“In Nowolipie, Smocza streets, hunting takes place at noon.” The Warsaw Ghetto one week after the start of the great deportation

Great deportation from the Warsaw ghetto, 1942

July 29, 1942. A week has passed since the beginning of the great deportation in the Warsaw Ghetto. Every day 5,000-10,000 Jews are transported from the Umschlagplatz to the gas chambers in Treblinka. With the formation of the Jewish Combat Organization, an armed resistance movement slowly begins.

On July 28, 1942, the Jewish Combat Organization was established in the Warsaw Ghetto. It included three of the Zionist youth organizations operating in the closed district: Hashomer Hatzair, Dror and Akiba. Apart from Icchak Cukierman, Cywia Lubetkin and Mordechaj Tenenbaum (all three of the Dror youth movement), the leadership included Józef Kapłan and Szmul Bresław, representing Hashomer Hatzair, associates of the Oneg Shabbat group.

The establishment of the JCO was the beginning of armed resistance in the Warsaw ghetto. The JCO was the largest Jewish resistance organization in occupied Europe, with around 500-600 members. Although at the beginning they had almost no weapons at all, members of the JCO tried to lead groups of Jews outside the ghetto, informed the Jewish population about German extermination plans, and organized assassinations of collaborators.

With the coming cruel death of most of the ghetto inhabitants, the old political divisions have lost their importance. “Sixty thousand Jews remained in the ghetto,” Marek Edelman said years later to Hanna Krall. “Those who stayed now understood everything: what was meant by «displacement» and that there was no time to wait. We decided to create one military organization for the entire ghetto, which was not easy, because they did not trust one another, we did not trust the Zionists, they did not trust us. It didn’t matter now. We created one combat organization, the Jewish Combat Organization, JCO”[1].

Edelman belonged to the Bund, a socialist party opposing Zionism, while Zionism was one of the postulates of Hashomer Hatzair (to which belonged the aforementioned Kapłan and Brasław, as well as Mordechaj Anielewicz, the later commander of the JCO). Unfortunately, until the uprising in the ghetto in April 1943, the JCO did not manage to merge with another large organization of armed resistance, the Jewish Military Union.

Weakened by hunger, terrorized, sick Jews went to the Umschlagplatz every day – on their own accord or chased by Germans, Ukrainians, Estonians and other soldiers of the SS auxiliary formations, as well as the Jewish Order Service, which during the “Great Action” days showed particular brutality. On the day the JCO was established, another 5,020 people were deported to Treblinka. Abraham Lewin, a teacher and member of Oneg Shabbat, wrote in his diary:

Abraham Lewin

July 28, 1942:

The “Action“ goes on with the greatest force. Many volunteer to go to Umschlagplatz. Two families left their apartments and showed up on their own (5 and 10 people). Reason: terrible hunger. Bialer – execution as he did not take off his cap. The Kirzner case. By yesterday 45,000. Wealthy Jews have left Warsaw. The Rozencwajgs riding on a cart. They caught Gutgold. Lazar was pulled from the tram. Three victims on Smocza Street. How did they kill a strong young man? He tried to run away, they injured his arm, he pleaded with an officer, they murdered him by packing two bullets in his head. They took Gruzalc’s mother[2]. He works for Toebbens [3]. Pessimism of Menachem Kon [4]. They intend to leave 60,000 Jews in the town. The fate of those working at the Jewish Social Self-Help. Some believe that they will only honor ID cards within two more days. This is what Szeryński said[5]. The second blockade of our tenement house. They took two young Wafiszs. In Nowolipie, Smocza streets, hunting takes place at noon, as for wild animals in the forest. The world has not seen such shocking scenes yet. They throw people into the carts like dogs, they take the old and the sick to the Jewish cemetery and murder them there. A smuggler who lives in our house wanted to get rid of her sick old mother. So she gave her mother in the hands of criminals. Jewish policewomen. In the courtyards of the tenement houses at 44-46 Nowolipie Street there are many people and many sewing machines..

July 29, 1942:

The eighth day of the “action”. The cart on Karmelicka – they throw people into it. (…) They shoot at people standing in the windows. A Christian woman, upon seeing carts with captured Jews, curses the Nazis, moves into view and is shot. In the Nowy Świat street, another Christian woman knelt on the pavement and prayed to God that he would direct his sword against the torturers. She did it, when she saw a Jewish child murdered by a gendarme. Meeting of the members of “Oneg Shabbat”. The tragic course of the meeting. They discuss the ownership and transfer of the Archive to America, to YIVO [6], if we all die.

Terrible news about the plans of the Germans. It turns out that they intend to kill 250,000 Jews. So far – 53,000 are killed. Utter pessimism of Gutkowski and Kon. They talk about death as something inevitable. (…) So far, eight Jewish policemen have committed suicide. It’s getting worse in the streets every day. They detained many people who had Jewish Social Self-Help ID cards. (…)

(…) Someone called our policemen gangsters. The day after Czerniaków’s death, a German officer W. appeared and explained that he was not to blame for his death. He gave word of honor of a German officer that the displaced persons were not being killed. (…)

There are times when I am a bit calmer about my fate, sometimes I become a little indifferent, but suddenly I am overwhelmed by the fear of death that I am close to madness[7].

Written and translated by: Przemysław Batorski
[1] Hanna Krall, Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem, Wydawnictwo a5, Cracow 1997, p. 58-59.
[2] Lejb Gruzalc, commander of a JCO battle group in the April 1943 uprising, member of the Bund party.
[3] A forced labor facility belonging to Walther Caspar Többens at Prosta 14 street (the so-called big Többens) and at Leszno 74 street (the so-called little Többens). The workers sewed clothes, military uniforms and haberdashery.
[4] Menachem Mendel Kohn (1881-1943), pre-war entrepreneur, member of the “Oneg Shabbat” group, responsible for its finances.
[5] Józef Szeryński (1893-1943), commander of the Jewish Order Service.
[6] YIVO – a research center dealing with the history and culture of Jews. It was established in 1925 in Vilnius. In 1940, it was transferred to New York.
[7] Abraham Lewin, Dziennik [Diary], edited by Katarzyna Person, Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2015, p. 175-176. The footnotes are from this edition and have been simplified and changed for online publication. The spelling was also simplified or corrected.
Hanna Krall, Zdążyć przed Panem Bogiem, Wydawnictwo a5, Cracow 1997.
Abraham Lewin, Dziennik [Diary], edited by Katarzyna Person, Wydawnictwo ŻIH, Warsaw 2015.
Krzysztof Persak, Żydowska Organizacja Bojowa (ŻOB), Wirtualny Sztetl, https://sztetl.org.pl/en/glossary/jewish-combat-organisation-zob-zydowska-organizacja-bojowa