Search JTA's historical archive dating back to 1923

1,500,000 Polish Jews Face Extinction Under Hitler – Matter of Months, Mozes Reports

October 31, 1939
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

The complete ruin and physical destruction of Polish Jewry under Chancellor Adolf Hitler is a question of months, if not weeks.

Every branch of life has already been closed to the Jews in the areas held by the Nazi troops and some 1,500,000 of their number are threatened by starvation and extinction.

The Nazis have forbidden Jews to possess more than 2,000 zlotys (about $400 at pre-war rates) in bank deposits and have prohibited them from buying such things as clothes and shoes without special permit. All goods in Jewish shops have been confiscated and the more well-to-do among the merchants have been arrested.

The sadistic treatment of the Polish Jews by the Nazis overshadows the persecution suffered by the Jews following the German conquests of Austria and Czechoslovakia. Every German is free to maltreat and humiliate the Jews.

The situation in Warsaw is beyond description, but is exceeded by that prevailing in the provinces. Entire Jewish populations have been expelled under the most cruel conditions, often upon less than half an hour’s notice. Towns where such expulsions occurred include Mlawa, Prasnysz, Krasnosielsk, Rozany, Ostro-Maziowiec, Wyszkow, Wyszygrod, Wengrow, Stoczek, Ostrolenka and Poltusk.

About 2,000,000 Jews escaped the Nazi pogroms by Soviet Russia’s occupation of the eastern provinces. These include 500,000 who managed under the most difficult conditions to cross from the German zone into the Russian areas. They left empty-handed, the Nazis having seized all their property and leaving them only 20 zlotys each.

Many leaders and Journalists were arrested by the Gestapo, Nazi secret police, and transferred to the Reich. The president of the Warsaw Jewish Merchants Association, Abraham Gepner, and a leader of the Bund (Jewish Socialist party) Arthur Seligbaum, were held as hostages.

Two days after the Nazi occupation of Warsaw, a Polish newspaper issued with the permission of the German military forces, announced that the Jews would be treated on a basis of equality with the Poles, thus partially allaying the fears of the Jewish population.

Within the second week of the occupation, however, a violent anti-Semitic program was adopted by the authorities. Remnants of the Polish parties tried at first to alleviate the situation. Thus, the Lawyers’ Union resolved to treat all its members without distinction as to religion.

The Nazis, however, employing anti-Semitism to win mob approval, gave the extremist Jew-baiters a free hand with the result that Jews were assaulted on the streets and in their homes and ousted from positions in food lines.


A delegation appealed to Mayor Starzynski (who had originally been reported a suicide upon surrender of the city), who has retained the mayorality of the city, and received the reply: “We have more important things to settle.”

Unchecked by the authorities, mobs even tore the coats from the backs of women and children. Jewish men of 15 to 60 were drafted for forced labor, cleaning up the debris and often working 48 hours without food. Many were shot dead when they collapsed.

The Warsaw Jewish community has been put under control of a Nazi commissar who has ordered registration of all Jews between the ages of 18 and 40. Community officials were also instructed to file a detailed report on the economic position of the Jews and to supply a list of all converts.

Funds of the community were confiscated and all activities were suspended with the exception of 30 soup kitchens, which are supported by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee and which are able to supply only a fraction of the starving population. The Jewish burial office has also been permitted to continue in operation.

Under the pretext of arms searches, Jewish houses in Warsaw are raided nightly by the Gestapo and all valuables, even food, are confiscated.

Jewish leaders who approached the authorities for permission to publish a Jewish newspaper were bluntly informed: “We are still in a state of war against the Jews.”

In many towns, the ancient yellow badge has been introduced for Jews. In others, every Jew has been given a number which must be worn on his coat lapel.

Some towns have inaugurated a system of badges in various colors — yellow for rich Jews, blue for poor ones and grey for the poorest.

It can now be estimated that 35,000 Warsaw Jews, one tenth of the capital’s pre-war Jewish population, were killed during the Nazi bombardment of the city.


Jews in a number of the smaller towns were subjected to mass execution. In Przemysl, which was afterwards taken over by the Russians, 40 Jews were shot and 40 others were ordered to bury them at the place of execution. One male was taken from every Jewish home in Pultusk and executed. Crucifixes topped by Jewish prayer caps were placed over their graves.

In Lukow, after shooting of a German soldier by snipers, 30 Jews and 15 Poles were executed. The town of Kaluszyn, almost 100 per cent Jewish, was set afire and every Jew trying to escape was shot dead. An estimated 500 were killed in this way. Similar executions were staged in Siemiatycze and the vicinity.

Mass expulsions of Jews ordered in Wlodzimierz, in the Lublin district, were cancelled upon the intervention of a Catholic priest who guaranteed the Jews’ good behavior with his own life and a deposit of 20,000 zlotys.

Rabbis and Chassidic “wonder rebbes” were treated with particular cruelty by the Nazi conquerers and Polish Jew-baiters. Cutting off beards was the most popular form of humiliation. A rabbi was stabbed to death in a street of Wengrow.

A concentration camp has been established in the vicinity of Wengrow.

In Warsaw, Jews have been evacuated from Novolipki, Hoza and other streets. The Nazis appointed an executive body of 25 Jews of all parties to rule the Jewish community under the direction of the Nazi commissar for Jews. All private and communal Jewish schools are closed.

The Warsaw Jews are officially excluded from the gratis distribution of bread in the streets. Jewish wounded are not permitted to be treated at hospitals where wounded Polish and German soldiers are housed. Ritual slaughter of animals has been entirely forbidden.

In the town of Wloclawek, where the German commander is the former director of the Dachau concentration camp, Jews are forbidden to use the sidewalks.

Recommended from JTA