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“The officer then ordered Cherniakoff immediately to form a new community council of 24 members. The functions of this council were to include the taking of a census, in the space of seven days, of all the Jews in Warsaw, including part Jews and converts. This census showed there were 366,000 Jews in the city.

“A second function of the council was to supply Jewish labor battalions for the hardest and most hazardous work, such as pulling coke out of burning ovens or substituting for horses in pulling heavily-loaded wagons. During the work, the Jews were continuously subjected to humiliation by the Gestapo supervisors.

“One Saturday afternoon, seven Gestapo officers ordered Cherniakoff, whom they recognized as head of the Jewish Community, to call a full session of the council within fifteen minutes and also to gather an additional 24 men as alternate members of the council.

“As there were no means of transportation, we grabbed the first Jewish passersby on the street and brought them in as the required alternates. One of them we knew was a criminal who had served four years in prison, but we could not help ourselves as the Gestapo order was to be carried out within fifteen minutes without questions or apologies.

“We were then all driven by the Gestapo agents into one large room and seated in two rows of 24 each, the Council members facing the 24 Jews picked at random. The Gestapo officials took places between the two rows. After we were all photographed, one of the Gestapo officers took out a document and announced that it was a decree providing for formation of a ghetto.

“The decree provided, first of all, that the Jews of this section should forcibly expel from the district set aside as the ghetto all the Christians residing there.

“When the reading of the decree was concluded, the Gestapo officer announced that should the order not be carried out as specified, all the 24 Jews picked up as alternate members of the Council would be executed. These 24 were taken away by the Gestapo at once as hostages.

“It soon became evident that it would not be possible to house all the 366,000 Jews of Warsaw in the streets assigned for the ghetto. Furthermore, it was clear that the Jews could not and would never carry out the provocative task of driving the Christian population from their homes in the Jewish section, since that would have rendered 24,000 Christians homeless.

“A delegation of the Council, composed of Cherniakoff, Hartglass and myself therefore appeared the next day before General Neumann, the German military commander of Warsaw, to prove to him that the ghetto edict could not be carried out as specified. General Neumann expressed great astonishment when informed that such an order had been given. He not only denied its issuance but informed the delegation that there was ‘evidently some misunderstanding’ and promised to investigate the matter while keeping the delegation waiting.

“Thirty minutes later, he called us in and directed us to the chief of the Gestapo for an explanation. Furious because of our complaint, the Gestapo chief swore, insulted us and struck us with the whip in his hand. Five Gestapo officers stood behind us, their revolvers ready for use. Feeling that our position was grave, we explained that our complaint was a mistake. This appeased him.

“We asked for the release of the 24 hostages, but were told that they would be executed despite their complete innocence. For five ensuing days, panic prevailed among the Jews. Crowds of women besieged the community building pleading for rescue of the hostages. On the sixth day, the 24 condemned Jews were freed.

“Thus was the birth of the ghetto announced to the Jews in one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world.”

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