Many books have been written about the Warsaw Ghetto in the 66 years since its destruction. There have been reports, memoirs, studies, albums and movies of all kinds that have tried to tell the story of what happened. But to date for the English speaker the story was never complete.
We had bits and pieces of the story, we were able to see parts of the ghetto wall that still exist but the exact location of the complete wall always seemed a mystery. We had excerpts of the Ringelblum Archives but what life was like in the ghetto was still difficult to comprehend for the average reader who did not have a complete library at his or her disposal.
The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, published by Yale University Press is a monumental work that brings all the material together in one volume. First published in Polish, the book is now available in English.
It took years of research in Poland and Israel, in the archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, Yad Vashem and Kibbutz Lochamei HaGeta’ot in Israel to painstakingly bring together the full story of the horrific period of the Warsaw Ghetto. Other sources, such as the Polish State Archives and the Warsaw City Archives, were also invaluable in the source material.
The authors explore the history of the ghetto’s evolution, the actual daily experience of its thousands of inhabitants from its creation in 1940 to its liquidation following the uprising of 1943. Encyclopedic in scope, the book encompasses a range of topics from food supplies to education, religious activities to the Jundenrat’s administration. Separate chapters deal with the mass deportations to Treblinka and the famous uprising.
Even the technical material is brought to life with a number of rarely seen photographs and charts. A series of original maps shows the boundaries of the ghetto with streets shown as they were before the city was nearly destroyed at the end of the war. Present-day streets are superimposed onto the map, and even to one familiar with the area, I was very surprised at the changes shown on the map.
We learn the biographies, names of the people, who were activists, archivists, cantors, policemen, actors, musicians, teachers and politicians. These were the heroic residents of the ghetto; people who would not have been remembered in most English language books on the subject.
A glossary of terms and concepts is a valuable addition that helps the reader, not only of this volume, but any book on the Holocaust. Terms in Hebrew, Yiddish, Polish and German are included. From Agudah to ZZW (Zydyowski Zwiazek Wojskowy: Jewish Military Union) the words and terminology are covered with a clear explanation, many of which cannot be found in most other glossaries.
A bibliography of sources is also included. Some will think that this section is the most valuable of all the indexes. These 40 pages are full of sources that scholars can look for to further their research on particular interests. The index cites not just published works but records found in various archives around the world with exact referencing. The list of published works is almost a complete list of all the material ever published on the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Warsaw Ghetto: A Guide to the Perished City, by Barbara Engelking and Jacek Leociak, is an important work that belongs in any library where there is interest in the Holocaust