The Nazis created the Warschau Ghetto in an October 2, 1940 order, it listed streets and cordoned off sections of the city center and erected walls around the area. Given the large Jewish population of Warsaw, some Orthodox, others Reform, and a significant ‘assimilated‘ population, there were Jews living in areas that the German declared to be Aryan sections and Christians living in what was now the Ghetto. This meant that there had to be a translocation of residents in both directions – both into and out of, what had become the Ghetto, in a city which had seen 25% of its buildings damaged or destroyed in the first months of the war. Christian Poles living inside the Ghetto had until October 31, 1940 to relocate with the threat of forcible relocation and a penalty of being allowed only one refugee parcel and bedding – they were not allowed to live in “German“ sections of the city. Similarly, Jewish Poles had to conclude their transfer by the same date, with but one parcel and their bedding, and the Elder of the Judenrat assigning apartments. In either case, the relocatees were occupying units vacated by members of the other faith.
By October 1942 and continuing through November and early December of 1942, the Polish Government in London presented various protests concerning the treatment of Jews in Poland. It culminated in the issuance of a White Paper by the Polish Ministry of Foreign Affairs which was entitled
The Mass Extermination of Jews in German Occupied Poland
Addressed to the Governments of the
United Nations on December 10th, 1942,
and other documents.
It is that document which chronicles the creation of the Warschau Ghetto as well as various actions and orders of the Germans. Couched in diplomatic language, in its last paragraph (21) it calls on the United Nations to find a means to “restrain“ Germany from mass extermination.
The Polish Government – as the representatives of the legitimate authority on territories in which the Germans are carrying out the systematic extermination of Polish citizens and of citizens of Jewish origin of many other European countries – consider it their duty to address themelves to the Governments of the United Nations, in the confident belief that they will share their opinion as to the necessity not only of condemning the crimes committed by the Germans and punishing the criminals, but also of finding means offering the hope that Germany might be effectively restrained from continuing to apply her methods of mass extermination.
A bombed out city, now sectioned into German, Christian Polish and Polish Jewish sectors, with regulations concerning living, working and travelling in or out of each sector, included severe penalties for any transgression. This then was the city where the news about Katyn was being processed and transferred. It was also where the Żydowski Związek Wojskowy (ŻZW) and the Żydowska Organizacja Bojownicza (ŻOB) had determined to resist any reattempt by the Nazis to liquidate the Ghetto, which entry then led to the Uprising which started on the 19th. The spring moon was late that year, the day was Easter Monday, and also the eve of Pesach, and both were therefore holy days for each religious group, and thus an opportune time for any military action.
Strangely enough, the two main Jewish military groups did not consolidate forces, and only the ŻOB is well known in the West, although it was the smaller group. The ŻZW was formed in 1939, immediately after the German invasion, not only by Jewish Polish Army officers but also by elements of Betar, Hatzohar and the Revisionists and it worked in cooperation with the AK, the general underground; while the ŻOB was formed during the summer of 1942, by people involved with the Bund and others working closely with communist groups and cooperated with the Armia Ludowa (AL) organized by the Soviets. The ŻZW had some 400 people engaged in battle, while the ŻOB had half that number.
That there was communication between the Christian and the Jewish sectors is clear, and the tunnel leading under Muranowska is well chronicled. Information and news was passed through, and specific theories have been raised about both the timing of the German action as well as the reason that the ŻZW and the ŻOB did not form a joint command. Although Goebbels does not make any correlative statement in his diaries between Katyn and the Ghetto, the thought is that the Nazis, who had clearly had the Katyn materials for almost two months had decided to release it at a most opportune time – one theory is that they simply wanted to disrupt the Alliance and sue for peace with the British and the US, while continuing the war with the Soviet Union, while the other is that the Germans announced Katyn in effort to distract attention from their liquidation actions in the Ghetto.
However, only one paper has proposed that both actions were correlated, although in a subsequent fashion, and that Himmler who communicated with Stroop about various particulars in the liquidation, most specifically about the fact that the ŻOB had placed two flags – the Polish and the Jewish Star of David on one of the buildings, wanted to achieve a particular goal, while others in Reich government may have had another goal – yet they both intersected quite precisely, and both dealt with Poland and the Soviet Union. I would propose that the decision was correlated.
What then of the USSR? Moscow was certainly aware of the Aktion planned for the Ghetto, and articles in Pravda entitled „Hitler’s Polish Collaborators“ appeared on the 19th and 20th. The Nazis had not been able to restrain themselves and had placed all the blame for the Katyn Massacre on Soviet Jews, and this played perfectly into the Soviet denial and counter-attack. The ŻOB was unwilling to distance itself from the Soviets while the ŻZW understood the perfidy of the Soviets and so the surmise is that this created the disaffection between the two groups.
This then, was occuring in a world where a resolution, concerning the Punishment of War Crimes had been affirmed (January 13, 1942) at St. James Palace in London; it asserted that:
...acts of violence thus perpetrated against the civilian populations are at variance with accepted norms concerning acts of war and political offences, as these are understood by civilized nations.
Take note of the declaration, made in this respect on October 25, 1941, by the President of the United States of America and the British Prime Minister
The punishment, through the channels of organized justice, of those guilty and responsible for these crimes, whether they have ordered them, perpetrated them, or in any way participated in them.
Civilians, whether Christians or Jews could take some illusional hope, but the families of the victims – be they Christian or Jewish had no hope at that time that there would be justice for their menfolk. Perhaps only, if this crime were adjudged to be a war crime, violating Hague Conventions, but in such a case, the Conventions only applied to belligerents who had officially declared war and who had signed the Convention on the treatment of prisoners. In the case of Poland, the Soviet Union had not done either.