Chaim Kaplan Diary


kaplan diary


Chaim Kaplan Diary Extract (USHMM)


Chaim Kaplan was born during 1880, in Horodyszcze, White Russia. He came from a family of limited means. His father died when Kaplan was twenty-two years of age and was buried in the city of Baranowicze. Kaplan had to assume the role of supporting the whole family. Chaim Kaplan received a Talmudical education at the famous Yeshiva of Mir and later on he studied in the Government Pedagogical Institute in Vilna. During 1902, Kaplan settled in Warsaw, where he founded a pioneering elementary Hebrew School, of which he was the principal for forty years. The school was first located at 29 Karmelicka Street. During the First World War the school moved to 13 Pawia Street and finally to 15 Dzielna Street. The name of the school was the 'Sixth Grade Grammar Elementary School of Ch. A. Kaplan. Chaim Kaplan was an exponent of the direct method of language teaching, in which Hebrew was taught as a spoken language.

Chaim Kaplan visited the United States of America in 1921, and Palestine during 1936. He intended to settle in Palestine in order to be with his two children, who had emigrated there earlier, but for personal reasons he returned to Warsaw in the same year, hoping to revisit Palestine some time in the future.

Kaplan began a personal diary as early as 1933, this was good training for the mission he undertook at the beginning of the Second World War. The chronicler kept his diary in small notebooks. The entries cover the time from the invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, to August 4, 1942, which was the last entry.

Chaim Kaplan knew the Nazi noose was tightening and he gave his notebooks to a Jewish friend named Rubinsztejn, who was working daily at forced labour projects outside of the Warsaw ghetto. Rubinsztejn smuggled the notebooks and passed each one on to Wladyslaw Wojeck, a Pole, who lived in Liw, a small village near Warsaw. Wojcek settled in the United States of America in 1962, and he took the notebooks with him. There the notebooks were purchased by Abraham Katsh for the New York University Jewish Cultural Foundation Library of Judaica and Hebraica. Other volumes were acquired by the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw and by Moreshet, the Mordechai Anielewicz Memorial Institute in Israel. Chaim Kaplan's Warsaw Diary was first published in English in 1965, with the title of 'Scroll of Agony: The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan'.

Selected extracts from this powerful and poignant diary follow:

September 1, 1939

A New World War

During the morning hours of the first of September 1939, war broke out between Germany and Poland and indirectly between Germany and Poland's allies, England and France. This war will indeed bring destruction upon human civilization which merits annihilation and destruction. There is no doubt that Hitlerian Nazism will ultimately be defeated, for in the end the civilized nations will rise up to defend the liberty which the German barbarians seek to steal from mankind. However, I doubt that we will live through this carnage. The bombs filled with lethal gas will poison every living being, or we will starve because there will be no more means of livelihood.

September 3, 1939

Historic events! One cannot guess at the results of them. If a German bomb doesn't cut our lives short, and we are privileged to reach the end, it will yet be worthwhile living. England and France stood by their word, their promise to their ally, and the world conflagration has been ignited. 

September 7, 1939

The enemy is at the gates of Warsaw and we are a beleaguered city. The masses have an eye that sees and an ear that hears. I too perceived it in the darkness of the night. The window of my bedroom faces towards Karmelicka Street and even though I was sunk in slumber, voices and the noise of passers-by reached my ears. I got up and looked out of the window and I knew at once the government was fleeing. Today the government fled to Lublin and left not even a shadow of an administration in a city of a million, three hundred thousand people.

October 1, 1939

The Germans entered the capital in a disciplined way. They immediately announced that they are distributing free bread to the needy. I also stood in line, but not to receive bread - only impressions. I wanted to see the Nazis when they are engaged in charitable work.

October 3, 1939

From time to time I walk along the left side of Karmelicka Street and gaze at the windows of my lovely apartment, now in the hands of strangers; the sons of Ham took over my property as though it belonged to them. My heart is broken: I sank a whole lifetime's work into that apartment: I lived in it for twenty-four years. I decorated it and beautified it and adorned it: and in one confused hour I lost it.

October 20, 1939

The Judenrat, which was orphaned when its money was stolen and its appointed president fled, attempted to organize the matter of seizing people for labour. Czerniakow offered to supply a certain number of workers, if only they would stop seizing for forced labour whoever comes to hand in the streets. Finally they agreed that the Judenrat will supply five hundred labourers a day, and that the street captures will stop.

October 26, 1939

In our scroll of agony, not one small detail can be omitted. Even though we are now undergoing terrible tribulations and the sun has grown dark for us at noon, we have not lost our hope that the era of light will surely come. Our existence as a people will not be destroyed. Individuals will be destroyed but the Jewish community will live on. Therefore every entry is more precious than gold, so long as it is written down as it happens, without exaggerations and distortions.

November 30, 1939

Today two harsh decrees reached us. First the 'Star of David' decree, just like the one in Cracow, except that in Cracow the authorities announced the decree in advance, about two weeks before it became effective, and the leaders of the community had time to prepare the Zionist symbols, whereas in Warsaw, or rather the Warsaw district, the decree was published on November 30, to become effective on December 1. Most likely this was done on purpose, in order to catch many Jews in the act of sabotage, but perhaps for technical reasons the matter will be postponed for a few days.

On the same day another decree was announced. Beginning December 1, 1939, every Jewish shop and business must indicate its Jewish ownership. The owners must conspicuously display a sign with a 'Star of David,' but without any special wording. Here too, we have been set apart from the Jews of Lodz, who had to put up signs with the words; 'Jewish Business.'

December 4, 1939

Masses of exiles stream daily to the unfortunate capital city, downtrodden refugees who were uprooted one fine morning from the town of their birth. One's heart bleeds at the sight of these despairing people. Because of the extent of the catastrophe one cannot even think about giving constructive aid. The only institution which is extending temporary relief, beggarly hand-outs that are only enough for a day at a time, in the Joint office at 13 Leszno Street.

January 14, 1940

A new catastrophe for Polish Jewry. The cruel Nazi, full of murder and tyranny, is creating forced labour camps for Juden for a two year period. This is not to be work for its own sake, but work that will educate and accustom us to hard physical labour - labour under the supervision of tyrannical Nazis, who will oppress us as one might enslave a camp of criminals and felons, in order to cleanse them of their sins.

When we read the details of the decree - which is not signed by the established administrative authority, but by the head of the SS - F.W. Kruger (note: mistakenly written as Otto), our knees sagged and our hearts turned to water.

February 12, 1940

No day goes by in which dozens of Jewish families are not impoverished. The stores are already empty, as they were looted immediately. Eleven freight buses full of goods were removed from the manufacturing firm of Rubin Rotenburg, and the same is true of all the other stores on Gesia, Nalewki, and Franciszkanska streets and vicinity. This was the first stage. As soon as it ended the second stage began: the looting of apartments. They came in carrying a pistol in one hand and a Spitzrute in the other. At first they used to come on the pretext of 'searching for arms.' When the chests and cabinets were opened, they stole whatever came to hand. As time passed, there was no longer a need for formal pretext: they simply come and take not only gold, silver, jewellery, and precious stones, but also pillows  and blankets, and often linens, clothing, furs, and even furniture. You are never sure but that in an hour you will be left naked and be beaten besides.

May 2, 1940

The prison on Dzielna Street is filled with prisoners and therefore the entire area around it has become a place ripe for depredations. Gendarmes visit the area frequently and every one of their visits leaves an impression on the bodies of Jews.

Jewish passers-by are aware of every appearance of a car whose occupants are the servants of the Fuhrer. When they first notice it from a distance, a flight begins, an escape into the doorways of the houses. In a single instant the street takes on the appearance of a graveyard. In every place they go there is silence, and you wont find a single living soul on the street. Thousands flee, but many are caught. Fear reigns in every corner.

July 8, 1940

All contact with the outside world has been stopped, even letters to relatives. An atmosphere of political tension, unrest of expectancy of great events approaching, has been engendered. Meanwhile the rope around our necks draws tighter and tighter, obviously, only around the Jews necks.

July 29, 1940

The day before yesterday, their newspaper announced that the Mayor Leist, who is not cruel or despotic nature, has issued an order forbidding Jews to enter the city parks or the municipal promenades. The same applies to sitting on the benches outside them.

August 27, 1940

There is no end to our scroll of agony. I am afraid that the impressions of this terrible era will be lost because they have not been adequately recorded. I risk my life with my writing, but my abilities are limited; I don't know all the facts; those that I do know may not be sufficiently clear; and many of them I write on the basis of rumours whose accuracy I cannot guarantee. But for the sake of truth, I do not require individual facts, but rather the manifestations which are the fruits of a great many facts that leave their impression on the people's opinions on their mood and morale. And I can guarantee the factualness of these manifestations because I dwell among my people and behold their misery and their souls' torment.

September 23, 1940

The Judenrat at 26 Grzybowska Street has become the centre of life for Polish Jewry. Up to now the Joint occupied first place, and everyone ran to receive at Jasna Street. But when the Joint became poor it lost its importance. No one turns to it and no one waits at the Director's door. The overcrowding in the halls of the Judenrat increases from week to week, even though there they come to give. They give by force, meekly, humbly - but there is no choice because a Jew cannot lift a finger without the Judenrat's approval. Posting of signs requires the permission of the Judenrat; railway travel permits are given by the Judenrat; the Labour battalion is handled by the Judenrat - it is the one empowered to send people to labour camps or to liberate them. New taxes have been imposed on the Jewish population and they are collected by the Judenrat. The Judenrat has turned into a Jewish government, and by order of the conqueror it must now perform governmental functions of a sort that it was never prepared for.

October 8, 1940

Frank (Dr.Hans Frank - (Der Generalgouverneur and Reichsminister) came to Warsaw to inaugurate the aid project for next winter. Notices written in German in huge letters, joyfully announced his arrival. Volksgenossen were ordered to hang out flags in honour of the guest. German Warsaw was jubilant.

October 12, 1940

At last the ghetto edict has gone into effect. For the time being it will be an open ghetto, but there is no doubt that in short order it will be closed. In Lodz the ghetto edict was not carried out all at once, but rather step by step, and many signs indicate it will be the same in Warsaw. After the ghetto plan was postponed two weeks ago, we were almost tranquil. But the enemy of Israel neither sleeps nor slumbers.

Before the thirty-first of October the Jews who live in the streets outside the walls must move lock, stock and barrel to the streets within the walls; and all the Aryans (read Poles) living in the streets within the walls must move to the Aryan quarter. To a certain extent the edict has hurt the Poles more than the Jews, for the Poles are ordered to move not only from the ghetto, but from the German quarter as well. Nazism wants to separate everyone - the lords by themselves, the slaves by themselves. The blessed and the accursed must not mingle. A hundred and twenty thousand people will be driven out of their homes and will have to find sanctuary and shelter within the walls. Where will we put this great mass of people? Most of them are wealthy, accustomed to beautiful apartments and lives of comfort, and they will be totally impoverished from now on. Their businesses and livelihoods were directly connected with the areas where they lived. In leaving their homes they are also leaving their incomes.

November 6, 1940

The day before yesterday the president of the Judenrat, the engineer Adam Czerniakow, was arrested. The bare item, unaccompanied by any details, caused a storm in the city.

November 17, 1940

What we dreaded most has come to us. We had a premonition that a ghetto life awaited us, a life of sorrow and poverty, of shame and degradation, but no one believed that the fateful hour would come so soon. And suddenly - a frightful surprise! On the eve of the Sabbath of Parashat Vayera, we went to bed in the Jewish quarter and the next morning we awoke in a closed Jewish ghetto. In the morning hours of the Sabbath, a three-man guard was set up in all the open places where walls were not erected because of the trolley connections  

November 28, 1940

The ghetto is empty of all Gentiles and has turned into a Jewish kingdom. The police are leaving and the Jewish Police will inherit their place. The same applies to the Post Office , Jews working for the Judenrat will head it and all the jobs there will be filled by Jews. An exceptional concession will apparently be made in the case of the tax bureau, and for the public utility departments - if the cruel conquerors do not forbid us to use gas and electricity. In short, a Jewish state complete in every detail, but a closed, cramped one, imprisoned, mummified within its narrow borders.

January 31, 1941

Today three thousand new exiles from Pruszkow and other Polish cities entered the Warsaw ghetto, and it was our obligation to furnish a new shelter for the unfortunates, in addition to the 120 old shelters, which are nothing more than breeding grounds for all sorts of diseases and epidemics. The exiles were driven out of their beds before dawn and the Fuhrer's minions did not let them take money, belongings, or food, threatening all the while to shoot them. Before they left on their exile, a search was made of their pockets and of all the hidden places in their clothes and bodies. Without a penny in their pockets or a covering for the women, children, old people, and invalids - sometimes without shoes on their feet or staffs in their hands - they were forced to leave their homes and possessions and the graves of their ancestors and go -wither? And in terrible fierce, unbearable cold.

February 1, 1941

The Jews are deprived of any benefit whatever from any institution for social good, be it governmental, municipal, or public, As a result, even our beautiful hospital in Czysta Street has been confiscated. When they began looking for a suitable building, they found themselves in trouble. Although it was hard to find one building, it was easy to find four, so they split the hospital according to its services, and each was moved into a different building. The department for internal disease was moved to the empty school building in Stawki Street; surgery was moved to Number 1 Leszno, to the empty building of the directorate of the Whisky Monopoly; contagious diseases to 78 Leszno, to a building which used to be a school. I believe, and later the quarantine; gynaecological diseases, to Dr. Gurwicz's hospital in Tlomackie Street.

February 19, 1941

It is just before evening in the Warsaw Ghetto. Thousands of oppressed and degraded Jews stream like shadows along the sidewalk in Karmelicka Street. At the Dzielna crossing a Nazi murderer appears. He struts around with his head high, his eyes filled with murder and cruelty. In his stupid face you can read the conviction that the whole world was created entirely for his benefit. In an instant the crowded sidewalk is nearly empty; no one wants to encounter this Nazi. But of this vast crowd a few Jews remained, and they took their hats off to the 'lord.' One of the Jews was beaten on the head while his hat was still in his hands. Taking your hat off is not enough. The Nazi did not feel that his honour was satisfied merely by an ordinary and common mark of respect. Jews are also required to clear the sidewalk before him and keep a certain distance. Because the Jewish sinner did not do so, he deserved beating.

February 26, 1941

Until now the Warsaw ghetto was not completely blockaded. There was some traffic between the ghetto and the Aryan quarter through the open places left for the trolleys to go through. Jewish smugglers were partners with Aryan smugglers and made a united front to deal with the German guards and the Polish and Jewish police. So the ghetto was filled with good things, and high prices frightened no one. Anyone who had cash left over from the days of peace, or who was making an adequate living, paid whatever was asked at the black market prices.

Smuggling was carried out through all the holes and cracks in the walls, through connecting tunnels in the cellars of buildings on the border, and through all the hidden places unfamiliar to the conquerors' foreign eyes. The conductors on the Aryan trolleys in particular, made fortunes, earning as much as 200 zloty a day by carrying bags full of smuggled goods hidden in the cars. Aryan trolleys made no stops inside the ghetto, but that's not a handicap. The smuggled sack is thrown out at an appointed spot and caught by trustworthy hands. This is the way they smuggle in pork fat, in particular, which the religious leaders have permitted us to use in this time of destruction. In the Aryan quarter it costs eleven zloty a kilo, and in the ghetto they pay up to eighteen for it. Even 'pure' Germans both the natives of the Reich and the Volksgenossen born in Poland, are involved in smuggling, and grow rich from it. But because of the lawlessness that has developed, the conquerors have grown more strict in separating the ghetto from the Aryan world.

March 13, 1941

No one pays any attention to funerals, because for sanitary reasons the hearse is required to go at a fast pace, and the driver urges his horse on until you are no longer able to keep up. Lately the dead have been taken for burial not by horses but by a three-wheeled wagon which the black-clad driver pedals at full strength. The wagon looks like a coffin, but no one turns to watch it or pays any attention to the fact that in the coffin which goes by at such a clip lies one of the victims of starvation. Sometimes several corpses are placed in one coffin, one on top of the other, and all are taken for burial at one time. And there is one madman in the ghetto who runs after every coffin shouting, 'Did the departed leave his bread card?'

March 23, 1941

Today I visited the exiles from Danzig, and I came home with my heart torn. There is no shortage of tragedy in the ghetto, for wherever you go there is poverty and oppression, hunger and disease, tears and suffering. We have become insensitive to the troubles of individuals. Yet what I saw at the refugee point for the exiles of Danzig upset me so that even my heart , a heart which has turned to stone , was moved. In the ghetto we are used to vocal tragedy, to loud lamenting , to shouts, groans and sighs, but here, in the giant building of the former business school at 12 Prosta Street, I encountered silent tragedy, victims of a great disaster who sit buried in their own sad thoughts. Their eyes are without a ray of hope or a spark of life.

March 28, 1941

This week the Nazi press published a report on the ghetto in Cracow. It is more than a report. It is an idyll. The conquerors forte is in cloaking the cruellest barbarism in a mantle of stunning prose. To strengthen the impression, they illustrated the report. Here is a picture of a typical Galician Jew, on whose face contentment is evident. He is no doubt pleased at the thought he will live alone in the ghetto and have nothing to do with the Gentiles. Here is a second picture : a Jewish youth carrying a suitcase, striding towards the ghetto with great steps that stem from inner happiness. Beside him are two young women carrying a bundle between them. They are smiling happily.

The notebooks from April 4, 1941, through to May 2, 1942, have not yet been located:

May 9, 1942

So far, central offices for three sections have been set up. At their heads are Jews: Abraham Gancwajch, a man from Lodz, who is now the Gestapo's right- hand man; a certain Ludtke and the third is Tauber. Each one is in charge of a hundred houses. The number of administrators has been reduced by half. The personal bargaining has ended. The Nazis and their three Jewish advisers benefit; and for the Jews darkness and gloom.

May 16, 1942

This week there were a few days of shock in the ghetto. First of all Menachem Kipnis died - an author, singer and poet who acquired great fame in his lifetime. What was unusual about his death was that he did not die like everyone else here, of hunger and privation. On the contrary, he was considered a wealthy man as writers and journalists go, and he died of a stroke. This is a good death because it is a quick one. In the ghetto everyone wishes a quick death for himself because a death from hunger is a slow one: its final agony is long and its sufferings great.

May 19, 1942

But today, wonders of wonders - at ten in the morning three trucks full of Nazis, laughing, friendly, with complete photographic equipment, stopped near Schultz's famous restaurant on the corner of Karmelicka - Nowolipki. It was evident that they hadn't come for murder and larceny this time. They behaved in a friendly manner towards whomever they met, and entered into personal conversations with the ghetto dwellers. Why the difference today?

Today they came to take photographs of the ghetto and its inhabitants, and the pictures must mirror the abundance and good fortune in the ghetto. And since in the ghetto there is poverty and famine, there is nothing to stop them from creating a temporary, artificial abundance and good fortune, made by the Nazis themselves. First they detained every beautiful virgin and every well-dressed woman, and even some who were not beautiful or well-dressed, but who were made up and somewhat elegant. The women were ordered to move about gaily and to look and sound animated. This was recorded on the film, so that the mouths of the liars and propagandists against Nazi cruelty will be stopped up. Behold the life in the ghetto! How light-hearted and joyous it is!

Starving people are incapable of showing the laughter and light-heartedness that come from the zest of life and great good fortune. The Nazis detained every fat Jew and everyone with a potbelly, which had not yet a chance to cave in. Jews overloaded with flesh are almost non-existent in the ghetto, but among tens of thousands of passers-by even this kind may be found. Even plutocrats, those serious men so hated by the Fuhrer, were good material for the film. On order, they crowd up and push their way into Schultz's, while at the same time a waiter shoves them back, because of a lack of room. All the tables are taken, and other plutocrats sit around them eating rich meals and enjoying sweets and dainties. The Nazis are footing the bill because its worth their while.

May 26, 1942

Thus Perlmutter, the president of the Judenrat of Mlawa, was killed by his German overseer, whose hand had never left his while both of them looted and robbed and grew rich. And so it was with the 'Thirteen.' In their time they were the slaves of the Gestapo, partners to all kinds of abominations and monstrosities. Now that partnership has been dissolved, and no memory of what existed must remain. If there is no partnership, what need is there of partners? Thus it is that they are caught at night, and their former partners send the bullets into their hearts. The heads of the 'Thirteen' made an error in their calculations. They thought that they could live in the shadow of the Gestapo, and it was a special privilege to be close to an iniquitous, wicked regime. And behold - they have gotten their just deserts. Thus may they be destroyed.

June 16, 1942

A catastrophe will befall us at the hands of the Nazis and they will wreak their vengeance on us for their final downfall. The process of physical destruction of Polish Jewry has already begun, but it is possible that Warsaw will be the last..... Seventeen thousand Jews are missing in Cracow. They are lost and are no more. Here read: They were killed upon their departure into exile. Their trail has disappeared because they are no longer among the living.

About 40,000 people are missing from among the Jews of Lublin, almost all of those who were exiled. Our Aryan messengers could not find their trail, but their relatives would not rest until something of the fate of the exiles became known to them. Thus we learned that they were taken to some forest and killed to the last man. They dug their graves with their own hands, while they were still alive - a great, giant mass grave. They were made to stand at its rim to be shot. Was anyone saved? And if one was saved, would he risk becoming a chronicler of impressions?

The Jews of Hrubieszow were killed to the last man. The fact is genuine, its details unknown to me. The last two thousand were exiled from Biala Podlaska. Where were they taken? We can rightly assume they were taken to their death, for no remnant of them is left.

June 22, 1942

The wall of the ghetto surrounds the Jewish quarter almost from end to end. It is of unlimed brick and at the top of the wall its length is sown with pieces of broken glass. Thus it continues onwards beginning from the Jewish cemetery in the direction of Leszno and Zelazna streets to the corner of Chlodna. From there it branches off across Sienna and across Elektoralna- Rymarska - Przejazd - Nowolipki - Nalewki - Swietojerska - Bonifraterska streets. At the corner of Bonifraterska - Muranowska it was cut off and awaited continuation. Now a third segment is to be built, cutting out the little area from Bonifraterska, corner of Muranowski, to Muranowska, corner of Pokorna, which encompasses eighteen buildings with six hundred families. The wall is now being extended until it meets the Pokorna wall. Then the work of the wall will be completed.

And so Muranowska Square has turned into a furniture market. There are no private buyers in evidence, but those who traffic in this hastened to come. By the tens they walk leisurely around eyeing everything, and everyone recognizes them by the slates on their chests , with the Polish inscription, 'I buy used furniture.' Opposite the square so full of trading are the bare windows of the empty houses.

I remember the office of the Lovers of the Hebrew Language, which used to be at Number 14, on the third floor. In those days we were still nave enough to dare think of the Jewish role in the Diaspora, of reviving a language, and of rebuilding a land and a nation. And now behold, O God, and see our disgrace.

June 25, 1942

The Nazis kill Jews by various means. Some of them are sent to a labour camp where they survive for a month at the outside. More than that would be beyond human strength. Some are shot: some are burned: some are poisoned with lethal gas: some are electrocuted. Before the Lublin expulsion, the critically sick people were put to death first: after them, the old men and women from the home for the aged: and lastly the children from the boarding schools. The patients in the mental hospital at Otwock were killed to the last man.

July 3, 1942

The announcement of our hundred and ten dead was written and signed by Auerswald, the ghetto commissar, who has power over life and death.... the hundred were killed for quite insignificant crimes. They had been caught and taken to the Jewish prison in Zamenhof Street, where they were awaiting trial. Then it was decided to kill a hundred Jews as an act of revenge... the prison administration was ordered to select a hundred men from among the prisoners. A special room was allocated in which to choose those who would live and those who would die. At first the prisoners didn't know why one man was being separated from another, but a man's heart tells him. They didn't know, but they sensed it; and once they sensed it their terrible tragedy began.

The fate of the ten policemen was the same as the fate of the civilians. Their names were entered on the revenge list even before they were arrested, while they were still fulfilling their functions as free men. As they did every day, they had scattered to all the corners of the ghetto to stand watch, and they were taken from their places of vigil to their death.

July 10, 1942

It has been decreed and decided in Nazi ruling circles to bring systematic physical destruction upon the Jews of the General Gouvernement. There is even a special military unit for this purpose, which makes the rounds of all the Polish cities according to the needs and the requirements of the moment. But a total slaughter such as this can't be put into practice in one day; one can't kill tens of thousands of labourers and artisans, who are adept in various trades needed by the German army. Besides that, it is necessary to give the whole matter an organized and semi-human appearance.

Therefore the Nazis have established a gigantic exile centre for three hundred thousand people, a concentration camp located between Chelm and Wlodawa, near the village of Sobowa (this was actually the death camp at Sobibor). Jewish exiles from all the conquered countries are brought to the exile camp. All the exiled Jews of Czechoslovakia were brought there and all the German Jews affected by the expulsion decree and they continue to bring in whole camps - now the Jews of one village, now those of another. An Ingathering of the Exiles on foreign soil. The lost and oppressed Jews of Lublin also found a resting place there - and their grave.

The great camp, which stands amid dense forests and swamps, is completely surrounded by barbed wire and is heavily guarded. After the exiles are taken there, the real tragedy begins. The young and healthy ones, those who are strong and under sixty, are taken for work. Throughout the region there are labour camps for various crafts. There the prisoners work at hard labour, and for all their toil they receive only a crust of black bread and the water of oppression. In the end they go to their death, for it is not in their power to survive and endure for longer than six months under such living conditions.

The fate of the other segment is even more tragic - they are condemned to die at once. Those who are over sixty or incapable of physical labour because of some bodily weakness , as well as young children and their mothers who 'eat and do not produce' - they go to death wholesale in a civilized way, by poisoning with lethal gas or by electrocution. There is no pity, no measure of mercy. They are superfluous people who are not to be kept alive and fed.

The killing of thousands of people has turned into a business that employs many hands . After the souls expire, they strip the corpses. Their clothing, shirts and shoes are not wasted, but are collected in piles upon piles and turned over for disinfection, mending and repairs. Hundreds of Jews are employed in these tasks.

July 19, 1942

Everyone is panic stricken. Will he too be deported? Will he die a cruel, ugly death at the hands of a foul-souled Nazi gendarme? The emotional climate is feverish. In the morning hours the decree is final, and not to be rescinded. In the afternoon, the Judenrat negotiates. At this very moment a conference is going on in which Auerswald, Czerniakow, Heller and the Gestapo representatives participate. The terrible decree is left in suspense - things can go either way. They argue back and forth, and are constantly in touch with Berlin. While one person is still telling you this, another comes and relates that Czerniakow is offering 10,000,000 zloty to nullify the decree.

July 21, 1942

At 17 Nowolipki Street lives Dr. Sztejnkolk. He is a popular doctor and an important personage, without vices or flaws- tall and personable, one of the shining lights of the ghetto. To our sorrow and to his misfortune he left his house at an inauspicious time. Near 26 Karmelicka Street, he was accosted from behind by four killers. Two of them were Volksgenossen and two were gendarmes. One of the policemen kicked Dr. Sztejnkolk, a thing he was used to doing to Jews, and the good doctor, bitterness apparent in his face, turned and asked, 'Why do you strike me? Am I guilty of some sin?

At once one of the killers ordered him to go into a gateway. He went through and never returned. The Nazis immediately took a rifle and shot him in the temple. The honoured and righteous doctor died instantly. A quick death and a mass funeral: Karmelicka Street is a centre of traffic and the shootings in broad daylight attracted a huge crowd. The killer went on his way wiping his mouth. He had done no crime he had only killed a Jew.

But the biggest sensation is that the great dragons were arrested, that is the elite among the heads of the communal department of welfare. They include A.Gepner, Wielkowski, Sztolcman and some others. This is unquestionably a bad omen for us.

July 22, 1942

I haven't the strength to hold a pen in my hand. I'm broken, shattered. My thoughts are jumbled. I don't know where to start or stop. I have seen Jewish through forty years of events, but never before has she worn such a face. A whole community of 400,000 people condemned to exile. The news was carried by the birds of the heavens and the people felt that expulsion was imminent. Even before the notices were posted in the streets of the ghetto, we knew we were being tried in absentia.

The Judenrat building on Grzybowska Street was surrounded by police and closed to visitors. The Judenrat leaders met with the Gestapo for a final session about the expulsion. We were even able to determine the exact moment when the order was signed. From dawn to late afternoon we spent the most tense hours of our lives. The spark of hope flared up and then died. And at four o'clock the notice was posted. Our fate was sealed.

The order merely verified what we knew without it; the evidences of expulsion were visible earlier. The Jewish police execute the orders, and they live among their people. The first sign was the abolition of the refugee centres. Like passing shadows, their inhabitants were taken away to an unknown place. In the transports were not men but shades. These are the remnants who survived typhus and famine, but now there is no refuge for them. No one doubts that they are going to their death.

The second sign - the removal of the prisoners from the Jewish prison in Gesia Street. They too are going to their death. The third sign - the moving of all the divisions of the Jewish hospital, which were scattered in various places, to a central location, the hospital in Leszno Street. The patients too are going to their death. And a fourth category was also among the first to be deported: the street beggars. They were captured by the hundreds and taken away on transports. Where to? No one knows, but everyone understands: to the kingdom of death. Their cries and wails ascended to the heart of the heavens. But who hears cries in a time of such destruction.

These blatant signs boded evil. The notice only added the details to what was known without it. There is one interesting item in the announcement. It was not composed by Auerswald, the Nazi commissar of the ghetto, but by the Judenrat. Later we learned that the commissar had already been fired.

July 23, 1942

In comparison with the Lublin expulsion we have before us a liberal document, even though its essence is a savagery and barbarism such as never before existed. The categories not affected are set forth: Jews who work in the German shop -factories, and the officers of the Judenrat and all its agencies. This paragraph exempts hundreds of officials from expulsion, and with their families, thousands of people. It encompasses the Jewish police, the hospitals, the welfare department, the cemetery administration, the post office, and the House Committees.... All Jews qualified for labour are exempt from deportation and may remain in the ghetto.

The deportees are forbidden to take bundles weighing more than ten kilos. Silver, gold and jewels may be taken without restriction. This is understood: All of that will be stolen from them, not on paper, but on the road.... the time of deportation will begin at twelve noon on the twenty-second day of July in the year 1942. Exemptions apply only to immediate family -wife and children. No more. An aged mother will be exiled, a senile crippled father will be deported.

July 26, 1942

The terrible events have engulfed me, the horrible deeds committed in the ghetto have so frightened and stunned me that I have not the power, either physical or spiritual, to review these events and perpetuate them with the pen of a scribe. I have no words to express what has happened to us since the day the expulsion was ordered.

Some of my friends and acquaintances who know the secret of my diary urge me, in their despair to stop writing. Why? For what purpose? Will you live to see it published? Will these words of yours reach the ears of future generations? How? If you are deported you wont be able to take it with you because the Nazis will watch your every move, and even if you succeed in hiding it when you leave Warsaw, you will undoubtedly die on the way, for your strength is ebbing. And if you don't die from lack of strength, you will die by the Nazi sword. For not a single deportee will be able to hold out to the end of the war.

And yet in spite of it all I refuse to listen to them. I feel that continuing this diary to the very end of my physical and spiritual strength is a historical mission which must not be abandoned. My mind is still clear, my need to record unstilled, though it is now five days since any real food has passed my lips. Therefore I will not silence my diary.

The Jewish police, whose cruelty is no less than of the Nazis, deliver to the 'transfer point' on Stawki Street more than the quota to which the Judenrat obligated itself. Sometimes there are several thousand people waiting a day or two to be transported because of a shortage of railroad cars. The first victim of the deportation decree was the President Adam Czerniakow, who committed suicide by poison in the Judenrat building. He perpetuated his name by his death more than by his life. His end proves conclusively that he worked and strove for the good of his people, that he wanted its welfare and continuity even though not everything done in his name was praiseworthy. The expulsion proclamation posted in the city streets on the afternoon of July 22, was not signed in the usual manner of Judenrat notices, 'Head of the Judenrat, Certified Engineer Adam Czerniakow,' but merely 'Judenrat.' This innovation astonished those circles who examine bureaucratic changes in notices. After the President's death, the reason became clear. Czerniakow had refused to sign the expulsion order.

July 27, 1942

Anyone who could see the expulsion from Warsaw with his own eyes would have his heart broken. The ghetto has turned into an inferno. Men have become beasts. Everyone is but a step away from deportation; people are being hunted down in the streets like animals in the forest. It is the Jewish police who are cruellest towards the condemned. Sometimes a blockade is made of a particular house, sometimes a whole block of houses. In every building earmarked for destruction they begin to make the rounds of the apartments and to demand documents. Whoever has neither documents that entitle him to remain in the ghetto nor money for bribes is told to make a bundle weighing fifteen kilos - and on to the transport which stands near the gate.

Whenever a house is blockaded a panic arises that is beyond imagination. Residents who have neither documents nor money hide in nooks and crannies, in the cellars and in the attics. When there is means of passage between one courtyard and another the fugitives begin jumping over the roofs and fences at the risk of their lives; in time of panic, when the danger is imminent, people are not fussy about methods. But all these methods only delay the inevitable, and in the end the police take men, women, and children. The destitute and impoverished are the first to be deported. In an instant the truck becomes crowded. They are all alike: poverty makes them equal. Their cries and wails tear the heart out.

The children in particular, rend the heavens with their cries. The old people and the middle-aged deportees accept the judgement in silent submission and stand with their small parcels under their arms. But there is no limit to the sorrow and tears of the young women; sometimes one of them makes an attempt to slip out of the grasp of her captors , and then a terrible battle begins. At such times the horrible scene reaches its peak. The two sides fight, wrestle. On one side a woman with wild hair and a torn blouse rages with the last of her strength at the Jewish thieves, trying to escape from their hands. Anger flows from her mouth and she is like a lioness ready for the kill. And on the other side are the two policemen, her 'brothers in misfortune' who pull her back to her death.

The Judenrat prepares a daily list of houses in which blockades will be made that day. And here a new source of income is opened up for the graft-chasing police. The wealthy and the middle-class have yet to be brought to the transports. For those who have no documents, banknotes turn into documents. There is almost a fixed price for ransom, but for some it is cheaper, all according to the class of the ransomed one and the number of people in the household.

July 28, 1942

But the main thing is fear of expulsion. The only ones partially insured against expulsion are workers in the factories that German firms have taken under their protection. Many factories accept workers skilled in their trades, and even those who are unskilled but have money. Thus, a new economy has begun in the lives of the ghetto Jews who have not yet been expelled.

July 30, 1942

The seventh day of the expulsion. Living funerals pass before the windows of my apartment - cattle trucks or coal wagons full of candidates for expulsion and exile, carrying small bundles under their arms. Their cries and shrieks and wails, which rent the very heavens and filled the whole area with noise, have already stopped. Most of the deportees seem to be resigned to their fate. Only an occasional sound, the tear -drenched echo of a protest, is heard from some unfortunate seized while she was engaged in the activities of everyday life.

Besides the blockading of houses and hunting in the street, there is still a third method of expulsion - premiums. Large posters have been put up in many courtyards to say that all those who voluntarily come to the transfer point for expulsion will receive three kilos of bread and a kilo of marmalade to take with them in their wanderings. They are given until the thirty-first of July.  


bigaufruf


Bread and Marmalade Poster


I have just been informed that 57,000 people have already been deported. The teacher and writer Aron Luboszycki, a refugee from Lodz, was among them.

July 31, 1942

The hunting goes on full force. The living funerals never cease. The Jewish police are fulfilling their humane duty in the best possible manner, and the Nazis are so pleased with their work, that some of them are being sent to Radom and Kielce, where expulsions have now been ordered as well. These cities are both smaller than Warsaw, and local elements are not particularly desirable for this sort of operation, so the strangers from Warsaw come where no one knows them to carry out the Nazis wishes.

Yesterday, and today were 'days of awe' - no Ausweis was honoured. Workers were taken out of factories protected by the German firms of Toebbens, Schultz Mangesten, and the like. Thousands of people were seized whose documents were questionable, having been given as protection from the destroyers, and whose bearers were not expert in the trades ascribed to them in their certificates. There are documents given out of kindness, like those of the Self-Aid Society, and are of no value. Sometimes they help if by a miracle you chance to meet a policeman who shares the distress of his people - but the Nazis are insatiable.

My powers are insufficient to record all that is worthy of being written. Most of all, I am worried that I may be consuming my strength for naught. Should I too be taken all my efforts will be wasted. My utmost concern is for hiding my diary so that it will be preserved for future generations. As long as my pulse beats I shall continue my sacred task.

 August 1, 1942

Yesterday the murderers from the SS came to assist the Jewish police, and within two hours, i.e. from seven to nine in the evening, the entire Jewish population of Nowolipie Street - from the corner of Karmelicka to Smocza - was forced to leave its homes and go into exile. Blessed is the eye which has not beheld all of this.

August 2, 1942

Jewish Warsaw is in its death throes. A whole community is going to its death!

After Nowolipie, henceforth to be known as Schultz Street, came the turn of Leszno Street from the corner of Zelazna to Solna. The population of Leszno was not struck by the evacuation order, but rather by the decree of expulsion. A blockade was made on Leszno Street, and within two hours about 2,000 people were brought to the transfer point. All of them went forth empty-handed, naked and half-dressed. Woe to that family which must be routed out by the Nazis or their minions, the 'alert' Ukrainians and Lithuanians. The victims emerge beaten and sore, naked as the day they were born.

Today the population of the 'little ghetto' drank the cup of hemlock. At four the murderers set upon their task , and at seven a crowd of 5,000 people was led out through Smocza to the transfer point. All their possessions were left in the hands of the enemy.

Today I heard from Dr. Lajfuner, who in turn heard it from a rumour, that the houses from 12 to 21 Nowolipki Street will be confiscated and turned over to the workers of a brush factory. This news will affect us both, for he is a resident at Number 14 and I at Number 20. If the rumour proves true I shall have no place to lay my head. And his fate is like mine. We shall both sleep out of doors - until we are caught and deported. Meanwhile we are without food - not even enough for a single meal.

We have no information about the fate of those who have been expelled. When one falls into the hands of the Nazis he falls into the abyss. The very fact that the deportees make no contact with their families by letters, bodes evil. Nevertheless, there is some local information about one segment of the deportees - the sick, the aged, the crippled and the other invalids, the weak ones who need the care and help of other people. They have returned to the city, not to the living but rather to the dead - to the cemetery. There they have found rest for their oppressed souls, and there they attain eternal peace. I have not yet verified this information myself. I record it as I heard it from a rumour.

August 4, 1942

I spent yesterday in hard and tiring work, packing boxes and making bundles of pillows and blankets, and particularly in hiding my library, the joy of my life and the delight of my soul. My block is insecure. We are on the verge of expulsion and the confiscation of our houses. It is a time of danger. Our living in Warsaw has become illegal; we await calamity at any moment. The houses are being confiscated for the factory workers, to whom the idlers must give up their apartments. And I, and all those like me, are idlers, for we haven't a place in a factory. Therefore it behoves one to be ready for the coming catastrophe.

I packed my possessions to send them to a relative of mine who has succeeded in getting a 'worker -status' outside the ghetto for 2,000 zloty. He is more secure in life and property than I. An apartment was even set aside for him at 15 Leszno Street, a building whose inhabitants had already been expelled. He thus becomes my saviour and refuge in my time of need. The furniture, glassware and other household goods will remain where they are and strangers will inherit them for themselves. It is obvious that my privileged relative can protect only part of my property; there is no one to protect my life and my liberty. My life is forfeit and suspended over nothingness.

Yesterday, the third of August, they slaughtered Zamenhof and Pawia streets. They did not confiscate houses, but blockaded the entire block for expulsion. The SS killers stood guard while the Jewish police worked inside the courtyards. This was a slaughter in proper style - they had no pity even on infants and nurslings. All of them, all without exception were taken to the gates of death. The fabricated papers of the Self-Aid Society were useless as though they did not exist.

In the Zamenhof - Pawia blockade unlike the Nowolipki disaster where hundreds perished, innocent blood was not spilled on the spot, because the SS did not go through the apartments.The rabbi of Radomsko and his entire family - six people in all - who lived in Nowolipki Street were murdered.

In the evening hours

I have not yet been caught; I have not yet been evicted from my apartment; my building has not yet been confiscated. But only a step separates me from all these misfortunes. All day my wife and I take turns standing watch, looking through the kitchen window which overlooks the courtyard, to see if the blockade has begun. People run from place to place like madmen.

On the very day that I packed my possessions to turn them over to the relative who is my protector, my friend M. from Nowolipki Street brought me some of his belongings because he had heard that his block was in danger of blockade. My friend M. is kosher by virtue of the fact that he has an administrative position at the Judenrat. His documents are valid and carry full privileges. But the size of the ghetto is being steadily decreased, and there is therefore a danger that the function of an administrator will cease to exist. What did he do? He looked for some kind of factory, and found one, but only upon payment of ransom. Because he had no cash, he gave its equivalent, a precious stone worth several thousand zloty. This was the last of his savings for the bad times to come. When he handed over the stone he was destitute.

Today my block was scheduled for a blockade with Nazi participation. Seventy Jewish policemen had already entered the courtyard. I thought, 'The end had come.' But a miracle happened, and the blockade was postponed. The destroyers passed on to Nalewki - Zamenhof block. When the danger was already past I hurried to escape. Panic can drive a man out of his mind and magnify the danger even when it no longer exists. But already there is a fear that my block will be blockaded tomorrow. I am therefore trying to lay plans to escape with the dawn. But where will I flee? No block is secure.

Thousands of people in the Nalewki - Zamenhof block were driven from their homes and taken to the transfer point. More than thirty people were slaughtered. In the afternoon, the furies subsided a bit. The number of passers-by increased, for the danger of blockade was over. By four in the afternoon the quota was filled: 13,000 people had been seized and sent off, among them 5,000 who came to the transfer of their own free will. They had had their fill of the ghetto life, which is a life of hunger and fear of death. They escaped from the trap. Would that I could allow myself to do as they did.

If my life ends - what will become of my diary?


Chaim Kaplan and his wife Tzipora are believed to have been deported to the Treblinka death camp during December 1942, or January 1943, where they both perished in the gas chambers.


Sources

Scroll of Agony, The Warsaw Diary of Chaim A. Kaplan, Hamish Hamilton, London 1966

Barbara Engelking, Jacek Leociak, The Warsaw Ghetto - A Guide to the Perished City, Yale University Press, New Haven and London 2009

Yad Vashem Central Database of Shoah Victims -online resourse.

Images USHMM and Private Archive


Holocaust Historical Society 2018