The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Last-Modified: 1999/05/31

Q. What German units operated, do you know?

A. The environs of the ghetto were guarded by the
Schutzpolizei, the Gestapo and also the SS. Inside the
ghetto, even before it was closed off, from the time it was
established, as I pointed out before, first of all SS men,
Gestapo men, made their rounds. But not only they. The
people of Warsaw remember the young German pilots, with
their blond hair, strong young men, and the people of Warsaw
were very well aware of their strength and their cruelty,
when they used them against helpless persons; the people of
Warsaw remember the Schutzpolizei; the people of Warsaw also
remember the ordinary soldiers who were able to enter the
ghetto, to loot, to destroy, and to torture, to kidnap for
labour, as I have already mentioned - to do whatever they

Q. When the ghetto was closed, did Jews continue to arrive
from other centres?

A. We didn't know then that this was intended for a
particular purpose, but the Germans issued an order that
Jews were no longer to be left in the small towns. Again
they gave the reason that their lives in the small towns
were more chaotic, disorganized, without means of
subsistence. Therefore it was important to concentrate the
Jews in the large towns, together they would learn in the
larger towns how to organize their lives, how to arrange
their affairs, and naturally also how to work for the
Germans. And on the strength of this order about 100,000
Jews were moved to the City of Warsaw from the neighbouring
towns within a few days. These were already death-marches.
Any weak person, old person, child, anyone who groaned,
anyone who appeared to any German whatsoever to bear an
expression that was more insolent, was shot on the spot. In
this way tens of thousands of people came into the City of
Warsaw, carrying in their hands a small bundle, and that was
all they possessed. And if you recall what I said
previously, namely that the ghetto in Warsaw was already
anyhow terribly overcrowded, and that the Jews of the City
of Warsaw had already been wandering around for days and
weeks without a roof over their heads - then you will
understand that these tens of thousands of Jews who entered
the Warsaw Ghetto were in actual fact without any means of
subsistence, of earning a livelihood, without a penny in
their pocket and, as mentioned, homeless. The Jews, the
Jewish organizations, tried to assist to the best of their
ability. To my great regret, they weren't in a position to
save the situation.

Q. How were the sanitary conditions in the ghetto?

A. It could be taken for granted that in such terrible
congestion there could be no sanitary facilities. At the
beginning there was not even water in the ghetto, nor was
there electricity. Later on, the matter was attended to. But
since in one room near to me, or we ourselves lived 12-15
persons in a room measuring 5x5, and these were already
years of hunger in the ghetto, obviously serious sickness
broke out and claimed many victims.

I want to point out, particularly, the sanitary condition of
these refugees. Owing to the lack of space, these refugees
were placed in special houses, the occupants of which had
been somehow evacuated. These were the worst conditions of
all in the ghetto. Once I entered such a refugee home, or as
it was called, a refugee shelter, in order to look for a
family I knew. I knew them before the War as a well-off
family. He was a teacher and she was a doctor. They had
children in the Youth Movement who studied at school. They
were the normal type of people. When I came inside to look
for them, I found them on the floor, one on top of the
other. They were in a corner, but I couldn't reach them, for
there was not a spare inch of floor where it was possible to
place one's foot. There was no toilet in this house, but in
order to relieve themselves (they were on the fourth floor)
they had to walk down to the courtyard. There was no water
in this house. In this way people sat there, in this way
tens of thousands sat there and went from bad to worse,
since they did not have any chance of obtaining work. Under
conditions of starvation, under such sanitary conditions, it
was obvious that the typhus which broke out in the ghetto
started in these houses. It was impossible, although they
tried, to keep the sick separate, and sometimes even the
dead who died from hunger, particularly children in their
mothers' arms.

Q. In the morning, when you passed through the streets of
Warsaw, did you see people who died of hunger?

A. Yes, I said earlier that, when the ghetto was closed off,
most Jews were left without any means of subsistence,
without work and a source of livelihood. And then hunger
began to take its toll of many victims. These were the
normal scenes to which we had already become accustomed - to
see in the streets of the cities whole families: the father,
mother, children, families of eight to ten souls, sitting in
the streets, swollen by hunger. It was hard to say that they
had a human appearance. Especially well I remember, in the
evenings, after the curfew, when silence prevailed in the
ghetto, and everyone would hide in his corner, the voices of
the little children "a stikele broit" (a piece of bread),
and there was no one who could throw them a piece of bread,
for only a few of us at that time had a piece of bread. And
they reached such a stage that they burrowed in the garbage
containers in order to seek potato-peels or something like
that. Thus in those days in the Warsaw Ghetto there were
times when 300 funerals took place each day. These were
people who had died of starvation, from diseases, without

Attorney General: I would ask for the album of pictures. [To
witness] I understand that there were two ghettos in Warsaw,
and that between them there was a bridge in Chlodna Street?

Witness Lubetkin: Yes, at the beginning there were two
ghettos, a small one and a large one. Between the two
ghettos the link was by means of a bridge that had been
built. This was the notorious bridge in Warsaw. Many Jews
passing over it paid with their lives.

Q. Why? How?

A. Police used to pass under the bridge and Jews passed over
it. German guards stood near the bridge and watched lest
Heaven forbid, the Jews should mix with the Germans. In
order to cross over the bridge one had to remove one's hat.
Many young Jews did not remove their hats and naturally were
shot to death on the spot. For any movement, any sound,
sometimes without any reason at all, Jews were shot at the
bridge. Since there were, nevertheless, people with family
connections in both sections of the ghetto, the Jews could
not forgo crossing it, and thus, day after day, Jews crossed
over there, and day after day they paid with their lives.

Attorney General: May I approach the witness?

Presiding Judge: Please.

Attorney General: [shows the witness the album] I don't
suppose that you can identify the faces of the people, but I
would ask you to tell us whether this is how the people
looked. Here is picture no. 76 on page 28. Did the children
in the ghetto look like this?

Witness Lubetkin: This is not a typical photograph of
children swollen through hunger.

Q. We shall come to them.

A. They definitely looked like this.

Q. These pictures on page 28 - do you remember scenes such
as these?

A. Definitely.

Q. All three of them?

A. All three.

Q. On page 30, was this the way people lay on the pavements
with passersby walking past them?

A. Yes. Sometimes they were also without clothing, wrapped
in paper, for their clothes had been taken from them.

Q. Is this the way they used to gather the dead bodies on
these carts, these refuse carts, did it look like this, as
on page 32?

A. Certainly.

Q. What did the Jewish youth movements in Warsaw do?

A. It can be said that the Jewish youth movements did not
cease their activities from the first day of the outbreak of
the War. And they continued, albeit in different ways, until
the last Jew that remained alive in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Q. How did you adjust yourselves to these conditions?

A. The Jewish youth movements adjusted their works to the
new reality. Right from the beginning, when it appeared to
us that the German policy was to degrade us, to depress us,
to starve us, by closing libraries, closing schools, apart
from four grades, to change us into a nation of slaves,
ignorant people, lacking culture, we still believed that
this was not total destruction. And consequently our
activities during that period, until news of the
extermination reached us, we concentrated on the war against
these restrictive laws. If, as I have said, we thought that
these prohibitive laws were intended to wipe out the human
image, then our battle was to preserve the human image, to
develop a spirit of revolt against these evil decrees. And
when I say "revolt" I do not refer at present to a
particular rebellion but rather to preserve the human,
social and cultural character of the youth.

Q. How did you do that?

A. Firstly, all our strength lay in the fact that we were
organized in communes. When I crossed the border from
Russia, when I returned to Warsaw, I had been sent there by
the headquarters of Hehalutz for two purposes. We said to
ourselves: Jews have remained; even though we heard about
the evil decrees of the Germans, Jews have remained there
and the Halutz movement has to be with them.

Presiding Judge: From where were you sent to Warsaw?

A. From Kovel - a town which at that time was under Soviet

Q. Was this the town where you were born?

A. No.

Q. If not, where?

A. The town of my birth was also in that region, it is
called Bytom. I left my parents there. But in that town of
Kovel I was also together with a group of comrades - we set
out together from Warsaw. There we started activities. We
sent people to Vilna so that they should be able to reach
Palestine, for a route had been opened up from there. The
second purpose for which I was sent was to encourage the
departure of the Jews from the German area and to direct
them to the territory of Lithuania. For at that time there
were rumours - and it was also true - that many were rescued
and are to be found today in Israel, that it was possible to
reach Palestine from Lithuania. I arrived at a house called
Dzielna 34. This had been, until the War, the building of
the headquarters of Hehalutz. When we, the previous
occupants, were commanded by the Polish authorities to leave
and to travel to the east, this building rapidly became
filled with people who had moved to Warsaw. First of all -
the refugees who arrived from the Warthegau, but not only
they. As I related previously, many Jews gathered in Warsaw
out of a feeling that, somehow, Jews being together might be
able to overcome this period. And when I came there, to
Dzielna 34, right away in the first months, when the Jewish
street was already gripped by fear and terror of the
Germans, and each Jew stood by himself in this very
difficult  struggle for his existence, for a slice of bread
for the continuation of his life, alone against this mighty
War machine...I ask you to remember that when a Jew saw a
single German in the ghetto, he knew that he possessed the
power, that huge army that had occupied Europe and to which
great nations had surrendered, and he knew that there was
such power behind him. And he stood alone, by himself. Our
strength lay in the fact that we did not stand alone. I
already found, at this Dzielna Street house, 180 young men
and women who did not stand alone when at the time of the
bombings, shared one glass of water between them, for there
was no water. And if one of them found a potato in the camp,
he shared it with six others. Concentrations like this
existed in Warsaw for all the youth movements - five or six
- and these were concentrated there, from where they
radiated to Warsaw and beyond. At the beginning, when the
ghetto was open and it was possible to travel, we travelled
to the Jews and established contacts with them. And
afterwards, when the ghetto was closed, we sought other

What was the next main aspect of our activity? The main
aspect of our activity was organization, to organize the
youth, as I have said, in order that it could preserve the
human and the Jewish image, in order to promote within
themselves, despite the degradation and the depression, a
feeling of Jewish self-respect, so that they could stand
firm against these decrees. And, indeed, it was the youth,
who, when the day came, when it became clear to them that
this was extermination, also took up arms.

Q. Did you also handle the smuggling in of food?

A. We also dealt with food smuggling, although I must point
out, that there were more professional people involved in it
than we. One of our problems - and there is no doubt that
this was a national, or could I say elementary human,
essential, a holy activity - was the smuggling of food into
the ghetto.

Q. And when people were caught at the gate with smuggled
food, what happened to them?

A. The smuggling, naturally, proceeded in various ways. One
of the commonest and most tested methods was the bribing of
Germans. No German unit, the SS, the Gestapo nor the others,
abhorred Jewish money. And through bribery it was possible
to bring food into the ghetto. But on more than one occasion
it happened that the guard duty of the Germans who had taken
the bribe was changed in the meanwhile and fresh guards
arrived who had not received the money, and seeing that the
Jews sometimes, perhaps, came late, ten minutes after the
guards were changed, they paid for that with their lives.

Q. Were there children who went through the gate to the
Aryan section of the city to look for food?

A. In the worst periods of the starvation there were whole
families whose main breadwinners were children aged from 7
to 11, since a child aged 12 was regarded in the ghetto as
an adult person. How did they support their parents? They
used to assemble, group by group, near the gates, waiting
for the opportunity when the Germans would turn away, when
the Germans would light a cigarette, and, in their masses,
cross into the Aryan sector. Naturally the Germans always
used to be quick in opening fire, and there were always
victims. But the children were nimble and the hunger gave
them courage, and they used to scatter in all directions,
and to run around the streets of Aryan Warsaw in order to
gather bread crumbs, and potatoes, and they used to return
immediately with their prize so that they could bring it to
their parents, their sisters and brothers. Many of these
parents waited in vain, for the children did not come back,
as they had been killed in the streets of Warsaw, or on
going out of the gate or on entering the ghetto.

Q. he Jewish youth movement obviously existed in the
underground. Did you organize all the youth movements in the

A. I have said that immediately from the beginning, matters
became organized. We called upon the Jewish youth movements,
to organize themselves.

Q. And did they all respond?

A. They all responded.

Q. From the extreme right to the extreme left?

A. From the extreme right to the extreme left.

It was understandable that the youth looked for us and found
us. What was the importance of this activity? Its importance
lay in the very fact of our getting together, when this
getting together was forbidden. Its importance lay in the
fact that we conducted an intensive cultural activity.

Q. In order not to discriminate against anyone - did this
include both the secular movements and the religious

A. Yes, it included the secular movements and the religious
movements. I remember the first seminar and I shall talk
about it, as I was present. There had been seminars such as
this in No. 34 Dzielna. This was a short time before the
declaration about setting up the ghetto. Scores of boys and
girls from 24 towns and villages in Poland assembled, and
they remained there for six weeks, in Dzielna of course,
under conditions of hunger and cold - this was wintertime -
and we studied the Torah [The Pentateuch]. The value of the
seminar was very important both for the students and for the
lecturers. The Jewish intelligentsia in the Warsaw Ghetto (I
don't want to speak about it because the Attorney General
has said that another witness will appear on this subject)
were amongst the first victims because they didn't know how
to conceal themselves, they suffered from starvation, and
for the tremendous cultural potential with which this large
community was endowed there was no way to express itself.
And when we were able to obtain only some tens of them,
professors, teachers and public figures who, during these
confusing days, were able to teach the Torah, and to talk
about faith in man, about our faith as Jews, and to teach
chapters of history - chapters of Jewish suffering and
chapters of Jewish heroism - and thereby to educate the
young generation, this was of great encouragement to them,
to the students and to us. These students would go out
throughout the towns of Poland to bring their message, words
of encouragement, words to mould the character, words of
revolt against the Nazi oppressor that rose up to
exterminate us. We organized the youth, and, of course, this
was one of the things which enabled us at that time, under
such conditions, not to lose the human image. And this
wasn't difficult. I don't know if any of you are aware what
it is to experience starvation; or more accurately semi-
starvation. For when a person does not eat for days, and he
is swollen from hunger, he doesn't feel anything. But a
person who has lived for months and years on a slice of
bread and a plate of soup, is not capable of thinking about
anything in the world except about a slice of bread. And, if
nevertheless, we succeeded in inspiring this youth with the
spirit of life, despite the fact that their thoughts during
the day were centred on slices of bread, then that was a
great achievement. These seminars, this cultural activity,
encompassed thousands of the youth in the city of Warsaw and
beyond it.

There was another matter which was of great value. There was
an underground press. The underground newspapers, too,
included all the Jewish organizations, and first and
foremost, Jewish youth movements, from right to left.

From the first days it was forbidden to listen to the radio,
apart, of course, from the German station. This was a decree
for both Poles and Jews.

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