How the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto Defeated a Pandemic

In the summer of 1941, the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto were struck by a severe outbreak of typhus—to which they were especially vulnerable due to overcrowding, poor hygienic conditions, and widespread malnutrition. Yet infection rates dropped by some 40 percent in November, just when they would be expected to rise sharply as the weather grew colder. Emanuel Ringelblum, the ghetto’s leading historian, wrote at the time that “there was no way of explaining rationally” why the plague abated. But a recent scientific study appears to have found an explanation, as Eva Botkin-Kowacki reports:

Official numbers suggest that there was a total of 20,160 cases [of typhus in the ghetto], but the researchers . . . dug into other historical reports and estimated that 80,000 to 110,000 [of about 460,000] residents were infected. They suggest that the official numbers are likely low because residents were afraid to come forward in fear of repercussions from the Nazis. Some 20,000 residents died of typhus, and many more died from hunger while suffering from the illness.

[T]he Nazis’ efforts to ghettoize Jews in Warsaw had inadvertently created a hub of doctors. There were about 800 physicians among those imprisoned there, and many more nurses and scientists. . . . [They] established a health council, procured vaccines as much as they could, held public lectures on preventative health, sanitation, and hygiene, set up an underground medical school, and conducted scientific studies.

[T]he new health council advocated for a decentralized approach to fight the epidemic. While the Nazi authorities forced draconian quarantines and mobilized punitive sanitation squads, . . . the health council focused on education and independent empowerment whenever possible. Cleanliness was encouraged and often enforced. Self-isolation and social distancing became basic practice and common sense. And community kitchens were set up by volunteer groups and food smugglers to help feed the starving population.

Of those who survived disease and privation, most were murdered at the Treblinka death camp during the subsequent two years.

Read more at Christian Science Monitor

More about: Holocaust, Medicine, Warsaw Ghetto


Hamas Wants a Renewed Ceasefire, but Doesn’t Understand Israel’s Changed Attitude

Yohanan Tzoreff, writing yesterday, believes that Hamas still wishes to return to the truce that it ended Friday morning with renewed rocket attacks on Israel, but hopes it can do so on better terms—raising the price, so to speak, of each hostage released. Examining recent statements from the terrorist group’s leaders, he tries to make sense of what it is thinking:

These [Hamas] senior officials do not reflect any awareness of the changed attitude in Israel toward Hamas following the October 7 massacre carried out by the organization in the western Negev communities. They continue to estimate that as before, Israel will be willing to pay high prices for its people and that time is working in their favor. In their opinion, Israel’s interest in the release of its people, the pressure of the hostages’ families, and the public’s broad support for these families will ultimately be decisive in favor of a deal that will meet the new conditions set by Hamas.

In other words, the culture of summud (steadfastness), still guides Hamas. Its [rhetoric] does not show at all that it has internalized or recognized the change in the attitude of the Israeli public toward it—which makes it clear that Israel still has a lot of work to do.

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli Security