25 June 2007


You have met Esther, now meet Sam.

Sam is no longer alive.
Sam was Esther’s husband.
Sam was born in Warsaw, Poland.
He was 14 when the World War 2 broke out.
Sam had the most amazing eyes.
Determined eyes.
Read on and you will understand why this post is titled as it is.
{This is a long post and some might find it and the images disturbing. }
Sam's family home was situated in what was to become the Warsaw Ghetto.
What is a ghetto?
A ghetto is an area where people from a specific racial or ethnic background live as a group in seclusion, voluntarily or involuntarily.

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos established by Nazi Germany. Between 1940 and 1943, starvation, disease and deportations to concentration camps and extermination camps dropped the population of the ghetto from an estimated 450,000 Jews to approximately 70,000.

However, the size of the Ghetto was about 4.5% of the size of Warsaw. Nazis then closed off the Warsaw Ghetto from the outside world on November 16th that year, building a wall around it.

Image shows the building of the wall.

Image shows children being lifted to the top of the wall so they could either jump over the wall and try and get some food - risking death - or sometimes they were passed food from others who managed to find some on the other side of the wall.

Because of the size of the ghetto compared to the population, many families had to move in with others. Sam’s house was already within the area confined as the ghetto.

They tried to live as normally as possible.

Even searching for books to read...

Thousands of Jews died due to rampant disease or starvation, as well as random killings, even before the Nazis began massive deportations of the inhabitants from the Ghetto's "Umschlagplatz" to the Treblinka extermination camp.
In the Holocaust, the "Umschlagplatz" (German: collection point or reloading point) in the Warsaw Ghetto was where Jews gathered for deportation to the Treblinka extermination camp. Beginning on July 22, 1942, Jews were deported in crowded freight cars.

Image shows kids Sam's age escaping through the ghetto wall to get food for the starving.

On some days as many as 7,000 Jews were deported.

Image shows the gathering in the ghetto before being loaded onto the trains.

An estimated 800,000 Jews were taken to the Treblinka gas chambers, and some sources describe it as the largest killing of any single community in World War II.

Image shows people in the ghetto as they were getting on the trains to the concentration camps.

Death became the norm.

In the 52 days before September 12, 1942, about 300,000 Ghetto residents were sent to the extermination camps and killed there.

By the end of 1942, it became clear that the deportations were to their deaths, and many of the remaining Jews decided to fight.

On January 18, 1943, the first instance of armed resistance (The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising) occurred when the Germans started the final expulsion of the remaining Jews. The Jewish fighters had some success: the expulsion stopped after four days and the resistance organizations took control of the Ghetto, building shelters and fighting posts. During the next three months, all inhabitants of the Ghetto prepared for what they realized would be a final struggle.

Image shows a man jumping to his death out of a burning building in the ghetto. It reminds me of some of 9/11.

Sam was part of the uprising.

He was 15 years old, just think about his age for a moment.
He decided to try and fight back.
His mother and sister were shot in front of him.

It was then that he swore to try and kill 1000 Nazi’s before his 17th birthday.
The final battle started on the eve of Passover, April 19, 1943, when the large Nazi force entered the ghetto. After initial setbacks, the Germans systematically burned the ghetto block by block, rounding up or killing any Jew they could capture.

Image shows the roundup of those who fought back.

Significant resistance ended on April 23, 1943, and the German operation officially ended in mid-May, symbolically culminated with the demolition of the Great Synagogue of Warsaw on May 16, 1943.

According to the official report, at least 56,000 people were killed on spot or deported to Nazi death camps, mostly to Treblinka.

Sam escaped through the sewers.
Only a few dozen Jews escaped through sewers to the other side of the wall and went into hiding.

Sam joined the Polish Underground instead of going into hiding. The reason he was able to do that was because the Polish Underground thought Sam was not a Jew.
I will leave Sam's story there, as I have to continue some more work on my artwork on Sam. I will continue the story – which as you will understand is given to you in brief – in my next post.

If you want to read on please do.

"We are living by the day, the hour, the moment," run the chilling last words of the diary of a young Jewish woman, hiding in an underground bunker during the final days of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Written in Polish the six-page diary, detailing the last hellish days of the 1943 uprising against the Nazis, was recently uncovered amidst Warsaw Ghetto archive materials.

This unsigned record, which was originally found amid the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto following World War II, is the only known existing diary written during the 27-day Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

The diary, which begins April 24, 1943, five days after the uprising began, and continues for 10 days, provides a harrowing account of a group of dozens of unarmed people, young and old, hiding in fear in their confined bunker, all too aware of the certain death that awaits them.

Surrounded by the well-armed Nazis, the group finds itself slowly running out of food and with no running water as more and more people try to cram inside, with lice and disease rampant in the overcrowded bunker which is eventually enveloped by flames.

It is not known whether the members of the group were captured alive by the Nazis or burned during the Nazi demolition of the ghetto.

"We are inside a shelter," the diary begins on April 24, the group's sixth day of hiding in the bunker.

That night at 8 o'clock, the author records, the sound of footsteps and a knock on the secret entrance to their bunker freezes conversation. It is a neighbor, come to warn them that their house is on fire. Members of the group venture out and into the burning apartment. "We looked out of the window of the house, and we saw the ghetto on fire, completely engulfed in flames," she writes.

They work until 2 a.m. to put out the flames in their home. By 6, she records, they are back in the bunker, and in bed. "The ghetto is engulfed in flames."
The next entry, on April 26, tells of a neighboring house, where Jews had been hiding, engulfed in flames, with its residents running for cover. "It seems that disaster is fast approaching," the author writes. "The shelter is very crowded because of the large number of people, and the even larger number of people who want to come in to the hiding place. People are knocking to come in. Everyone wants to come in. It is hard to give [everybody] permission to come in."

"I want to go to my brother, who is in another bunker, in the second courtyard, but it is too far, and also too dangerous," she writes, in what is her only mention of other family members.

"The air in the bunker is horrible. People are almost choking. Many lose consciousness... Sleep is out of the question due to the danger of suffocation." On the ninth day of their stay, food runs short, as newcomers arrive with none.

It is decided that only a bowl of soup and a cup of coffee will be distributed daily to each person. That evening, they are awakened by the noise of a grenade hurled upstairs. "Suddenly a horrible explosion. A hand grenade explodes nearby. A deep silence fills the room.

The enemy surrounds the house, looking for us. Our sole method of defense is complete and utter silence."
April 28: "This is our 10th day in the bunker. Ten days of struggle with our bloodthirsty enemy who plans to utterly destroy us. He started the war with grenades and tanks, and ends it with setting homes on fire.

We must survive and we hope we will survive.

We are fighting for justice, and the right to live..."

The possibility of escape from the ghetto is mentioned in the next day's entry. "It seems that we wake up from a deep sleep. We begin to think realistically about escape to the Aryan side.

Whoever has a chance begins to prepare. These are realistic thoughts, but not within reach for everybody. "In our bunker, we will not be able to survive for long. The air is terrible, lice and overcrowding reign supreme. What is left for us to do? To go out and risk our lives or die here?

Whoever has a chance, whoever has the courage to do this, must do this. But one must wait a couple of days. If the enemy ceases its attacks on us, the chance for escape will be greater and this is what we expect."
"The enemy is searching for us all over," the author writes on April 30.
"Suddenly a huge explosion, the walls shake, everybody jumps out of bed but nothing happens." Writing while doing guard duty at the bunker entrance, the author tells of the heroism of the 45 people inside.
"Grenades are thrown at the house. People inside behave bravely. With complete tranquility they look death in the eye," she writes on May 2, the last full day of the diary.

"The Germans are shooting every Jew they find, these hassidim of Hitler carrying out everything in accordance with the order that by 1945 there will not be one Jew left in Europe," the diary continues.

"In my imagination it seems to me at times that our bunker is a sinking ship.
We are cut off from the world, completely hopeless, being supported by our own strength alone. We do not talk of rescue.
With great effort we cling on... but to tell the truth we are but a little boat, with no hope of rescue.... I myself am stunned that in these conditions we have managed to survive for three weeks," she writes, as grenades hurled by the Nazis explode near their bunker.

"I go out to the street, around me everything is on fire... factories, apartments, shops, whole houses. The whole ghetto is nothing but a sea of flames... the fire is spreading so quickly that people do not have time to flee their homes and perish tragically," the diary reads.

"Because of the fire, there is a lot of movement on the road. There is no salvation. People do not know where to hide. Out of desperation they search, but there is no rescue.

No hiding.

Death reigns everywhere.

The walls of the ghetto are surrounded. There is no entry and no exit. "The houses and bunkers are on fire. People are choking because of the smoke. Everybody is pleading for help.
Many – almost all – are crying out to God. 'God, show your strength and have mercy on us.'
God is silent like a sphinx and does not answer.
And you, the nations, why are you silent?
It seems that the end of the world has arrived.
Hell has come to earth.
Dante's Inferno.
It is unbelievable and indescribable....
"The enemy continues his destruction.
A new day begins. With the new day, the silence of death prevails."

A group of male Jewish fighters, from the author's resistance movement, report to members of the bunker that they have killed 300 Germans.
"In our thoughts we go back to the past... we have lost many things which we have accomplished over the years, and the only thing that is left is our hiding place, and of course this is not secure in the long term."
And then, that last line of this final entry:
"We are living by the day, the hour, the moment."
Is that not a lesson we all need to learn, live by the day, the hour, the moment!!!


Judy Wise said...

Thank you Judy. I am very sad as I ponder again that disaster. Your post is full of love; the photographs are eloquent testimony to the sanctity of life and the suffering of the innocent. The faces will haunt us forever.

craftyhala said...

wow...I am at a loss...

Karen Cole said...

"I can shake off everything if I write; my sorrows disappear, my courage is reborn. But, and that is the great question, will I ever be able to write anything great, will I ever become a journalist or a writer? I hope so, oh, I hope so very much, for I can recapture everything when I write, my thoughts, my ideals and my fantasies."
-Anne Frank

Judy, you certainly create some incredible posts. I would think that Anne Franks thoughts are very appropriate for what you are doing here. She , and the others you are writing about would be so very grateful.


jo and jacky said...

Literally moved me to tears! Thankyou Judy for this unique insight.
May we never forget them.
Jo xoxo

Gypsy Purple said...

What an amazing, incredible and emotional post.....thanks for posting this...

annie lockhart said...

judy, it has always been so hard to imagine this life they had to endure. photos don't lie...they are the history keepers...the eyes...they say it all. thanks for sharing these soul shaking memoirs.

Cindy Dean said...

Tears, they well up in my eyes as I read this. Very moving. I have asked my daughter to read your blog because I think that this is much more powerful than learning from history book. Thank you for sharing.

P.S. Thanks for the comments on my blog.

MeganPickwell said...

We know not how lucky we are - stories like this are important for so many reasons. The strengh of those that fought for survial is something we should never forget. such loss, such grief. Judy, you continue to give those of us who have never struggled insight into the lives of others who suffered such loss and reminders of what we have because of the sacrifies of so many. Thankyou for sharing Sam and Ethsters stories.

Lissy said...

I cannot even begin to imagine what these people experienced...it reminds me of when I went to the Jewish Quarter in Prague...thanks for sharing...so very sad that anyone should have ever had to experience this...

Jen Crossley said...

Oh Judy this was deeply moving post..

Ro Bruhn said...

When I see those photos, I think of my grandchildren and go cold, such senseless suffering. It's impossible to imagine how those poor little children who survived ever got over their nightmare of hell.
Thanks for sharing the insight Judy, you tell it so well.

gilfling said...

Thank you so much for sharing these stories - it is the personal testominies which will allow us to always remember what happened. Thank you again

Ev said...

Thank you for sharing. I can understand how much you need your "protection" when you are immersing yourself in these lives and stories. Be safe. You are doing a very very important job in documenting what extraordiary lives these "normal" people led.

Tricia Scott said...

judy, thank you. As I read your post I was overcome with grief for these innocent people who suffered so much. i can't seem to stop crying. it is hard for me to belive that something this horrible could have happened, that so many went through this nightmare. It is one thing to have read about this in a school textbook but another to read your accounts. i am grateful that you have opened my eyes and my mind. i will go through my day with the words "live by the day, the hour, the moment!!!"

Kristen Robinson said...

My heart is full of so much when I read one of your posts. These words, this account of such loss and tragedy is again unfathomable and truly heart wrenching. We do indeed need to live our days as that day by day relishing in all we have and being thankful for our blessings. What a gift you have in your artwork and writing.


Karen Owen said...

Judy, Thank you for putting these photos on your blog and telling the story. I have chills on my spine and tears in my eyes as I look at these images. As hard as it is to look, we need to look, and we all need to be reminded of what happened. I pray that we will never allow it to happen again.


azirca said...

Utterly chilling..it is so hard to believe that all of this horrid suffering actually happened to people just like you and I. Such sorrow, death and despair, no-one should have to endure such pain...ever.

kelsey said...

What a humbling experience for you Judy to be involved in re-telling these stories of courage & suffering. You'll be remembered as one who laid bare the facts in a most compelling & compassionate manner in your visual anthologies.

LINDSAY said...

I really don't know what to say...while in school I remember thinking history was so boring...perhaps I should've had you as a teacher. If we had educators in our school systems that could provoke such thought as you have, in this story, our world would be better place...for we must learn & appreciate our history to prevent such disasters from happening again. Thank you Judy.

Jacky said...

The world needs people like you Judy to keep their memories alive, so they didnt die in vain. My father who fought in the middle east and was in England on route to the middle east during the bombing of London, said they where unaware of what was going on with the Jewish people, I think the rest of the world was unaware of the atrocity's being carried out.
Keep up the good work.

lindaharre said...

Oh Judy.......we need to constantly be reminded of the horror that took place and man's inhumanity to man! The pictures are a testimony to the suffering....OMG! As much as it HURTS to see these images, we must be reminded so that this is NEVER ALLOWED to HAPPEN AGAIN!!!!!!!!!!! Thanks for the reminder to be kind and loving to one another.....

Jenny said...

When I was 6 my Aunt dropped me and my cousin off at the Little White Museum on Lake Merrit in Oakland,California. She said we would see nature films about birds.
My cousin and I sat through 2 horrifing movies about Nazi Germany, piles of nude dead bodies. To this day my Aunt swears she didn't know, but I still wonder.

Lace Age Girl said...

Thank you Judy for your depth of emotion and its expression in your storytelling, both in words and visually. You are a true Memory-keeper and your artwork is amazing with its symbolism and aged colours of time.