The Warsaw Ghetto Death Cards collection at the Jewish Historical Institute,
Warsaw (JHI), provides a remarkable view into the lives and deaths of almost 10,000 individuals, mostly
Jews. While their origins are clouded in mystery, and it is uncertain how they ended up in the JHI,
historians and archivists have concluded that the Death Cards were likely found in the ruins of the
Mayoral Office that was virtually destroyed during the Warsaw Uprising.
The collection of 9,924 cards are mostly from 1941, with the rest from 1939. Fire and the fading of
the script through aging makes it difficult to read many of the cards and decipher the information.
Sometimes, the writing style creates a problem. Nonetheless, great efforts have been made to extract
and record every piece of information on each card.
The cards were usually filled by two individuals: (1) a doctor who recorded
the last and first name, date of death, and sex of the deceased. On the reverse side he wrote the cause
of death (in Polish or Latin), signed his name and put an official stamp; (2) a clerk, who - depending
on available information - filled the balance of the card, including first names of parents, birth
dates (usually the year only), denomination, address, marital status, and occupation. In the category
"citizenship," the clerk entered numbers, the meaning of which is not known. Information for
children noted if they were born to their parents or outside the marriage. Occasionally, dates of
hospitalizations were given. In some cases he would describe living conditions of the deceased, date of
marriage, and spouse's age. Sometimes this part of the card was filled by a relative.
In one case the collection contains two cards for the same individual, each filled independently by
a different physician. Under the doctor's signature it is noted that the deceased female was of Moslem
In general, the death cards from 1939 contain little information: the last name,
date of burial (considered the date of death), place of residence, approximate age, and sometimes the cause
of death (usually, war casualty). Similarly, a few categories are filled for persons, whose names were
unknown and whose cards are designated as NN in a separate group. This group also contains cards, which
because of damage (burns; some other physical imperfection; fading; difficult writing style) made it
impossible to decipher the last name or a part of the name of the deceased (in such cases at the beginning
or the end of the name the symbol (e) was placed to indicate physical damage). When the first name could be
established - even when the last two letters were missing - such as in Ruchla - the symbol (e) was used to
indicate that the card was damaged. Symbols in the database are as follows:
no data given
damaged by fire
pencil faded handwriting
card consists of information originally given on 2 cards
(about) this year; probably
daughter (written by doctors, clerks)
son (written by doctors, clerks)
Those who died in the Warsaw ghetto in 1941 usually came from the poorest segments of the Jewish community
as witnessed by their occupations, porter, peddler, laborer or domestic. The profession of women is often
stated as a housewife and in the case of older persons as a dependent. Many were residents of refugee centers
and homeless shelters.
Causes of death: The most common cause of death was inanito (deprivation) with the phrase "of
hunger" added. Most children died of colitis. Many people died of heart disease such as myocarditis
(degeneratio musculi cordis), cardiomyopathy (adynamia musculi cordis), and CHF (insufficienta musculi cordis).
A cause of death translation list has been compiled by Dr. Kris Murawski. An Excel version can be downloaded by
clicking here. It is best to use a Polish font to read the list.
The restoration and preservation of the card collection, mostly by hot lamination, was completed between
1995 and 1997. The work was carried out by the Paper Conservation Department at the Jewish Historical Institute
at an estimated cost of $10,000.
Jewish Records Indexing - Poland funded the data entry of the information from the cards.
The work was completed in September 2002.
All information recorded on the Death Card has been documented on the database. There
is no further information that can be provided by the Jewish Historical Institute. The fundraising target for this
initiative was $3,000. JRI-Poland would like to thank the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany and JGS,
Inc (NY) for their support of this worthy project.
For copies of the Death cards, please contact The Emanuel Ringelblum Jewish Historical Institute, Jewish
Genealogy & Family Heritage Center, ul. Tlomackie 3/5, 00-090 Warsaw, Poland.
For further information, please contact Warsaw Ghetto Death Project Coordinator
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