It would be hard to ignore the bombastic headline for the Feb. 12, 1943, issue of the JN: “500,000 Jews Fall Prey to Nazis in Warsaw Area.” By this point in history, the world was becoming increasingly aware that Jews were suffering in Poland like nowhere else. In Nazi death camps, like Auschwitz and Treblinka (to name just two), Jews were being exterminated with cold efficiency. There was also ample evidence by 1943 of Jews being rounded up in Poland and forced into “ghettos” like Warsaw and Lodz.
How many Poles put their own lives in jeopardy to save Jews or how many turned in their Jewish neighbors — there were plenty of both — is still a controversial subject for historians and, indeed, for Poland today.
However, the report from the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that generated the headline is flawed. It stated that, of the 500,000 Jews concentrated in the Warsaw Ghetto, “not a single Jew remains …” First, historians now estimate that 300,000-400,000 Jews were in the ghetto. These are, of course, still incredible numbers even if the article exaggerated by 25 percent, but the statement that there were no Jews left in the ghetto was what really caught my historian’s eye.
This is hard to reconcile with another fact, the famous “Warsaw Uprising.” From April 19-May 16, 1943, the approximately 13,000 Jews still living in the ghetto, with nothing left to lose, rose up and fought against the full might of the German army. It was a heroic stand but, ultimately, a futile one … except for the huge moral victory.
With hindsight, we can see the problems encountered while attempting to provide accurate reporting from an occupied sector during World War II; especially, under the dire circumstances of a Nazi-controlled area. What is still undisputable is the scale of the Nazi atrocities.
Want to learn more? Go to the DJN Foundation archives,
available for free at www.djnfoundation.org.
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