In the brightness of unrivalled Polish golden autumn, shines and glitters a layer of snow. This snow is nothing but down feathers and fluff from Jewish bedclothes along with the rest of their belongings: from wardrobes, chests, suitcases full of underwear and clothing, to bowls, pots, plates and other household goods, all left behind by 300 000 Jews ’evacuated to the East’. These ownerless items: tablecloths, coats, eiderdowns, jumpers, books, cradles, documents and papers, photographs are chaotically lying in flats, yards, on squares, gathered in piles, covered in this ’snow’ from the time of German multiple murders of the Jews in Warsaw — in disemboweled Jewish bed clothing.
With these words begins the famous „Oyneg Shabbos” report from 15th November, 1942 on the great „displacement action” from the Warsaw Ghetto, when almost 300 thousand Warsaw Jews were taken away and murdered in the Treblinka extermination camp. It was the last, fourth and most lengthy report written by the members of „Oyneg Shabbos”, destined for the authorities of the Polish underground and the Polish government in London. Previous reports were about the Holocaust of the Jews in Reichsgau Wartheland and Lublin voivodeship. However, the last one was written by people who a few weeks earlier had been hiding in shelters themselves, had ran away from blocked streets, paid for false employment certificates in order to save their lives. They survived „the action” miraculously. When it was finished, they immediately took up works on assembling data which was to illustrate what had just happened.
In the Ringelblum Archive, there are preserved materials depicting the process of work on the report: statistics, statements of changes in population of the ghetto — every day during the whole „action”; lists of murdered intellectuals written chaotically in pencil; incomplete sketches of plans of the residual ghetto, lists of German companies (szops) employing Jews. Just as it was before „the action”, they continued writing down accounts (including testimonies of the escapees from Treblinka), collecting diaries, taking down announcements and official documents. The material was organized and a draft of its future form was made.
The report is divided into four parts: the first one, and most detailed, refers to the course of „the displacement action” in the Warsaw ghetto from 22nd July to 21st September, 1942; the second one is devoted to the functioning of the Treblinka extermination camp; the third one depicts every day life in the so-called residual ghetto after the action, whereas the fourth one includes a general description of the extermination of the Jews in the provinces.
The November report does not not entirely consist of a description of events even thought it includes their chronology, provides statistics and content of official documents. We will also find there a deep sociological analysis of the Germans’ activities and the reaction of the Jewish community. The authors of the report, not without judgement, illustrated both perfidy of the perpetrators and naivety of the victims, thanks to whom „the liquidation action” was carried out effectively. For example, they presented the effects of the Germans’ activity of putting Jews into a few categories, which made them not subject to deportation, including employees of German companies:
The first displacement period, from 22nd July till the end of the month, is one big pursuit of Ausweis, a card certifying employment in old and new German factories. No wonder that during the first days of the action, on the streets of the ghetto, you can see masses of people with sewing machines hurrying to sewing szops. Nobody is sitting at home, everyone is running, rushing, surrounding szops, doing everything they can so as to get the right to live. First days pass by almost unnoticed, despite the fact that preliminary displacement amount is given. The society does not yet see the whole abyss, into which it is sinking more and more, hour after hour, day after day.
Later, the Germans invalidated certificates from another companies and finally they stopped accepting any documents at all. In this way, they had minimised attempts to escape from the ghetto or to put up resistance: a person with an employment certificate could feel safe:
Voices of the few exhorting to resist, explaining the true intentions of the Germans, showing the actual sense of „displacement”, did not evoke any response from the masses. Wretched existence, life of Pariahs, the inferiority complex have all set their slavish stamp on the Jewish masses. Leaflets showing the intentions and objectives of the Germans are regarded as a German provocation.
The s of the report date the appearance of the information on the actual purpose of the displacement to mid-November:
Gradually, the remaining Jews are becoming aware of the fact that all of „the displaced” are being taken away by the Germans to Treblinka, where they die in terrible agony, especially because the information from Treblinka, which at first was fearfully whispered, now is more openly said. Dozens of people saved from this giant torture talk about their terrible experiences. However, in an atmosphere of constant uncertainty, constant change of location, physical and moral terror, the Germans do not care anymore about maintaining secrecy in front of the Warsaw Jews. During the second phase of the displacement, when the Jewish masses are already completely drained and incapable of resisting (despite occasional incidents of active or passive resistance), the Germans care only about keeping it a secret from foreign countries, and they are fully succeeding in it.
The following sentence from the report can be considered to be a shocking expression of the state of mind of the Jews in Warsaw during „the action”:
During the second phase of the action, the Germans kept everyone on the go, not giving them a chance to think even for a moment. Blows were struck one after the other. As a result, Jews’ fear of the Germans became greater than their fear of death.
The report ends with an appeal „of still alive Polish Jewry” to the Polish government and the governments of the Allies to send an international commission to Treblinka and take retaliatory measures against those responsible for crimes against the Polish Jews, and against German citizens living on the territory of the allied countries. These demands were later repeated by the members of the Coordination Committee of the Jewish National Committee (ŻKN) and the Bund — political representation of the Jews to the Polish authorities. Therefore, the November report was also political: it was one of the last voices of dying Polish Jews.
Two copies of the report with documents of the second part of the Ringelblum Archive were hidden under ground in February 1943. The report was published for the first time in 1951 in „The JHI Bulletin”, and then dr Ruta Sakowska published it in her 1980 paper. Soon, a revised edition of this extremely important document will be published in Volume 11 of the complete edition of the Ringelblum Archive.