From the Diary of Adam Czerniakow on the Eve of the Deportation from the Warsaw Ghetto, 1942
February 17, 2006 11:22 AM   Subscribe

"They are demanding that I kill the children of my people with my own hands"
On October 4, 1939, a few days after Warsaw's surrender to the Nazis, Adam Czerniaków was made head of the 24 member Judenrat, the Jewish Council (write "Czerniakow" in the linked page's search box) responsible for implementing German orders in the Jewish community (interactive map of the Warsaw ghetto). On July 22, 1942 -- Tisha B'Av, the "saddest day in Jewish history" -- the Judenrat received instructions that all Warsaw Jews were to be deported to the East (exceptions were to be made for Jews working in German factories, Jewish hospital staff, members of the Judenrat and their families, and members of the Jewish police force and their families. Czerniaków tried to convince the Germans at least not to deport the Jewish orphans). Czerniaków kept a diary from September 6, 1939, until the day of his death. It was published in 1979 in the English language as the "The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniaków: Prelude to Doom", edited by one of the most prominent Holocaust scholars, Raul Hilberg. More inside.
posted by matteo (23 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

Of course, Czerniaków was not able to obtain an exemption for orphans. He returned to his office and took one of the cyanide capsules he had been keeping for just such an occasion.
When the Germans left, the Chairman sat in his chair, a broken man. For almost three years he had tried to fulfill every Gestapo command, hoping that by compliance the Jews would make themselves indispensable to the Nazi war effort, however long it lasted. He had compromised more than one principle for the sake of the ghetto, but he drew the line at cooperating in the evacuation of its children. He rang for the night clerk and asked for a glass of water. She saw that he was as white as a sheet. His hands were trembling as he took the glass. Attempting a smile, he dismissed her with "Thank you" -- his last words.

Like Korczak, Czerniakow kept poison available. He had twentyfour tablets of potassium cyanide locked in his drawer, one for each member of the Council should they ever be asked to do anything that went against their conscience. That moment had arrived for him. He wrote two notes. In one, he asked his wife to forgive him for leaving her, and to understand that he could not do otherwise. In the other, he explained to his fellow Judenrat members that he was unable to hand over helpless children to the Germans. He hoped that they would not see his suicide as an act of cowardice. He could no longer bear what was happening.

Shortly afterwards, the cashier, who was working in another part of the building, was surprised that no one answered the incessant ringing of the phone in the Chairman's office. Opening the door cautiously, he found Adam Czerniakow dead in his chair.

That night the Gestapo ordered an emergency meeting of the Judenrat to elect a new Chairman.


From the diary:

July 20, 1942

At the Gestapo at 7:30 in the morning. I asked Mende how much truth there was in the rumors. He answered that he had heard nothing about it. After this I asked Brandt; he answered that he knew nothing of the kind. To the question whether a thing like that could nevertheless happen, he answered that he knew nothing. I came away unsure. I went to his superior officer, Commissar Boehm. He said that it was not his department, that perhaps Hoheman might be able to make some statement in connection with the rumors. I observed that according to the rumors the deportation was due to start at 19:30 today. He answered that he would certainly know something if it were so.

For lack of any other choice I went to Scherer, the Deputy Director of Section 3. He said he was amazed at the rumor and claimed that he too knew nothing about it.

Finally I asked whether I could inform the population that there was no reason for fear. He said I could, that all the reports were nonsense and rubbish (Unsinn und Quatsch).

I gave orders to Lejkin that he should make this known through the area station....

July 22, 1940 [1942]

At the Community at 7:30 in the morning. The borders of the small ghetto are guarded by a special unit in addition to the usual one....

At 10 o'clock Sturmbannfuehrer Hoefle appeared with his people. We disconnected the telephone lines. The children were moved out of the little garden opposite.

It was announced to us that the Jews, without regard to sex or age, apart from certain exceptions, would be deported to the East. Six thousand souls had to be supplied by 4 o'clock today. And this (at least) is how it will be every day....

Sturmbannfuehrer Hoefle (Beauftragter [person in charge] of the deportation) called me into the office and informed me that my wife was free at the moment, but if the deportation failed she would be the first to be shot as a hostage.
posted by matteo at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2006

Raul Hilberg video:
"As the Nazi regime developed over the years, the whole structure of decision-making was changed. At first there were laws. Then there were decrees implementing laws. Then a law was made saying, ‘There shall be no laws.’ Then there were orders and directives that were written down, but still published in ministerial gazettes. Then there was government by announcement; orders appeared in newspapers. Then there were the quiet orders, the orders that were not published, that were within the bureaucracy, that were oral. And finally, there were no orders at all. Everybody knew what he had to do."

London Review of Books: "Every Single Document"
The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow provides an enthralling day by day account of Czerniakow's untiring efforts to placate an ultimately implacable enemy.
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.
Raul Hilberg, The Destruction of the European Jews


Jewish Resistance song (.pdf):
Never say there is only death for you.
Though leadened skies may be concealing days of blue
Because the hour we have hungered for is near
posted by matteo at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2006

posted by matteo at 11:24 AM on February 17, 2006

Thanks for the links. It's important to remind ourselves what humans are capable of doing to each other, especially given the polarization that seems to be going on in the world. I think the madness that conceived the Holocaust is dormant in us as a species, that we have not reached the happy end of history where everything is ok, and atrocities are a thing of the past. /soapbox
posted by mert at 11:34 AM on February 17, 2006

sorry, I forgot:

On page 29 of this .pdf file, Holocaust scholar Yehuda Bauer talks about the Warsaw ghetto revolt
posted by matteo at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2006

wow. thanks for this.
posted by shmegegge at 11:38 AM on February 17, 2006

Wow indeed. I'm awed and grateful (and shamed for humanity).
posted by languagehat at 12:37 PM on February 17, 2006

Interesting stuff. Few people talk about how actual revolts did occur.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:14 PM on February 17, 2006

Amazing post.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 1:18 PM on February 17, 2006 long will it be before we lock up the brown people?

. :(

This world saddens me.
posted by Kickstart70 at 1:35 PM on February 17, 2006

Photo galleries:Many of these images were used as models for scenes in The Pianist (2002), Roman Polanski's film about Wladyslaw Szpilman.
posted by cenoxo at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2006

It occurs to me that it would not at all be a bad idea to have one MeFi posting a week focusing on an aspect of the ascendency of the Nazi regime. We all need to be aware of how governments become fascist, so as to prevent it happening again.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:29 PM on February 17, 2006

hides in attic, fears for life.
posted by five fresh fish at 3:30 PM on February 17, 2006

posted by By The Grace of God at 3:35 PM on February 17, 2006

It's the pyschological aspect of the holocaust which to me is most disturbing. Rampages against and by various ethnic groups has happened for all time, but the level of committees, orders, documentation, planning, etc. is just mind-boggling and almost impossible to comprehend.
posted by chaz at 3:43 PM on February 17, 2006

> hides in attic, fears for life.

If that's a joke, it strikes me as not just the right kind for this thread.

posted by jfuller at 5:33 PM on February 17, 2006

It strikes me as exactly the right kind for this thread, given that I expect the MeFi Cabal to go all stormtrooper on my ass for even daring to suggest that examining Nazi history and comparing it to the current US Administration would be an insightful and potentially nation-saving practice.

But maybe I cower for nothing. After all, I'm not Dios, and the right-wing brigade seems to be laying low these days.

Anyway, if I deeply offended you, I apologise.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:15 PM on February 17, 2006

Chaz said: ...the level of committees, orders, documentation, planning, etc. is just mind-boggling and almost impossible to comprehend.

You just need a meeting of the minds to reach a consensus, and a little management:
Not long after this death in 1915, [Frederick Winslow] Taylor's ideas found their way to Nazi Germany. The concentration camp has been described as an extreme example of Taylorism at work. Richard Rubenstein, writing in "The Cunning of History," notes that "I.G. Farben's decision to locate at Auschwitz was based upon the very same criteria by which contemporary multinational corporations relocate their plants in utter indifference to the social consequences of such moves." Among those enthralled with Taylorism was Albert Speer. John Ralston Saul credits the efficiency expert's ideas with helping Germany hold out against superior Allied forces later in the war.
It's not so much who's talking, but who's listening.
posted by cenoxo at 7:07 PM on February 17, 2006

If that's a joke, it strikes me as not just the right kind for this thread.

posted by jfuller at 5:33 PM PST on February 17 [!]

I think it was a knock on the current state of world affairs, Tasteless? Sure. Evil? Hardly.

I read this after earlier reading about the atrocities taken out by the good ole US of A against Japan. The worst of which was a 1yr old child in Hiroshima on 9/6/1945 who's face was cut by broken glass and body burned all over looking up at his mother and smiling. He died a few months later from radiation poisoning.

This and that really makes me cry. I literraly cry to think that humans can perform such crimes against other humans. Between the Holocaust, firebombing of London and the A-Bombs in Japan, I do not want to be part of this world. Im disgusted to be a part of this horrible race.
posted by subaruwrx at 10:48 PM on February 17, 2006

subaruwrx, it is only by lancing the boil, that we draw out the poison. Constant vigilance and study of how we as humans came to that point. This subversion of all the structures we create to form a society for the benefit of humankind is essential study, especially where we see it starting again.
Thanks to the internets I do believe a day will come in the future where these innate self-destructive impulses will be obvious long before we get to the horror above.
But we're not there yet.


Thanks Matteo
posted by Wilder at 2:59 AM on February 18, 2006

Thanks to the internets I do believe a day will come in the future where these innate self-destructive impulses will be obvious long before we get to the horror above.
But we're not there yet.

I don't understand this. Our "innate self-destructive impulses" have been obvious as far back as written records go. People have wrung their hands and deplored and wept since the beginning of time. Right now, as we speak, genocide is going on in Darfur (I used to nitpick about whether it was technically genocide, but decided that's counterproductive); we know all about it, we were told long ago it was happening and would get worse, and it has gotten worse, and it will continue to get worse, and nothing is being done. People in the Allied governments knew during WWII what was going on in the camps, and they wouldn't even divert a few bombers to destroy the rail lines. Most people basically don't care about other people who are distant from them or "not like" them. I wish I could find grounds for optimism, but I can't. The Warsaw Ghetto is just a particularly dramatic example of the human condition for those without the luck to be born favored in a favored nation.
posted by languagehat at 5:23 AM on February 18, 2006

Wow. Top notch post and subsequent links.
posted by dejah420 at 7:43 PM on February 19, 2006

What dejah said, in triplicate .. matteo, I don't know how you find the things that you do, but please don't stop.
posted by madamjujujive at 9:45 PM on February 19, 2006

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