Daily life in the Warsaw Ghetto through rare photographs, 1941

On 2 October 1940, Ludwig Fischer, the governor of the Warsaw District in the General Government of Occupied Poland, officially signed an order creating a Jewish district (ghetto) in Warsaw.

It was to become the largest ghetto in Nazi-occupied Europe. All Jewish people in Warsaw had to be relocated to the area of ​​the ghetto by 15 November 1940.

On that date the ghetto was sealed. Altogether 113,000 Gentiles were forced to settle on the 'Aryan side' and were replaced by 138,000 Jews from other districts of the capital.

The ghetto reached its largest number of inhabitants in April 1941. Within its wall lived 395,000 Warsovians (inhabitants of Warsaw) of Jewish origin, 50,000 from the western part of the Warsaw district, 3,000 from its eastern part, as well as 4,000 Jews. Germany (all settled in the early months of 1941).

Altogether there were about 460,000 inhabitants in an area of ​​3.4 km (1.3 sq mi), with an average of 7.2 persons per room. Of these, 85,000 are children up to the age of 14.

During the first year and a half, thousands of Polish Jews, as well as some Romani people from small towns and rural areas, were brought into the ghetto.

Nevertheless, the typhus epidemic and starvation kept the residents in roughly equal numbers. In 1941 the average daily food ration for Jews in Warsaw was limited to 184 calories, compared with 699 calories allowed for Gentiles and 2,613 calories for Germans.

In August, the ration fell to 177 calories per person. The Holocaust Encyclopedia states that eating less than 1,000 calories per day can lead to death in a matter of weeks.

German officers were solely responsible for the arrival of food aid, which usually consisted of dry bread, flour and the lowest quality potatoes, oatmeal, turnips and margarine, sugar and a small monthly supplement of meat.

The only real means of survival were food smuggling and barter; In which men, women and children are all participating.

Up to 80 percent of the food consumed in the ghetto was brought in illegally. Private workshops were created on the Aryan side of the city to manufacture goods sold in secret.

Food smuggling was often carried out by single children who crossed the wall of the ghetto anyway, sometimes in their hundreds, sometimes several times a day, returning with baggage that could be as much as their weight.

However, between October 1940 and July 1942, about 92,000 Jewish residents of the ghetto died of starvation, diseases, and cold, which was about 20% of the entire population.

On 21 July 1942, the Nazis launched Operation Gross-Action Warsaw, a mass deportation of Jews to the Warsaw Ghetto, 80 km north-east of the Treblinka death camp. By 21 September, about 300,000 residents of the Warsaw ghetto had died in the gas chambers in the camp.

In October 1942 the Germans conducted a new population census - only 35,639 people remained in the ghetto, about 10% of the number registered in July of the same year.

On 19 April 1943, what remained of the Jewish population of Warsaw rose to fight the last battle against the Nazis.

Nazi troops, led by SS-Gruppenführer Jürgen Stroop, systematically destroyed the Jewish district and wiped out any resistance. Of Warsaw's remaining Jews, 56,065 were killed in battle, massacred, or sent to death camps. By mid-May 1943, the Warsaw Ghetto ceased to exist.

The photos shared in this article are taken by Willie Georg and some by Henrik Joest. In the summer of 1941, Willy Georg, a German army signalman, visited the ghetto on the orders of his commanding officer. A pre-war professional photographer, he took four rolls of film - about 160 pictures - during his one-day visit to the ghetto.

His Leica camera with the fifth roll was confiscated by a German police patrol after he was seen roaming the streets of the ghetto. Luckily for him, the other four could not be found in his pocket.

There is some mystery about his pictures

Why did the many subjects photographed give her such a positive response? Could it be that he was in his civilian clothes instead of his uniform? Did the inhabitants of the ghetto know who he was?

In some photos it appears they knew he was a German soldier - they take off their hat and look at him with stern faces. Perhaps he introduced himself, or tried to speak to them in broken Polish?

Can we assume that his attitude towards the people he photographed was sympathetic – after all, he preserved the images throughout the war and made them public afterwards? Unfortunately, we may never know the answers to these questions.

Willy George's photographs show a period in the history of the ghetto when life was still bearable for some residents.

People do business in the streets, housewives look for good quality bedding, children still find entertainment in daily situations. Some store windows also have a limited selection of food for sale.

Trams operated by workers from the 'Aryan side' provide limited public transport services. While these things were happening, many others – especially children and the elderly – were dying of malnutrition on the streets.

The contrast is shocking. Their condition is indicative of what was to come for the inhabitants of the ghetto – starvation, diseases, and exile to death camps.

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