On my first trip to Poland, in 1998, the first place that my tour guide took me was to “the Umschlagplatz”. I had never heard of this place; that’s why I had hired a guide to show me the important places related to the Holocaust. I never would have found this by myself.
Pictured above is a memorial in Warsaw, which has been built on the street named ul. Stawki, 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 Treblinka camp, beginning in July 1942.
I went inside the Monument to take the photo above. When I got back into the car, driven by my guide, a young Jewish man went inside the monument to see if I had defaced the monument or done some other damage.
The Jewish Ghettos, which the Nazis had established in all the major Jewish population centers of Poland, were part of the systematic plan to get rid of all the Jews in Europe; the ghettos were intended as a transitional measure. The next stage of the plan was the liquidation of the Ghettos and “transportation to the East.”
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 the years 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 ordered 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. The old photo above shows the gathering place.
The old photograph above shows the location of the Umschlagplatz. A monument has been erected on this spot, as shown in the photo at the top of this page.
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.
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.
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.
My photo above shows a side view of the memorial at the Umschlagplatz. According to my tour guide, the design 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, which you can see in the photo at the top of this page.
The photo below shows the interior of the memorial with a single bouquet of flowers left by a visitor. The inside is the same rectangular shape as a railroad freight car, although much bigger. The 7,000 Jews who assembled here daily were crowded into 60 freight cars for the train trip to the Treblinka extermination center. The daily deportations continued until Sept. 12, 1942.
When I was there in 1998, guards are posted near the memorial, but even so, the inside walls of this memorial had been defaced with a Nazi swastika when I visited it in October 1998. I was afraid that I might be accused of painting the swastika there, so I wanted to get out of there in a hurry. My tour guide took forever to turn the car around, so that we could escape as soon as possible.