On September 1, 1939, the Third Reich invaded Poland, while on September 17, 1939, the territory of Poland was attacked by the Soviet Union. Unable to resist the might of these two attackers, Poland succumbed, losing its independence. The Germans soon began to humiliate Jews systematically, rounding them up for forced labor, and isolating them from their Polish neighbors by confining them to ghettos.
In June 1941, the Third Reich turned against the Soviet Union, seizing territories previously occupied by the Soviets. There, the Germans proceeded to kill about 2 million Jews.
A few more million perished in gas chambers. Occupied Poland became the epicenter of the Holocaust. It was there that the Germans built concentration camps: Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz-Birkenau – where they murdered Jews from all over Europe.
The Jewish underground engaged in all forms of resistance, including organized uprisings. Many people risked their lives in order to help Jews. Like many others, Jan Karski, an envoy of the Polish government-in-exile, tried to inform the world of the fate of the Jews. But the world remained indifferent.
The Holocaust gallery is located directly opposite the Monument to the Ghetto Heroes, which commemorates the victims of the Holocaust and the heroic Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. This is why a substantial part of the gallery is devoted to the Warsaw Ghetto. Visitors will learn about daily life in the ghetto from diaries and documents composed in the here and now of the events. Most of these survived in the underground archive of Oyneg Shabes, an organization created by Emanuel Ringelblum and his dedicated associates who documented the wartime fate of the Jews.
The documents buried in metal cases and milk cans have survived to our day. They remain a shocking testimony of life in the ghetto.
Lead Historians: prof. Barbara Engelking (Institute of Philosophy and Sociology of the Polish Academy of Sciences), prof. Jacek Leociak (Institute of Literary Research of the Polish Academy of Sciences).
The design and execution of the core exhibition was financed and overseen by the Association of the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland, thanks to the support of donors from all over the world.