November 16 marks the 82nd anniversary of the enclosing of Warsaw’s Ghetto

On November 16, 1940, the “Jewish residential area” was closed off from public access by an order issued by Warsaw District Governor Ludwig Fischer on October 2, 1940. German police posts were set up by the ghetto exits. Special permits were introduced, allowing some to move between the ghetto and the so-called “Aryan side”.

The community of Warsaw’s Jews had been separated from the rest of Warsaw. A few weeks before the ghetto was closed off, 138,000 Jews were resettled within its borders and 113,000 Poles were displaced. This operation also involved looting: some 4,000 stores and about 600 Jewish businesses on the Aryan side were confiscated, and the displaced owners were never to regain their property.

The ghetto

The wall around the ghetto began to be erected as early as April. By August 1940, 47 sections of the three-meter-high wall, topped with barbed wire, had already been built. The ghetto’s borders also ran between properties - they were marked by the walls of buildings. In the fall, some sections of the wall were built along and across streets.

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The ghetto “covered an area of about 4 km2, which was less than 3% of the city’s area at the time. It was surrounded by a 3-metre-high wall that had its top covered with broken glass, as well as barbed-wire entanglements in some places. By the end of 1940, about 395,000 Jews, both ones who lived in Warsaw before the war, as well as ones who were forcibly resettled from other territories – including those incorporated into the Third Reich, were locked up in the ghetto,” the Warsaw Ghetto Museum states in an article posted on their website.

The boundaries of the enclosed Jewish quarter were never airtight despite being guarded by German military police and a detachment of the Blue Police on the outside, and on the inside by the Jewish Police Service. Large-scale smuggling of goods took place through more than a dozen gates to the ghetto, thanks to bribery and on a smaller scale through smuggling sights located on border properties, where there were masked openings in the walls and undercuts. Smuggling was also carried out by throwing goods in sacks over the wall.

The Germans crowded some 400,000 people into the 4 km2 area. Ghetto diaries and accounts, and even some excerpts from German propaganda films, show the enormous density in the “Jewish quarter”. The ghetto’s boundaries would change as the extermination policy progressed, most notably after the first liquidation action in the summer of 1942.