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Warsaw Ghetto, "Search and interrogation" (from the Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler)

The Grossaktion or Gross-Aktion in Warsaw (German: Großaktion Warschau) was a Nazi German operation of mass extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning July 22, 1942.[1][2] It was a key part of the countrywide Operation Reinhard headed by the SS- und Polizeiführer Odilo Globocnik. The Nazi forces conducted most of the mass deportations of the inhabitants of the Ghetto from Umschlagplatz of the Warsaw Ghetto (collection points) to the Treblinka extermination camp between Tisha B'Av (July 23) and Yom Kippur (September 21) of 1942.[3][4][5]

The Grossaktion (a large-scale operation in German) was directed by SS- und Polizeiführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, the commander of the Warsaw area since 1941.[6] He was relieved of duty by SS- und Polizeiführer Jürgen Stroop sent to Warsaw by Heinrich Himmler on April 17, 1943.[7][8] Stroop took over from Sammern following his unsuccessful ghetto offensive.[9]

The turning point in the life of the Ghetto was April 18, 1942, marked by a new wave of mass executions by the SS.

"Until that day, no matter how difficult life had been, the ghetto inhabitants felt that their everyday life, the very foundations of their existence, were based on something stabilized and durable... On April 18th the very basis of ghetto life started to move from under people's feet... By now everybody understood that the ghetto was to be liquidated, but nobody yet realized that its entire population was destined to die. — Marek Edelman[10]

On July 22, 1942, the German SS headed by the "Resettlement Commissioner", SS-Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle called a meeting of the Ghetto Jewish Council Judenrat and informed its leader Adam Czerniaków about the "resettlement to the East". Czerniakow — whose voice carried a great deal of authority — committed suicide the moment he realised the Nazi treacherous plan. He was promptly replaced by Marc Lichtenbaum.[11] The population of the Ghetto was not informed about the real state of affairs.[10] Only by the end of 1942, it became clear that the deportations overlooked by the Jewish Ghetto Police,[10] were to their deaths, and not for resettlement.

Jews loading onto trains at the Umschlagplatz

During the two months of summer 1942, about 254,000 Ghetto residents were sent to Treblinka and exterminated there (or at least 300,000 by different accounts,[12][1] possibly, with the inclusion of the Ghetto falling considered by many a part of the operation).[13] The sheer death-toll among the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto during the Gross-aktion would have been difficult to compare even with the liquidation of the Ghetto in spring of next year during and after the courageous Ghetto Uprising which meant annihilation of around 50,000 people. The Gross Aktion resulted in the death of five-times as many victims. It is fair to assume then, that it was not the actual razing of the ghetto that resulted in the destruction of the Jewish population of Warsaw, but mainly the murderous operation of a previous summer that did it.[2]

For eight weeks the rail shipments of Jews to Treblinka went on without stopping: 100 people to a cattle truck, 5,000 to 6,000 each and every day including hospital patients and orphanage children. Dr Janusz Korczak, a famed educator went with them in August 1942. He was offered a chance to escape from the deportations by Polish friends and admirers, but he chose instead to share the fate of his life's work.[14][15] On arrival at Treblinka, stripped victims were marched to one of ten chambers and gassed in batches of 200 with the use of monoxide gas (Zyklon B was introduced at Auschwitz some time later). Civilians were forbidden to approach the area.[10][16][17][18]

The tragic end of the Ghetto could not have been changed, but the road to it might have been different under a stronger leader. There can be no doubt that if the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto had taken place in August—September 1942, when there were still 300,000 Jews, the Germans would have paid a much higher price. — David J. Landau[19]

Many of the remaining Jews decided to fight, and many of them were helped by the Polish underground.[20][21] The Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB, Hebrew: הארגון היהודי הלוחם‎) was formed in October 1942 and tasked with resisting any future deportations. It was led by 24–year–old Mordechai Anielewicz. Meanwhile, the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, began to smuggle weapons, ammunition and supplies into the Ghetto for the uprising.[20][10]

Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg was court-martialed by Himmler on April 24, 1943 for his ineptitude, and sent to Croatia where he died in a partisan ambush.[9] Jürgen Stroop was awarded the Iron Cross First Class by the supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel for his "murder expedition" (Alfred Jodl)[22] and after the war, was placed on trial by the Americans and sentenced to death. His execution was not carried out; instead, he was handed over to the Polish authourities for re-trial. He was again sentenced to death in Poland and executed on the scene of his crime on September 8, 1951.

Timeline of the Grossaktion Warsaw[23]
July 22, 1942 Germans with Ukrainian and Latvian guards in SS uniforms surround the walls of the Ghetto
July 23, 1942 Adam Czerniaków commits suicide told to prepare for transport 6,000 Jews a day
July 23, 1942 Mass extermination of Jews by gassing begins at the Treblinka death camp
August 6, 1942 Fifteen thousand Jews from the Ghetto are deported to Treblinka in a single day as a result of the German food giveaway. People line up for several days to be "deported" in order to obtain bread. Transports twice daily can not accommodate them all[10]
August 13-27, 1942 In two weeks 53,750 Warsaw Jews are deported to Treblinka
September 6-7, 1942 More than 1000 Jews are killed by Nazis in the streets of the Ghetto
September 6-21, 1942 In the last two weeks of the Aktion 48,000 Warsaw Jews are deported to their deaths
September 30, 1942 Jews trapped in the Ghetto begin to construct fortified bunkers to defend themselves


  1. ^ a b Robert Moses Shapiro, Holocaust Chronicles Published by KTAV Publishing Inc. 1999 ISBN 0881256307, 302 pages. Quote: ... the so-called Gross Aktion of July to September 1942... 300,000 Jews murdered by bullet of gas (page 35).
  2. ^ a b (Polish) Marcin Urynowicz, Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), Gross Aktion – Zagłada Warszawskiego Getta (Gross Aktion – Annihilation of Warsaw Ghetto)
  3. ^ "Aktion Reinhard". Yad Vashem.   Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies. See: "Aktion Reinhard" named after Reinhard Heydrich, the main organizer of the "Final Solution"; also, Treblinka, 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, set up June/July 1942.
  4. ^ (Polish) (English) Barbara Engelking-Boni; Warsaw Ghetto Internet Database hosted by Polish Center for Holocaust Research The Fund for support of Jewish Institutions or Projects, 2006.
  5. ^ Barbara Engelking-Boni, Warsaw Ghetto Calendar of Events: July 1942 Timeline. See: 22 July, 1942 — the beginning of the great deportation action in the Warsaw ghetto; transports leave from Umschlagplatz for Treblinka. Publisher: Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów IFiS PAN, Warsaw Ghetto Internet Database 2006.
  6. ^ The Nizkor Project, Statement by Stroop to CMP investigators about his actions in the Warsaw Ghetto (February 24, 1946) Wiesbaden, Germany, 24 February 1946.
  7. ^ Moshe Arens, Who Defended The Warsaw Ghetto? The Jerusalem Post
  8. ^ Jurgen Stroop Diary, including The Stroop Report: Table of Contents (Jewish Virtual Library)
  9. ^ a b Jewish Virtual Library, Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg Source: Danny Dor (Ed.), Brave and Desperate. Israel Ghetto Fighters, 2003, p. 166.
  10. ^ a b c d e f The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Marek Edelman
  11. ^ Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 200.
  12. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising Last Updated: May 20, 2008.
  13. ^
  14. ^ Betty Jean Lifton, Janusz Korczak Biography, The King of Children
  15. ^ Janusz Korczak at the Living Heritage Association
  16. ^ Treblinka — ein Todeslager der "Aktion Reinhard", in: "Aktion Reinhard" — Die Vernichtung der Juden im Generalgouvernement, Bogdan Musial (ed.), Osnabrück 2004, pp. 257–281.
  17. ^ Court of Assizes in Düsseldorf, Germany. Excerpts From Judgments (Urteilsbegründung). AZ-LG Düsseldorf: II 931638.
  18. ^ "Operation Reinhard: Treblinka Deportations" The Nizkor Project, 1991–2008
  19. ^ David J Landau, Caged — A story of Jewish Resistance, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2000, ISBN 0-7329-1063-3
  20. ^ a b The Warsaw Ghetto archive (including The Stroop Report) at Jewish Virtual Library
  21. ^ "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  22. ^ Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 203.
  23. ^ Jewish Virtual Library, Chronology of Jewish Persecution: 1942 West Bloomfield, MI. Source: Holocaust Memorial Center


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