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Adam Czerniaków (1880 – July 23, 1942) was a Polish-Jewish engineer
and senator, born in Warsaw, Poland. He committed suicide in the
Warsaw Ghetto on July 23, 1942.
He studied engineering and taught in the Jewish community's vocational
school in Warsaw. From 1927 to 1934 he served as a member of the
Warsaw Municipal Council, and in 1931 he was elected to the Polish
Senate. On October 4, 1939, a few days after the city's surrender to
the Nazis, Czerniakow was made head of the 24 member Judenrat, (Jewish
Council) responsible for implementing German orders in the Jewish
German forces began preparing for mass deportations from the Warsaw
Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp in July 1942 and the Jewish
Council was ordered to provide lists of Jews and maps of residences.
On July 22, 1942, the Judenrat received instructions that all Warsaw
Jews were to be deported to the East. Exceptions were made for Jews
working in German factories, Jewish hospital staff, members of the
Judenrat with their families, members of the Jewish Ghetto Police with
their families. Over the course of the day, Czerniakow was able to
obtain exemptions for a handful of individuals, including sanitation
workers, husbands of women working factories, and some vocational
students. He was not, however, despite all his pleading, able to
obtain an exemption for orphans from the Janusz Korczak's orphanage.
The orders further stated that the deportations would begin
immediately at the rate of 6,000 people per day, to be supplied by the
Judenrat and rounded up by the Jewish Ghetto Police. Failure to comply
would result in immediate execution of some one hundred hostages,
including employees of the Judenrat and Czerniakow's own wife.
Realizing that deportation meant death, Czerniakow went to plead for
the orphans. When he failed, he returned to his office and took one of
the cyanide capsules he had been keeping for just such an occasion. He
left a suicide note to his wife and one to his fellow members of the
Judenrat, explaining: "I can no longer bear all this. My act will
prove to everyone what is the right thing to do."
Czerniakow kept a diary from September 6, 1939, until the day of his
death. It has been published in 1979 and translated into English. Adam
Czerniakow is interred in the Okopowa street cemetery in Warsaw.
In the 2001 Warner Bros. motion picture, Uprising, actor Donald
Sutherland portrayed Adam Czerniakow.
See also Chaim Rumkowski.
Raul Hilberg, The Warsaw Diary of Adam Czerniakow: Prelude to Doom,
Ivan R. Dee, Publisher, 1999, ISBN 1566632307.
 External links
The Warsaw diary of Adam Czerniakow is a valuable document of the
events that took place there. The Polish original was published for
the first time over forty years after it was written, in 1983.
Czerniakow's notes encompass the period from September 6, 1939, to
July 23, 1942. They include information about the problems facing the
ghetto, orders received from the occupiers, conversations, meetings,
and about Czerniakow's own experiences. He only noted down things that
were related to his official position, leaving aside many other
matters, which emphasizes the personal character of this document.
After Czerniakow's suicide, E. Ringelblum, in his own notes, expressed
his regret that he did not have that document. This was despite (or
perhaps because of) the fact that he himself, as most residents of the
ghetto, condemned Czerniakow's stance towards the Germans. It is
interesting that Czerniakow knew about what was known as Ringelblum's
"Oneg Shabat" action (creating the ghetto archives). He is said to
have appreciated the project, but in the over one thousand pages of
diary, the name Ringelblum never appeared once. Czerniakow's notes
disappeared for many years, and it was thought that they were gone
forever. Czerniakow's wife, Dr. Felicja Czerniakow, had saved them.
With the help of friends, she managed to leave the ghetto after her
husband's death, and hid for ten months in the home of Dr. Grabowska,
and then at Professor Apolinary Rudnicki's, the director of the First
Lyceum of the Union of Polish Secondary School Teachers. Czerniakow's
notes resurfaced mysteriously in 1964 in Canada, and were bought by
the Yad Vashem Institute in Jerusalem.
Czerniaków served as the model for engineer Lewin, one of the
characters in the play Smocza 13 by Stefania Zahorska, which deals
with how Jews reacted to the "final solution"-whether they chose to
rebel or fight. (asw/cm)