The ‘year of torments’ in Poland

The Kutno Ghetto 1940

The Kutno ghetto in central Poland - on the 15th June 1940 the Germans had forced the 8,000 Jewish inhabitants of Kutno onto the site of a bomb damaged sugar factory.

Having pushed the Jewish inhabitants of the ghetto into a state of destitution, the Germans now took a series of propaganda images to demonstrate the 'inferior nature' of the Jews.

The war was now one year old. The invasion of Poland by Germany, and then Soviet Russia, had torn the country apart. Both parts of the country had suffered under the different totalitarian regimes, both targeting different groups of people for persecution. No group suffered worse than the Jews under the Nazis. It was a sign of even worse to come.

In the Warsaw ghetto Chaim Kaplan had been keeping a diary of the effects of the war on the Poles and the ever growing persecution of the Jews. He recorded the first anniversary of the outbreak of the war:

In this year of torments, Polish Jewry has been destroyed. Its property and holdings were confiscated; all sources of income were blocked; its ancient communities were uprooted and exiled; its cemeteries are piles of rubble; its human rights have been erased and annulled; its lives are worthless. Imprisoned, subjugated, and mummified in the narrow confines of ghettos, it is declining to the lowest level of human survival.

This is an existence of dogs who lick bones under their masters’ feet. Spiritual life is paralysed. All the libraries, academies, and other buildings which were a haven for the Jewish spirit have been destroyed, and still the enemy is poised to torment us until we disappear from the earth entirely.

This is not only in our own conquered country where we have been openly enslaved by the Nazis; the venom of Nazism is poisoning all the communities where the murderers have power. Depraved Rumania, wicked Hungary, audacious and filthy Czechoslovakia—wherever the influence of Nazism reaches, we decline from day to day.

‘You Jews wanted a war —well, here is a war; but you will come out of it beaten!’

All of this in a single year. We were mistaken in assessing the murderers’ strength, and were again mistaken in assessing our democratic strength. And all the small and great nations who have become working tributaries to Nazism were mistaken along with us. Together with the Jewish people, Poland too is turned into a cemetery.

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

In Kutno, as in many other ghettos, malnourishment and the cold would prove fatal to many, as the winter soon dramatically worsened living conditions.

Earlier in the war:

Later in the war: