The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. Did you listen to the radio? Did you issue bulletins?

A. Naturally we had a secret radio and listened to it. We
issued bulletins. We passed on news about what was going on
in the world at large, for we were cut off from the world at

Q. In June 1941, War broke out between Germany and the
Soviet Union. How did this fact affect the lives of the Jews
in the ghetto?

A. At the beginning this provided much encouragement. For
some reason the Jews believed that the Russians would
advance and defeat the Germans; and possibly the end of the
War was approaching. In general it isn't difficult to
understand that a person who is in trouble clutches with
faith at any small thing - perhaps? I myself did not belong
to the optimists in the ghetto. In other words, I believed
in complete faith that the end of the forces of evil would
come. But I knew - we would have to stand up to this for
years. Yes, those were the years when, as I have said, the
Germans occupied the whole of Europe. And we also believed
with the outbreak of the war between Germany and Russia, and
with the chaos that would be created with the German
retreat, as usual there would first of all be massive
outbreaks of violence against the Jews.

And then we set up an organization - this was not yet the
Jewish fighting force - whose function was that, if there
should be such outbreaks of violence, it would resist. At
that time there were still no arms. It was a matter of
sticks and anything that we chanced upon.

Q. And then you established a resistance organization with
cells of five?

A. Yes.

Q. And this also included the various Jewish organizations?

A. Yes.

Q. You established contact with the Polish underground, the
Armia Ludowa (People's Army), the A.L.?

A. We tried to establish contact with the Armia Ludowa or
more exactly with their political organization. During this
period the Polish underground was only beginning to be
formed and did not carry out acts of actual war, but its
activity consisted of getting themselves organized, of
closing ranks and encouragement. But this was not yet the
period where they used arms. We set up the organization
called "The Anti-Fascist League." This organization - owing
to the fact that contacts with the Polish underground were
weak, and meanwhile matters developed in a totally different
way, and this body was already in existence - was of great
value for several months, for it trained people to use
sticks. And, perhaps, it was not so important that people
should know how to use sticks and anything else that comes
to hand, but rather that it hardened the spirit and prepared
the youth for the days to come.

Q. Meanwhile the Germans advanced in the east, and one day a
man named Heniek of the Polish Scouts arrived. Do you
remember this?

A. Yes. Meanwhile the Germans advanced, as you know, and
they occupied large areas populated by many Jews, such as
Vilna, Lithuania, Volhynia and Polesie All these were places
of close Jewish settlement. With the advance of the army, we
decided to establish contact with these Jewish centres.
Since these were the first months of the War and there was
great confusion on the roads, we decided for the first time
to send a certain Pole whose name was Heniek, who was a
member of the Polish scouts with whom we were in touch from
the first days. I use this opportunity to mention the name
of the woman who was the head of the Polish scouts - Irena
Damowitz, who from the first day of our life in the
underground, helped us, and more than once, risked her life.
To this day she is alive and lives in Warsaw. We sent Heniek
to Vilna without knowing what was happening there, but in
order to inform us what was happening there, how the Jews
were living and what was the state of the movement. He was
given addresses, for in Vilna there was a large
concentration of youth who were planning to set out for
Palestine, but not all of them managed to get away. This we
knew. Hundreds of halutzim, who were unable to leave,
remained there.

The route there and back took him several months. In order
to reach Vilna from Warsaw one had to cross three borders.
In between there was an area which had been annexed to the
Reich - it was an area which once had been Polish - and
again there was a border on the way to the Baltic countries.
Even a Pole who wished to reach Vilna in those days needed a
great deal of courage, a sense of orientation and a lot of
luck. He was lucky.

I remember, it was already autumn or the beginning of
winter, we had an agricultural farm outside Warsaw;
Czerniakow was its name. Apart from the fact that it
represented, for the Jewish youth, an honourable source of
livelihood, this place served as a starting off point for
our male and female messengers whom we used to send out from
the ghetto. For it was a farm situated outside the ghetto,
and we also worked on a farm belonging to a Polish farmer,
as Jews. Our messengers roamed around the Aryan streets of
Warsaw. Any flicker of an eyelid of theirs could expose them
to mortal danger, lest someone, Heaven forbid, would
recognize that this was a Jew or a Jewess. They had this
base which enabled them to come to the farm by night and to
arrive as Jews. This was something great. We maintained
there a stock of newspapers, and also a store of arms. We
received a phone call in the ghetto from the farm at
Czerniakow to the effect that Heniek had arrived, asking us
to come to a meeting. We rejoiced at the news. At that time
we had various ways of leaving the ghetto, despite the
efficient guard system. Naturally, when we went out of the
ghetto we removed the Shield of David from our persons, and
we would go about as Aryans. Many of us were killed. But
nevertheless many kept up the contact. When I reached
Czerniakow at nightfall, we sat in a hut. There was no
electricity, and Heniek told his story. And for the first
time we heard that they were transporting the Jews of Vilna
in their thousands and their tens of thousands to Ponar
where children, women and babies, were put to death.

Q. And then you knew that the same fate could be expected
shortly for you?

A. This was already at the end of 1941. At the beginning of
1942 a Jew escaped from Chelmno and came to Warsaw. And he
told us that there, in Chelmno,, Jews were being driven out
of the city in trucks and put to death by gas.

Q. Did you believe this?

A. This Jew reached Warsaw, but on the way went into a town,
to the Rabbi, and told him the story. The Rabbi was
convinced that the Jew had gone crazy, and didn't believe

Q. And did you believe it?

A. After we had heard the account from Vilna, on the one
hand, and the story of Chelmno on the other hand, we
believed that this was being done systematically. I must say
that in the previous years, even we could not picture to
ourselves that a nation in the twentieth century would
indeed execute a death sentence on an entire people. We
asked ourselves more than once: They are degrading us, they
are suppressing us, are they truly thinking of destroying
all of us? We did not believe it.

Q. You did not believe it?

A. But doubt was gnawing at our hearts all the time. We had
been living in this way for years. And when we received this
information from Vilna and Chelmno within a short time, when
we sent our messengers to towns and villages in Poland and
tales of disaster began to arrive from each place, of
course, under a different disguise: in Vilna because the
Jews were cooperating with the Communists; in Chelmno they
did not disclose at all that this was extermination.

Q. They kept it as a secret?

A. I haven't yet reached the end of the story.

We put all these incidents together, and on the same day we
heard Heniek's testimony, this was a decisive moment in the
life of the Jewish underground movement. We stopped our
social activities - the schools about which I haven't
managed to tell you, the Hebrew Gymnasium, and the drama
groups and the rest of our cultural activities - and all our
efforts were now devoted to active self-defence. But the
Jews didn't believe it. Why didn't they believe? It was hard
to imagine that in fact an entire people would be
exterminated. Wherefore and why? They didn't believe it. The
ordinary Jew didn't believe it, nor did the Jewish
leadership. If you were to ask me why we believed it, was
this because we were wiser? Were we greater heroes? I would
not say so. What stood us in good stead was our Halutz
education - that in normal times, as well, we were not
afraid to face the fate of the Jews, and to see it for what
it was. That same youth believed it, due to its world
outlook and its personal education - I have no other
explanation, for there were many wise Jews in Warsaw, and
heroes also - they, nevertheless did not believe it.

Presiding Judge: Mr. Hausner, I think that we must, after
all make some progress despite the difficulty involved.

Attorney General: There is, truly, a great deal of

Presiding Judge: I appreciate the point.

Attorney General: Let us come to the first acts of
extermination in the ghetto in mid-1942. What happened?

Witness Lubetkin 3In July 1942 the liquidation of the Warsaw
Ghetto began. It started suddenly one day, although there
had already been rumours some days before, and there was
much concern amongst the Jews - we were informed suddenly
one day when we got up in the morning, by means of notices
from the Germans, that it had been decided to transfer to
the East("Aussiedlung nach dem Osten") those Jews who were
not working here, who had no source of livelihood. Exempted
from the deportation were the Jews who were working,
obviously first of all in German places of work in the
ghetto, which included the Jewish organizations, naturally
those that were legitimate, such as the Judenrat, the Jewish
police and members of their families, the various
organizations of social welfare of all kinds, hospitals. And
then the Jews came to the conclusion that, in fact, this was
only a small percentage which was destined for deportation.
The reasoning was: these are Jews who don't have their
source of livelihood here, they were, anyhow, living under
difficult conditions - the Germans would transfer them to a
place in the East, to a place where they were required for
labour, and there they would even receive good conditions.

Q. They had to gather in a place called Umschlagsplatz
(transit ground), and you called this "Umschlag"?

A. There was a place close to one of the gates in the
approaches to the Warsaw Ghetto, where there was a railway
track; there was a large field there, the Umschlagsplatz,
where the Jews were commanded to assemble, and from that
point they were loaded on to the railway waggons.

Q. How many Jews were transferred in the first operation?

A. What are you referring to by saying "first operation?" I
don't know what you call the "first operation."

Q. In July.

A. This involved 70,000 to 100,000 Jews.

Q. Where were they transferred to?

A. To the extermination camp in Treblinka.

Q. Did they differentiate inside the ghetto between Jews
holding various nationalities?

A. Immediately upon the beginning of the deportation they
announced that Jews possessing foreign nationality, neutrals
- I do not remember exactly which nationality, at any rate,
having a foreign nationality - had to gather at a certain
place and they would be taken out of the ghetto. They were
concentrated in the central prison of the ghetto - its name
was Pawiak, and, as I was informed afterwards, most of them
were shot. I knew many of them. Amongst them were workers
for the "Joint," American citizens - Neustadt, Segalowitz
and others, who were shot and did not stay alive.

Q. Do you remember a man by the name of Czerniakow - what
happened to him?

A. He was the head of the Judenrat in the Warsaw Ghetto.
When the "action" began and when it became clear to him that
this was, in fact, extermination, that it meant death, he
committed suicide.

Q. What did life in the ghetto look like after the removal
of these 100,000? Were places of work organized?

A. In view of the fact that the announcement concerning the
deportation was accompanied by an order that all those who
worked would remain alive, each Jew tried to find employment
for himself - and then workshops - they were called "Shops"
- sprang up like mushrooms after the rain. Jews used to walk
along with a machine on their back, as if it seemed to them
that this was their ticket for staying alive. The Germans
organized workshops and the Jews worked in them and they
were given "Kennkarten" - certificates that they were
working in this particular "Shop"; and it is a fact that in
the first deportation these Jews were not taken away.

This operation of deportation, from the first day to the
last, was disguised in an exceptional way.

Q. Were there also those who volunteered for deportation?

A. When the hunger grew more severe at the time of the
deportations and the Angel of Death stalked the ghetto for
two months, and hundreds of thousands of Jews were taken
away, at that time, also, people were dying of starvation.
Nobody went out and nobody came in. A kilogram of bread cost
more than 100 zlotys, and even this was impossible to
obtain. Then the Germans announced that anyone coming to the
Umschlag of his own free will would receive three kilograms
of bread and one kilogram of jam. And Jews came there with
their meagre bundles in order to receive the three kilograms
of bread.

A. Where were they taken to?

A. They, too, were transferred to Treblinka, to the death

Q. Men, women, children?

A. Men, women, children. There were those familiar pictures
of the procession of children from orphanages, who walked in
their shabby clothes towards the Umschlag, children who
walked with their teachers, such as Janusz Korczak, for
example, who had made a name for himself, and whom the
Germans wanted to release, but he would not agree.

Q. We shall talk about him later.  Please describe the
"action" known as the "Rounding up Operation"
("Kesselaktion"). How many people did it effect and when did
it take place?

A. It was at the beginning of September 1942. Within a few
hours the Jews were ordered - all those who still remained
and had not been deported  - to gather in two or three
streets of Warsaw.

I think that about 120,000 Jews assembled at the time. The
Jews were told to assemble in these streets in the course of
a few hours. They were ordered to assemble by 10 a.m., and
anyone found elsewhere after this hour would be shot. Every
Jew was obliged to leave all his possessions at home, and to
leave his apartment open. And, at that time, there was a
special unit which collected all Jewish property and sorted
it, furniture separately, jewellery separately, and shoes
separately and so on. The Jews were ordered to leave their
homes open. And in order to maintain the camouflage they
were told to take with them a parcel limited to 10 kilograms
and to bring it to Mila Street. It was impossible to enter
the houses.

Q. How long did this "action" last?

A. The "action" lasted a week or six days. In the course of
this week, 60,000 Jews were removed from these streets.

Q. Were you in the streets throughout this week?

A. Many Jews were there, and the "Shops" were also there,
for the Jews thought they would come together with the
"Shops" and with their documents, and they would be taken
off to work. In one street men of the SS and the Gestapo
were standing at a table, indicating by a movement of the
hand who was to go to the right and who to the left, who was
to live and who was to die. And, of course, first and
foremost those chosen for death were the children, the great
enemies of the German Reich, the children, the women, the
aged and the sick. Those who were healthier were still
allowed to live, by means of a motion of the hand to the

Q. Were families separated or did they remain together?

A. Of course families would be separated. There were those
terrible scenes, since, despite it all, whole families were
still going together. They knew what the fate of the
children would be, and a mother would attempt to make her
son look a little bigger, or to paint the cheeks of her
daughter, to give her shoes with higher heels, but all this
was to no avail, and they went the same way as their
brothers. In the course of a few days, 50,000 Jews were
taken away. This "action" in the Warsaw Ghetto was completed
on Yom Kippur 1942, with the liquidation of part of the
Jewish police, concerning whom we were so sure at the
beginning of the deportation that their lives would be
spared. Their loyal cooperation with the Germans did not
help them; they, too, some of them were taken to Treblinka
with their families and on Yom Kippur 1942, out of the half-
million Jews in Warsaw, about 60,000 Jews remained within
the ghetto walls.

Q. Meanwhile a Jewish fighting force was established. At its
head was Mordechai Anilewicz, Mordechai's deputy, Yitzhak
Zuckerman - is he your husband?

A. Yes.

Q. There was one operation in January 1943. We will not be
talking about this - I will be questioning Yitzhak about
this. But as Yitzhak was not inside the ghetto in April
1943, please tell us what happened on the eve of Passover,

A. 18 April 1943 was the eve of Passover. Two days before,
the Gestapo's liaison officer, named Brandt came to the
Jewish Council office and said he felt that the Council was
not sufficiently concerned about the Jewish children. There
was no greenery in the ghetto, there was not sufficient
food, and he proposed setting up kindergartens, where Jewish
children would be able to play and also to laugh. And he was
certain that those Jews who remained in Warsaw were
productive people and there was no danger of deportation
threatening them. We had already learned from experience,
and we knew if there were such rumours and such a promise -
this was a bad omen. And, in fact, in recent days there had
been various strange rumours circulating in the ghetto, that
on the approach of Passover the Germans were planning to
destroy the Warsaw Ghetto. And immediately after these
rumours, others came along saying that they had heard from
one German or another the information that this was not
true, and that the Jews who were in the ghetto would remain
there. And on the 18th of the month, during the day, a
policeman of ours, a Jew, who was also a member of the
Jewish fighting force came to us at our headquarters, and
said that Polish policemen had told Jewish policemen that
they did not know exactly, but that there was no doubt that
something was going to happen that night.

The Jewish fighting force (and I am not going to talk about
the beginning of its activity), this force was in existence
and was organized inside the ghetto and had fighting units,
with each unit having its own post, prepared in advance. An
alert was declared within the units - movement ceased,
everyone was to take his arms to his post, to the
fortifications, each officer and his men. At night, round
about midnight, this policeman came to headquarters and
informed us that "the ghetto was surrounded."

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