Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

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Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 25 May 2023 22:19

The Ringelblum Archive
Underground Archive of the Warsaw Ghetto
Warsaw Ghetto. Everyday life (Volume 1)
No date, Warsaw-ghetto. [Stanislaw Różycki], A study of "Kawiarnie" [Cafes].
Cafés, restaurants and hotels in the ghetto, descriptions of individual locales and customer profiles
The sweep of issues connected with cafés is so broad that the scope of matters connected with the life of a café that can be of interest to us will, eo ipso, be very wide-ranging.
Due to the lack of clubs, unions, associations, stock exchanges, parks, cinemas, playing fields, dance halls, etc., cafés in the ghetto play a significant role in both social and public life. Hence, they substitute for theatres, cabarets, revues, and cinemas.
Moreover, inside you will find not only cabarets and music, but also groceries and restaurants. Black-market goods are sold here. Smugglers meet here to make their deals. Middlemen feel at home here. Goods are offered and sought after. Lovers come to have their rendezvous. Human trafficking has found a shelter here, not to mention prostitution, which—as always—flourishes in cafés. Hence, matters of art, morality, gastronomy, trade, welfare, the penal code, etc. all mix here alongside each other.

Cafés attract consumers, chance clients, and frequenters. Some are hungry for art, the spoken word, music, humor, and poetry.
Others look for "contacts"—they want to get in touch with prostitutes to satisfy their sexual desires. Some want to drink a real mocha and eat a tasty piece of cake—rare and major treats available to but a few. Some want to have fun, to get away from the bleakness of everyday life, and breathe in a different atmosphere once a week, once a month, just for an hour.
Others have a date with a middleman, or come to close a good deal and then spring for coffee, or vodka, to seal the deal. Others have their office here—they have opened a currency exchange office or a stock exchange. They make payments, collect money, sell, buy, act as a middleman, make offers, and earn, earn, earn.
And everybody has (or wants to have) the illusion that the atmosphere of the café will separate them from the reality of the street, from grim everyday life.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 15 Jun 2023 17:10

L'Ours
This is the largest, the most beautifully furnished, and the most popular café. Even though there are several spacious rooms, it has been bustling, full, crowded and packed nonstop since March 10th. It gets even worse at 1-2 and 5-6 p.m.
Even the most minor deals require a meeting, preferably in a neutral place. And L'Ours is perfect for this because an individual gets no attention here anyway. Moreover, the place is in the centre (at Leszno Street 58) and its luxuriousness and comfort attract "better" clients.

When you enter the café for the first time you get the impression that the war had never broken out. Except for the armbands there are no traces of war, captivity, or the ghetto. The faces of the clients are not gaunt. On the contrary, people look normal and well-fed. Their clothes are perfectly decent, if not smart. The ladies are dressed up, powdered, and made up like [in pre-war times].
They promote fashion "made in the ghetto," as if their only problems were the ones they had yesterday, when they jabbered about clothes, movies, and beaus. The men too are wearing very fine clothes. Their ties, sweaters, socks, and handkerchiefs all match the color of their suits, as if nothing has changed.

Nowadays, we worry only about how to dress warmly in winter, and in summer our only worry is how to conserve as much clothing as possible for winter. By contrast, they worry about buttons, colours, and cuts. Even though the older men are "only" well dressed, the fabric [of their clothes] is brand new (a suit costs 3,000 zlotys), and their shirts are silk and clean (while we wash our shirts less and less often, because we have too few of them, and because washing is costly and damages the clothes).

They enter the café, nonchalantly bow left and right (they all know each other), choose their table, frown, fuss, order mocha ("but make sure it's real") and pastries ("I would like to order abisynki, croquettes, stefanki",) light up fragrant cigars, and stretch out in the armchairs.
Having expressed their satisfaction with the music (the orchestra is playing `Si, si, si, this is a tramp's serenade'), the cakes, and the whole café, they get down to business. [...]

But it is certain that the vast majority is quite rich and well-fed. Many eat 2-3 pieces of cake. Here and there you can see an apple, a ham sandwich, or an alcoholic beverage. It is difficult to say who speculates, accepts bribes, steals, bribes, trades with the Germans, or denounces his compatriots. But it is certain that most clients have an income. There are no saddened, hopeless faces. Laughter often lights up the faces of the young ladies and men. [...]

Waitresses from "society". Very elegant and good-looking, they wear necklaces, rings, and silk. They add charm and elegance, which dazzles a person coming in from the street grown unaccustomed to such sights. This is a real oasis of luxury, comfort, sybaritism, and carelessness surrounded by the quagmire of hunger, disease, captivity, and utter hopelessness. [...]
These younger ones behave like kings and look out on their surroundings with a commanding gaze.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 09 Jul 2023 01:42

Arizona
A small bar and café in the basement of the Britania Hotel where the richest inhabitants of the ghetto live, having lost their former places of residence. Yes, the rooms are expensive, but you have electricity, central heating, clean bedclothes, breakfast, dinner, and supper on the spot. Along with pleasures and entertainment, too. You do not have to walk out into the dirty street to spend the day in a decent and pleasurable way, away from the spectre of the war and the ghetto.
Because here you have a bar, a café, and a restaurant. You can play cards, dance, drink, and enjoy the company of women. You name it, you got it. "Heaven on Earth." Music, singing, a positive frame of mind, and wit add amusement to the bleak boredom of the life of a smuggler.
[...]
In the hall, there is a conversation about a woman named Irenka who fled from Samuel's bed in the middle fo the night. Everybody has heard about it.
The waitresses provide more details.
"I understand Irenka because he is an awful boor. His breath stinks, his palms are cold, and he sweats profusely." How can she know that? "He was a wagoner before the war," adds another one more quietly. "But now he has money to burn."

Enough. This will do. We can imagine what goes on here after curfew when no new guests come in. All the clients are rich guests of the Hotel Britania who like to have fun. The waitresses, other women, and music are available all night long ("He gave me 100 zlotys today," says the pianist). Vodka, wine, pastries, meat, mayonnaise, fruit— none of it will run out. Everybody is in "good spirits." So the thing is not to worry.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 12 Jul 2023 00:50

Splendid
Gold [famous pre-war composer and pianist] is playing with the best jazz orchestra of the ghetto, and Kagan [another famous pre-war composer and pianist] is on the piano. Their playing is excellent, rhythmic, and breathtaking. The biggest hits of the pre-war dance floors and a few Yiddish folk songs.
The atmosphere in this basement is overly erotic. [...] the melodies, the lyrics, and the dance rhythm of the songs [...] everything revolves around one topic.
Obviously, this is the only entirely safe topic (provided that you do not offend public morals). Consequently, the most eagerly copied lyrics are those with erotic allusions. The Negro rhythm of the wild and untamed jazz orchestra is nevertheless dissonant. It grates against the background of the slow, monotonous, and complete bleakness of everyday life. And it is shocking and creates an unnatural, sick atmosphere.
It seems unreal, out of this world. This contrast is too brutal. Who needs this much obvious eroticism? As if nowadays such thoughts could indeed occupy our tormented consciousness to such an extent. But the audience gives in, bends to the rhythm, and lets itself be seduced.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by Sid Guttridge » 12 Jul 2023 18:02

Hi wm,

Without a date and an original source, we can learn little from this. From memory, deaths in the Warsaw Ghetto only began to increase drastically in late 1940. Until then there were still resources within the Jewish community to sustain the semblance of normal social and commercial existence, as described above.

So, who wrote this and when were they describing?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 14 Jul 2023 02:15

The cafés and theatres existed to the very end, so it's immaterial when.
It had to be 1942 because, till September 1941, the author still lived in the Soviet occupation zone. Nothing more is known.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 15 Jul 2023 22:54

Sztuka
Converts, educated bourgeois, and the ghetto "elite" call the tune here. Proud that they had been rich before the war, they look with contempt on the nouveau-riche profiteers.
"The people by the window had bogus bills in our bank and they did not buy them up. They were suspected of malicious bankruptcy and would have ended up in prison had it not been for the war ..." a university-educated waitress informs me with contempt.
The atmosphere of snobbery, aristocratic affectation, vanity, and fake elegance floods the room. Most clients are pre-war frequenters of the IPS, Ziemianska, Zodiak, SiM, and Europa cafés [elite cafés frequented even by members of the government].
They keep up their spirits. They do not mingle with "commoners."

They are somewhat well-read. [...] They were familiar with Tuwim, Słonimski, and Hemar [the most famous pre-war Polish poets - all of Jewish origin].
Nowadays they make with Szlengel, Fokszański, and Włast. They are excited about "Prince" Goldfeder and Wiera Gran's singing.

You will hear neither spoken Yiddish nor any Yiddish songs here.
Their mugs show that they are particularly discontented because they have to mingle with the ghetto masses.
They want nothing to do with Jewry. Why, they never miss Sunday mass. They hate the street and being equated with the "lousy yids" with whom they have to share their fate.
Their yearnings become apparent in Sztuka. Its converted co-owner, Mrs. Czarnecka, whose husband works for the Judenrat, walks proudly among the tables, making sure everything is in order. She watches over her sheep. [...]

The waitresses are educated ladies "of quality," adequately clumsy and with adequate chutzpah. They reluctantly serve the customers and make too many mistakes on the cheques.
But the aristocracy went through a bad time some time ago in France and not so long ago in Russia, too. So their martyrdom is also sacred. Hence their sweetly suffering superior smile.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by Sid Guttridge » 16 Jul 2023 06:15

Hi wm,

It appears from this that these "cafes" substituted for almost every other social activity in the ghetto, "Due to the lack of clubs, unions, associations, stock exchanges, parks, cinemas, playing fields, dance halls, etc., cafés in the ghetto play a significant role in both social and public life. Hence, they substitute for theatres, cabarets, revues, and cinemas."

In other words, they were the ONLY form of social normalcy in the ghetto and available to very few.

In fact, over 1940 to mid-1942, between 83,000 and 92,000 Jews died of starvation and disease in the Warsaw ghetto.

I would suggest that your headline, "Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto" misrepresents life for the overwhelming majority of people in the ghetto. "Famine and the occasional cake for an exclusive few" would be a more accurate representation.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 21 Jul 2023 23:33

The total number of these cafés exeeds 100 (including restaurants, tavers, and bars.)
What is the reaction of the street, the masses, the people? For let us be magnanimous and not mention the authorities. Nobody has vandalised any of the establishments yet.

However, everybody - a beggar, poor man, pauper, and child - grates their teeth when the bourgeois, having gorged themselves and spent several dozen zlotys, dare say to a beggar that they have no change or cannot spare any money, or that [beggars] should not stink up the street, etc.
...
[T]he existence of such establishments-aside from Arizona and the quasi-brothels- is not a bad thing itself.
The point is that such establishments should exist not only for feasting and drinking, not only for snobs and idlers, not only for smugglers and speculators, but also for workingmen, for clerks, for employed intelligentsia, and for the proletariat. Their luxuriousness and high prices, their atmosphere and their catering of the riff-raff, make these establishments unavailable to the [social] strata listed above.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 03 Aug 2023 02:41

As seen from the other side, hiring a waitress:
With my makeup done according to Stella’s guidance, although frozen and very weak, I again run through the streets marked by despair, crossing the bridge, fighting the blows of the December wind. Out of breath, in desperation I push open the door of the “Happy Sailor.”

The owner, “Bulgy,” with his popping eyes, looks at me inquisitively. Then he says, “‘She’ can stay. ‘She’ knows what to do?”

“Of course, I know. Wait on tables, be nice to the clients, and in the evening I will get bread,” I recite in one breath.

“Hold on, ‘she’ shouldn’t be so quick with that bread. ‘She’ knows that I have an elegant clientele?” “I know.” “My clientele, they work hard to be so elegant. They smuggle goods through the guard posts, and it’s a nerve-wracking business. So they need to have a little fun later. ‘She’ sees that door?”

He opens a door in the corridor covered with a curtain. I see a small room with a table covered with a colorful cloth and a sofa. a pink light shines down from the sleazy lampshade. “When the clientele asks, ‘she’ must go inside there and do anything they ask, and do not refuse. Their pockets are full of money. When ‘she’ is kind, they will spare no expense.

“And, if I don’t go in there, can I stay?”

“No. There is a war on right now, and this is not the time to make a stink. The other waitress is only 15 and doesn’t make a fuss. My clientele must enjoy themselves, and I do not have a big show or other attractions like the revues at ‘The Eye of the Sea’ or the cancan for them. So what do they have to do? For just food they prefer to go to Adagio. ‘She’ is too thin anyway, but if ‘she’ wants, with the guests ‘she’ can eat some food.”
Empty Water by Krystyna Żywulska

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by michael mills » 03 Aug 2023 03:42

In response t Sid Guttridge, there was a direct relationship between the cakes and the famine. Enough food reached the Warsaw Ghetto, in the form of rations for labourers and food aid from the private organisations in the US channelled through the official Jewish Self-Help organisation recognised by the German authorities, to have kept all the inhabitants alive if equally distributed, if only just. The problem was that the available food was not equally distributed; those with money to pay for food feasted at the cafes while the most vulnerable members of the population, the poor, the orphans, the elderly without employed relative, went without and eventually died of malnutrition.

The total number of Jews imprisoned in the Warsaw Ghetto was around 500,000. A total mortality of 92,000 was not particularly great, and in the first months of 1942 the death rate declined, primarily because most because the most vulnerable parts of the population had died.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by Sid Guttridge » 03 Aug 2023 06:46

Hi Michael Mills,

You post, "A total mortality of 92,000 was not particularly great".

Out of 500,000 people in three years? At that rate all would have been dead in 11 years! That is "Not particularly great"?

They were held in German custody and so the Germans were responsible for their welfare.

How many of the 80,000,000 Germans of the Reich demonstrably died of starvation and its consequences in the six years of the war? Any? (Please note the word "demonstrably").

We have been through this several times. The ration allowed to Jews in the Ghetto was far below that needed to survive. If all the food you claim the US was sending to the Ghetto was sufficient "to have kept all the inhabitants alive if equally distributed", why was the official ration allowed by the Germans set so far below survivability levels?

Seven years ago I asked you, "How does one redistribute a ration of between 198 and 503 calories a day so that everyone gets fed the minimum calories a day needed to maintain physical health?" You didn't answer then. Perhaps you would do so now?

(And don't come back again with the proposition that the Germans factored in smuggling. If they were delivering enough food in the first place, which you claim was available, they wouldn't have had to factor in smuggling and wouldn't have introduced a ration that reportedly got as low as 184 calories a day.)

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by gebhk » 03 Aug 2023 12:04

demonstrably died of starvation
Hi Sid.

The problem is that people rarely die of starvation just as they, well, never die of old age. They generally die of other causes and pre-antibiotics it was infections which usually 'did the job', as the organism, weakened by malnourishment, was unable to fight them off. Thus the impact of famines can usually only be assessed by excess mortality, which is fine if famine is the only significant causative factor.

One needs to bear in mind that in pre-war Poland, poverty was wide-spread and the average calorific intake was below what could be called healthy, before we even begin to look at the other inadequacies of the average diet. Thus many of those going into the ghettos were already chronically malnourished. Average longevity pre-war was 48 for men and 51 for women and the crude death rate per 1000 was around 14 in 1938.

If the figures quoted (92K deaths over 3 years from a population of 500K) and my sums are right, there were (assuming an even split of deaths over 3 years) 31K deaths per year which translates to a crude death rate of approx 61 per thousand in the first year. This figure seems to speak for itself - even if we take into account potential confounders such as differences in the cross section of the population, birth rate and other significant causes of death such as inadequate housing, violence etc. To what extent malnourishment was a contributory cause we will probably never know exactly but it beggars belief that it was not significant and probably paramount. In the end, regardless of the causes, incarceration in the Ghettos caused a massive increase in death rate, for which the German administration was entirely responsible.

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 03 Aug 2023 17:19

The problem is the Jews were the wealthiest nationality in Poland. For example, Joseph Marcus writes:
Yet, notwithstanding the ravages of war and its consequences - inflation, disturbed markets and economic restrictions - the contribution of the Jews in Poland was comparatively of such a dimension that, between the end of the eighteenth century and 1929, the last year before the Great Depression, per caput real income of the Jews went up by 350 percent, while that of the non-Jewish urban population declined.
And Jewish social security system (financed by taxes and donations) was quite effective (Jewish communities were public corporations with the right to tax).
As result, the Polish Jews lived longer and enjoyed better health than the Poles.
In Warsaw, 7.5 years longer (men) and 4 years (women).

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Re: Cakes and famine - life in the Warsaw Ghetto

Post by wm » 03 Aug 2023 19:59

As I understand it, the Warsaw Jews were able to survive because they worked and earned money, spent their savings, and in the end, sold their belongings to buy food. Although every month, a small minority ran out of money and belongings and eventually died.

But in 1941-1942, ghettos around Warsaw were systematically transferred to the Warsaw Ghetto. Tens of thousands of their inhabitants had to leave their possessions behind.
Even worse, they were basically robbed blind of their money and personal valuables by the Germans responsible for the transfers, the guards, the Jewish Police, and officials of the Judenrat. It was all massive criminal activity.
With money or valuables, the transferred people had to die quickly, and they were responsible for the high mortality in the later period.

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