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Remnant of the Ghetto wall at backyard of Sienna 55 street
Map of the Warsaw Ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe, located in the territory of General Government in occupied Poland during World War II.


The Warsaw Ghetto was established by the German Governor-General Hans Frank on October 16, 1940. At this time, the population in the Ghetto was estimated to be 400,000 people, about 30 percent of the population of Warsaw. However, the size of the Ghetto was about 2.4% of the size of Warsaw.

The ghetto was split into two areas, the "small ghetto", generally inhabited by richer Jews and the "large ghetto", where conditions were difficult. The two ghettos were linked by a single footbridge. The Nazis then closed the Warsaw Ghetto from the outside world on November 16, 1940, building a wall with armed guards.


During the next year and a half, thousands of the Polish Jews as well as some Romani people from smaller cities and the countryside were brought into the Ghetto, while diseases (especially typhus), and starvation kept the inhabitants at about the same number. Average food rations in 1941 for Jews in Warsaw were limited to 220 cal, compared to 1669 cal for gentile Poles and 2,614 cal for Germans.

Unemployment was a major problem in the ghetto. Illegal workshops were created to manufacture goods to be sold illegally on the outside and raw goods were smuggled in often by children. Hundreds of four to five year old Jewish children went across en masse to the "Aryan side", sometimes several times a day, smuggling food into the ghettos, returning with goods that often weighed more than they did. Smuggling was often the only source of subsistence for Ghetto inhabitants, who would otherwise have died of starvation. Despite the grave hardships, life in the Warsaw Ghetto was rich with educational and cultural activities, conducted by its underground organizations. Hospitals, public soup kitchens, orphanages, refugee centers and recreation facilities were formed, as well as a school system. Some schools were illegal and operated under the guise of a soup kitchen. There were secret libraries, classes for the children and even a symphony orchestra. The life in the ghetto was chronicled by the Oyneg Shabbos group.

Over 100,000 of the Ghetto's residents died due to rampant disease or starvation, as well as random killings, even before the Nazis began massive deportations of the inhabitants from the Ghetto's Umschlagplatzmarker to the Treblinka extermination campmarker during the Gross-aktion Warschau, part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard. Between Tisha B'Av (July 23) and Yom Kippur (September 21) of 1942, about 254,000 Ghetto residents (or at least 300,000 by different accounts) were sent to Treblinka and murdered there. In 1942 Polish resistance officer Jan Karski reported to the Western governments on the situation in the Ghetto and on the extermination camps. By the end of 1942, it was clear that the deportations were to their deaths, and many of the remaining Jews decided to fight.

Warsaw Ghetto Uprising and destruction of the Ghetto

Warsaw ghetto {east view} in 1945

On January 18, 1943, the first instance of armed resistance occurred when the Germans started the final expulsion of the remaining Jews. The Jewish fighters had some success: the expulsion stopped after four days and the ŻOB and ŻZW resistance organizations took control of the Ghetto, building shelters and fighting posts and operating against Jewish collaborators.

The final battle started on the eve of Passover of April 19, 1943, when a Nazi force consisting of several thousand troops entered the ghetto. After initial setbacks, the Germans under the field command of Jürgen Stroop systematically burned and blew up the ghetto buildings, block by block, rounding up or murdering anybody they could capture. Significant resistance ended on April 23, and the Nazi operation officially ended in mid-May, symbolically culminated with the demolition of the Great Synagogue of Warsawmarker on May 16. According to the official report, at least 56,065 people were killed on the spot or deported to German Nazi concentration and death camps, most of them to Treblinka.

Remnants of the Ghetto today

A remnant of the Ghetto's wall at backyard of Złota 60 street

The ghetto was almost entirely levelled during the uprising, however, a number of buildings and streets survived, mostly in the "small ghetto" area, which had been closed earlier and wasn't involved in the fighting. The buildings on ul. Próżna are the original residential buildings that once housed Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto. The buildings have largely remained empty since the war and the street is the focus for the annual Warsaw Jewish Festival. Nearby, the Nożyk Synagogue also survived the war, as it was used as a stables by the German Wehrmacht. The synagogue has today been restored and is once again used as a temple. The last remaining piece of the ghetto wall is located at ul. Złota 62. There is a small monument on a mound at ul. Mila 18 to commemorate the site of the Jewish underground headquarters during the Ghetto Uprising.

People of the Warsaw Ghetto



Associated people

  • Władysław Bartoszewski - Polish resistance activist of the Żegota organization in Warsaw.
  • Henryk Iwański - Polish resistance officer in the charge of support for the Ghetto. Died in 1978.
  • Jan Karski - Polish resistance courier who reported on the Ghetto for the Allies. Died in 2000.
  • Irena Sendler - Polish resistance member who smuggled 2,500 Jewish children out of the Ghetto and helped to hide them, subject of the film The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler. Died in 2008.
  • Szmul Zygielbojm - Polish-Jewish socialist politician. In 1943 committed suicide in London in an act of protest against the Allied indifference to the death of the Warsaw Ghetto

See also


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