Warsaw is almost a character unto itself in The Silver Sword; its suffering and destruction figure largely in the tale of the Balicki children and their quest to find their parents. Thus, here we will look briefly at Warsaw just before and during WWII.
Poland was sandwiched between Germany and the Soviet Union, and Warsaw, Poland's capital, had 1.3 million inhabitants. Poland was created as a state in the aftermath of WWI, and was a major center for Jewish life and culture.
The Germans invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, beginning of World War II. The bombing of Warsaw began very early on. Families lost their homes, buildings were in ruins, and basic necessities became scarce.
German officials ordered the creation of a Judenrat (Jewish council) under a Jewish engineer. This man, Adam Czerniakow, was tasked with carrying out German orders and creating the ghetto. In November of 1939 Jews in Warsaw had to wear white armbands with a blue Star of David. Jewish schools were closed, property was seized, and many Jews were forced into labor for the Germans.
The Warsaw ghetto was officially established on October 12th, 1940. Eventually there were over 400,000 Jews living in an area of 1.3 square miles. Conditions were horrid, and food was scarce. Typhus swept through the population. In 1942’s Operation Reinhardt German SS and police units carried out mass deportations from the ghetto to a killing center in Treblinka; 35,000 Jews were initially killed.
In January 1943 more Jews were to be sent to forced labor camps, but, thinking they would be sent to Treblinka, they resisted with arms. The officers captured 5,000 Jews, but stopped after that. A few months later the Germans intended to liquidate the ghetto and transport the people within to forced labor camps, but resistance grew inside and the Germans had to halt their efforts. Unfortunately, 42,000 Jews were captured during the uprising and deported, while about 7,000 were killed while fighting or hiding and another 7,000 were sent to Treblinka.
The Polish Home Army, an underground resistance movement, ratcheted up its efforts to liberate Warsaw; this was initiated by the presence of Soviet troops on the banks of the neighboring Vistula River. The Soviets did not intervene at this time, and the resistance had to carry on alone. The Germans destroyed the revolt ,but Warsaw was finally liberated by Soviet troops on January 17th, 1945. The city was almost completely destroyed, with only 6% (174,000) of the population remaining.