Warsaw Ghetto Death Cards

Introduction to the Warsaw Ghetto Death Cards

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.

warsaw ghetto death card sample

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 Muslim faith.

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:

  • a no data given
  • b damaged by fire
  • c difficult handwriting
  • d pencil faded handwriting
  • e card damaged
  • f unclear registration
  • g conservator’s remark
  • h card consists of information originally given on 2 cards
  • ? +/- (about) this year; probably
  • „C” daughter (written by doctors, clerks)
  • „S” 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.

Surnames and Towns

There are more than 5,500 different surnames in the database.

To see a list of SURNAMES extracted from the Warsaw Ghetto List, please see the related Project Card. Please also search the database for more data from the death cards.

In many cases the town of birth is also listed. There were over 400 different towns listed which can be found in current day Poland, Ukraine, Lithuania, and Belarus. Please contact the town leader from the aforementioned Project Card for a list of all towns extracted from the Warsaw Ghetto List.

Accessing the Data

All information recorded on the Death Card has been documented on the database and can be found utilizing the search page.

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.