The Night of Blood in the Warsaw Ghetto

On the eve of the Sabbath, April 18, 1942, the Nazis perpetrated a massacre in the Warsaw ghetto, and the date is forever associated with the so-called ‘Night of Blood’ or the ‘Bartholomew’s Night.’ For a day or two before the operation, a rumour made the rounds within the ghetto that a uniformed German had been killed in the no-man’s-land between the ghetto wall and the ‘Aryan’ side. The ghetto residents whispered of a possible reprisal raid or terrorist act, but no one knew what might happen.

German trucks entered the ghetto after dark and spewed forth armed SS troops. The small squads of uniformed men, accompanied by Jewish policemen acting as guides, then made for the homes of dozens of people. Those on the wanted list were dragged out of their beds into the street fronting their houses or somewhere nearby and were murdered by a shot to the back. Of the sixty people on the wanted-list, fifty-two were killed, a few were wounded. Some had been warned in time, whilst others were not at home when the SS troops arrived for them. Sometimes, others were mistakenly taken in their place or the relatives who refused to turn the wanted men in to the Nazis were shot on the spot as a punishment for their disobedience.

After the ‘Night of Blood’, the ghetto was haunted by questions: What did the Nazis hope to achieve by murdering dozens of ghetto residents? And what was the common denominator that established the victims of such a calculated operation. The enigma was not easy to solve. Chaim Kaplan wrote in his diary:

When the initial shock began to wear off and the panic had subsided a bit, we began to wonder about the episode. Why that particular kind of selectivity? What was the key to the list they had drawn up? The victims came from every level of our ghetto society. Well-to-do merchants like Blajman, the baker, former officials, small shopkeepers, even some from the very poor.

Some of the victims were involved in the ghetto underground; others were known to have grown wealthy during the war; and some even belonged to Abraham Gancwajch, the head of the so-called ‘Thirteen’ who collaborated with the Germans, and were under the protection of the Security Police in Warsaw.

The dead included Menachem Linder, a talented economist and demographer, who was Emanuel Ringelblum’s friend and colleague and the moving spirit behind Yikor, and members of the Bund who had been print-shop workers and were active in the ghetto underground.

None of the leaders of the underground political movements were murdered on the ‘Night of Blood,’ which is not to say that none were wanted by the Gestapo. Yitzhak Zuckerman and Lonka Kozibrodzka of Dror He-Halutz, for example, were definitely on the Nazis list. Germans had asked about them at one of the Judenrat’s Registration Offices, and some Dror members who were temporarily employed there immediately warned the two, who absented themselves from the movement’s communal living quarters that night.

Also on the list were two prominent Bund activists, Sonya Nowogrodzka and Lezer Klog. Sonya was warned of her impending arrest by an anonymous caller, and she in turn warned Klog, so that both of them were out of their apartments that night.

The residents of the ghetto interpreted the night of terror as a blow directed against the political underground. Chaim Kaplan believed that the illegal publications were the reason for the slaughter.

On April 21, 1942, Adam Czerniakow, the Chairman of the Warsaw Judenrat visited Karl-Georg Brandt, the head of the SD –Jewish Section in Warsaw. Brandt informed Czerniakow that it was the underground papers appearing in the ghetto that brought about the repressive measures that night, and that more severe means will be employed if the papers continue to appear. He informed me that Council Member Samuel Winter had also been included in the list, but that he made inquiries and learned that the accusations were groundless.”

Mr Chris Webb is a Senior Fellow at CARR and Founder of the Holocaust Historical Society. His profile can be found here:

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