Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Introduction to the Ghettos of the Holocaust
Adam Czerniakow and His Diary
Adam Czerniakow was born in 1880 in Warsaw. After completing his studies in Warsaw in chemistry at the Warsaw Polytechnic, he went to study industrial engineering in Dresden, Germany. Shortly before World War One he became involved in Jewish public life.
He dedicated himself to defending and promoting the interests of Jewish craftsmen and he published extensively on subjects concerning Jewish artisans, many of his articles appearing in the “Hantverker- Zeitung”, the publication of the General Association of Jewish craftsmen.
In the 1924 yearbook of that association, published on the tenth anniversary of its founding, Czerniakow published a long article outlining a comprehensive programme for vocational training and technical schools.
He taught for many years in the Warsaw Jewish community vocational schools. He took a stand against compulsory unionisation of craftsmen, in a lecture delivered to the First Congress of Jewish Artisans on 5 October 1925. The address he gave was later published as a booklet.
He was active in the struggle against the 1927 Guild Law, which in effect ousted Jewish workers from their jobs and shops. Czerniakow was a member of the Engineers Association, known for its assimilation stance, but on the other hand he joined the Jewish Nationlist Minority Block, established to counteract attempts of Polish reactionary elements to squeeze minority representation out of Parliament.
From 1927 to 1934 Czerniakow was the elected representative of Jewish artisans, on the National Jewish list in the Warsaw Municipal Council. He played an active part in the 1928 Sejm (Polish Parliament) and Senate elections and participated in the campaign for Jewish minority rights led by Yitzhak Gruenbaum. He spoke out against government discrimination and persecution.
In the 1931 by-elections he won a place in the Senate, but the Pilsudski Government dissolved the Senate and Sejm before the first sitting.
Before the outbreak of World War Two, he was nominated to the appointed Executive Council of the Warsaw Jewish Community, as a representative of the Jewish craftsmen. He also chaired that Councils education department. Together with Maurcy Mayzel, Marek Lichtenbaum and Labedz, he was a member of the Warsaw delegation to the 1939 General Congress of Polish Jewry for Eretz Israel.
On 23 September 1939, during the siege of Warsaw by the Germans, Stefan Starzynski, the Mayor and Commissioner for Civil Defence, appointed Czerniakow the “Head of the Jewish Religious Community”.
On 4 October 1939, a few days after the city’s surrender he was taken to Police and Gestapo headquarters in Warsaw, at 25 Szucha Avenue, where he was ordered to add 24 people to the Jewish Community Council and to assume its leadership.
During the intial contacts over establishing the Jewish Council he dealt with SS-Hauptmann Bernhard Baatz, of Einsatzgruppe IV.
Czerniakow official title was the Chairman of the Jewish Council, as from 14 May 1941 his position was regarded as the “Mayor”, but the Chairman of the Jewish Council in Warsaw was still the most common used title.
Czerniakow kept a daily diary, throughout his time as Chairman of the Jewish Council in Warsaw, and is an invaluable insight into the daily life under the Nazis, and key extracts from the diary, are used here, to illustrate some of the major incidents of the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as examples of Czerniakow’s feelings and humour:
8 October 1939 – Morning from 8:30 to 12 at the SS. Waiting for the keys. Later a policeman accompanied me to unlock the Community hall. The remaining rooms were locked and sealed. Twenty four chairs were placed in the hall and inventory was taken.
25 October 1939 – Office in the morning. Surrendering the radio set.
18 November 1939 – Ghetto postponed for a few months. The Community ordered to place at its borders signs stating Achtung Seuhengefahr Entrit Verborten (Danger – Epidemics – Entry Prohibited)
30 November 1939 – A newspaper Nowy Kurier Warszawski was brought in with an announcement on the Jewish armbands, the marking of Jewish shops as well as the
execution of the 53 from Nalewki Street.
20 December 1939 – Prayers in synagogues prohibited. Rumours about Praga ghetto.
17 January 1940 – Today I must prepare a report on my Jewish property. Alas I do not posses much, although in these times this is a blessing.
25 August 1940 – In the morning at the Community. Someone asked me, what was my Chairmanship all about? I replied that it made me lose my paunch.Zabludowski is back.
Our workers are in a camp at Belzec, a long way from Lublin. The camp is not under the control of the Arbeitsamt.
5 September 1940 – In the morning at the Gestapo in regard to the workers from the Battalion and those arrested yesterday at Unia Square.
Rumkowski from Lodz, visited me at the Community in the company of an SS man and the Chief of the Food Office.
14 October 1940 – Fischer’s proclamation about the ghetto has just now been published. The boundaries do not correspond with the plan that was handed to me. Legions of Jews from Praga are trekking to Warsaw, their pushcarts filled with pitiful junk.
4 November 1940 – When I appeared at the Battalion office, the officer in charge set upon me., hitting me on the head till I fell. At this point the soldiers started kicking me with their boots. When I tried to stand up they jumped on me and threw me down the stairs. Half a flight down they beat me again. In the end I was dragged to a truck , but was soon ordered to move into another one.. I was then transported with Singer, Zylberstajn, and Popower in turn to Szucha Avenue, to Pawiak prison, the University, back to Szucha Avenue.
8 November 1940 – Leaden skies. It rains. Summonses for tomorrow to Mende. Major Hohenauer called me for a conference on the Order Service. I went to see him with Szerynski.
20 November 1940 – In the morning at the Community. At 10 in the morning in the Umseidlungsamt, they will set up the Transferstelle (Exchange Office) close to the Ghetto.
5 May 1941 – In the morning at the Community. The Judenrat is going to the sole self-governing authority with the Obmann (Chairman) as mayor.
8 May 1941 – It looks like Dr Auerswald will be named as Kommissar for Jewish Affairs, and Mohns as District Chief (Governor). Several days ago Gancwajch organised a gathering and kept his guests through the night. Among those invited were Korczak (!!), naturally Stanislaw Rozenberg, Glocer etc.
10 May 1941 – In the morning I was informed by Scherer that he would be replaced by Knoll. Knoll inquired why Gancwajch and Sternfeld are trying to oust me from the Council, adding that they are quite a pair.
14 May 1941 – Mohns has informed us that the Governor named me the mayor of the Jewish Quarter.
16 May 1941 – Rumkowski telephoned that he will visit the Community tomorrow.
30 May 1941 – Auerswald said the “13” is going to be subordinate to the Jewish Council.Gancwajch must be admitted to the Community Authority., perhaps as a legal counsel.
11 June 1941 - In the morning at the Community. It has been raining. Fortunately, for us this does not entail any cost to the Community.
21 June 1941 – In the morning at the Gestapo, Muller, whom I paid a visit with Szerynski, declared that Gancwajch could live off the real estate; he will in no way be connected with the Community Authority.
21 July 1941 – In the Community I received a letter from the Kommissar on the Gancwajch bureau - The Control Office for Combating the Black Market and Profiteering in the Jewish District of Warsaw is hereby dissolved.
2 August 1941 – On Saturday, as usual in Szucha Avenue with Szerynski. We found nobody there. Kommandeur Muller has been transferred to Lublin.
13 October 1941 – Haendel introduced me to the Aryan Contractor who will build the walls
31 October 1941 – I toured the new streets which are to be incorporated in the ghetto. What shabby buildings and streets.
4 November 1941 – Auerswald toured the wall construction sites.
12 November 1941 – We have received unofficial news that those caught leaving the ghetto will be shot in the Jewish detention facility the day after tomorrow.
17 November 1941 – At 7;30 the execution was carried out in the prison yard.
13 December 1941 – I moved to an apartment at 2O Chlodna Street.
19 January 1942 - I have heard that Auerswald had been summonsed to Berlin. I cannot shake off the fearful suspicion that the Jews of Warsaw may be threatened by mass resettlement