The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw Is No More - The Stroop Report

stroop and others in warsaw267

Stroop and Senior SS Officers in  Warsaw 1943

The creation of Jewish quarters and the imposition of residential and economic restrictions on the Jews are nothing new in the history of the East. These practices began as far back as the Middle Ages and have continued through the last few centuries. These restrictions were imposed with the intention of protecting the Aryan population from the Jews. By February 1940, the same considerations led to the idea of creating a Jewish quarter in Warsaw. The original plan called for the establishment of a Jewish quarter in the part of Warsaw that is bounded on the east by the Vistula River.

The situation prevailing in the city of Warsaw at first seemed to make this plan unworkable. There were also objections from various parties, especially from the city administration, which claimed that the establishment of a Jewish quarter would cause extensive disruptions in industry and the economy, and that it would be impossible to assure food supplies for Jews who were concentrated in an enclosed quarter. Due to these objections, the plan to create a Ghetto was set aside at a conference in March 1940. At the same time, consideration was given to making the Lublin District a reservation for all Jews in the General Gouvernement, particularly for evacuated and fleeing Jews arriving from the Reich. But the Higher SS and Police Leader East in Krakow informed us in April 1940 that such a concentration of Jews in the Lublin District was not intended. In the interim, the number of arbitrary and unwarranted frontier crossings by Jews increased. This was especially true at the border of the Lowicz and Skierniewice districts. These illegal migrations of Jews began to threaten not only hygienic but also security conditions in the town of Lowicz. In order to avert these dangers, the senior district official began to create Jewish quarters in his district. The experiences derived from the establishment of Jewish quarters in the Lowicz District showed that these methods were the only suitable ones to banish the dangers which emanate from the Jews.

The need to create a Jewish quarter in the city of Warsaw as well became more and more pressing in the summer of 1940, when with the end of the French campaign, even larger number of troops assembled in the district of Warsaw. At this point, the Department of Health strongly urged the establishment of a Jewish quarter in order to preserve the health of the German troops as well as that of the civilian population.Considering that a regrouping of almost 600,000 people was required, implementation of the original plan of February 1940 to establish a Jewish quarter in the suburb of Praga would have taken four to five months. Since experience indicated that a high incidence of epidemics could be expected in the winter months, the plan for a suburban Ghetto in Praga was dropped – and the city’s quarantine district was chosen instead for use as a Jewish quarter. On the advice of the district medical officer, resettlement had to be completed by 15 November 1940 at the latest. The Governor ordered the plenipotentiary of the Warsaw District Chief to complete the resettlements necessary to the creation of a Jewish quarter within the city of Warsaw by this date. About 400,000 Jews lived in this Jewish quarter. It contained 27,000 apartments, averaging two and a half rooms. It was separated from the rest of the city by fire and partition walls and by walled-up thoroughfares, windows, doors, and empty lots.

The Jewish Council administered the new Jewish quarter – it received its instructions from the Commissioner for the Jewish quarter, who was directly subordinate to the Governor. The Jews had administrated autonomy, and German supervision was limited to occasions when German interests were affected. A Jewish Police was established to implement orders of the Jewish Council. They were identified by special arm bands and caps, and were armed with rubber truncheons. The Jewish police force was responsible for maintaining order and security within the Jewish quarter and was subordinate to the German and Polish Police. It soon became clear that not all dangers had been banished by confining the Jews to one district. Security considerations necessitated that Jews be completely removed from the city of Warsaw. The first large removal occurred during the period from 22 July to 3 October 1942 when 310,322 Jews were removed. In January 1943, another resettlement operation was carried out, which encompassed a total of 6,500 Jews. On the occasion of his visit to Warsaw in January 1943, the Reichsführer- SS ordered the SS and Police Leader of the Warsaw District to transfer from the Ghetto to Lublin all armament and defence industries inclusive of their workforce and machines. The implementation of this command proved to be very difficult, since the Managers as well as the Jews resisted in every conceivable way. Therefore the SS and Police Leader decided that a forced transfer be carried out by means of a three- day grand operation. The preparation and combat orders for the grand operation were initiated by my predecessor.

I arrived in Warsaw on 17 April 1943 and took command of the grand operation on 19 April 1943 at 0800 hours. The operation had already started the same day at 0600 hours. To prevent the Jews from escaping, the borders of the former Jewish quarter were secured from the outside by a barricade before the start of the grand operation. The barricade was maintained from start to finish of the operation and was reinforced by night.The Jews and Polish bandits succeeded in repelling the first penetration of the Ghetto by ambushing the participating units, which included tanks and armoured cars. During the second attack, at about 0800 hours, I committed the attack units to various predetermined battle sectors with orders to sweep the entire Ghetto. Despite a second ambush, the blocks of buildings were swept according to plan. The enemy was forced to withdraw from roofs and strongholds above ground level into basements, bunkers and sewers. The sewer system was dammed up below the Jewish quarter and flooded to prevent escape into the sewers. Most of this plan, however, proved illusory when the Jews blew up the cut-off valves. Heavy resistance was encountered on the first evening but was quickly broken by a special battle unit. During further operations, the Jews were driven out of their furnished nests of resistance, sniper holes etc. During 20 and 21 April, the greater part of the so-called remnant Ghetto came under our control, and resistance within these blocks could no longer be termed very substantial. The main Jewish fighting unit, which was intermingled with Polish bandits, had already withdrawn during the first or second day to the so-called Muranowski Square. They were reinforced there by a considerable number of Polish bandits.

Their plan was to entrench themselves in the Ghetto by every means in order to prevent our penetration. The Jewish and Polish flags were hoisted on top of a concrete building in a call to battle against us. But both flags became the booty of a special battle unit on the second day of the engagement. During this skirmish with the bandits, SS- Untersturmführer- Dehmke was killed when the hand grenade he held was triggered by enemy fire, exploded, and injured him fatally. After the first few days, I realised that the original plan could not be carried out without dissolving the armament and military enterprises that were located throughout the ghetto. It was therefore necessary to set a suitable deadline and to request these enterprises to proceed with an evacuation and immediate transfer. One firm after another was dealt with in this way, and Jews and bandits were quickly deprived of the opportunity to relocate to those enterprises supervised by the Wehrmacht. Thorough inspections were necessary in order to decide how much time was needed to evacuate these enterprises. The conditions discovered during these inspections are indescribable. I cannot imagine another place as chaotic as the Warsaw Ghetto. The Jews controlled everything, from chemical substances used in the manufacture of explosives to items of clothing and equipment for the Wehrmacht.

The managers oversaw their operations so poorly that it was possible for the Jews to produce all kinds of weapons, especially hand grenades, Molotov cocktails etc. Furthermore, the Jews succeeded in establishing pockets of resistance in these enterprises. One such place located in a plant under the jurisdiction of the Quartermaster’s office had to be attacked as early as the second day of operations by an Engineers unit, equipped with flame throwers and artillery. The Jews were so entrenched in this enterprise that it was not possible to induce them to leave voluntarily. I therefore resolved to destroy this enterprise by fire the next day. In almost all instances, the plant managers who were usually still supervised by a Wehrmacht officer were not able to provide precise data about their stocks and storage locations. Their declarations about the numbers of Jews in their employ were incorrect in every case. Repeatedly, it was discovered that in these labyrinths of buildings, which served as housing blocks of the armament plants, rich Jews disguised as defence workers had found accommodations for themselves and their families and were leading magnificent lives. Despite all orders to request the Jews to leave the enterprises it was frequently discovered that managers simply included the Jews in their expectation that the operation would last only a few days after which they expected to continue work with the remaining Jews. According to statements by arrested Jews, owners of enterprises were said to have gone on drinking sprees with Jews. Women allegedly played a prominent part in this. It was said the Jews endeavoured to keep up good relations with officers and men of the Wehrmacht. Business deals are said to have been concluded between Jews and Germans during frequent drinking sprees. The number of Jews who were removed from houses and apprehended was relatively small during the first few days. It was apparent that the Jews were hiding in sewers and specially constructed bunkers. During the first days, it was assumed that there were only scattered bunkers. However, during the grand operation, the whole Ghetto was found to be systematically equipped with cellars, bunkers and passages. These bunkers and passages were all connected to the sewer system. Thus the Jews were able to maintain an undisturbed subterranean traffic. They also used this sewer network to escape underground into the Aryan part of the city of Warsaw. Reports were continuously received that Jews attempted to get away through manholes. Under the pretext of building air-raid shelters, they had been constructing bunkers in the former Jewish quarter since late autumn 1942. The bunkers were intended to shelter the Jews during the new resettlement which had long been anticipated, and to serve as their base of resistance against our troops.

Using posters and leaflets and word of mouth propaganda, the Communist resistance movement in the former Jewish quarter was able to man the bunkers occupied as soon as the new grand operation commenced. The skilful construction of the bunkers proved how providently the Jews had prepared themselves. The bunkers were furnished for entire families and equipped with washing and bathing facilities, toilets, storage rooms for arms and ammunition, and food supplies sufficient for several months. There were different bunkers for poor and rich Jews. Because of camouflage, the discovery of individual bunkers by the troops was extremely difficult. In many cases, discovery was possible only through betrayal by Jews.

After the first few days, it was clear that the Jews no longer considered voluntary resettlement but were determined to resist with all weapons and means at their disposal. So-called fighting groups had been formed under Polish – Bolshevik leadership. They were armed and paid any price for available weapons. During the grand operation, Jews were caught who had already been transferred to Lublin or Treblinka, had escaped from there, and had returned to the Ghetto, equipped with arms and ammunition.

Polish bandits continually found refuge in the Ghetto and remained there almost unmolested, since no forces were available to penetrate this chaos. While it was possible at the beginning to catch considerable numbers of Jews, who are inherently cowardly, it proved increasingly difficult to capture Jews and bandits in the second half of the grand operation. Repeatedly, fighting groups of 20 to 30 or more Jewish youths, aged 18 to 25, accompanied by a corresponding number of females, unleashed new resistance. These fighting groups had orders to offer armed resistance to the last person and, if necessary, to commit suicide to escape capture. After ascending from a sewer opening in the so-called Prosta, one such fighting group (circa 30 to 35 bandits) succeeded in escaping in a truck. One bandit, who had arrived with this truck, exploded two hand grenades as a prearranged signal for the waiting bandits to emerge from the sewer. The Jews and bandits climbed into the truck and drove away in an unknown direction. These groups always included Polish bandits armed with carbines, small arms and one light machine gun. The last member of the gang, who was on guard in the sewer and was assigned to replace the manhole cover, was captured. It was he who provided the above information. The search for the truck was unfortunately without result.

During the armed resistance, females belonging to fighting groups were armed just like the men. Some of them were members of the He-halutz movement. Not infrequently, these females fired pistols from both hands. Repeatedly, they concealed pistols or hand grenades (oval Polish hand grenades) in their underpants to use at the last minute against the men of the Waffen – SS, Police or Wehrmacht. The resistance offered by the Jews and bandits could be broken only by the energetic and relentless day and night commitment of our assault units.

On 23 April 1943 the Reichsführer- SS promulgated his order, transmitted through the Higher- SS and Police Leader East in Cracow, to complete the sweeping of the Warsaw Ghetto with greatest severity and unrelenting tenacity. I therefore decided to embark on the total destruction of the Jewish quarter by burning down every residential block, including the housing blocks belonging to the armament enterprises. One enterprise after another was systematically evacuated and destroyed by fire. In almost every instance, the Jews then emerged from their hiding places and bunkers. It was not unusual for Jews to remain in the burning houses until the heat and their fear of being cremated forced them to jump from the upper floors. They did so after throwing mattresses and other upholstered items into the street. With broken bones, they still tried to crawl across the street into housing blocks that had not yet been set on fire or were only partly in flames. Jews often changed their hiding places during the night, moving into already burned-out ruins and finding refuge there until they were found by one of our assault units.Nor was their stay in the sewers very pleasant after the first eight days. Frequently, the sewer shafts carried loud voices upward to the streets, whereupon men of the Waffen-SS, Police, or Wehrmacht Engineers courageously climbed down the shafts to bring out Jews. Not infrequently the Engineers would stumble over dead Jews or be shot at. It was always necessary to use smoke candles to drive out the Jews. On one day alone, at a predetermined hour, 183 sewer gates were opened and smoke candles lowered. The bandits fled, from what they thought was gas, toward the centre of the former Jewish quarter, where they were pulled out of the sewer holes. An indeterminable number of Jews were finished off when sewers and bunkers were blown up. The longer the resistance lasted, the tougher became the men of the Waffen-SS, Police and Wehrmacht, who tirelessly fulfilled their duties in true comradeship and stood together as exemplary soldiers. Their mission often lasted from early morning to late at night.

Nightly search patrols, with rags wrapped around their feet, dogged the Jews and gave them no respite. Jews who used the night to supplement their provisions from abandoned bunkers and to make contact or exchange news with neighbouring groups were often brought to bay and finished off.  Considering that the greatest part of the men of the Waffen-SS had been trained for only three or four weeks before this operation, they must be given special recognition for their daring, courage, and devotion to duty. It must be noted that the Wehrmacht Engineers also executed their tasks of blowing up bunkers, sewers, and concrete houses with tireless devotion. The officers and men of the Police, many already with experience at the front, again acquitted themselves with devil-may-care valour. Only the continuous and tireless commitment of all forces made it possible to apprehend and/ or destroy 56.065 Jews. To this confirmed number must be added the Jews who lost their lives in explosions, fires, etc, whose number cannot be ascertained.

During the grand operation, the Aryan population was informed through posters that it was strictly forbidden to enter the former Jewish quarter and that anyone caught within the former Jewish quarter without a valid pass would be shot. Simultaneously, these posters instructed the Aryan population once again that knowingly gave refuge to a Jew, especially if they provided shelter, food, or a hiding place to a Jew outside the Jewish quarter would be sentenced to death. The Polish Police was authorised to pay Polish policemen one third of the cash belonging to any Jew they arrested within the Aryan part of Warsaw. This measure has already produced results.The Polish population by and large welcomed the measures implemented against the Jews. Toward the end of the grand operation, the Governor issued a special proclamation to the Polish population that was submitted to the undersigned for approval before publication. This proclamation informed them of the reasons for destroying the former Jewish quarter by referring to the recent assassinations in the city of Warsaw and the mass graves found in Katyn. They were asked to assist in the fight against Communist agents and Jews.

The grand operation was terminated on 16 May 1943, with the dynamiting of the Warsaw Synagogue at 2015 hours. Now there are no enterprises left in the former Jewish quarter. Everything of value, the raw materials, and machines have been transferred. The buildings and whatever else there was have been destroyed. The only exception is the so-called Dzielna Prison of the Security Police, which was exempted from destruction. Since it must be assumed that even with the grand operation complete a few Jews are still living in the ruins of the former Jewish quarter, this area must be guarded and firmly sealed off from the Aryan residential section for the immediate future. Police Battalion lll/23 has been assigned this duty. This Police Battalion has instructions to keep watch over the former Jewish quarter, especially to prevent anyone from entering the former Ghetto and to shoot immediately any unauthorised person found there. The Commander of the Police Battalion will continue to receive further direct orders from the SS and Police Leader. In this way, it should be possible to keep the small number of Jews who might remain there under constant pressure and to destroy them.   The remaining Jews and bandits must be deprived of every chance of survival through the destruction of all buildings and refuges, and the cutting of the water supply.

It is proposed to change Dzielna Prison into a concentration camp and to use the prisoners to strip down and collect the millions of bricks, scrap iron, and other materials for further utilisation.

Warsaw 16 May 1943

SS and Police Leader in the Warsaw District

(Signed) Stroop                                                                              


SS Major General and Major General of the Police


The Stroop Report – The Jewish Quarter of Warsaw Is No More by Jurgen Stroop – published by Secker & Warburg London 1980.

Photograph – Ghetto Fighters House Israel

© Holocaust Historical Society 2015