Hope and Despair in the Warsaw ghetto

Warsaw Ghetto, June 1942: The Jews were walled in and isolated from the rest of Warsaw. Chl‚odna Street (looking West) from the intersection with Zi‡elazna Street. The street was Aryan and above the street one can see a wooden bridge connecting the Small and Big Ghetto's.

In the ghetto of Warsaw Chaim A. Kaplan continued to maintain his diary, his ‘Scroll of Agony’, his personal record of life under the Nazis. After enduring a terrible winter during which thousands had succumbed to starvation and disease, the ghetto now faced up to deportations.

The residents of the ghettoes had no clear knowledge of where the deported were being sent to and every piece of apparent news was seized upon. On the 7th June 1942 Kaplan records that many still clung to hope – that they really were destined for ‘re-settlement’ somewhere.

Never were we so hopeful of the final Nazi downfall as during these days, days in which our tribulations grow worse from hour to hour. The transports do not cease, and the Nazi sword rests against our throats, wreaking havoc amongst us. But we were always a nation bound by hope-and so we shall remain. Jewish faith is marvellous; it can create states of mind that have nothing to do with reality.

Others listened to the news from outside the ghetto, the progress of the war. The optimistic were hopeful that they read the signs that the Nazis were being beaten, that the war might come to an end before they too were deported.

But others had a remarkably clear sighted view of their eventual fate:

Hirsch, my wise friend, is an exception. He is the only one who sits like a mourner among bridegrooms. ‘Idiots!’ he shouts, and his face becomes red with anger.

‘Your hope is vain; your trust a broken reed. All of you are already condemned to die, only the date of execution has yet to be set. We are doomed to pass from the World without seeing the Nazi downfall because the physical annihilation of European Jewry is one of Nazism’s cardinal principles. You have eyes and yet you do not see that the fulfilment of this horrible goal has already been started.

What hope do we have that it will not be carried out? Over half a million Jews who used to live in Poland have already been murdered; some by hunger, some by disease, some by the Nazi sword. Jews have been deported from hundreds of small communities, and no one knows their whereabouts, simply because they were killed along the way and never reached a new destination.

Optimistic fools! Where is the great community of Lublin, and the hundreds of other smaller communities? Where did their deportees settle? The Nazis created ghettos in order to annihilate us but their plan did not succeed. Now they have decided upon the ‘final solution’, annihilation through murder.

Those of you who are worried about money – it’s a futile concern; you trouble yourselves for naught since Warsaw will not escape the sword of the Nazis. As for the intellectuals who are busy acquiring rare books because they are inexpensive – it is truly amazing! Can you really prevent your eyes from seeing? What do you need books for if you will never live to read them. ’

And thus he goes on and on. Would that Hirsch’s predictions prove to be untrue.

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

Warsaw Ghetto, June 1942: Jewish police guard an access point from outside the ghetto. Zielazna Street (looking South) from the intersection with Chlodna Street.

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