The Holocaust Historiography Project

Book review

Warschau Unter Deutscher Herrschaft

  • WARSCHAU UNTER DEUTSCHER HERRSCHAFT [WARSAW UNDER GERMAN RULE] by Friedrich Gollert. Warsaw: Berg Verlag GmbH.,1942, 302 pp.

Reviewed by R. Clarence Lang, Ph.D.

On the occasion of the two years' existence of the General Government (GG), I was commissioned to render an account concerning the District of Warsaw. At that time (1941) I wrote Zwei Jahre Wiederaufbau im Distrikt Warschau (Two Years Rebuilding Work in the District of Warsaw). In weeks the 3,000 copies were sold out, so numerous orders firom Germany remained unfilled.

This great interest in the GG prompted me to write a vastly expanded and greatly revised edition. [All translations are by the reviewer.]

These are the opening paragraphs of the foreword to Warschau unter Deutscher Herrschaft (Warsaw under German Rule) by the Governor of Warsaw, Dr. Ludwig Fischer, who commissioned Dr. Friederich Gollert to expand the 1941 edition with access to official records and documents.

This new edition is to be a standard work about the German work of rebuilding the District of Warsaw and will document historically the accomplishment of German men and women sent to work here since the founding of the GG. It is to instill confidence in them that their work, which frequently has to be performed under the most stringent circumstances, and which by its very nature has found little recognition on the outside, will not remain unnoticed.

Furthermore, this is to introduce readers to the East, with the manifold problems associated with this newly won soil.

It is the duty of all politically-minded Germans to become acquainted with these problems, of which the GG is most characteristic. In it, the reshaping of the Eastem Areas is being pursued with great success in the midst of the greatest war in history.

English-speaking readers may recall that the Republic of Poland, established after World War I, was partitioned in the fall of 1939. The northwesten part, which already inculded numerous Germans was incorporated in Germany. The eastern part, which inculded many non-Poles and Jews, became part of the Soviet Union. The central part was made semi-independent, and was divided into four districts: Warsaw, Radom, Lublin and Cracow. When the Russian Communists took over Bessarabia [Romania) and the Baltic States, ethnic Germans were permitted to leave and many were resettled in Poland.

Gollert gives the population of the GG as 17,607,500, with 11,300,000 Poles, 4,029,000 Ukrainians, 2,092,000 Jews, 90,000 Gorals, 75,000 ethnic Germans, 15,000 Ruthenians, 6,500 Russians and small groups of Georgians, Tatars and Armenians. Accordingly, the District of Warsaw had 2,800,000 poles, 600,000 Jews and a small number of other groups.

Since Warsaw had a very large Jewish population (according to the The New Concise Pictorial Encyclopedia, Garden City Publishing Co., Inc., New York, 1938, the Jewish population was 309,000), naturally Gollert devotes 7 of his 302 pages to the Jewish District of Warsaw, with 12 pictures of the Jewish District.

Under the subtitle “'The Necessity of Establishing the Jewish District,” one is told that the Jewish District was surrounded by a wall in the summer of 1940 to protect both Jews and non-Jews from epidemics potentially emanating from it. This action then became the model for establishing Jewish districts in the rest of Poland. Or as Gollert put it, “So it happened that in 1940; earlier than in any other district of the GG, a Jewish District was established. “

Since one is generally led to believe that this decision was racially motivated — the natural outgrowth of the National Socialist plan — exterminate all Jews — this raises the crucial question: Was the threat of epidemic real, or was it, as the extermmationists claim only a German pretense to mask their alleged goals of exterminating non-German human beings?

In 1987, 47 years after the Ghetto was walled in, and 44 years after DDT (dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane) powder eradicated epidemic typhus forever, it is difficult to realize that typhus was indeed the number-one killer in Eastern Europe. However, medical books and journals of the time leave no doubt that this was the case.

To take just one; example, The Textbook of Bacteriology (1945) by Edwin O. Jordan, under “Typhus Fever” and “European Typhus Fever,” one reads that the disease is caused by the Ricksettsia prowazeki germ and is transmitted by the human body louse Pediculus vestimenti. This louse-borne typhus persists in endemic foci in Russia and Poland, where it has occasionally broken out in major epidemics during periods of stress, Furthermore, and ths approximated the conditions of the Jewish District, “The disease is associated with overcrowding and filth and has been termed 'camp' and 'jail fever.' Epidemics are not infrequent in both civil and military populations during time of war and may be extensive. It is estimated that 315,000 persons died of typhus in Serbia in 1915, and about 25,000,000 cases occured in Russia in 1917-21.” The Textbook claims that the sole vector of the disease under natural conditions is the louse, and thus takes for granted that the only approach in battllng the disease is by instituting rigorous delousing programs.

The pre-DDT danger of typhus found expression in such books as A Five-Year Peace Plan by Edward J. Byng, published in 1943. Byng took for granted that the United Nations would win, but there would continue to be a grave typhus problem after the war. He thus insisted: “The occupation troops of the United Nations should immediately install 'de-lousing' stations in Poland, Croatia, Serbia, Bulgaria, Greece, and, in close cooperation with Russia, along the Finnish-German-Hungarian-Romanian-Russian border.” This because the border would be crossed by homeward-bound Axis soldiers and civilians. The writer claimed that between 1914-20 more people died in Europe from that louse-borne scourge, spotted- fever (or exanthematic typhus), than in the actual fighting.

There can be no doubt that typhus was a deadly reality before DDT.

The first large-scale, effective use of DDT delousing powder was in Naples in December 1943. According to The American Year Book: A Record of Events and Progress for the Year 1944, on page 23, “Demonstrations of DDT’s efficacy against epidemic louse-borne typhus in Naples were dramatic and complete.” Supposedly typhus had broken out when Italian troops returned from the louse-infested Balkans.

As many as 50,000 persons were deloused in one day, and by mid-March 1944, 2,250,000 had been treated with DDT. By the summer of 1944 the Allies had sufficient DDT to protect 50,000,000 troops in one month.

Two years after the war, The Textbook of Bacteriology (1947), by Thulman B. Rice, could triumphantly claim: “'The American troops protected by vaccination and armed with DDT for the destruction of lice were able to go into Naples and Buchenwald (Concentration camp) with impunity even when the epidemic was raging.” The writer puts the story of the DDT gun “among the classic stories of epidemiological methods.”

1943, however, was four years after the Germans quarantined the Jewish District of Waisaw, and three years after the decision was made to build walls around the Jewish Ghetto. Thus, the Germans still had to follow the delousing procedures spoken of by Byng and illustrated in the The Cylopedia of Medicine Surgery and Speciaities (1941) by George M. Piersol, Editor. On page 534 one finds:

No specific therapy has yet been developed for typhus. Since endemic typhus is carried by rats and transmitted by rat fleas, the obvious means for prophylaxis is disinfection of the premises of rats or avoidance of the vicinity where they exist. Without lice (carried by rats or infested humans and clothing) epidemic typhus could not exist, therefore, all measures focus on methods of keeping louse-free or delousing. Carrying out these procedures on a large scale may be difficult during war and pestilence, but they should be rigidly enforced.

The Textbook states that elaborate baths and delousing stations may be erected, but simpler methods may be exposing clothing to disinfection by chemicals or heat or to burn the clothes while the individual is bathed and completely shaven. These have proven satisfactory.

Indeed the Germans learned how difficult it was to “carry out these procedures on a large scale.” These methods needed the co-operation of men, women and children to be deloused. Some were hostile to the Germans, and even inspired and ordered by the Underground to sabotage. On the other hand, DDT powder could be readily blown, even unsuspectingly, down the neck or up the sleeves of fully dressed individuals. Within an hour or two the lice were dead, according to the The Science Yearbook of 1945.

The German method meant herding people together, undressing, taking a bath, shaving, changing and washing of clothing.Clothing had to be kept apart and sorted out, and worn-out clothing destroyed in incinerators. Since heat was involved in the delousing and the incinerators using coal or gas were generally close to crematoria, the most hygienic way of disposing of the dead, this method became the target of a vicious anti-German radio and underground campaign. It was easy for gullible people to believe and pass on the story that the Germans had extermination instead of delousing on their minds.

That the Jewish District presented formidable health problems can be learned from the description of the Ghetto (a term not used by Gollert in Warschau unter Deutscher Herrschaft) in the Autobiography of the American Rabbi Stephen Wise. He visited the Ghetto three years before the war and in 1949 wrote that he had seen “crowded, poverty-stricken ghettos in the large cities of other lands” but that nothing could compare with the Ghetto in Warsaw with its “poorest denizens,” “subcellar homes and unimaginable darkest underground hovels.” “Many were tenanted in their day and night occupancy; families were crowded together.”

A similar description is to be found in Europe behind the Iron Curtain, in which the Protestant preacher Martha L. Moennich, page 74, recalled:

“I well remember my first visit to the Warsaw Ghetto in 1939 when I preached to many of these God’s ancient people… Their plight was already a sorrowful one at the time. These unemancipated people — wrapped in their ancient traditions, struggling to eke out an existence by means of a pushcart, crowded into one-room apartments with large families, with no pnvacy, comforts or common facilities to encourage decency — certainly touched my heart".

To these normal unsanitary conditions, Gollert had to factor in the havoc and disarray caused by the siege of Warsaw in September 1939. The city and much of the surrounding area, according to Gollert, had been heavily destroyed, with town, villages and farms burned to the ground. Thousands of refugees from Warsaw andother cities had been uprooted and roamed about aimlessly. Businesses were closed; markets deserted. Many believed that the Germans had come only to plunder and destroy. There was panic and shock. Famine threatened, for farmers were not inclined to sell their products. Half of the crop was lost. The number of cattle, sheep, pigs and horses had been greatly reduced. There was a shortage of machinery, and Poles were reluctant to work with the Germans, even though streets, roads, railroads, telecommunications systems and sewage systems urgently needed repair. Murder and robberies were commonplace. Pure water was rare, as were suitable eating places. Former officials had fled, taking with them valuable records and documents and destroying the rest in order to sabotage the effectiveness of future German administrations.

The Germans met this head-on. Even before the fighting ceased, German soldiers began cleaning up. Military booty was collected; tens of thousands of prisoners of war were put into temporary camps; roads, streets, bridges and railroads were repaired. Although in the beginning there was little Polish cooperation, Gollert spoke positively of the Polish officials and people, who were responsible and prepared to cooperate effectively in the rebuilding.

In writing about the Jews, the writer refiected the thought-world and emotions of National Socialism. One is told that the Jews in pre-war Poland, as in Central and Western Europe, understood how to gain key decision-making posts in the cultural, the industrial, the commercial and financial areas. Nevertheless, Poland was different, since the majority of Jews were neither businessmen nor intellectuals, but workers and artisans. Thus the Germans, besides having to break up the overall national Jewish influence, had also to govern an exceptionally large Jewish population concentrated in compact areas.

Contrary to common conceptions, the Germans had no pre-conceived plan to deal with the Jewish District, except that, for hygienic reasons, the Jewish District was put off limits to German troops. But this did not solve the epidemic problem, so it was decided to quarantine certain areas. This did not envision “an actual moving of men, women and children.” But the epidemic danger persisted as the Jews paid little attention to the quarantine, but went about unhindered. (It seems even that the wearing of the Star of David did not help.) Enforcement was difficult, since “the back streets, yards and dwellings in the District were pictures of disarray, filth and dirt.” The danger of spreading “typhus fever, stomach typhus, (typhoid), diarrhea and other contagious diseases” to other areas continued as Jews were found in the inner city. Thus in May 1940 the Germans, in consultation with Polish repersentatives, decided to wall in the district and, as much as possible, to put the Jews themselves in charge of the health of the District. At one time two districts were considered, but in the last analysis only one was etablished. This was a relatively easy operation, since the Distrist had been quarantined already and the percentage of Jews living there was between 80% to 90%.

This action involved moving out about 700 ethnic Germans and 113,000 Poles, and moving in about 138,000 Jews. About 11,500 Aryan (non-Jewish) homes and dwellings were evacuated in the city, and about 13,000 Jewish homes in the eastern part of the Warsaw District were not included, but continued to live in Jewish encaves, as in Siedlce and Sokolow. A relatively large number did not even live in any areas designated as Jewish. (Note: the word Aryan encompassed all non-Jewish ethnic groups in Poland, not just Germans.)

How separate was the Jewish District? One learns that there was a wall and a fence around it. Special permission was needed to enter and to leave. Administratively the Jews continued to have their 24-member council with, a spokesman, comparable to the mayor of a city. The Germans appointed a German Commissar for the District who was directly under the German Govemor of the GG in Cracow. This Commissar established a Central Transfer Office, which took care of the economic needs of the District.

Within this framework, the District was autonomous. It had own Department of Health, its Office of Housing, its Office for the Registration of the Population, and its Office for Taxation and Finance. There were about 2000 Jewish orderlies (some are pictured in the book), which worked together with the Polish and German authorities. These orderlies were entrusted with the necessary authority to enforce the health rules and to provide the postal service. Gollert was quite explicit regarding the mail service explaining that the German Mail East delivered the mail to the District, who handed it to the Jewish Postal Administration, who in turn gave their mail to the German Mail East. The Jews were charge of the traffic and transit system.

Engaged in a life-and-death struggle, the Germans naturally implemented measures to utilize the workshops of the District for war contracts. These contracts were mutually agreed upon with representatives from the Jews. The necessities of life, as stated, were handled through the Central Transfer Office under the German Commissar, who, so it seems, allowed the Jewish authorities to distribute them as they saw fit.

Was this decision of May 1940 a wise one? Gollert defends it, arguing that with “great clarity” the wall was needed to prevent the outbreaks of epidemics in Warsaw and the surrounding areas. In doing so, the writer cited statistics showing that despite the closeness of the District to the rest of Warsaw (it was practically downtown) and despite some laxity in enforcing the separation, only 10% of all reported typhus cases occurred outside the Jewish District. Economically and militarily, it was also the best policy under the circumstances, since it utilized the Jewish workers for the war effort, while requiring a minimum of German supervision, thus partially alleviating the great German manpower shortage. (Jews were exempted from military service.)

Gollert claims that the organizational talent of the Jews did not match their intellectual abilities, so despite numerous official commissions, organizations and committees, the inhabitants seldom succeeded in a coordinated effort. Although Gollert spoke of Jewish self centeredness and strong individualism, he also struck a positive note, in writing that “generally the actions of the repsentatives of the Jewlsh Districts were satisfactory.”

Concluding the chapter on the Jewish District, Gollert wrote that the arrangement was self evidently a temporary solution until a permanent solution to the Jewish problem could be found. Essentially, the German decision was Jewish, since Jews oppose intermarriages, and insist on their own built-in laws. The Germans also had to fear Polish inspired pogroms against the Jews. The wall prevented that as well.

Seven months later, in April 1943, the Jews, taking advantage of their autonomous situation, staged an uprising, which the Germans put down. This uprising should not be confused with the one in August 1944, when the London based, Polish Government-in-exile staged another abortive uprising in Warsaw, so as to capture Warsaw for the so-called Westem democracies, hoping thereby to guarantee the independence of postwar Poland. Promised help from the Russian forces, who were already in the eastem part of the city, just across the Vistula, did not materialize, as the Russians passively allowed the Germans to eliminate the Polish “Home Army” in this 65-day long battle.

When General Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the city after the war, he called it the most destroyed city of World War II. He failed to mention that by September 1942, when Gollert wrote his Warsaw under German Rule, Warsaw had been rebuilt under German supervision after the destruction of the Warsaw siege of September 1939.


  • Der Volks-Brockhaus, F.U. Brockhaus, Leipzig,1941.
  • The Textbook of Bacteriology, by Edwin O. Jordan, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia and London,1945.
  • A Five Year Peace Plan, Edward J. Byng, Coward-McCann, Inc., New York, 1943.
  • The American Year Book: A Record of Events and Progress for the Year 1943.
  • William M. Schuyler, Editor, Thomas Nelson & Sons, New York,1945.
  • The Textbook of Bacteriology, by Thurman B. Rice, W.B. Saunders Co., Philadelphia and London,1947.
  • Cyclopedia of Medicine Surgery and Specialities by George M. Piersol,
  • Editor. Vol.15, F.A. Davis, Philadelphia, l941.
  • The Science Yearbook of 1945, John C. Radcliff, Editor, Doubleday, New York, 1945.
  • Europe Behind the Iron Curtain, by Martha L. Moennich, Zondervin Co., 1949.
  • The New Concise Pictorial Encyclopedia, Garden City, New York, 1938.
  • Challenging Year: The Autobiography of Stephen Wise, G.P. Putnam’s Sons, New York, 1949.