Diary of the Great Deportation

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Diary of the Great Deportation

Book excerpt

By: Abraham Lewin

Date: c. 1940

Source: Lewin, Abraham. A Cup of Tears: A Diary of the Warsaw Ghetto. Institute for Polish-Jewish Studies, 1988.

About the Author: Abraham Lewin was born in Warsaw in 1893, where he became a history teacher. Lewin and his daughter are presumed to have died before the end of World War II in 1945. He kept a diary that recorded the horrors of life under Nazi occupation and subsequent deportations to the death camps, which he called the "great deportation." The last entry in Lewin's diary was dated January 15, 1943.


In 1939 Adolph Hitler addressed his commanders as they prepared to invade neighboring Poland. His orders were clear and concise: The army was to kill every man, woman, and child of Polish descent. Hitler's justification for this was simple: Germany needed more space. On September 1 German troops swept into Poland from the west, north, and south, crushing the light resistance and marking the formal beginning of World War II.

Life in German-occupied Poland was miserable both for Jews and gentiles. Educated professionals were rounded up and shot, all vestiges of Polish culture and language were banned or destroyed, and by war's end more than two million non-Jewish Poles had been deported in cattle cars to perform forced labor. For the first year and a half of its existence, the infamous Auschwitz death camp was filled almost entirely with non-Jewish Poles, and by war's end almost two million of them had been killed there and in other camps.

Polish Jews fared even worse. Adults were required to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David on them. Jews were required to identify their businesses as Jewish-owned, and special permits were required to purchase a business from a Jew. Jews were eventually forced to deposit their money in special bank accounts that capped withdrawals at 250 zloty [Polish unit of currency] per week. Jewish stores were confiscated by the government and sold to new own-ers. With their financial resources largely depleted, many Jews were soon battling starvation.

As the Nazis expanded their control throughout Europe, Jews in Poland were forced into tiny ghettos. Rural Jews were relocated to these urban areas, which were typically enclosed by high fences and barbed wire. Jews captured in other countries were also transported to Polish ghettos, worsening the already overcrowded conditions. Sealed from the outside, the ghettos subsisted on starvation rations distributed by the Nazis—only 253 calories per person a day.

The Warsaw Ghetto eventually housed close to 400,000 Jews in crowded, unsanitary conditions; death rates from starvation and disease eventually reached 4,000-5,000 per month. Phone lines were cut, mail was interrupted, and the ghetto quickly became a maximum-security prison with Jews often forced to perform involuntary labor in support of the war. Those found outside the camp without permission were shot.

By 1942 the massive number of Jews under Nazi control had become troublesome, and a comprehensive extermination plan was developed. Under this "final solution," execution camps would be built in eastern Poland to carry out thousands of executions daily. Beginning July 22, the Warsaw ghetto was raided and weeks of deportations began. Some Jews avoided capture by hiding, while others claimed marriage to non-Jews or police officers. More than 300,000 Jews were eventually sent from the Warsaw ghetto to their deaths in the camps.


[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]

[This text has been suppressed due to author restrictions]


As reports of mass executions leaked out of the camps, Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto quickly recognized the peril of their situation. Knowing that deportation meant almost certain death, they determined to fight back. In April, as Nazi troops entered the ghetto to round up more Jews they were met with a hail of gunfire, hand grenades, and incendiary weapons the Jews had smuggled in. After sustaining numerous injuries and deaths the Germans quickly retreated.

The Jewish victory was short-lived. After escaping the ghetto, the German troops were ordered to burn it to the ground. As the residents fled some were shot while others were loaded on train cars for shipment to the camps. A few escaped and continued their battle through the buildings and alleys of Warsaw for close to a month. In early May the Germans used poison gas against the last holdouts, and most of the remaining ghetto residents were killed.

The pursuit of Jewish extermination continued throughout the war. In 1943 Heinrich Himmler, head of the SS and Gestapo, addressed a gathering of Nazi SS officers in Poznan, Poland. His presentation began with a detailed discussion of German armament factories; he then turned to what he described as a "very difficult subject," the ongoing effort to eliminate the Jewish race. In his speech, which can be heard online today, Himmler lamented the softness of many Germans who were reluctant to complete the plan. He reminded the SS officers why the extermination was so important, as well as why it was morally defensible. He also noted that officers unwilling to comply had already been executed. After making his case, he went on to the balance of his three-hour speech.



Gutman, Israel. Resistance: The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. New York: Houghton-Mifflin, 1994.

Kurzman, Dan. The Bravest Battle: The Twenty-Eight Days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Philadelphia, PA: Da Capo Press, 1993.

Rotem, S'imha. Memoirs of a Warsaw Ghetto Fighter: The Past within Me. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2002.


Einwohner, Rachel L. "Identity Work and Collective Action in a Repressive Context: Jewish Resistance on the 'Aryan Side' of the Warsaw Ghetto." Social Problems. 53 (2006): 38-56.

Nordholt, Annelies Schulte. "Re-Enacting the Warsaw Ghetto." Journal of Modern Jewish Studies. 3(2004):183-194.

Scott, A. O. "Surviving the Warsaw Ghetto against Steep Odds." New York Times. 152 (December 27, 2002): E19.

Web sites

The Holocaust History Project. "Heinrich Himmler's Speech at Poznan." 〈http://www.holocaust-history.org/himmler-poznan/index.shtml〉 (accessed June 14, 2006).

Public Broadcasting Service. "The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising (April 19-May 16, 1943)." 〈http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/amex/holocaust/peopleevents/pandeAMEX103.html〉 (accessed June 14, 2006).