Aside from illegal smuggling, the Jews in
the Warsaw Ghetto drew on their pre-war traditions of social welfare institutions, and tried to
set up legal institutions that would provide help for the neediest people in the ghetto.
For instance, there were mutual assistance societies and self-help organizations. There
were also house committees, which were literally committees that were formed in apartment buildings,
where they tried to help each other with the problems of the day, including obtaining food.
Public soup kitchens were set up so that each hungry person in the ghetto could at least
get a bowl of soup every day, even if it was a very meager meal. And Rachel Auerbach, who
was a member of the “Oneg Shabbat” and also a worker in a public soup kitchen, tells us
that the biggest soup kitchen in the Warsaw ghetto was serving four thousand bowls of soup every day.
But if one hundred thousand Jews had succumbed to hunger and starvation in the ghetto, two hundred thousand
Jews were on the verge of succumbing to starvation. And this raised an awful dilemma, as Rachel
Auerbach wrote in her diary. “Soup kitchens had to cope with immense pressure,
both internal, from the undernourished workers and their families, and external, from scores
of refugees and unemployed locals for whom a bowl of soup was their only meal. To our
regret… the most needy, the truly destitute, could not be saved by a meal of soup — their
bodies swollen by hunger, they kept disappearing without a trace… Whole families, whole communities…
passed through the soup kitchens and faded away in front of our eyes….”