenthal, 1962: 236)

Document 30 The head of the Łódź ghetto announces the deportation of children

Mordechai Haim Rumkowski, head of the Lodz ghetto (the second largest in Nazi-occupied Poland), made this public speech on 4 September 1942.

The ghetto has been hit with a painful blow. They are demanding from us our most precious fortune - children and the elderly. I was not privileged to have a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children ... In my old age I must stretch out my hands and beg: ‘Brothers and sisters, turn them over to me! Fathers and mothers, give me your children’ ...

Yesterday I was commanded to expel twenty-odd thousand Jews from the ghetto, and if not - ‘We will do it!’ And the question presented itself: ‘Should we take over and do it ourselves or leave it for others to carry it out?’ Thinking not about how many will perish but about how many might be saved, we ... came to the conclusion that, no matter how hard it is for us, we should take it upon ourselves to execute the evil decree.

I must perform this difficult and bloody operation. I must amputate limbs in order to save the body! I must take children because, if not, others could be taken as well, heaven forbid ...

In the ghetto we have many tuberculosis patients whose life expectancy is numbered in days, or maybe in weeks. I don’t know - maybe this is a devilish plan, maybe not - but I can’t hold it back: ‘Give me those sick people, and in their place we can save healthy ones’ ... Each evil decree forces us to weigh and measure: who should, can and may be saved? And common sense dictates that the ones to be saved must be those ... who have a chance of being rescued, not those who cannot be saved in any case.

Remember that we live in the ghetto. Remember that our life is so constricted that we do not have enough even for the healthy, let alone for the sick. Every one of us feeds the sick at the expense of our own health: we give up our bread to the sick ... And the result of all this is not only that the sick don’t get better but that we become sick ourselves ...

Standing before you is a broken Jew. Don’t be jealous of me. This is the worst decree I have ever had to carry out. I stretch out my broken, trembling hands to you and beg: Place the victims in my hands so that they can help us avoid having further victims and protect a community of a hundredthousand. So I have been promised: if we deliver our victims by ourselves, we shall have quiet...

What do you want, for 80-90,000 Jews to survive or for everyone to perish, heaven forbid? ... Judge me as you will; my obligation is to protect the remaining Jews.


Document 31 A Warsaw ghetto resident comments on Czerniaków’s suicide

Henryk Makower, a Polish physician of Jewish origin who, despite having been baptised, was forced to reside in the Warsaw ghetto, composed a memoir of his 28 months in the ghetto shortly after escaping in January 1943.

The chairman of the Judenrat, engineer Adam Czerniakow refused to sign the [deportation] order. After a conference with the authorities on the second day of the action, 23 July [1942], the bold and resourceful Adam Czerniakow committed suicide ... He was found dead in the Judenrat office. Clearly he had not wanted to put his own name to the deportation (it is rumoured that the Germans announced publicly that they had begun deporting Jews from Warsaw at the Judenrat's behest!). Czerniakow had not wanted to be a witness to this tragedy, whose extent he certainly foresaw. He did a bad thing, for following his departure almost 400,000 people were left without leadership. In my opinion he should have foreseen this and demonstrated even greater courage by staying alive. Perhaps he no longer had the strength ...

At the time we were stupid. The shock of Czerniakow’s death made us think not that he had been brave but that he had had a nervous breakdown, and we dismissed any thought of extermination as unreal and impossible.

(Makower, 1987: 56)

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