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Abraham Gancwajch - Biography

Abraham Gancwajch (b. unknown — possibly killed in 1943 in Warsaw) was a prominent Jewish Nazi collaborator in Warsaw Ghetto during Second World War and a "kingpin" of the ghetto underwold.


Gancwajch was born in Częstochowa, Poland. As a youth, he spent time as a journalist and editor in Łódź, and eventually left Poland for Vienna, Austria where he also served as a journalist (contributing to Gerechtigkeit [Justice] edited by Irena Harand), but was eventually expelled from Vienna around 1936–1938 and returned to Poland. Before the war he was a teacher and a Zionist journalist known from his anti-Nazi stance; he was also known as an excellent orator. He was also a leader of Hashomer Hatzair (a Socialist-Zionist youth movement).

After the German invasion of Poland, he surfaced in Warsaw as a refugee from Łódź and as a person with connections to Sicherheitsdienst (SD) and became a Nazi collaborator. In December 1940 he founded the Group 13 network, a Jewish Nazi collaborationist organization in Warsaw Ghetto, described by some as the "Jewish Gestapo".

Gancwajch believed that Germans would win the war and the Jews had to serve the Germans if there was any hope of survival, and he therefore preached the wisdom of collaboration with the German conquerors. He was also a proponent of creating an autonomous place of settlement for Jews under the protection of the Third Reich in one of the overseas countries. Adam Czerniakow, whom Gancwajch attempted to usurp as the head of the Judenrat mentioned him in his diary as "a despicable, ugly creature". Janusz Korczak who ran an orphanage in the ghetto when asked why he was dealing with him replied "I will see the devil himself to save my children".

In the ghetto he lived a lavish life, collecting hefty sums from others by various means. On the other hand in order to support appearances he helped the poor and the artists; however all of his initiatives became corrupted — for example he set up a hospital with ambulances, but quickly the network became used primarily for smuggling by the Group 13, which also by the time became a racketeering network (officially it was supposed to combat the black market in the ghetto).

After most of the Group 13 was eliminated by the Germans in 1942, Gancwajch reemerged outside the ghetto on the Aryan side in Warsaw, where he and other members of his group, pretending to be Jewish underground fighters, were hunting for Poles hiding or otherwise supporting the Jews. He was also the leader of the infamous Żagiew Gestapo-sponsored Jewish organization. He is also known to have tried to sabotage attempts at the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Jewish Combat Organization sentenced him to death but were never able to execute him. His further fate remains unknown to this day; according to one record he was killed together with his family in Pawiak in Warsaw, perhaps around early spring 1943.

Opinions about Gancwajch in the ghetto were divided; some saw him as a traitor, others as a person who was trying to cheat the Germans and help the Jews. Modern research unanimously concludes he was a collaborator motivated by ideological and personal interests.

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