Way back in the year 2000, I purchased a book, written by Norman G. Finkelstein, entitled The Holocaust Industry. Finkelstein mentioned on page 85 that his mother was “A survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto, Majdanek concentration camp and slave labor camps at Czestochowa and Skarszysko-Kamiena.” I was puzzled by this because I had visited Warsaw in October 1998 and learned that the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had been transported to Treblinka.
What was so special about Finkelstein’s mother that she was sent to Majdanek, instead of Treblinka? Did she first go to Treblinka and was then transferred to Majdanek, or was she sent on a special train that went toward Treblinka, and then turned south at the junction near Treblinka, and continued on to Majdanek? Finkelstein didn’t explain why she managed to survive when all the other Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto, except his parents, were killed at Treblinka.
Also on page 85, Finkelstein revealed that his mother received only $3,500 in compensation from Germany. Elsewhere in his book, Finkelstein wrote that his father had received around $100,000 from Germany before he died. He doesn’t explain why his mother was slighted.
Memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto
The photo above shows a memorial which was built at the spot where the Umschlagplatz once stood, on the northern boundary of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Umschlagplatz was where the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had to assemble to board the trains which transported them to the death camp at Treblinka, beginning in July 1942. The daily deportations continued until Sept. 12, 1942.
According to my tour guide, the design of the Memorial is supposed to represent a freight car with the door open. This memorial is located right on the sidewalk of a very busy street; notice the trolley car tracks on the street just a few feet in front of it.
On July 22, 1942 the Warsaw Ghetto was surrounded by Ukrainian and Latvian soldiers in German SS uniforms, as the liquidation of the Ghetto began in response to an order given by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that “the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the General Government be carried out and completed by December 31.” The General Government was the central portion of the former country of Poland that was occupied by the Germans between 1939 and 1944.
Two days before, on July 20ieth, the Judenrat (Jewish leaders) had been ordered to prepare for the resettlement (Aussiedlung) of the “non-productive elements” to the East. The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were to report voluntarily to the Umschlagplatz (collection point) at the corner of Stawki and Dzika streets, near a railroad siding for the Ostbahn (Eastern Railroad), on which they would be “transported to the East” on crowded freight cars.
Old photo shows the Umschlagplatz
The old photo above shows the location of the Umschlagplatz, which was where the Memorial now stands.
According to Raul Hilberg in his book, The Destruction of the European Jews, “As soon as the order was posted, a mad rush started for working cards. Many forgings took place and in the ghetto, everyone from top to bottom was frantic.” A similar scene is depicted in the movie, Schindler’s List, when a Jewish professor in Krakow suddenly becomes an experienced metal worker with forged papers, aged by tea stains.
Did Finkelstein’s mother have some special skill that made her too valuable to kill? Did she forge some papers which showed that she was an experienced worker?
Side view of the Memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto
The chairman of the Warsaw Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow, was ordered by the Nazis to deliver 6,000 Jews per day, seven days a week, to the Umschlagplatz for deportation to Treblinka on the Bug river near the eastern border of German occupied Poland. A day later, the number was increased to 7,000 per day. Rather than cooperate with the Nazis, Czerniakow committed suicide on July 23rd, the first day that Jews were assembled ready for deportation.
The interior of the Memorial in the former Warsaw Ghetto
After I took this photo and returned to my tour guide’s car, she pointed out that two men immediately went inside the Memorial. She said that they were Israeli guards who were checking to see if I had defaced the Memorial with a swastika. Actually, there was a swastika, already painted on the wall inside the Memorial. I was worried that I would be accused of painting this swastika, and that I might be hunted down and killed by the Israelis.
After Poland was conquered, following the joint invasion by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939, the Polish Army escaped to Romania and the Polish leaders set up a government in exile in London. The Polish soldiers continued to fight underground as partisans in the Polish Home Army.
Raul Hilberg wrote the following in his book, The Destruction of the European Jews:
The Polish underground thereupon contacted the Ghetto. The answer of the Jewish leaders was that perhaps 60,000 Jews would be deported, but that it was “inconceivable that the Germans would destroy the lot.” The Jews had one request, which the Polish Home Army was glad to fulfill. They handed to the Poles an “appeal addressed to the world and to the Allied nations in particular.” The Jewish leadership demanded that the German people be threatened with reprisals. The appeal was immediately transmitted to London, but the BBC maintained complete radio silence. As we shall have occasion to find out later, the Jews did not have many friends in London, or for that matter, in Washington.
In his book The Holocaust, Martin Gilbert wrote the following:
In those seven weeks, a total of 265,000 Jews were sent by train for ‘resettlement in the East’. Their actual destination was Treblinka and its three gas-chambers. Death, not slave labour, was their fate. It was the largest slaughter of a single community, Jewish or non-Jewish, in the Second World War.
According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, by the Summer of 1944, all the Jewish Ghettos in Eastern Europe had been closed and two million Ghetto Jews had been transported to concentration camps or death camps. The three main death camps for the Ghetto Jews were the Operation Reinhard camps: Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, all of which were near the eastern border of German occupied Poland.
Norman Finkelstein is considered by some Jews to be a “Holocaust denier.” Was it his parents who made him a denier? On page 5 of his book, he wrote that both of his parents were “survivors of the Warsaw Ghetto and the Nazi concentration camps.” One of the main points in his book is that there are numerous survivors still living and getting compensation from Germany. He quoted his mother as saying that with so many survivors, whom did Hitler kill?
According to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Warsaw Ghetto made up 2.4 percent of the land in the city of Warsaw, but it contained 30% of the city’s population. To create the Ghetto, the Nazis moved 113,000 Christian residents out and moved 138,000 Jewish residents in. The remainder of the Warsaw Jews were already living in the neighborhood of the Ghetto.
In the Warsaw Ghetto, 450,000 Jews were forced to live in very crowded conditions. The population of the Ghetto included Jews from the surrounding villages in the General Government of German occupied Poland. The Ghetto was divided into two sections, the Small Ghetto at the southern end and the Large Ghetto on the north.
By the time deportations to the extermination camps began, about 100,000 residents of the Ghetto had died of starvation or disease, according to Raul Hilberg.
The last remaining section of the Warsaw Ghetto wall
To create the Warsaw Ghetto, the Germans built 11 miles of brick walls around the Jewish quarter; this area was then closed to outsiders on November 15, 1940. The wall was torn down in 1943 when the Ghetto was liquidated. Today there is only one short section of the original wall remaining; this section was outside the Ghetto when the original Ghetto became a smaller area after most of the Jews had been deported.
The photo above shows this remaining section of the wall, which is about 10 feet high. According to my tour guide, parts of the wall which connected two buildings, such as this section, were built higher than the rest of the wall, which was mostly lower than 10 feet.
Map shows the size of the Warsaw Ghetto
A map showing the area of the Ghetto is on the last remaining section of the wall, as shown in the photo above. The courtyard in front of the wall is located at ul. Zlota 62. (Some guidebooks says the address is Number 60 Zlota Street.)
Before World War II started on September 1, 1939, there were 375,000 Jews living in Warsaw. This was as many as in all of France, and more than in the whole country of Czechoslovakia. Only the city of New York had a larger Jewish population than Warsaw.
During the 15th century, the Jews had been expelled from the city of Warsaw, just as they were in Krakow. Between 1527 and 1768, Jews had been banned from living in Warsaw.
After Poland was partitioned for the third time in 1795 between Russia, Prussia and Austria, the Jews began coming back to Warsaw, which was in the Russian section, and by the start of World War I, Jews made up forty percent of the population of the city.
During the 19th century and up until the end of World War I, Warsaw was in the Pale of Settlement where all Russian Jews were forced to live; when Poland regained its independence after World War I, Warsaw was once again a Polish city. From the beginning, the Jewish district was located southeast of Old Town Warsaw.