The taxpayer-funded National Public Radio is facing an onslaught of criticism after publishing an article that some believe romanticized how a ghetto in Nazi-controlled Warsaw managed a viral outbreak.
NPR published the piece — “The Warsaw Ghetto Can Teach the World How to Beat Back an Outbreak” — on Tuesday.
The article centered on a 1940s typhoid outbreak in Poland during German dictator Adolf Hitler’s reign. To make her case, NPR writer Fran Kritz pointed to a study published in July that credited Nazis as well as Jewish leaders in the ghetto for mitigating the spread of typhoid.
While much of the piece did credit the Jews in the overcrowded Warsaw ghetto for their efforts to control the disease, NPR was met with intense criticism for sharing the controversial study’s findings and crediting Nazi leaders for “increas[ing] food aid in the ghetto and briefly allow[ing] food smugglers to bring in rations.”
Kritz’s article seemed to gloss over the fact that, had the Nazis not created the inhumane ghettos, where Jewish people were forced into labor, packed in like sardines, and living on less than 200 calories per day, the outbreak might not have reached the same levels. According to the authors of the July study, while the official number of infections was 20,160 cases, the “reasonable consensus” from leading epidemiologists of the ghetto believe the total to be somewhere between “80,000 to 110,000” total infections.
It’s NPR’s oversimplification of the Nazi-controlled Warsaw as well as the outlet’s comparison to today’s coronavirus pandemic that has drawn the ire of many.
David Greenfield, a law professor and former Democratic council member for New York City, pointed to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish people “murdered” as a result of the Warsaw ghetto, calling the NPR story “disgusting.”
Former Democratic New York Assemblyman Dov Hikind, founder of Americans Against Antisemitism, similarly condemned the news organization for using the Warsaw ghetto as a parallel to beating back COVID-19.
Others referred to the article as “absolutely vile” and “abhorrent.”
It is worth noting, though, that Kritz did credit the Jewish people for much of the mitigation efforts. She also interviewed an 86-year-old man named Alex Hershaft, whose grandparents lived in the Warsaw ghetto.
“I don’t think anyone in my family contracted lice,” he told Kritz. “People who could afford to stay home and had enough to eat were OK, and people who had to mingle with others and didn’t have enough to eat were the most likely victims.”
Hershaft also acknowledged a very strong will to survive among the ghetto’s Jewish occupants: “People were keenly aware of their mortality, which is what made them go to such lengths to try to prevent typhus.”
Besides crediting the Nazis for providing more food to the Jewish people, the NPR article lauded the ghetto’s piecemeal “network of social, self-help, and medical organizations” and the Jewish council’s encouragement of “building and apartment cleanliness,” which was “often enforced through inspections” by Jewish leaders.