THE WARSAW DIARY OF ADAM CZERNIAKOW: Prelude to Doom by Raul; Stanislaw Staron & Joseph Kermisz--Eds. Hilberg


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From 1939 until his suicide in 1942, Adam Czerniakow was the Nazi-appointed chairman of the Warsaw Jewish Council (Judenrat). An engineer by training, Czerniakow had gained recognition before the war as a defender of Jewish artisans, and the mayor of Warsaw appointed him chairman of the Jewish community at the outbreak of hostilities, when more distinguished members of the Jewish population were fleeing the embattled city. This new prominence led the Nazis to choose him for his final position: as mediator between the warlords and their Jewish prisoners, Czerniakow was forced to implement Nazi orders in the Ghetto even as he tirelessly interceded with the Germans for mercy and a measure of reasoned justice. His diary, composed of eight surviving small, handwritten notebooks, bears witness to his steadfastness in this cruelly ambiguous role. Where he writes of the arbitrary massacres, or of the presumed death of his only son, he also describes tiny triumphs: the temporary reopening of the main synagogue, the provision of some education within Ghetto walls, a more equitable food rationing program for the poor. Most strikingly, the diary reveals Czerniakow's refusal to surrender his own sense of human dignity. Plain-spoken and matter-of-fact, he never lapses into self-pity: when tortured, he simply describes the event and lodges a formal complaint. Was this pure foolishness, merely a continuation of the age-old Jewish method of dealing with anti-Semites in power? No, for however bestial the Nazis, the head of the Judenrat preserves his stature as a civilized being. And such is the power of this often awkward book that even Czerniakow's reading of his beloved Cervantes becomes not an escape from reality, but a moving, if futile, reaffirmation of his faith in a reality with no room for the Nazis. When the final deportation began, and Czerniakow was asked finally to betray his people, he took his own life. The work he left behind is ample proof of his courage.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1978
Publisher: Stein & Day