Grossaktion Warsaw (1942)

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Grossaktion Warsaw
Warsaw Ghetto, "Search and interrogation"; from the Jürgen Stroop Report to Heinrich Himmler.

occupied Poland
Extermination camps in occupied Poland marked
with black-and-white skulls; demarkation line: in red
Location Warsaw, German-occupied Poland
Date July 23, 1942 – September 21, 1942
Incident type Deportations to Treblinka, mass shootings
Organizations Nazi SS
Camp Treblinka extermination camp
Ghetto Warsaw Ghetto
Victims 265,000 Polish Jews [1]

The Grossaktion or Gross-Aktion Warsaw (German: Großaktion Warschau, Great Action) was a secretive Nazi German operation of the mass extermination of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto beginning July 22, 1942.[2][3]

Led by the SS-leader Brigadeführer Odilo Globocnik, the campaign plan codenamed Operation Reinhard was a critical part of the Holocaust in occupied Poland. Jews were terrorized in the ghetto round-ups and herded into the Umschlagplatz square. From there, they were sent aboard overcrowded Holocaust trains to the extermination camp in Treblinka. The largest number of Warsaw Jews were transported to their deaths in the period between the Jewish holidays Tisha B'Av (July 23) and Yom Kippur (September 21) in 1942.


The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest World War II ghetto in all of Nazi occupied Europe, with over 400,000 Jews crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2), or 7.2 persons per room.[4] The Nazi forces conducted most of the mass deportations of the ghetto inmates from its railway collection point (Umschlagplatz in German) to the Treblinka extermination camp between July 23 and September 21, 1942.[5][6][7] The Grossaktion (large-scale operation) was directed in the capital by SS- und Polizeiführer Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg, the commander of the Warsaw area since 1941.[8] He was relieved of duty by Heinrich Himmler on April 17, 1943 and replaced with SS- und Polizeiführer Jürgen Stroop.[9][10] Stroop took over from von Sammern-Frankenegg because of his unsuccessful offensive against the Ghetto underground.[11]

The turning point in the life of the Ghetto was April 18, 1942, marked by a new wave of mass executions by the SS.

Until that day, no matter how difficult life had been, the ghetto inhabitants felt that their everyday life, the very foundations of their existence, were based on something stabilized and durable... On April 18th the very basis of ghetto life started to move from under people's feet... By now everybody understood that the ghetto was to be liquidated, but nobody yet realized that its entire population was destined to die. — Marek Edelman[12]


On July 22, 1942, the German SS headed by the "Resettlement Commissioner", Sturmbannführer Hermann Höfle called a meeting of the Ghetto Jewish Council Judenrat and informed its leader Adam Czerniaków about the "resettlement to the East". Czerniakow, who committed suicide after learning of the plan, was replaced by Marc Lichtenbaum.[13] The population of the Ghetto was not informed about the real state of affairs and only by the end of 1942 did it became clear to them that the deportations, overseen by the Jewish Ghetto Police designated to supervise them, were to the Treblinka death camp and not for the purpose of resettlement.[12]

Loading Jews onto the Holocaust trains at the Umschlagplatz, 1942

During the two months of summer 1942, about 254,000 – 265,000[1] Ghetto inmates, men, women and children, were sent to Treblinka and exterminated there (or at least 300,000 by different accounts, possibly, with the inclusion of the Ghetto falling considered by many a part of the operation).[2][14][15] The sheer death-toll among the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto during the Gross-aktion would have been difficult to compare even with the liquidation of the Ghetto in spring of next year during and after the Ghetto Uprising which meant annihilation of around 50,000 people. The Gross Aktion resulted in the death of five times as many victims. It is fair to assume then, that it was not the actual razing of the ghetto that resulted in the destruction of the Jewish population of Warsaw, but mainly the operation of a previous summer.[3]

For eight weeks the rail shipments of Jews to Treblinka went on without stopping: 100 people to a cattle truck, 5,000 to 6,000 each and every day including hospital patients and orphanage children. Dr Janusz Korczak, a famed educator went with them in August 1942. He was offered a chance to escape from the deportations by Polish friends and admirers, but he chose instead to share the fate of his life's work.[16][17] On arrival at Treblinka, stripped victims were marched to one of ten chambers disguised as showers, and suffocated to death in batches of 200 with the use of monoxide gas (Zyklon B was introduced at Auschwitz some time later). In September 1942, new gas chambers were built, which could kill as many as 3,000 people in just 2 hours. Civilians were forbidden to approach the area.[12][18][19][20]

Sketch of the Treblinka extermination camp made during Franz Stangl's 1967 trial in West Germany.

The tragic end of the Ghetto could not have been changed, but the road to it might have been different under a stronger leader. There can be no doubt that if the Uprising of the Warsaw Ghetto had taken place in August—September 1942, when there were still 300,000 Jews, the Germans would have paid a much higher price. — David J. Landau[21]

Many of the remaining Jews decided to fight, and many of them were helped by the Polish underground.[22][23] The Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB, Hebrew: הארגון היהודי הלוחם‎) was formed in October 1942 and tasked with resisting any future deportations. It was led by 24 year–old Mordechai Anielewicz. Meanwhile, the Polish Home Army, Armia Krajowa, began to smuggle weapons, ammunition and supplies into the Ghetto for the uprising.[12][22]

Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg was court-martialed by Himmler on April 24, 1943 for his ineptitude, and sent to Croatia where he died in a partisan ambush.[11] Jürgen Stroop was awarded the Iron Cross First Class by the supreme commander of the Wehrmacht, Field Marshal General Wilhelm Keitel for his "murder expedition" (Alfred Jodl)[24] and after the war, was placed on trial by the Americans and sentenced to death. His execution was not carried out; instead, he was handed over to the Polish authorities for re-trial. He was again sentenced to death in Poland and executed on the scene of his crime on September 8, 1951.

Timeline of events[edit]

Timeline of the Grossaktion Warsaw[25]
July 22, 1942 Germans with Ukrainian and Latvian guards in SS uniforms surround the walls of the Ghetto
July 23, 1942 Adam Czerniaków, commits suicide after being told to prepare for transport of 6,000 Jews a day
July 23, 1942 Mass extermination of Jews by gassing begins at the Treblinka death camp
August 6, 1942 Fifteen thousand Jews from the Ghetto are deported to Treblinka in a single day as a result of the German food giveaway. People line up for several days to be "deported" in order to obtain bread. Transports twice daily can not accommodate them all[12]
August 13–27, 1942 In 15 days 53,750 Warsaw Jews are deported to Treblinka
September 6–7, 1942 More than 1000 Jews are killed by Nazis in the streets of the Ghetto
September 6–21, 1942 In the last two weeks of the Aktion 48,000 Warsaw Jews are deported to their deaths
September 21, 1942 The last transport sent to Treblinka from the Polish capital with 2,196 victims. It includes Jewish police involved with deportations, and their families.[26]
September 30, 1942 Jews trapped in the Ghetto begin to construct fortified bunkers to defend themselves

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Holocaust Encyclopedia (10 June 2013). "Treblinka: Chronology" (Internet Archive). United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Archived from the original on 5 June 2012. Retrieved 12 August 2014. "Deportations from Theresienstadt and Bulgarian-occupied territory among others." 
  2. ^ a b Robert Moses Shapiro, Holocaust Chronicles Published by KTAV Publishing Inc. 1999 ISBN 0-88125-630-7, 302 pages. Quote: ... the so-called Gross Aktion of July to September 1942... 300,000 Jews murdered by bullet of gas (page 35).
  3. ^ a b (Polish) Marcin Urynowicz, Institute of National Remembrance (IPN), Gross Aktion – Zagłada Warszawskiego Getta (Gross Aktion – Annihilation of Warsaw Ghetto)
  4. ^ Warsaw Ghetto, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Washington, D.C.
  5. ^ "Aktion Reinhard". Yad Vashem.  Shoah Resource Center, The International School for Holocaust Studies. See: "Aktion Reinhard" named after Reinhard Heydrich, the main organizer of the "Final Solution"; also, Treblinka, 50 miles northeast of Warsaw, set up June/July 1942.
  6. ^ (Polish) (English) Barbara Engelking-Boni; Warsaw Ghetto Internet Database hosted by Polish Center for Holocaust Research The Fund for support of Jewish Institutions or Projects, 2006.
  7. ^ Barbara Engelking-Boni, Warsaw Ghetto Calendar of Events: July 1942 Timeline. See: 22 July 1942 — the beginning of the great deportation action in the Warsaw ghetto; transports leave from Umschlagplatz for Treblinka. Publisher: Centrum Badań nad Zagładą Żydów IFiS PAN, Warsaw Ghetto Internet Database 2006.
  8. ^ The Nizkor Project, Statement by Stroop to CMP investigators about his actions in the Warsaw Ghetto (February 24, 1946) Wiesbaden, Germany, 24 February 1946.
  9. ^ Moshe Arens, Who Defended The Warsaw Ghetto? The Jerusalem Post
  10. ^ Jurgen Stroop Diary, including The Stroop Report: Table of Contents (Jewish Virtual Library)
  11. ^ a b Jewish Virtual Library, Ferdinand von Sammern-Frankenegg Source: Danny Dor (Ed.), Brave and Desperate. Israel Ghetto Fighters, 2003, p. 166.
  12. ^ a b c d e The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising by Marek Edelman. Interpress Publishers, pp. 17-39 (undated).
  13. ^ Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 200.
  14. ^ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  15. ^ Yad Vashem, Treblinka. PDF file, direct download 75.2 KB. Retrieved March 6, 2013.
  16. ^ Betty Jean Lifton, Janusz Korczak Biography, The King of Children
  17. ^ Janusz Korczak at the Living Heritage Association
  18. ^ Treblinka — ein Todeslager der "Aktion Reinhard", in: "Aktion Reinhard" — Die Vernichtung der Juden im Generalgouvernement, Bogdan Musial (ed.), Osnabrück 2004, pp. 257–281.
  19. ^ Court of Assizes in Düsseldorf, Germany. Excerpts From Judgments (Urteilsbegründung). AZ-LG Düsseldorf: II 931638.
  20. ^ "Operation Reinhard: Treblinka Deportations" The Nizkor Project, 1991–2008
  21. ^ David J Landau, Caged — A story of Jewish Resistance, Pan Macmillan Australia, 2000, ISBN 0-7329-1063-3
  22. ^ a b The Warsaw Ghetto archive (including The Stroop Report) at Jewish Virtual Library
  23. ^ "Warsaw Ghetto Uprising", United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  24. ^ Israel Gutman, Resistance Published by Houghton Mifflin. Page 203.
  25. ^ Jewish Virtual Library, Chronology of Jewish Persecution: 1942 West Bloomfield, MI. Source: Holocaust Memorial Center
  26. ^ Yitzhak Arad, Arad, Yitzhak. Belzec, Sobibor, Treblinka. Indiana University Press, Bloomington, Indianapolis. Page 97.