The Umschlagplatz

Umschlagplatz Monument resembles railroad freight car

Pictured above is a memorial which has been built on ul. Stawki at the spot where the Umschlagplatz once stood, on the northern boundary of the Warsaw Ghetto. The Umschlagplatz was where the Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto had to assemble to board the trains which transported them to the death camp at Treblinka, beginning in July 1942.

The Jewish Ghettos, which the Nazis established in all the major Jewish population centers of Poland, were part of the systematic plan to get rid of all the Jews in Europe, and were intended as a transitional measure. The next stage of the plan was the liquidation of the Ghettos and "transportation to the East."

On July 22, 1942 the Warsaw Ghetto was surrounded by Ukrainian and Latvian soldiers in German SS uniforms, as the liquidation of the Ghetto began in response to an order given by Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler that "the resettlement of the entire Jewish population of the General Government be carried out and completed by December 31." The General Government was the central portion of the former country of Poland that was occupied by the Germans between 1939 and 1944.

Jews assemble at Umschlagplatz for deporatation

Two days before, on July 20ieth, the Judenrat (Jewish leaders) had been ordered to prepare for the resettlement (Aussiedlung) of the "non-productive elements" to the East. The Jews in the Warsaw Ghetto were to report voluntarily to the Umschlagplatz (collection point) at the corner of Stawki and Dzika streets, near a railroad siding for the Ostbahn (Eastern Railroad), on which they would be "transported to the East" on crowded freight cars. The old photograph above shows the location of the Umschlagplatz. A monument has been erected on this spot, as shown in the photo at the top of this page.

According to Raul Hilberg in his book, The Destruction of the European Jews, "As soon as the order was posted, a mad rush started for working cards. Many forgings took place and in the ghetto, everyone from top to bottom was frantic." A similar scene is depicted in the movie, Schindler's List, when a Jewish professor in Krakow suddenly becomes an experienced metal worker with forged papers, aged by tea stains.

The chairman of the Warsaw Jewish Council, Adam Czerniakow, was ordered by the Nazis to deliver 6,000 Jews per day, seven days a week, to the Umschlagplatz for deportation to Treblinka on the Bug river near the eastern border of German occupied Poland. A day later, the number was increased to 7,000 per day. Rather than cooperate with the Nazis, Czerniakow committed suicide on July 23rd, the first day that Jews were assembled ready for deportation.

After Poland was conquered, following the joint invasion by the Germans and the Soviet Union in September 1939, the Polish Army escaped to Romania and the Polish leaders set up a government in exile in London. The Polish soldiers continued to fight underground as partisans in the Polish Home Army.

Raul Hilberg wrote the following in his book, The Destruction of the European Jews:

The Polish underground thereupon contacted the Ghetto. The answer of the Jewish leaders was that perhaps 60,000 Jews would be deported, but that it was "inconceivable that the Germans would destroy the lot." The Jews had one request, which the Polish Home Army was glad to fulfill. They handed to the Poles an "appeal addressed to the world and to the Allied nations in particular." The Jewish leadership demanded that the German people be threatened with reprisals. The appeal was immediately transmitted to London, but the BBC maintained complete radio silence. As we shall have occasion to find out later, the Jews did not have many friends in London, or for that matter, in Washington.

Side view of Umschlagplatz Memorial

The photo above shows a side view of the memorial at the Umschlagplatz. According to my tour guide, the design is supposed to represent a freight car with the door open. This memorial is located right on the sidewalk of a very busy street; notice the trolley car tracks on the street just a few feet in front of it, which you can see in the photo at the top of this page.

The photo below shows the interior of the memorial with a single bouquet of flowers left by a visitor. The inside is the same rectangular shape as a railroad freight car, although much bigger. The 7,000 Jews who assembled here daily were crowded into 60 freight cars for the train trip to the Treblinka extermination center. The daily deportations continued until Sept. 12, 1942.

Inside of Umschlagplatz Monument in Warsaw

In his book "The Holocaust," Martin Gilbert wrote the following:

"In those seven weeks, a total of 265,000 Jews were sent by train for 'resettlement in the East'. Their actual destination was Treblinka and its three gas-chambers. Death, not slave labour, was their fate. It was the largest slaughter of a single community, Jewish or non-Jewish, in the Second World War."

According to the most recent information about Treblinka, there were originally three gas chambers there, but 10 more were added later. The bodies were first buried in mass graves and then dug up and burned on pyres.

According to the U.S. Holocaust Museum, by the Summer of 1944, all the Jewish Ghettos in Eastern Europe had been closed and two million Ghetto Jews had been transported to concentration camps or death camps. The three main death camps for the Ghetto Jews were the Operation Reinhard camps: Treblinka, Belzec and Sobibor, all of which were near the eastern border of German occupied Poland.

Today guards are posted near the memorial, but even so, the inside walls of this memorial had been defaced with a Nazi swastika when I visited it in October 1998.

Ghetto Uprising

Ghetto Heroes

Mila 18

Ghetto Wall

Nozyk Synagogue

The Ghetto

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This page was last updated on April 18, 2008