On this day: the Warsaw Ghetto is sealed

November 16 1940: The Warsaw Ghetto is closed off

By Jennifer Lipman, November 16, 2010

In 1939 when the Nazis invaded Poland Warsaw’s Jewish community, which at the time made up about 30 per cent of the city’s population, was the second largest in the world.

Before the Holocaust the city was a thriving center of Jewish life, home to more than 350,000 Jewish people. But immediately after the invasion the Nazis set up a Judenrat (Jewish Council) and tasked it with setting up a Jewish ghetto in the city.

Over the next year, Jews were sent into forced labour in large numbers, their property confiscated and their schools and businesses closed.

But in October 1940 German governor Hans Frank decreed that all Jewish residents of the city would have to move to one specified area, separated from the rest of the population by barbed wire, armed guards and a ten feet wall.

A month later, it was sealed off, with an estimated 400,000 Jews trapped in just 1.3 square miles. On average, 7.2 people lived in every room, and there were widespread food and medicine shortages. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands were deported to death camps or killed in the ghetto.

In April 1943, aware that the Nazis were starting the final deportations from the ghetto, Jewish fighters launched a resistance using weapons smuggled across the walls. They were initially successful but within four days the attempt had collapsed among all but small pockets of fighters and the ghetto was liquidated.

Soviet troops liberated Poland in January 1945. Just 11,500 Jews from Warsaw were believed to have survived the Holocaust.

What the JC said about the ghetto in 1940: An eight-foot concrete wall, “so secure that a cat could not get through it,” surrounds the Warsaw Ghetto…The Governor-General of Poland, Dr. Frank, has decreed that Jews must not appear in the streets between 6pm and 6am. The reason for this extension of the curfew is the discovery by the Gestapo that many Poles, contrary to the Nazi regulations, were secretly selling food to starving Jews under cover of darkness.

See more from the JC archives here

Last updated: 10:12am, April 4 2011