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Holocaust Research Project

The Nazis interest was to ensure their orders were obeyed.  
Disobeyal could lead to their removal or death.  
Reaction to Nazi orders fell into one of the following four categories.    


  1. Non cooperation with the Germans over economic issues.
  2. Acquiescence over the seizure of property, but not people.
  3. Resignation over the partial destruction of the community.
  4. Compliance in full with German orders


Dean of Graduate Studies at the University of Toronto
December 12, 1997, Jerusalem

Interviewers: Adi Gordon. Amos Morris Reich, Amos Goldberg

Yad Vashem    

(Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies)

Source: The Multimedia CD ‘Eclipse Of Humanity’, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2000.

Q- Raul Hilberg criticized the Judenrat for cooperating – at least collaborating, if not cooperating – with the Nazis. What is your opinion of the Jewish leadership during the Holocaust?

A.  We should only generalize with a great deal of caution. The leadership of the ghettos, the heads of the Judenrat, were utterly unprepared for the kind of catastrophic circumstances they faced. Remember that these were Jewish organizations established at the behest, and on the demand, of the Nazis who, at gunpoint, required people to assume these positions in most cases. The kind of blackmail that these Jewish leaders faced is something scarcely imaginable today.

These were hardly Jewish leaders acting under conventional circumstances of leadership. If you take a man like Adam Czerniakow, one finds a person of relatively limited horizons. Someone who was used to thinking bureaucratically, and who, I think, was responding in what we would call a normal way, namely, how they could make things a little bit better – how to preserve the meager resources they had, be it medical facilities, food provisions, or sanitary conditions. The normal human response was to try to protect the minimum of conditions for life. Let us remember that the sense that all of this was an exercise doomed to failure – this is our understanding. From where those leaders sat, there was some reason to believe, and to hope, that if they could hang on for a certain period of time, they might be able to deliver alive these small communities at the end of the war. It only became progressively evident to some of them that they were hardly going to be able to save anyone at all.

This consciousness seems to have dawned on different leaders at different moments. Adam Czerniakow, the head of the Judenrat in Warsaw, realized this, of course, in the Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies summer of 1942 – specifically, the demand made on him by the Nazis that he preside over the deportation of Jewish children. It was at that point that Czerniakow snapped and poisoned himself. Should he have behaved otherwise? Should he have had a clearer sense beforehand of what lay ahead? Should he have devoted more attention to Jewish resistance? All of these are questions that we ask ourselves about him now, and, to be fair, a handful of Jewish resistors put to him at the time, albeit not directly.

What we do now as historians is try to look back at that situation and imagine what those people experienced then, what they were thinking. In a few remarkable cases you find Jewish leaders – such as Chaim Rumkowski in Lodz – who seem to have been deformed by these catastrophic circumstances into believing that they were there specifically to be the salvation of their communities; that they alone were the instruments by which those Jewish communities were going to be able to survive. They seemed almost intoxicated by this sense of being irreplaceable, by their own capacity to be the saviors of their community, and they became increasingly dictatorial. They confused their own abilities, their own capacities, and their own positions with those of their communities. In the end, they too succumbed and were ultimately murdered by the Nazis.

But let us make an effort and imagine how things looked from their standpoint. It obviously seemed so utterly irrational. Why should the Nazis devote precious energy, in wartime, to the extinction of an entire community, such as the Lodz Ghetto? Why not put the Jews to work? Why not allow them to work to serve the Nazi war machine? Wouldn't this be more reasonable? Wouldn't this make sense? People did not easily assume that this entire murderous apparatus was essentially an irrational fantasy on the part of the Nazis. Their assumption was rather that, if the communities could be productive; if they could be allowed to work for the Nazi war machine; if they could produce to help the Wehrmacht in its struggle against the Red Army, then they could survive. To many Jewish leaders, this seemed to be a rational solution.

Q- But some leaders, such as that of Vilna and Lodz, sent the Jewish policemen to round up the Jews and send them to deportation.

A- As Hannah Arendt wrote, the darkest chapter in the history of the Holocaust is perhaps the involvement of particular Jewish groups and individuals in the destruction process, which of course happened. It was part of the horror of the Nazi machinery of destruction – as Raul Hilberg refers to it – that not only involved the mobilization of collaborators and perpetrators, but also of elements of the victimized community itself, which is to say that the Jews were enticed into the destructive process.

This happened in part through trickery (the Jews did not always know that they were doing this) and partly through bribery and threats (people were told that they could save themselves and perhaps also their families). Ordinary human cowardice, and the belief on the part of some of the people that they were saving themselves, also came into play. This almost always proved to be an illusion; they did not save themselves.

Looking back, what can one say? Did everyone behave heroically? Of course not. Did some people behave as now we hope that we would not have behaved? Of course, this is true as well. It was part of a vast European enterprise, in which the Jews were, for the most part, utterly helpless.

As a historian spanning this whole process, seeing the Jewish police and the Kapos in the camps, the Jews behaved no differently from other communities where you find this massive victimization. I don't think that there is anything unusual about this process. This is what happens when civilian communities are victimized in this particular way: You find a range of reactions and experiences.

IMDB  Claude Lanzmann, 1975. (Director of ‘Shoah’) In Rome  -
Written by Cohen Media Group

A place: Theresienstadt. A unique place of propaganda which Adolf Eichmann called the "model ghetto", designed to mislead the world and Jewish people regarding its real nature, to be the last step before the gas chamber. A man: Benjamin Murmelstein, last president of the Theresienstadt Jewish Council, a fallen hero condemned to exile, who was forced to negotiate day after day from 1938 until the end of the war with Eichmann, to whose trial Murmelstein wasn't even called to testify. Even though he was without a doubt the one who knew the Nazi executioner best. More than twenty-five years after Shoah, Claude Lanzmann's new film reveals a little-known yet fundamental aspect of the Holocaust, and sheds light on the origins of the "Final Solution" like never before.

- Written by Synecdoche

1975. In Rome, Claude Lanzmann filmed a series of interviews with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last President of the Jewish Council in the Theresienstadtghetto in Czechoslovakia, the only "Elder of the Jews"* not to have been killed during the war. A rabbi in Vienna, following the annexation of Austria by Germany in 1938, Murmelstein fought bitterly with Adolf Eichmann, week after week for seven years, managing to help around 121,000 Jews leave the country, and preventing the liquidation of the ghetto. 2012. Claude Lanzmann, at 87 - without masking anything of the passage of time on men, but showing the incredible permanence of the locations involved - exhumes these interviews shot in Rome, returning to Theresienstadt, the town "given to the Jews by Hitler", a so-called model ghetto, but a ghetto of deceit chosen by Adolf Eichmann to dupe the world. We discover the extraordinary personality of Benjamin Murmelstein: a man blessed with a dazzling intelligence and a true courage, which, along with an unrivaled memory, makes him a wonderfully wry, sardonic and authentic storyteller. Through these three periods, from Nisko in Poland to Theresienstadt, and from Vienna to Rome, the film provides an unprecedented insight into the genesis of the Final Solution. It reveals the true face of Eichmann, and exposes without artifice the savage contradictions of the Jewish Councils. *according to Nazi terminology

(Also go to  MURMELSTEIN BENJAMIN – (1905-1989)

New Yorker Anthony Lane,  February 10, 2014

Benjamin Murmelstein and
the director Claude Lanzmann
in a new documentary.
*The Last of the Unjust”

(Also go to
Benjamin Murmelstein (1905-1989)

Photograph from Cohen Media Group

No character that you see onscreen this year will match the impact that is made by Benjamin Murmelstein. “The Last of the Unjust” a new documentary, runs three hours and forty minutes, much of which is spent in his company, and very good company it is. We first see his head from behind, with its solid rolls of flesh. He turns to reveal a face of undimmed liveliness—seventy years old, and thickly spectacled, yet verging on the combative, and never too far from a smile. His voice tumbles over itself, so much does he have to impart, and any question sent in his direction is fired straight back, with barely a pause for thought. It is hard to imagine that doubts perplex his sleep. At a glance, you would guess he was a burgomaster: prosperous, well nourished, and well pleased with the world—retired from the bakery trade, perhaps, with a nice pile of dough.

This is not the case. Murmelstein was a Viennese rabbi, born in 1905. After the Anschluss, in 1938, he was involved in the emigration of Austrian Jews, more than a hundred and twenty thousand of whom escaped the country. In the course of his duties, Murmelstein had to answer to Adolf Eichmann, and among the satisfactions of the film is the scalding verbal portrait that he draws of Eichmann, whose rabidity was equaled by his bent for corruption. Short shrift is given to Hannah Arendt and her celebrated coining, in “Eichmann in Jerusalem,” of “the banality of evil.” The man was far from banal, as Murmelstein explains: “He was a demon.”

If Murmelstein remains a figure of controversy, it is because of what happened at Theresienstadt. This is a town northwest of Prague which was picked as a suitable site for the housing of Jews; opened in 1941, it was, in one of the Nazis’ poisoned oxymorons, a “model ghetto.” Immense numbers of Jews were sent to Theresienstadt—more than seventy-three thousand from Czechoslovakia alone—and some thirty-three thousand people died there, many from disease and malnutrition. Tens of thousands more were dispatched to labor camps and to Auschwitz, although that name, Murmelstein recalls, was unknown.

He held an important position at Theresienstadt, in the Jewish Council—the internal organization that oversaw practicalities in the ghetto and negotiated with the Nazis who governed it. Murmelstein was made the Elder of the Jews in 1944, after the first two Elders had been killed; one was sent to Auschwitz, where he saw his wife and child shot in the head, before meeting the same fate. To be an Elder was, by definition, to risk the charge of moral compromise. After the war, Murmelstein was accused by the Czechs of collaboration, although the case was dropped for want of evidence. Gershom Scholem, who opposed Eichmann’s execution, thought that Murmelstein should be hanged for his pains. Murmelstein, savoring the wryness of the contrast, says of Scholem, “The gentleman is a little capricious with hanging, don’t you think?”

What we discover in Murmelstein is an ironist of the deepest hue. Nobody could see all that he saw and emerge with any illusions about our limitless capacity to inflict and suffer hurt. What he shouldered in Theresienstadt was a dirty, thankless, and all but impossible task that someone had to do. He was, in his words, caught between the hammer and the anvil. When the Red Cross came to the ghetto, in 1944, Jewish workers were instructed to spruce the place up. Some of them refused, understandably, but Murmelstein told them to proceed with the embellishment, claiming that to be visible to the outside world, even through the prism of a lie, was better than not being seen at all. “If they hid us, they could kill us,” he says of the Nazis. You take his point, although it is challenged by a clip we see from a Nazi propaganda film, made after the Red Cross tour, showing the inhabitants of Theresienstadt working in pleasant conditions, playing chess and football, and munching buttered bread. Most of the happy children who appeared in the film were deported to Auschwitz afterward and gassed.

In short, “The Last of the Unjust” is every bit as quarrelsome as it should be. Murmelstein, recounting the circumstances in which he took mortally serious decisions, dares to ask us if we could have done any better. “An Elder of the Jews can be condemned,” he says. “In fact, he must be condemned. But he can’t be judged. Because one cannot take his place.” Did he, at one point, withhold food from his fellow-Jews? Yes, until they agreed to be inoculated against typhus, which was spreading through the camp. (The tactic succeeded.) His job was to save lives, at whatever cost, and however degraded those lives became; indeed, to expect anything other than degradation was fruitless. Tears were a waste. “If, during an operation, a surgeon starts crying over his patient, he kills him,” Murmelstein says. All his wit and learning come to the fore as he searches for analogies to his plight. The historian H. G. Adler likened him, in body and soul, to Falstaff, “clever, clear, superior, cynical, and artful,” but Murmelstein prefers Sancho Panza, cleaving to common sense while others tilt at windmills. He also invokes Orpheus (“Sometimes looking back is not a good thing”), and Scheherazade, whose life was preserved by a willingness to talk. Seldom has one man loomed so large as Murmelstein does in “The Last of the Unjust,” yet here’s the mysterious thing: I’m not sure that he is the hero.

That honor goes to Claude Lanzmann, the director of the film. His interviews with Murmelstein, many of them conducted in kindly sunshine, took place in Rome, in 1975. They were meant for use in “Shoah,” Lanzmann’s masterwork of 1985. In the event, he chose not to include them, and you can see why. “Shoah” was nine and a half hours long, cut down from three hundred and fifty hours of footage. Some of the discarded material has since been crafted into smaller films, one of them about the Red Cross inspection of Theresienstadt. “The Last of the Unjust” confirms that Murmelstein deserves his own film; he could well have thrown “Shoah” off balance, so bountiful is his testimony. Also, as Lanzmann says, “I had no right to keep it to myself.”

He is not the first artist to feel impelled by the Holocaust to carve new forms for his endeavors. The verses of the German-speaking Jewish poet Paul Celan, who drowned himself in 1970, shrank in their anguish to mere pocketfuls of words, some freshly minted to lend a voice to the inexpressible. At the other extreme lies Lanzmann’s method, the keystone of which is not so much duration as endurance. On what ground, “Shoah” asked, should we not surrender half a day of our easeful life to the scrutiny of mass extinction? To the formidable stamina with which he marshals his evidence, Lanzmann adds a more surprising virtue: he stays in the picture. Slipping coolly aside, as some documentarians do, is not his way, nor would his theme reward such reticence; he is dealing with enough ghostly presences as it is. In “The Last of the Unjust,” he is the first person we see, and it makes for a moving sight. Back in the nineteen-seventies, in Italy, in his blazer and shades, he was a handsome dog, like Peter Sellers disguised as a playboy spy. And now look at him: an old man of eighty-seven, standing alone at a railroad station, on a damp gray day, clutching a sheaf of papers. These contain passages from a memoir by Murmelstein, which Lanzmann reads aloud. He is defying age for the sake of bearing witness. The station is in Bohusovice, a small Czech town, unregarded nowadays but once a disembarkation point for Jews from Vienna and Hamburg, many of them elderly and infirm, who were expecting lakeside accommodation at a spa. Instead, they were marched to Theresienstadt. Lanzmann asks, “Who in the world today knows the name of Bohusovice?”

We do, thanks to this film. It takes a stand, at once patient and irate, against the ebb tide of the years. You could say the same of “Shoah,” but the mood is different here. Death still laps at the edge of every frame, and our vision is flooded for a while by the names of the deceased, inscribed within the synagogues of Vienna and Prague. Yet the film is stirred and enlivened by the tribute that it pays to pure survival, even if that of Murmelstein will strike some viewers as too dearly bought. He died in 1989, but in the footage from 1975 he seems cussedly indestructible—a stubborn grace note to the refrain of “Shoah,” which proved that, under the Nazis, anyone and anything could be destroyed. In the beautiful closing sequence, as he and Lanzmann wander through the Roman Forum, by the Arch of Titus, it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by a sense of multiple histories. The two men, in 1975, are nearer to the saga of Theresienstadt than they are to us. And Theresienstadt, in turn, bears echoes of the distant past, in 70 A.D., when Titus led the Roman army in the sack of Jerusalem, and the obliteration of the Second Temple. For centuries, no Jew in Rome would pass beneath the Arch. Of the days of affliction, there shall be no end. All we can hope for, time after time, is that somebody lives to tell the tale

Rabbi and scholar – Vienna Jewish Emigration Manager and
Deputy Eldest - Terezin Ghetto Deputy Eldest and
last Eldest – The witness never heard.

Claude Lanzmann, the director of "Shoah", a film about the Jewish extermination, recovers, almost thirty years later, a series of interviews with Benjamin Murmelstein, the last president of the Jewish Council of the Theresienstadt concentration camp. The interviews were recorded in Rome in 1975 and were left out of the Shoah montage. The film narrates what life was really like in that death camp, which was intended to be presented as a model field. The interviews show us Murmelstein as a man endowed with dazzling intelligence, great courage,
and incomparable memory that make him an extraordinary storyteller.

Le dernier des injustes - Claude Lanzmann - 2013
(The Last of the Unjust)

In 1938, when  the Nazis arrived, he was a lecturer (author of essays and books) at the Vienna Rabbinical College and the youngest among 17 community rabbis.  In 1939 he was the only rabbi still with the community having taken the burden – at request of Community Head Looewenherz where he set up and ran the Community Emigration Department. The Palestine Certificate issued by the Jerusalem Hebrew University had been endorsed to Abimelech Rimaldt for his safety.

On  starting to manage emigration Murmelstein met the terrible Eichmann in charge of the new ZENTRALLSTELLE FUER JUEDISCHE AUSWANDERUNG ICentral Office of Jewish Emigration) established by the Nazis first in Vienna and then in Prague and Berlin.  From 1938 until 1941 at Vienna about 120.000 emigrations cases had been handled successfully. At beginning of the Deportations Murmelstein followed the Lod Response; at Vienna the selection lists had been made by the SS. At Jannuary 28, 1943 Murmelstein with family had been deported to Terezin where he had been named Second Deputy Eldest, in charge or Health Care and Technical Services. In this capacity he had to manage, in 1944, the first “Embellishment Action”.

At Kippur 1944 he had to take the full burden of the Ghetto replacing Eppstein and watch the departure of two deportation transports with many men in working (and combat) age. Some days later, having been told to set up lists for new transports, he lost control of nerves and started to explain the impossibility of new deportations; the Commander shouted “no bargaining here, get out and wait!”  The Eichmann aids worked out the lists by themselves and Murmelstein could only submit some request for exemption, mainly for “necessary workers”; the reasons of several refusals can only be conjectured. At the end of the last Deportation wave, Murmelstein realized that only making the Ghetto – where still stood about 300 persons with important connections – fit for new foreign visits was basic for a possible survival. The results of the new embellishment action induced Eichmann to agree to a Red Cross visit. The Red Cross Delegates caught the cry for help launched by Murmelstein and obtained the protection of the Ghetto until liberation at May 5, 1945. Baeck expressed twice, in writing, his feelings of thankfulness for the work performed by Murmelstein in uncommon conditions.

For the Czechoslovakian government – Benes, Gottwald & C. - it was much more important divert attention from the 1938 political bankruptcy than the survival of the Ghetto; a wave of “collaboration trials” started. A trial against a Jew could divert attention also from the withholding of Jewish properties sold at bargain prices in 1939/40 to Nazis and confiscated in 1945 as “German assets”. Murmelstein had been put on arrest in June 1945; a long investigating followed. After 18 months, in December 1946, having State Attorney not even submitted request for trial, the Investigating Magistrate of People Court acquitted Murmelstein because accusations had proven to be fully baseless.

At the trial against the last Commander, March/April 1947, Murmelstein had been considered a “reliable witness”, as fully rehabilitated.  But at the Eichmann trial Attorney General Hausner did not call Murmelstein as witness – reasons to be conjectured - and so five points could not be cleared.  Wiesenthal never tried to contact Murmelstein. No publisher had shown interest for a German of English version of his book about Terezin. The bitch hunt, started in 1945 with slanderous articles, is still going on.

Controversy, Criticism and Life After the Holocaust (Wikipedia)

Whatever his actions and his motivations, for Murmelstein the liberation of Theresienstadt did not immediately lead to lasting freedom, as he was quickly detained by the Czech government on suspicion of collaboration. However, the Czech government was unable to build a case, and at the end of 1946 Murmelstein was released to emigrate with his family to Rome. There, he took some form of employment with the Vatican and also worked as a salesman. But his release from charges did not salvage his reputation. The Roman Jewish community refused to enrol him in their registers, and on his death, he was refused interment next to his wife and relegated to a plot on the margins of the Jewish cemetery in Rome. His son was denied the right to recite the Kaddish over his grave.

During his final decades, Murmelstein had made some efforts to restore his reputation. In 1961, he published a memoir of his wartime experiences, Terezin: Il ghetto-modello di Eichmann.[10] He also volunteered to stand as a witness to Eichmann's war crimes at Eichmann's trial before the Jerusalem District Court, but was not called.  In spite of his efforts, he lived in obscurity until he was located and extensively interviewed by Shoah film director Claude Lanzmann in 1975. After Murmelstein's death, these interviews would become the basis of a 2013 documentary, The Last of the Unjust,' which raised considerable attention to him and invited extensive evaluation of his role.

Murmelstein has been compared to Josephus Flavius, a classical Roman-Jewish historian widely regarded as a Jewish traitor whose work Murmelstein himself anthologized in 1938, the same year he began working with the IKG. In his anthology of the classic writer, Murmelstein wrote that the "divided and ambiguous nature [of Flavius] turned him into a symbol of the Jewish tragedy." According to political scientist Anton Pelinka, Murmelstein himself identified with Flavius. He characterized his own behavior during the war and in Theresienstadt as doing the best he could in a bad situation. Israeli-Austrian historian Doron Rabinovici defended the outcome of Murmelstein's behavior. While not speaking to his motivations or endorsing his reportedly overbearing personality, he noted that Austrian Jewish leaders like Murmelstein could have chosen to flee Vienna before 1941 and thus evaded being caught up themselves in the Nazi concentration camps, but instead Murmelstein remained and saved countless lives.

BARASZ, EFRAIM  (1892-1943)  Chairman of the Bialystok Judenrat
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

COHEN, DAVID – (1882/1967) – Chairman of the “Joodse Rat” in the Netherlands
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

GENS, JACOB. – (1903-1943) –  Head of the Judenrat in the Vilna Ghetto, 1941-43
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

GEPNER, ABRAHAM (1872-1943)    
Warsaw Ghetto Judenrat from its inception. Became head of the Supply Department, which provided food and other essential items
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

RUMKOWSKI, MORDECHAI CHAIM – (1877-1944) – Poland (Lodz) Eldest of the Lodz Ghetto.
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

BAECK, LEO – (1873/1956),  Germany; (Berlin/Terezin).   Germany, Theresienstadt (Terezin)
Yad Vashem

EPPSTEIN PAUL. (1902-1944) – Director of the Central Agency of the Jews in Germany/ Union of Jews in Germany.  Elder of the Terezin Ghetto.
Yad Vashem

ELKES, ELCHANAN   (1879--1944), Chairman of the Aeltestenrat (Council of Elders),   
Kovno Ghetto, Lithuania.
Yad Vashem

EDELSTEIN, JACOB   (1903--1944), Chairman of the Theresienstadt (Terezin) Ghetto
Judenrat .
Yad Vashem


CZERNIAKOW ADAM – (1880/1942) – Poland,
Chairman of the Jewish Council, Warsaw
Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

Czerniakow kept a daily diary, while Chairman of the Jewish Council in Warsaw. This is an invaluable insight into the daily life under the Nazis. Key extracts from the diary illustrate
some of the major incidents of the Warsaw Ghetto,
as well as examples of Czerniakow’s feelings and humour:

Adam Czerniakow was born in 1880 in Warsaw. After completing his studies in Warsaw in chemistry at the Warsaw Polytechnic, he went to study industrial engineering in Dresden, Germany. Shortly before World War One he became involved in Jewish public life.

 He dedicated himself to defending and promoting the interests of Jewish craftsmen and he published extensively on subjects concerning Jewish artisans, many of his articles appearing in the “Hantverker- Zeitung”, the publication of the General Association of Jewish craftsmen.

In the 1924 yearbook of that association, published on the tenth anniversary of its founding, Czerniakow published a long article outlining a comprehensive programme for vocational training and technical schools.

He taught for many years in the Warsaw Jewish community vocational schools. He took a stand against compulsory unionisation of craftsmen, in a lecture delivered to the First Congress of Jewish Artisans on 5 October 1925. The address he gave was later published as a booklet.

 He was active in the struggle against the 1927 Guild Law, which in effect ousted Jewish workers from their jobs and shops. Czerniakow was a member of the Engineers Association, known for its assimilation stance, but on the other hand he joined the Jewish Nationlist Minority Block, established to counteract attempts of Polish reactionary elements to squeeze minority representation out of Parliament.

From 1927 to 1934 Czerniakow was the elected representative of Jewish artisans, on the National Jewish list in the Warsaw Municipal Council. He played an active part in the 1928 Sejm (Polish Parliament) and Senate elections and participated in the campaign for Jewish minority rights led by Yitzhak Gruenbaum. He spoke out against government discrimination and persecution.

 In the 1931 by-elections he won a place in the Senate, but the Pilsudski Government dissolved the Senate and Sejm before the first sitting.

Before the outbreak of World War Two, he was nominated to the appointed Executive Council of the Warsaw Jewish Community, as a representative of the Jewish craftsmen. He also chaired that Councils education department. Together with Maurcy Mayzel, Marek Lichtenbaum and Labedz, he was a member of the Warsaw delegation to the 1939 General Congress of Polish Jewry for Eretz Israel.

 On 23 September 1939, during the siege of Warsaw by the Germans, Stefan Starzynski, the Mayor and Commissioner for Civil Defence, appointed Czerniakow the “Head of the Jewish Religious Community”.

On 4 October 1939, a few days after the city’s surrender he was taken to Police and Gestapo headquarters in Warsaw, at 25 Szucha Avenue, where he was ordered to add 24 people to the Jewish Community Council and to assume its leadership.

During the intial contacts over establishing the Jewish Council he dealt with SS-Hauptmann Bernhard Baatz, of Einsatzgruppe IV.

Czerniakow official title was the Chairman of the Jewish Council, as from 14 May 1941 his position was regarded as the “Mayor”, but the Chairman of the Jewish Council in Warsaw was still the most common used title.


8 October 1939 – Morning from 8:30 to 12 at the SS. Waiting for the keys. Later a policeman accompanied me to unlock the Community hall. The remaining rooms were locked and sealed. Twenty four chairs were placed in the hall and inventory was taken.

25 October 1939 – Office in the morning. Surrendering the radio set.

18 November 1939 – Ghetto postponed for a few months. The Community ordered to place at its borders signs stating Achtung Seuhengefahr Entrit Verborten (Danger – Epidemics – Entry Prohibited)

 30 November 1939 – A newspaper Nowy Kurier Warszawski was brought in with an announcement on the Jewish armbands, the marking of Jewish shops as well as the

execution of the 53 from Nalewki Street.

20 December 1939 – Prayers in synagogues prohibited. Rumours about Praga ghetto.

 17 January 1940 – Today I must prepare a report on my Jewish property. Alas I do not posses much, although in these times this is a blessing.

 25 August 1940 – In the morning at the Community. Someone asked me, what was my Chairmanship all about? I replied that it made me lose my paunch.Zabludowski is back.

Our workers are in a camp at Belzec, a long way from Lublin. The camp is not under the control of the Arbeitsamt.

5 September 1940 – In the morning at the Gestapo in regard to the workers from the Battalion and those arrested yesterday at Unia Square.

Rumkowski from Lodz, visited me at the Community in the company of an SS man and the Chief of the Food Office.

14 October 1940 – Fischer’s proclamation about the ghetto has just now been published. The boundaries do not correspond with the plan that was handed to me. Legions of Jews from Praga are trekking to Warsaw, their pushcarts filled with pitiful junk.

 4 November 1940 – When I appeared at the Battalion office, the officer in charge set upon me., hitting me on the head till I fell. At this point the soldiers started kicking me with their boots. When I tried to stand up they jumped on me and threw me down the stairs. Half a flight down they beat me again. In the end I was dragged to a truck , but was soon ordered to move into another one.. I was then transported with Singer, Zylberstajn, and Popower in turn to Szucha Avenue, to Pawiak prison, the University, back to Szucha Avenue.

 8 November 1940 – Leaden skies. It rains. Summonses for tomorrow to Mende. Major Hohenauer called me for a conference on the Order Service. I went to see him with Szerynski.

 20 November 1940 – In the morning at the Community. At 10 in the morning in the Umseidlungsamt, they will set up the Transferstelle (Exchange Office) close to the Ghetto.

 5 May 1941 – In the morning at the Community. The Judenrat is going to the sole self-governing authority with the Obmann (Chairman) as mayor.

 8 May 1941 – It looks like Dr Auerswald will be named as Kommissar for Jewish Affairs, and Mohns as District Chief (Governor). Several days ago Gancwajch organised a gathering and kept his guests through the night. Among those invited were Korczak (!!), naturally Stanislaw Rozenberg, Glocer etc.

 10 May 1941 – In the morning I was informed by Scherer that he would be replaced by Knoll. Knoll inquired why Gancwajch and Sternfeld are trying to oust me from the Council, adding that they are quite a pair.

 14 May 1941 – Mohns has informed us that the Governor named me the mayor of the Jewish Quarter.

 16 May 1941 – Rumkowski telephoned that he will visit the Community tomorrow.

 30 May 1941 – Auerswald said the “13” is going to be subordinate to the Jewish Council.Gancwajch must be admitted to the Community Authority., perhaps as a legal counsel.

 11 June 1941 - In the morning at the Community. It has been raining. Fortunately, for us this does not entail any cost to the Community.

 21 June 1941 – In the morning at the Gestapo, Muller, whom I paid a visit with Szerynski, declared that Gancwajch could live off the real estate; he will in no way be connected with the Community Authority.

 21 July 1941 – In the Community I received a letter from the Kommissar on the Gancwajch bureau  - The Control Office for Combating the Black Market and Profiteering in the Jewish District of Warsaw is hereby dissolved.

2 August 1941 – On Saturday, as usual in Szucha Avenue with Szerynski. We found nobody there. Kommandeur Muller has been transferred to Lublin.

13 October 1941 – Haendel introduced me to the Aryan Contractor who will build the walls

 31 October 1941 – I toured the new streets which are to be incorporated in the ghetto. What shabby buildings and streets.

 4 November 1941 – Auerswald toured the wall construction sites.

 12 November 1941 – We have received unofficial news that those caught leaving the ghetto will be shot in the Jewish detention facility the day after tomorrow.

 17 November 1941 – At 7;30 the execution was carried out  in the prison yard.

 13 December 1941 – I moved to an apartment at 2O Chlodna Street.

 19 January 1942 -  I have heard that Auerswald had been summonsed to Berlin. I cannot shake off the fearful suspicion that the Jews of Warsaw may be threatened by mass resettlement

 23 January 1942 – I went to see Auerswald and asked him whether he had received any new instructions from Berlin. He answered that his trip to Berlin was private.

  25 January 1942 – A nocturnal fantasy. I was born on Zimna Street and want to die on Chlodna Street. Zimna in Polish means Cold and Chlodna means cool.

 19 February 1942 – I went to see Auerswald. He inspected the prison yesterday. As a result 50 people were directed to a camp, probably Treblinka.

  23 February 1942 – In the morning at the Community. One fellow asks another: what is the news from the front? I have no idea , my apartment is at the back, was the reply.

  1 April 1942 – News from Lublin. Ninety per cent of  the Jews are to leave Lublin within the next few days. The 16 Council members together with the Chairman Becker were reportedly arrested. Relatives of the other councillors, aside from their wives and children, must also leave Lublin.

 In the morning hours about 1,000 expellees from Hannover and Gelsenkirchen were sent over. They were put in the quarantine at 109 Leszno Street.

5 April 1942 – At 8am 1,025 expellees from Berlin came. Mainly older people, partly intelligentsia. Many women.

9 April 1942 – In the morning at the Community. Auerswald ordered 160 young German Jews from the quarantine to be taken to Treblinka.

10 April 1942 –  At 10 in the morning a transport of German Jews 17 to 35 years old, left for Treblinka from the quarantine at 109/111 Leszno Street.

11 April 1942 – Later to Auerswald about the orchestra. The Kommissar sent me a letter  yesterday suspending performances of the orchestra for 2 months for having played the works of Aryan composers.

15 April 1942 – Brandt and Auerswald informed us that a transport will arrive from Magdeburg and Potsdam at 6 o’clock tomorrow morning.

16 April 1942 – The train with the newcomers from Germany arrived at 6am, it seems there are about 1,000 people. I led the transport to the Judaic Library.

18 April 1942 – I went to see Auerswald, he gave me a list of containing 78 names from the last transport from Germany, these people are to be sent to Treblinka. Besides he gave me two letters from the workers who are already there. One is asking for phonograph records, the other for tools.

I raised the subject of last night’s events. He knows what had happened. He is of the opinion that this was a special action.

19 April 1942 – Gepner, Sztolcman, Graf and Kobryner came in. Apropos recent occurrences, they claim that underground papers may bring about untold harm to the Jewish population.

21 April 1942 – In the morning with Brandt. He informed me that it was the underground papers appearing in the ghetto that brought about the repressive measures that night and that more severe means will be employed if the papers continue to appear.

22 April 1942 – They brought to the Jewish prison 10 Gypsies, men and women with their “king” Kwiek.

Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team

See also
Secret Archives of the Warsaw Ghetto’)
Warsaw Ghetto Archives - Unesco



Emanuel Ringelblum was born in 1900 in Buczacz, which is situated near Stanislawow. He graduated from Warsaw University, after being awarded a doctorate in 1927 for his thesis on the history of the Jews of Warsaw during the Middle Ages.

 For several years he taught history in Jewish schools and was also active in public affairs. From an early age he was also an active member of the political movement the “Left Po’alei Zion”, led by a core of devoted activists including Adolf Berman, and Emanuel Ringleblum himself.


In 1930 he had become a part-time employee of the Joint Distribution Committee (known as “The Joint”) and in November 1938 was sent by them to the Zbaszyn camp where 6,000 Jews – Polish citizens expelled from Germany – were gathered.

Ringelblum spent five weeks at the camp, where he directed relief work, collected testimonies from the deported Jews and gathered information on events in the Nazi Reich.

 His experiences during this period left an indelible impression. In the early stages of the German attack on Warsaw during September 1939, Ringelblum participated in the activities of the coordinating committee of Jewish aid organisations.

 Later when the Jewish Self-Help evolved from this committee, Ringelblum headed the department dedicated to the promotion of mutual assistance, including help for the needy and shelter to the Jews who came to Warsaw and those whose homes had been destroyed.

He was responsible for a network of soup kitchens serving tens of thousands of soup portions to the impoverished inhabitants of the ghetto. He also organised the so-called “House Committees” which were to play a vital role in the survival strategy.

 In addition to these important activities, Ringelblum worked with the political underground, particularly the sector devoted to cultural affairs. Remarkably Ringelblum also found time for the two projects for which he is best remembered today. These were the Oneg Shabbat Archive and his personal chronicle of events.

Oneg Shabbat is Hebrew for “Sabbath delight”, a reference to the traditional Sabbath afternoon gathering for study and discussion. The code name Oneg Shabbat was used because those responsible for maintaining the archive held their secret meetings on the Sabbath

Ringelblum recorded the manner in which the archives evolved and their purpose:

I began to collect material on current events in October 1939. As head of the Jewish Self-Help welfare organisation I had daily personal contact with the life around me. Information reached me on everything that happened to Jews in Warsaw or the suburbs.

The Coordinating Committee was at that time a branch of “The Joint” , and delegations from the smaller towns arrived almost daily to describe the difficulties experienced by the Jewish population.

 Whatever I heard in the course of a day I wrote down in the evening, and added my observations. In time these daily records made up a good-sized book of some hundreds of closely written pages, a mirror of that time.

The daily records were replaced first by weekly summaries and later monthly summaries. I did this at a time when the number of colleagues working for the “Oneg Shabbat” had already become larger.

In May 1940 I decided that it would be proper to find wider support for this important work , I made a careful choice of people for the job and as a result the work progressed in the right direction and could be carried out in sufficient measure.

The secretary of “Oneg Shabbat” Hersz Wasser was appointed by the Committee of “Oneg Shabbat” at that time and he has continued with the work to the present day.

The creation of the ghetto,  and the shutting away of the Jews within the walls, brought about even greater opportunities for work on the archives.

We reached the conclusion that the Germans took very little interest in what the Jews were doing amongst themselves. There were meetings on subjects and in a manner that would not have been possible before the war. One said everything that came to mind at every meeting of a house committee, in every soup kitchen and on the premises of every public institution, without interference.

The Jewish Gestapo agents were busy looking for the rich Jews with hoarded goods, smugglers etc. Politics interested them little. It went so far that illegal publications of all political directions appeared almost openly. In the cafes they were read practically in public, money was collected for the newspaper fund, there were arguments with opponents – in a word, people behaved almost like before the war.

In conditions of such “freedom” among the slaves of the ghetto it was not surprising that the work of “Oneg Shabbat” could develop successfully.”

 Ringelblum was behind the creation of the Archives, and was the moving spirit behind its continued completion.Hersz Wasser the only surviving member of the “Oneg Shabbat” group recorded:

Ringelblum’s handwritten notes about the female couriers in the ghetto underground

“Every item, every article, be it long or short, had to pass through Dr Ringelblum’s hands. For weeks and months he spent the nights poring over the manuscripts, adding his comments and instructions.

The co-workers of the Archives were considered soldiers of the underground army. It is not surprising that the secret archive was appreciated by the fighting ghetto. The Board of Directors was expanded to include a host of prominent personalities and representatives of the various political factions and youth movements which included Emanuel Ringelblum, M. Kahan, Eliyahu Gutkowski, Rabbi Szymon Huberband , Hirsch Wasser, Abraham Lewin, Shakhne Sagan, Yitzhak Gitterman, Alexander Landau, David Guzik and Shmuel Breslaw.

The Archive members established the press department for the Jewish Fighting Organisation and for editors of underground newsletters both in the ghetto and on the “Aryan” side.

The Archive was to grow to enormous proportions – by early 1942 so much material had been gathered that it was decided to create a project with the title “Two and a Half Years” representing the period from September 1939, when the Germans occupied Poland.

 A book of some 2,000 pages was produced divided into four sections:

  1. General
  2. Economic
  3. Cultural – Scientific – Literary – Artistic
  4. Social Welfare

Also included in the Archive were underground newspapers and posters  published by different political parties, letters received in the ghetto considered to be of interest, minutes of meetings, reports on the activities of Jewish public organisations and the testimonies of Jews from other ghettos or labour camps arriving in Warsaw, the Archive sponsored papers on many other subjects.

 Letter from Szlamek revealing details about the camp at Belzec addressed to Hersz Wasser, April 1942

The other subjects included the role of Jewish women in the war, children and youth in the ghetto, health issues, welfare and self-help, humour and folklore, relations between Poles and Jews, relations between the Germans and the Jews, education, cultural activities, religious affairs, the

theatre in the ghetto, political and underground organisations, the smuggling of food and the secret economy.

 It was intended to include as many German documents as possible in the Archive concerning the deportation and murder of Jews, not only from Warsaw but also from other towns and cities.

 In January 1942 a Jewish man Szlamek Bajler – also known as Yakov Grojanowski – escaped from the Chelmno death camp via the Rabbi at Grabow to the Warsaw Ghetto. Szlamek provided the first eye-witness report about Chelmno to Ringelblum and Wasser.

 Because the Gestapo was looking for Bajler, Ringelblum sent him to the Zamosc Ghetto where Bajler’s sister-in-law lived. When the first deportations to Belzec started, Bajler sent postcards to Ringelblum and Wasser in which he provided information about Belzec. He wrote in a combination of Polish and in Yiddish using Polish lettering.

 “In Belzec iz Beit Olam wie in Chelmno” (“In Belzec there is a cemetery – literally “Home of Eternity” as in Chelmno.” Bajler was the first person to officially inform Ringelblum about the Belzec death camp – during the first “Aktion” in Zamosc on 14 April 1942 Bajler was deported to Belzec together with his sister-in –law.

 The son of Szlamek’s sister-in –law sent a message to Wasser confirming their deportation.

The “Oneg Shabbat” Archive also published an informative newsletter, which first appeared at the beginning of 1942, to inform the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto of the mass-murder campaigns, Wasser relates:

The Archive Uncovered

“The leadership of the underground in the ghetto charged the “Oneg Shabbat” with the task of preparing various memoranda for consumption abroad – on the death camp at Chelmno (March 1942) on the Aktion in Lublin(April 1942) on the state of the Jewish population in the Nazi-occupied area (July 1942) and later on, in November 1942, the first exhaustive description of the initial stage of the liquidation of Warsaw Jewry. The editing of these works was placed in the hands of Dr. E. Ringelblum, A. Gutowski, and H.Wasser.”

During the deportations, which continued from July 1942 until May 1943, when the ghetto was liquidated, the small staff of devoted workers took pains to hide the invaluable material in secure places.

The collection was sealed inside metal containers and milk cans and buried within the ghetto in August 1942 and in March and April 1943.

On 3 August 1942 a schoolteacher and archivist Izrael Lichtensztajn assisted by two of his former pupils Dawid Graber and Nachum Grzybacz buried ten metal boxes and milk cans at  68 Nowolipki Street – 19 year old Dawid Graber wrote a note and place it in the interred archive, it read:

“The men who buried the archives know that they might not survive to see the moment when the treasure is dug up and the whole truth proclaimed.

 What we were unable to scream out to the world, we have concealed under the ground. One thing I am proud of, namely in these disastrous and horrible days I had been chosen to help bury the treasure, in order that you may know of the tortures and murders of the Nazi tyrants.

"Blessed be those whom fate saved from suffering.”  These were prophetic words- all those who buried the archives did not survive.

 The first section of the Archive was recovered on 18 September 1946, the second part was found on 1 December 1950. A third part, which included material on the organisation and activities of the Jewish underground has never been found and is presumed to be lost forever.

It is probable other containers concealed in the former ghetto are also lost forever.



Of the two parts of the archive that were recovered, the first contains 1,505 files and the second 558 files. Each file consists of as many as a dozen documents, varying in length from a single page to works of many pages. The first part comprises of 20,740 pages, the second part consists of 7,906 pages. Some pages were written in Polish, others in Yiddish, Hebrew or German. Also included were several dozen photographs, as well as paintings and drawings, and the diaries and notes of Ringelblum, Abraham Lewin, Peretz Opoczynski, Shimon Huberband and others.

 The surviving Oneg Shabbat Archive is in the Zydowski Instytut Historyczny ( ZIH Jewish Historical Institute) in Warsaw, and it represents the most important source for the history of Polish Jewry during the war and the holocaust.

 It was created through the foresight, courage and devotion of an unknown number of individuals, but perhaps most of all through the tireless work of its founder and guiding light Emanuel Ringelblum.  

 Returning to Emanuel Ringelblum his subsequent fate was tragic. He had repeatedly been invited to hide on the “Ayran” part of Warsaw and in March 1943, together with his wife Yehudit and 13-year old son Uri, they sought shelter on the “Aryan” part of Warsaw.

 On the eve of Passover 1943 he returned to the ghetto alone, just as the uprising was commencing. What happened to Ringelblum during the uprising is not known, but in July 1943 he was discovered in the labour camp at Trawniki, by two members of the underground, who managed to extricate him from the camp and return him to Warsaw, disguised as a member of the Ostbahn (railway worker)

Together with his family and 38 other Jews, he hid in a bunker in “Aryan” Warsaw, but on 7 March 1944 the bunkers location was betrayed and the captives were taken to Pawiak Prison.

Another Jewish prisoner in Pawiak Julian Hirszhaut became involved in an attempt to remove Ringelblum from the condemned to death cells into those holding prisoners expected to be sent to Germany working as tailors and shoemakers.

 Hirszhaut recalled how he managed to enter the cell where Ringelblum was being held:

“The cell was jammed with people apparently these were the Jews, whom the Germans had seized with Ringelblum in the bunker.

Ringelblum himself was sitting on a straw mattress close to the wall. On his lap he was holding a handsome boy. This was his son Uri. I told him that we were making attempts to take him in with us.

 “And what will happen to him? He asked, pointing his finger at his son. “And what will happen to my wife, who is in the women’s section?”

 What could I answer him?

 We all knew well that if we succeeded in taking Ringelblum out of there and bringing him to us as a shoemaker or tailor, his family would still be doomed.

 My silence conveyed the truth to him and he added right away: “Then I prefer to go the way of Kiddush Ha-Shem – The Sanctification of God’s Name together with them.

 Later he told me how he had been tortured by the Gestapo. In the middle of our conversation he suddenly asked “Is death so hard to bear?”

And then, a little later, he went on with a voice broken by despair “What is the little boy guilty of?” –  he again pointed at his son – “it breaks my heart to think of him.”

 I stood helpless before Ringelblum – I did not know what to answer, and a wave of sorrow swept over my heart.” A few days later Ringelblum his family and the other Jews who had been captured in the bunker were executed in the ruins of the ghetto.

The person who had betrayed the location of the bunker, 18-year old Jan Lakinski was later sentenced to death by a tribunal in Warsaw.


During the war, Allied
POWs who repeatedly attempted to escape from POW camps were sent to Theresienstadt as punishment. 21 British, 21 New Zealand, and 17 Australian POWs were held there. Keeping POWs from signatory countries of the Geneva Convention in such camp conditions was a war crime. Many of the survivors suffered chronic physical and mental health problems for most of their lives.

In 1964, Germany paid the British government £1 million as reparation for the illegal transfer of British POWs to Theresienstadt. Britain made no provision for dominion troops. For many years, the governments of Australia and New Zealand denied that any of their servicemen had been held at the camp. In 1987, Australian Prime Minister Bob Hawke established a committee of investigation. It confirmed that POWs were held at Theresienstadt. The government then authorised payments of A$10,000 each to the Australian survivors of the camp. The New Zealand government also arranged for compensation for the New Zealand survivors.







Relinquished their membership



Were removed from the Jewish Council or arrested



Were murdered before the deportations to the death camps



Were murdered on the way to the death camps or were murdered at the death camps



Committed suicide



Died from natural causes













Behaviour Pattern
Judenrat Members

Fate of
720 Judenrat Members
in Eastern Europe

Excerpt from interview
Professor Michael Marrus

The Last
of the


 The Cost
of Survival “The Last of the Unjust.”

Stories of Some Members

 of the
Judenräte (JewishCouncils)

Allied POW’s

Notable Prisoners who Died at the Camp



 Yad Vashem, 2016  (8.20)


Yad Vashem 2009 (8,46)