Hanukkah in the Warsaw ghetto

The Jewish population of Warsaw had been crammed into a closed ghetto since November 1940.

Chaim Kaplan had been recording the trials of the Jewish population in Warsaw from the beginning of the war. Since they had become isolated on the 15th November there had been severe food shortages. Cold, malnutrition and disease were starting to kill many and most knew that they faced a very bleak future. Yet there was a brief celebration for Hanukkah and some grim humour:

December 26, 1940

Hanukkah in the ghetto. Never before in Jewish Warsaw were there as many Hanukkah celebrations as in this year of the wall. But because of the sword that hovers over our heads, they are not conducted among festive crowds, publicly displaying their joy.

Polish Jews are stubborn: the enemy makes laws but they don’t obey them. That is the secret of our survival. We behaved in this manner even in the days when we were not imprisoned within the ghetto walls, when the cursed Nazis filled our streets and watched our every move. Since the ghetto was created we have had some respite from overt and covert spies, and so Hanukkah parties were held in nearly every courtyard, even in rooms which face the street; the blinds were drawn, and that was sufficient.

This year’s Hanukkah celebration was very well attended. We almost forgot that we are only allowed to go as far as the corner of Nalewki and Swietojerska streets. Dr. Lajfuner gave a speech full of jokes and we all laughed heartily. There was one truth in his speech which should be stressed: ‘In all the countries where they want to bury us alive, we pull the gravediggers in with us.’ Witness Czarist Russia, Poland, and Rumania. Nazi Germany will have the same fate—and in our own time.

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

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