Random savagery in the Warsaw ghetto

Conditions for those left on the streets of the Warsaw ghetto were very grim.

Living conditions for people inside the ghetto’s of Poland were worsening all the time, but they varied for different groups of people. Most had roofs over their heads but some were completely destitute, as the Nazi’s moved whole populations from outlying towns into ever more crowded urban ghetto’s.

Chaim Kaplan kept one of the most valuable records of life in the Warsaw ghetto, which had been closed on the 15th November. His ‘Scroll of Agony’ recorded his thoughts and feelings as well as eye witness accounts of the persecution of the Jews. A large part of his diaries is missing and this is one of his last surviving entries for 1941.

February 14, 1941

Karmelicka Street, which is the only artery of traffic between the Nalewki ghetto and the Grzybowska ghetto, is always ripe for acts of savagery. A few days ago I witnessed a tragic scene of that sort through my window, which faces Karmelicka Street.

At first I was startled and frightened by the terrible sound of a mass of people moving, like the roaring of the sea; after two or three minutes I was frightened by the silence that followed. I looked through my window and the street was empty. Not a living soul was there; it was as if all of creation were dead.

In less than a minute a Nazi murderer with a face as red as fire, whose every movement expressed burning wrath, came striding with a singularly heavy step in search of a victim. In his hand was a whip. Behind him, at a distance of a few paces, came his comrade. Both of them glanced in every direction with malicious eyes. The Jews had all disappeared.

Near the building at 25 Karmelicka they met a poor ragged peddler, whose every aspect bespoke oppression, standing near his basket of wares. An awful encounter. The unfortunate peddler became a target for the blows of the murdering beasts. He fell to the ground at once, and one of them left him and went away.

But not so his companion. The very physical weakness of his victim inflamed the soldier. As soon as the peddler fell, he began stamping on him and beating him mercilessly with his whip. He beat him in various ways, cruelly and sadistically – sometimes on the head, sometimes on the face, sometimes a kick, sometimes a jab. He didn’t leave a single part of him unharmed. From a distance it looked as though he was beating a corpse.

The beaten man lay flat, without a breath of life. But the tormentor would not let him alone. It would be no exaggeration to say that he beat him without stopping, without pity, for about twenty minutes. It was hard to comprehend the secret of this sadistic phenomenon. After all, the victim was a stranger, not an old enemy; he did not speak rudely to him, let alone touch him. Then why this cruel wrath!

How is it possible to attack a stranger to me, a man of flesh and blood like myself, to wound him and trample upon him, and cover his body with sores, bruises, and welts, without any reason?

How is it possible? Yet I swear that I saw all this with my own eyes.

See The Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan.

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