Adam Czerniakow

Introduction

Scholars may only rely on Adam Czerniakow’s Warsaw diary if they combine findings from the source with other materials on Nazi Germany. The diary is a vital source of information, but it brings with it the biases, fears and the limitations of the author. To overcome those biases, scholars must use information from other sources in order fill in missing details as well as to extract meaning from the tests.

Usefulness of the diary as a primary source

Adam Czerniakow was a renowned Jewish leader. He held many positions in his professional as well as his civic life. This means that everything he wrote was in a way related to his leadership responsibilities. A scholar who is interested in learning about the Nazi regime would find his entries quite useful because they were written from a communal, not a personal perspective. Since he was at the centre of the Jewish Council of elders in the ghettos, he was in touch with new developments in his community.

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One should note that the Nazi regime ousted Jews from their homes and placed them in ghettos. In order to speed up the execution of their commands, they appointed a council of elders, of which Czerniakow was a part. Many analysts assert that the Nazi government absolved themselves from blame by pointing fingers at the Judenrat (Jewish council).

However, that this was mere propaganda: Czerniakow and other members of the Judenrat were committed to the freedom and rights of their people. Other opposing groups such as the Thirteen arose in Czerniakow’s jurisdiction. And as he states in his 25th February entry, he despised this group’s leader (Abraham Gancwajch). [1]

Perhaps this is one of the influences that scholars ought to think about when using Czerniakow’s diary as a primary source. Given the fact that the ghetto was disunited, it is likely that Czerniakow wanted to paint his opponents in a negative light in these entries. Another way one may look at his biases is with regard to his associations with the Nazi officials.

Since he was the president of the Jewish Council, his position was like that of major. As such, he had to interact with the Nazis more than others. Adam was in a very difficult position; as a president of the Jewish Council he could not oppose or fight against the Nazi regime directly.

On the other hand, as a community head, he needed to demonstrate strong political leadership, which could entail direct confrontations with the Nazis. These divided tensions may have caused him to refrain from talking about Nazi deficiencies. One can thus understand why his diary contains very little information about the wickedness of that empire.

The government Commissioner in the ghetto needed to act cordially towards Czerniakow since he was quite powerful in the Jewish community. He may have feared the reactions of such a man if he knew all their secrets. In one instance, the Ghetto commissioner went to discuss critical matters at the Nazi headquarters.

He did not inform Adam about this development, and it was only later when they announced that they would execute massive resettlements on 19th January 1942.[2] The Nazis deliberately hid information from Adam thus making his entries incomplete. It is imperative to support his assertions with diaries or letters from other unofficial Jews because they probably saw things from a different light.

Adam’s limited knowledge is quite evident when one reads the entry he made on 20th July 1942. At the time, he heard rumors that some deportation would take place on that day. Czerniakow stayed in denial about this for a whole day. One can thus deduce that Czerniakow’s had limited knowledge.

If one wants to find out about the organization of the execution orders or their initiation, then one should consider getting primary sources from the other side. Jewish recordings of the Holocaust were limited to their personal experiences. The government controlled and manipulated media sources such that the Jews and non Jews could only hear what the government wanted them to hear. Consequently, one cannot solely rely on their perspective for information about the organization of their execution.

Fears of the Nazis’ reaction to the diary may also have altered Czerniakow’s entries tremendously. He knew that the ruthless leaders could confiscate his diary and use it against him. If he wrote anti-Nazi remarks about them, or talked about a plan for rescuing his people, then the government officials would have killed him. What’s worse, the entries might have endangered his family’s life. This was the reason why he could not get too graphic about the many evils committed by the Third Reich.

The use of a diary as a primary source for historical analyses always creates a number of problems to the academician, and this is true for Czerniakow’s diary. First, one must tackle the problem of meaning-making. Statements are rarely straightforward; scholars should decide on what the author was trying to say especially in relation to the topic under analysis.[3]

For example, when Adam wrote that it was raining on 11th June 1941, he adds that the rain did not come at any cost to them. A scholar may interpret this statement in a series of ways; one may assume that the Jews were quite used to the rain, so none of them stopped their usual activities because of it. Alternatively, one may presume that the rains destroyed people’s property in other towns, but when it poured in the Jewish community no such flooding took place.

One the other hand, one may deduce that the ghetto was highly underfunded, so the Jews had nothing to loose in the rain; they did not have much property or things to protect. Consequently, this may have left their economic fortunes unaltered. For one to make the latter deduction, one must have the ability to connect the word ‘cost’, as stated in the entry, to the economic status of the ghetto.

One must look for additional information to better understand some of the statements in the diary, yet this information may not be available. If one does not know the context of the text, then one cannot use the diary accurately. For instance Adam mentioned several names of persons in the Council, the opposing camp as well as the Nazi regime. Unless one knew the names of all these persons, then one would not understand the significance of his entries.

Conclusion

The Czerniakow diary is a useful piece of information for studying Nazi Germany, but on its own, it is not sufficient. First, the author’s position as a community leader affected his ability to access information from the officials. He also had an agenda of playing down his opponents’ challenges.

Additionally, the author had limited knowledge owing to Nazi communication controls. The writer’s fears concerning the confiscation of his diary may have changed his entries. Lastly, one can interpret his statements in multiple ways, and thus overlook certain things. It is only by combining the diary with other primary sources that one can get a full grasp of the Holocaust.

Bibliography

Dobson, Miriam, and Benjamin Ziemann. Reading primary sources: The interpretation of tests from nineteenth and 20th Century History. NY: Taylor and Francis, 2009.

“The Warsaw diary of Adam Czerniakow.” Holocaustresearchproject.org. Last modified 2007. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/acdiary.html

“The Warsaw diary of Adam Czerniakow.” Holocaustresearchproject.org, last modified 2007. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/acdiary.html
“The Warsaw diary of Adam Czerniakow.” Holocaustresearchproject.org, last modified 2007. http://www.holocaustresearchproject.org/ghettos/acdiary.html
Miriam Dobson and Benjamin Ziemann, Reading primary sources: The interpretation of tests from nineteenth and 20th Century History (NY: Taylor and Francis, 2009), 182

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