Shoah. The Holocaust Of The Jews.
It is estimated that during World War II Germans killed about 6 million European Jews. Systematic extermination of the Jewish population began in June 1941, along with Germany’s attack on the Soviet Union. In December 1941, Germans set up the first death camp in Chełmno nad Nerem. The prisoners were placed in trucks constructed in such a way that the exhaust fumes were discharged inwards which resulted in the death of people by suffocation. In January 1942, in Wannsee near Berlin, a secret decision was made to carry out the “final solution to the Jewish question”, i.e. the extermination of European Jews, now known as the Holocaust.
The first comprehensive information on the scale of persecution of Jews in Poland was provided to the world by Jan Karski, who smuggled his reports prepared for the Polish Underground State into the West in the years 1940-1942. In 1943, after his escape from Auschwitz, Witold Pilecki, a cavalry captain, who carried out a mission of organizing an underground movement there, drafted a report on the functioning of the camp.
Jews who lived in the General Government were the first to be killed (Operation “Reinhardt”). In the following months, 1.5 million Jews were murdered in extermination camps in Bełżec (from March 1942), Sobibór (from May 1942) and Treblinka (from July 1942). In the latter camp, at least 250,000 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto died during 46 days of deportation. A symbol of the heroism of this tragic period was Janusz Korczak, a Warsaw educator who, despite of being able to go to the “Aryan” side, decided to share the fate of his charges from a Jewish orphanage and died with them in Treblinka. Jews from Germany, Austria, France, Belgium, Yugoslavia, Greece and the USSR were also deported to Treblinka. The President of the Warsaw Judenrat, the Jewish Council, which was the basic element of the German authorities’ orders execution, Adam Czerniaków, who did not want to follow the German orders related to the deportations to the extermination camps, committed suicide. Just before he died, he wrote: “They demand that I kill the children of my people with my own hands. I have no choice but to die.”
The extermination of the Jewish population, which was organized and carried out on a massive scale, took place to a large extent on the occupied territory of Poland. It is estimated that on September 1, 1939 in Poland lived about 3.47 million Jews, which constituted about 10% of the total population of the Polish state. According to contemporary estimates, the number of Polish Jews, victims of the Holocaust, is between 2.9 and 3 million.