Part II. The 3rd Reich & the Holocaust Era, Jan 1933-May 1945
Murderous Racism and Antisemitism - Bureaucracy of Evil
Perpetrators, Collaborators, Victims, Bystanders, Resisters, Rescuers

B. World War II, Sept. 1939-May, 1945: “New Order” & Holocaust

1. 1939-41: Exporting Nazism - Lebensraum, Racism, Antisemitism & Dehumanization

TEN- a
The War Against the Jews - Ghettoization

How did the Jews become victims?

Ostracize, Isolate, Annihilate - Policy, Bureaucracy, & Technology

Bauer 150-208
The Holocaust timeline: (excellent); (excellent)
Timeline: WWII.
Cybrary of the Holocaust.
Photos, invasion of Poland.


Focus Questions

How did the Jews become victims? Did the Nazis had a genocidal plan to destroy Jewry?
What were the successive steps taken in isolating the Jews?


Although the Nazis were successful in isolating Jews socially and economically, the actual physical isolation of the Eastern European population did not begin until December 1939.

The onset of war served as a smokescreen for the evolution of ghettoization, deportations, "Resettlement," transit camps, forced labor camps, and concentration camps (all used by the Germans & their collaborators to imprison their victims), and sealed the fate of European Jewry.

The fate of the Jews & of the “others,” was directly linked to Hitler's war. The
‘War Against the Jews’ was launched simultaneously with and parallel to World War II, and, in the view of many scholars, was the real motivating force behind the actions of the Nazi leader, Adolf Hitler (Yad Vashem). By 1939, more than 50% of Germany's Jews had fled; many had emigrated before the outbreak of war in Sep. 1939. Tragically, with the rapid Nazi conquest of Europe, most of these emigres found themselves back under Nazi control.

‘... in an atmosphere of general barbarity & isolation, the war in the east created the physical & emotional conditions which would make possible the radicalization of the Nazis’ anti-Jewish campaign. ... The push into Poland & the progressive subjugation of surrounding societies would bring million of ‘unwanted’ Jews into the Nazi sphere of influence. Moreover, the Nazis could turn to their advantage the deeply ingrained antisemitism endemic in the increasingly brutalized European population already under their sway.’1
All Jews in Germany and the occupied countries were deported to sealed ghettos as a holding area. Many were then shipped in cattle cars to labor camps where they lived under brutally inhuman conditions.

‘ ... The period from 1939-41, ... represents a transition from the previous policy of forced migration’ to one of ghettoization, and later, ‘to one of mass extermination (or ‘Final Solution,’ as the Nazis themselves called it) which would be implemented after the invasion of the Soviet Union in the years 1941-45. ’2

Study Questions

1. What prediction did Hitler make in his speech to the Reichstag (parliament) on January 30, 1939, in the event of war?
2. What were the Einsatzgruppen and what was their role in the murder of the Jews?
3. What were the largest ghettos?

4. Describe and analyze the system and conditions prevailing in the ghettos (leadership -Judenrat; discuss the debate on its role. How did the Jews cope with conditions in the ghetto? What was the impact of ghettoization?

5. How was the Theresienstadt ghetto in Czechoslovakia different than any other ghetto?


Chapter Content

On the eve of the invasion of Poland, Hitler made a speech to his generals in which he said, Genghis Khan had millions of women and men killed by his own will and with a gay heart. ... Who, after all, talks nowadays of the extermination of the Armenians? (cf. Helen Fein, Accounting for Genocide, The Free Press, 1979:4).”

‘Hitler publicly signified his intent in a speech to the Reichstag on 30 January 1939, masked characteristically by projecting onto the Jews his own aim of domination that would provoke war (on 30 January 1939, Hitler himself spoke before the Reichstag, reiterating the two themes of Jewish emigration & of the dire consequences of war. He chided those states that criticized Germany's treatment of its Jews for their own reluctance to accept Jews):

And one thing I wish to say on this day which perhaps is memorable not only for us Germans: In my life I have often been a prophet, & most of the time I have been laughed at... The world has sufficient space for settlements ... Today I want to be a prophet once more: If international-finance Jewry inside & outside of Europe should succeed once more in plunging nations into another world war, the consequence will not be the Bolshevization of the earth & thereby the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation [Vernichtung] of the Jewish race in Europe.’

All Necessary Preparations: 1939-41

*With the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, any constraint Hitler or the Nazis felt toward the treatment of the Jewish people was removed. The Nazis' murderous intent was revealed immediately. By June 1940, the Nazis occupied Holland, Belgium, and France. By midsummer of 1941, Germany controlled most of Europe and millions of Jews came under Nazi oppression *

Geography of the 2nd period of the Holocaust Era (1939-345):

The area in which anti-Jewish measures were imposed is commensurate with the ever-expanding territorial & political German power: following Sept. 1, 1939, they applied to Poland; April 9, 1940, Denmark & Norway; May 10, 1940, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg, & France, reaching out to French North Africa -Tunisia 1942, and the French Levant; Sept. 8, 1943, the day of partial occupation by German troops, Italy (anti-Jewish action in Libya started much earlier, on May 2, 1942); April 6, 1941, Yugoslavia & Greece; June 22, 1941, the USSR in its expanded boundaries. The war between the US & Japan affected the Jews who had found refuge in Japanese-dominated areas of Asia, especially those in Shanghai.

Along with these military successes, Germany’s political influence in Europe expanded and was strengthened by the accession to the Three-Power Agreement of Hungary (Nov. 20, 1940), Bulgaria (March 1, 1941), and Croatia (June 15, 1941). Thirty-eight geographical areas of persecution and extermination were created with the expansion of German sovereignty to parts of Poland, France, and Yugoslavia; the occupation by Germany and her satellites of most areas of Europe and some sections of Africa and Asia; and the partition of states.” (hist. of Holoc., Dr. Jacob Robinson, Research, Yad vashem & YIVO, NY)

The Jews in Poland - History of Polish Jewry

The term Polish Jews requires definition. The 3 partitions of Poland in the 18th century divided the land and its people among Prussia/Germany, Russia, and Austria. However, even without a political homeland, the Poles continued to foster their native culture and did not merge with the nationality of their conquerors. As a result, Poles, including Polish Jews, lived for almost 150 years under the flags of Russia, Germany, and Austria.

Jewish history in Poland has deep roots. Jews attacked by the Crusaders fled eastward. They brought with them the medieval German vernacular. From this base, Yiddish was developed & became the universal language of central and eastern European Jews.’ From the mid-1300's, Jews had begun to concentrate in a large strip of eastern European territory known as the "Pale of the Settlement.” ‘In the 14th c., kings of Poland welcomed the refugees, to foster a mercantile middle class; granted the Jews complete freedom to work, to worship, and to prosper despite objections from the church. Not restricted to peddling and money-lending, they could live in villages as well as towns, a vital segment of the middle class. As craftsmen, blacksmith, goldsmith, tanner, cobbler, miller, baker, weaver, tailor, merchant, banker; they crafted in the homes and small workshops; opened stalls in the market square.’

Autonomy of Jewish Life. "Minority as an Enemy"3

Jews were granted a charter by King Sigismund Augustus in 1551. In accordance with that document, they could govern themselves by means of an elected council of elders. Local assemblies organized themselves into regional conventions, which chose a supreme council. Thus, a sophisticated, well-ordered administrative machinery was set into motion; chose their leaders annually, usually from among their prominent residents. Since they lived in ghettos, sometimes by choice, more often by decree, local government was simplified; regulated such social services as education, religious functions, relief for the poor, and hospitals. Life was short and harsh, and class distinctions rigid. The Jews, as aliens, were the most vulnerable amid the native population.

By 1900, there were, perhaps, as many as 7 million Jews living in this area bounded by Germany on the east, the Baltic sea on the north, the Black Sea on the south and the Dnieper River in Russia on the east. The Jewish population of Poland in 1939 was about 3.3 million (about 10% of the Polish population) with an additional 2.1 million in the occupied Russian provinces. There were also heavy concentrations of Jews in Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the north and Hungary and the Slavic states to the south. Most Polish Jews were laborers, artisans, traders, living in poverty. Intellectual, artistic -theaters, & political activities. Yeshivot abounded; Hebrew & Yiddish schools. Politically, Polish Jewry was divided into the religious fundamentalists - the Agudat Israel party, the secularist, ant-Zionist Bunds, & the Zionists -immigration to Palestine.

Antisemitism had long been evident in Poland. Jews were not considered Poles and, as in Nazi Germany, were defined as a race. There were 5 severe pogroms in Aug. 1937, motivated by hatred of the stranger & the economic crisis. It appears that, until 1939, Poland saw its destiny as tied to Germany's and its policies toward Jews mirrored those of Germany -- forced emigration. But the Jews in Poland had no recourse; nor could they immigrate - Palestine because of the British; America - the quota system ...

This was all to change with the Nazi invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. The consequences of this invasion were disastrous for Poland as a nation and, especially for Poland's Jewish population of 3.3 million.

Eastern Europe: The Arena For Mass Murder

*Following the conquest of Poland, almost 2 million Polish Jews were now under Nazi rule. Even before the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had chosen Eastern Europe (Poland, the Baltic States, the Soviet Union) as the ideal arena for the mass murder of Jews. They reasoned that: the largest numbers of Jews lived in these areas; they were removed from neutral observers; the local populations were traditionally hostile to the Jews; and the killing could be camouflaged as part of the war effort and the struggle against Bolshevism.

Over 120,000 Jews died during the same period as victims of the concentrated aerial bombardment of known Jewish sections of Warsaw; or as victims of execution squads; or as soldiers in the Polish army. By the summer of 1941, 3 million Jews would be trapped in Poland *

Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland - German Plan for Jewish Containment

German soldiers head east. Writing on side of train car reads: "We're off to Poland, to thrash the Jews." (picture, CL:Yad Vashem)

Sept. 29: Nazis & Soviets divide up Poland.
The western and northern districts were annexed to the Greater German Reich, and the eastern districts
with its 1.5 million Jews, were ceded to the Soviet Union. Western Poland with its 1/2 million Jews, was to be used as added living space for German farmers, & was incorporated into the Reich. The central section (with Lublin, Krakow & Warsaw) was set aside to become a German colony, the ‘General Government,’ under the Nazi governor, Hans Frank; 1.3 million Jews lived there.

Lebensraum & the Einsatzgruppen - Mobile Killing Units

The General Government of occupied Poland seemed to offer the greatest potential for lebensraum. So, to transform Poland into lebensraum, German "living space," one has to remove Poles & Jews from the Polish countryside, as well as Jews from the German homeland, concentrate them in the cities of the General Government.

Immediately following the invasion, Henrich Himmler, Gestapo chief & head of the SS with overall responsibility for implementation of the ‘Final Solution of the Jewish Question,’ was appointed to take measures to strengthen German ethnicity in the occupied territories & to create lebensraum, or living space for German citizens. To this end, Himmler created special task forces within the SS, the Einsatzgruppen, special action squads, & placed them under the command of Reinhard Heydrich, head of the Reich Security Main Office & Chief of the Security Police (SIPO), entrusted with devising method to deal with Poland’s Jews.

The Einsatzgruppen became ‘mobile killing units’ -special task forces of the Security Police, charged with liquidating all political enemies of the Reich. Almost from the beginning of the campaign against Poland, the Einsatzgruppen, were at work just behind the front lines. Over the next 18 months these units killed, either by shooting or by mobile gas vans, over 1,300,000 Jews. Initially, the weapon of the Einsatzgruppen was the gun & the ‘action groups’ served as mobile firing squads to eliminate anyone who appeared to be a political threat to the regime: communists, political dissidents, Polish government officials who did not line up with the invaders. There is little questions that a significant number of Jews were in the list of victims; however, the apparent purpose, initially, was political.

The occupation of Poland

‘During the first weeks of occupation, tens of 1000s of Polish Jews escaped to the Soviet sector of Poland ... 1000s were imprisoned by the Soviets & deported eastwards ... This had the paradoxical ... effect of saving many Jewish lives.

However the overwhelming majority, some 2 million remained in Nazi-occupied Poland - under German control.’ For Germany two wars commenced: one against western European Allies, the other against the Jews; the outbreak of war eliminated the necessity for any modicum of restraint it may have earlier exercised in its treatment of Jews. Chaos & exigencies of war provided both smokescreen & pretext for what became the penultimate step to genocide. ‘There (in Nazi Poland)... a savagely repressive regime. A series of economic measures robbed the Jews of any means of livelihood; an unrelenting policy of humiliation, discrimination, & persecution was introduced, accompanied by physical abuse & sporadic murder. ... Religious Jews were publicly degraded. ...’4 All this resulting in dehumanization.

Towards a solution of the Jewish Question in occupied territory

The Chain of Jewish Victimization and the German Strategy of Entrapment
1. Assault on Jewish Populations - German & Polish - dehumanization
2. Heydrich’s Steps Toward “The Final Solution” - Jews are forced into ghettos.
3. Ghettoization and its Consequences -Ghettos, Judenrate

During the First Months of the German Occupation of Poland - compulsory labor

As soon as the Germany army entered Poland in September 1939, Jews were forced to work. Often the only purpose was to degrade them. On October 26, 1939, compulsory labor was introduced in the General Government by law, applying to Jewish males aged fourteen to sixty. Subsequently the law was also applied to children aged twelve to fourteen and women. Between October and December 1939, local decrees introduced compulsory labor in the areas of Poland annexed to Germany. On January 13, 1940, orders were issued by General governor Hans Frank for the implementation of the October 26, 1939 law. Compulsory service was scheduled for two years but could be extended. All Jews aged fourteen to sixty had to register; this process was to be enforced by the Judenrate.

Labor Camps

As time went on, special labor camps were put up for Jews, who were summoned by name to report to them. Quartered in barracks, the Jews worked under very harsh conditions. In the Lublin district, twenty - nine such camps were in operation in July 1940. In August of that year, twenty thousand Jews in the nineteen to thirty - five age group were ordered to report to labor camps. Many chose to disregard the call - up, despite the heavy risks involved, because of the intolerable conditions in the camps. The inmates were exposed to torments, humiliation, beatings, and frequently did not have living quarters assigned to them and did not receive minimal rations.

German Factories and Ghetto "Shops"

Jews in large numbers also worked in German factories in Poland and in ghetto "shops" (workshops), especially during the last stage of the ghettos' existence. At the end of 1940 over 700,000 Jews were on forced labor in Poland; by the middle of 1943 on slightly over 100,000 remained, owing to the high mortality rate in the ghettos and the destruction of the Jews by the Nazis. Conditions in the work places differed, but all had in common ten to twelve hour days, and a total absence of social benefits or vacations. In practice many forced laborers were paid nothing; even those who were paid had as much as 80 percent of the pittance they received deducted from their pay.

The Nazi Administration of Jewish Forced Labor

From the beginning, the forced labor operation was administered by the SS. In the areas incorporated into the Reich the SS remained in charge until the Jews were annihilated. In the General government, the Ministry of Labor took over forced labor in July 1940 and in June 1942, the Sicherheitspolizei (Security Police) took it over.

The End of Jewish Forced Labor.

When the great majority of Jews had been killed, those remaining in the ghettos were forced to keep working - in the "shops"; sorting out for the Germans the possessions of the murdered Jews; and in various places serving the needs of the Reich. In mid - 1942 and in April and May of 1943, some of the Jews in the General government were taken to labor camps at TRAWNIKI and PONIATOWA. In November 1943 forty - two thousand of these Jews, and Jews working in Lublin who had been brought to Majdanek, were killed during the "ERNTEFEST' operation. In Lodz, force labor was kept up longer than anywhere else, until the ghetto was liquidated in August 1944.

Courtesy of: "Encyclopedia of the Holocaust" ©1990 Macmillan Publishing Company. New York, NY 10022

Isolate & Destroy. Policy of the internment of Poland’s Jews in ghettos

"For the time being the first prerequisite for the final aim is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside into the larger cities." Reinhard Heydrich, September 21, 1939.

Confronted with ‘problem’ of millions of Polish Jews now under German control, Himmler directed Heydrich, Chief of the German Security Police, his top aide, to implement a policy that became the penultimate stage in the evolution of the ‘Final Solution.’

*On September 21, 1939, the policy of the internment of Poland’s Jews in ghettos established throughout the country, was set forth, when Reinhard Heydrich, issued a decree outlining the policy for treatment of the Jews in German-occupied territory. The identification, isolation, and containment of the Eastern European Jews in ghettos was a well-planned prelude to the ultimate extermination of millions.

Stated simply, Heydrich ordered the Jews to be identified, their property confiscated, & that rural Jews be forced into ghettos in the large cities. There they would wait: overcrowded, vulnerable to starvation and epidemics, & available for slave labor.
Heydrich ordered 1st that all ‘planned comprehensive measures,’ i.e., any ‘final solution’ were to be kept strictly secret. He sent his sept. 21, telegram/express letter, to the chiefs of all SIPO groups & Einsatzgruppen officers under his authority regarding their mission in Poland, regarding treatment of Jews.

“The subject of his directive was ‘the Jewish question in the occupied territory’ of Poland & it established the basis for the organization, concentration & ghettoization of Jews that would define Jewish life in Poland until the death camps were ready to receive them’5 (stating they are to be gathered from rural areas to cities, where they would be confined to ghettos near railroads for the future final goal.) Heydrich instructed those under his command to observe a distinction between the ‘final aim, which would take some time & ‘the steps necessary for reaching it which can be applied more or less at once.’Heydrich clearly sees the establishment of ghettos merely as an interim measure.

Conditions for Polish Jewry: Deportation & Resettlement in the East - Ghettoization

‘Shortly after the occupation of Poland, the Nazis introduced a policy of deportation of Jews which sometimes involved the uprooting of whole communities. Jews were deported into occupied Poland (the General Government) from annexed territories of western Poland &, on Oct.‘39, also from regions of Austria & Sudeten Czechoslovakia which had been incorporated into the Greater German Reich. These eastward transportations were the forerunners of the later movement of millions, from all parts of Europe, to the death camps of Poland.’6 (Jews from the Protectorate of Bohemia & Moravia were sent to the ghettos; some tried in vain to emigrate; some went into hiding). The chief engineer in charge of the system of cattle trains that transported Jews from all points of Europe into Nazi hands was Adolf Eichmann.

Nov 23, 39: Reich law requires Polish Jews to wear a white armband with a yellow Star of David: General Governor Hans Frank issued an ordinance that Jews 10 years of age & older living in the General Government had to wear Star of David on armbands or pinned to chest or back - to make identification of Jews easier when the Nazis began issuing orders establishing ghettos.
Later, in Germany & all the countries occupied & controlled by the Germans, or allied with Germany, Jews were required to wear distinguishing markings, the Star of David, identifying them as “the other.” The badge was cut from material in the form of 2 triangles, one placed upon the other to form the star; on it, in black letters was printed the word for ‘Jew.’ In France & Tunisia, it was ‘Juif,’ in Germany ‘Jude,’ in Holland ‘Jood.’

Following Heydrich’s order, 1000s of Jews were concentrated in ghettos established within the slum districts of major Polish cities during 1940 & ‘41. Nazi occupation authorities officially told the story that Jews were natural carriers of all types of diseases, especially typhus, and that it was necessary to isolate Jews from the Polish community. Confining Jews in ghettos was not Hitler's brainchild. For centuries, Jews had faced persecution & were often forced to live in designated areas called ghettos.

The New Ghettos: Designed for Death

from medieval times, the European Jewish ghetto was a traditional solution for isolating Jews & separating them from Christians (1st ghetto in Venice in early part of the 16th century). While usually in the worst sections of cities, these traditional ghettos did provide some marginal degree of protection & support for their occupants. The Nazi ghettos are linked to this tradition; but they differed,* however, in that they were a preliminary step in the annihilation of the Jews, rather than a method to just isolate them from the rest of society -the purpose of the Nazi ghettos was to create a total confinement for the Jewish population, turning entire neighborhoods into a prison unlike the ghettos of centuries past; *they had a deadly intent: to confine the occupants for the sole purpose of their eventual elimination.

Nazi-occupied Polish cities (Warsaw, Lodz) had Jews confined in sealed ghettos, mainly to isolate & concentrate Jews in small areas & remove them from the general population. Except for Lodz, all the ghettos in Nazi-occupied Poland up to 1941 were located in the Government General.

Jewish ghettos were usually cut off from their surrounding cities by walls or barbed-wire. Overcrowded, lacking fuel, food, water and proper sanitation, the ghettos had a high mortality rate.*

As the war against the Jews progressed, the ghettos became transition areas, used as collection points for deportation to death camps & concentration camps. The ghettos served as the holding area for eventual transport to the death camps for those who were able to survive; they also served as excellent fodder for forced labor. Ghetto inhabitants in many areas were forced to become slaves for German industry. Factories were built alongside or within ghetto walls so that industries could take advantage of this free labor. Nazi forced labor groups worked on road gangs, in construction, and other hard labor for the Nazi war cause, where many died of exhaustion and maltreatment.

The Jewish Leadership: Jewish Councils - the Judenraete

Heydrich also orders a census & the establishment of Jewish administrative Councils, or Judenrate, within the ghettos to implement Nazi policies & decrees. *In accordance with Heydrich’s instructions, Jewish Councils (Judenraten) were established in each ghetto (Nov. 28, Frank orders formation of Jewish councils (Judenrate). Their functions were to administer the ghettos and to execute Nazi orders/policy. Council of Elders, 24. They were generally made up of elders, leading rabbis & other influential personalities in the Jewish communities; these councils were responsible for registering all Jews; providing an accurate survey of all Jewish property; managing housing, health, police, and sanitation in the ghetto; and for providing slave labor. *

The Question of Jewish Complicity

As far back as 1933, Nazi policy makers had discussed establishing Jewish-led institutions to carry out anti-Jewish policies. The concept was based upon centuries-old practices which were instituted in Germany during the Middle Ages. As the German army swept through Poland and the Soviet Union, it carried out an order of S.S. leader Heydrich to require the local Jewish populace to form Jewish Councils as a liaison between the Jews and the Nazis. These councils of Jewish elders, (Judenrat; plural: Judenräte), were responsible for organizing the orderly deportation to the death camps, for detailing the number and occupations of the Jews in the ghettos, for distributing food and medical supplies, and for communicating the orders of the ghetto Nazi masters. The Nazis enforced these orders on the Judenrat with threats of terror, which were given credence by beatings and executions. As ghetto life settled into a "routine," the Judenrat took on the functions of local government, providing police and fire protection, postal services, sanitation, transportation, food and fuel distribution, and housing, for example.

The Judenrat raised funds to create hospitals, homes for orphans, disinfection stations, and to provide food and clothing to those without.

Jewish leaders were ambivalent about participating in these Judenröte. On the one hand, many viewed these councils as a form of collaboration with the enemy. Others saw these councils as a necessary evil, which would permit Jewish leadership a forum to negotiate for better treatment. In the many cases where Jewish leaders refused to volunteer to serve on the Judenrat, the Germans appointed Jews to serve on a random basis. Some Jews who had no prior history of leadership agreed to serve, hoping that it would improve their chances of survival. Many who served in the Judenrat were arrested, taken to labor camps, or hanged.

When the Nazis required a quota of Jews to participate in forced labor, the Judenrat had the responsibility to meet this demand. Sometimes Jews could avoid forced labor by making a payment to the Judenrat. These payments supplemented the taxes which the Judenrat levied to finance the services provided in the ghettos.

‘The role of the Jewish Council is one of the most painful & controversial among writers & historians of the Holocaust years -regarding these councils’ role in the fate of Jews. On the one hand, they provided some sense of autonomy to the Jewish community. They were responsible for health & welfare, distribution of food, & for policing the ghetto internally. On the other hand, the Judenrate were, intentionally or unintentionally, a tool of the Nazis in the destruction of the Jews. Members of the Jewish Councils were themselves subject to on-the-spot execution for any failure to carry out Nazi policy... Most recent research & thinking reveals that there is a colossal danger of over generalization and of the passing of simplistic moral judgments. ... There was, in fact, among the Jewish Council leaders every conceivable human reaction -from compliance and submission at one extreme to attempted subversion and armed resistance at the other.’ (landau, p. 156)

Underground Jewish organizations sprang up in the ghettos to serve as alternatives to the Judenrat, some of which were established with a military component to organize resistance to the Nazis.

Days of Nightmare - Life & Death in the Ghetto (Dec. 1939-March 1942) (pictures)

a. The Lodz Ghetto, 1940, Feb. 8

"By the fifth of March. 1940, all Jews had to leave the town. Every day one could see them in snow- covered streets. Caravans of people carrying on their backs pieces of furniture, bags and suitcases sledges piled high with possessions and small hand-carts pushed along by frightened children." Sara Selwer-Urbach, Mib'ad Halon Beiti.

Lodz, Poland, the first major ghetto was created by the Nazis (2nd largest; slave labor camp). Sealed with a barbed wire wall in April 1940, it held 165,000 Jewish residents. May 7, Lodz Ghetto (Litzmannstadt) sealed: 165,000 people in 1.6 square miles. Forced resettlement from surrounding Polish towns swelled the ghetto population to over 200,000 by the end of 1941, including 5,000 Gypsies.

As in every ghetto, overcrowding, disease, lack of food, fuel and sanitation were the norm. More than 50,000 Jews died from malnutrition and disease in the Lodz ghetto.

After the decision to murder all the Jews of Europe was made in 1941, the Nazis began deporting the ghetto's old, young and weak to killing centers. By the end of 1942, over 80,000 had been deported from the Lodz ghetto to Chelmno (Kulmhof). Those Jews remaining were used for slave labor.

"This morning the ghetto received a horrifying shock. Children to the age of ten are to be torn away from their parents. brothers and sisters. and deported. Old people over 65 are being robbed of their last life-saving plank. They are being sent away like useless ballast."
Josef Zelkowicz, Chronicler, Lodz Ghetto, September 4, 1942.

The Lodz ghetto was the last Polish ghetto to be liquidated, providing a source of forced labor until August 1944. At that time, the remaining Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination. *

b. The Warsaw ghetto

"In our scroll of agony. not one small detail can be omitted. Even though we are now undergoing terrible tribulations and the sun has grown dark for us at noon, we have not lost our hope that the era of light will surely come. Our existence as a people will not be destroyed. Individuals will be destroyed. but the Jewish community will live on. Therefore. every entry is more precious than gold. so long as it is written down as it happens. without exaggerations and distortions." Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary, October 26, 1939

*The Warsaw Ghetto was officially established on October 2, 1940.* Nov. 26, German troops begin herding Warsaw's Jewish population into an enclosed ghetto. Surrounded by a 10 foot high wall topped with broken glass and barbed wire; it was the largest ghetto with more than 500,000 people, crowded into an area of roughly 1 square mile. Germans deny that antisemitism is the motivation for this action. Ghetto sealed. Overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease caused daily fatalities in the ghetto. In 1941 alone, nearly 40,000 died of disease and starvation. Death by "natural means" was deliberate policy for the ghettos.

"The candle of our souls is still flickering but we sense that in a moment it will be extinguished."
Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary. June 27, 1942.

During the Operation Reinhard liquidation, from July through September 1942, nearly 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to the killing center at Treblinka. Only 50,000 "work" Jews remained in the ghetto, when further attempts to deport Jews met with resistance. This in turn led to the revolt of April- May1943 & the eventual destruction & leveling of the ghetto* By the time of its destruction 18 months later, there would only be 45,000 left alive.

In total, Nazis established 356 ghettos in cities of Easter Europe - in Poland, Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Rumania, & Hungary between 1939 & 1945; no uniformity to these ghettos. The ghettos in small towns were generally not sealed off, which was often a temporary measure used until the residents could be sent to bigger ghettos.

Larger cities had closed ghettos, with brick or stone walls, wooden fences, and barbed wire defining the boundaries. Guards were placed strategically at gateways and other boundary openings. Jews were not allowed to leave the so-called "Jewish residential districts," under penalty of death.

Daily Life in the Ghettos - Dehumanization of the Perpetrators

We are left naked. but as long as this secret power is still within us we do not give up hope. And the strength of this power lies in the indigenous nature of Polish Jewry, which is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live.’ Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary. March 10,1940.

‘The Nazis sought to create horrible inhuman conditions in the ghetto, where a combination of extreme overcrowding, many people sharing a room, deliberate starvation (Germans controlled food rations: official ration cards permitted each person less than 200 calories per day; food was in such short supply that many slowly starved to death), & outbreaks of typhus & cholera -disease spread like wildfire, would reduce Jewish numbers through ‘natural wastage.’7 All ghettos had the most appalling, inhuman living conditions. The smallest ghetto housed approximately 3,000 people. The 5 major ghettos were located in Warsaw -400,000 people, Lódz 160,000, Kraków in March 1941, Lublin in April ‘41, and Lvov in December ‘41. Other Polish cities with large Jewish ghettos: Bialystok, Czestochowa, Kielce, Radom in April ‘41, & Vilna.

Ghetto life was wretched. The ghettos were filthy with poor sanitation. Many committed suicide just to escape the situation. Orphans would beg in the streets and many would die in the rough winter cold. Smuggling was the only way of getting enough food, and children were often the volunteers, a brave thing, since smuggling was dealt with harshly if caught. Staying warm was difficult during bitter cold winters without adequate warm clothes and heating fuel.
"Grandma's apartment consisted of a large room and a kitchen. It was not easy to accommodate sixteen persons in it....It was the middle of winter. there was no fuel for heating. We froze in the rooms." Sara Selwer-Urbach, Survivor. Disease was rampant. Tens of thousands died from starvation, overcrowding, exposure, & disease. Life was desperate.

*While death took its daily toll through starvation & disease, the Nazis' goal in the ghettos was to brutalize & break the spirit of the inhabitants. To combat this, underground social, religious, educational, & political organizations were created.
Newspapers were published, classes held, religious services conducted, despite the threat of death for such activities.

Secret ghetto archives were established
to preserve the history of life in the ghettos and document Nazi inhumanity. The best known, the Oneg Shabbat of Warsaw, was founded by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, who convinced poets, artists, physicians, journalists, social scientists, and rabbis to contribute. Diaries, commissioned reports, and documents were preserved and buried in three milk cans in non-Jewish sections of Warsaw. Two cans were recovered after the war and one is still to be found. *

Even in the midst of these horrible conditions, many ghetto dwellers resisted dehumanization. At great risk, Jews made every effort to maintain their culture, community, and religion. Parents continued to educate their children, although it was considered an illegal activity. Some residents secretly continued to hold religious services and observe Jewish holidays.

"In my courtyard there were two succot. In one of them there sat a Jew singing zemirot in a loud voice. I entered and asked him if he didn't realize where we were: how he dared sing so loudly as if nothing had happened. He just shook his head and continued with his zemirot. When he finished. he turned to me and said, 'What can they do to me? They can take my body- -but not my soul! Over my soul they have no dominion! Their dominion is only in this world. Here they are the mighty ones. All right. But in the world to come their strength is no more." Jacob Koretz, from Sefer Ha-edut, 1950

"There is a vigorous cultural life in the ghetto. Last night we had the premiere of the choir a lecture in the literary club on the subject of 'Shylock and Nathan.' Today a siyum (ceremony) on the completion of the tractate Kidushin by the Yeshiva Rabbi Chaim Ozer." Zelig Kalmanovich, Diary. Vilna Ghetto, January 24, 1943. pictures: Religious worship, Warsaw Ghetto. CL:Bundesarchiv. Chaim Rumkowski, German appointed "Elder of the Jews," officiates at a wedding. picture; CL:Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.

Janusz Korczak (1879-1942)

*Son of a wealthy Warsaw family, was a physician who was especially concerned with social issues and authored books on the plight of homeless orphans (Children of the Street). In 1911, he became head of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. He lectured at the Free Polish University, did radio broadcasts on topics relating to children, and wrote children's books. As a Polish representative in the Jewish Agency, he visited Kibbutzim in Israel. After the Nazi invasion, his main interest was saving the
orphanage in Warsaw. Despite temporary exemption from deportation to Treblinka, Korczak voluntarily went to his death with the children when they were deported. *

Theresienstadt: the “Model” Ghetto

"Here, people were separated into two groups. one to be sent to the East and the other to Theresienstadt. Those who received a "T" (for Theresienstadt) dared to breathe again. The others, with an "O" (for the East) turned pale. For although not many details were known about Theresienstadt, one thing was clear: it was infinitely better than the East." Jacob Jacobson, Terezin. the Daily Life, 1943- 1945*

*Theresienstadt (or Terezin) , an 18th century fortress town near Prague, in northwestern Czechoslovakia, was chosen, on November 24, 1941, as the site for a sinister scheme to cover up the mass murder of Europe's Jews. Here the Nazis developed their "model" ghetto,* to counter rumors in the international community about the poor conditions in the ghettos. Foreign governments, international relief agencies and even some Jews were deceived by this propaganda campaign, since no one wished to believe the horrible stories emerging about transports to the East.

Far from a benevolent, decent place to live out their lives, it was a temporary stopping point en route to Auschwitz. More than 150,000 Jews passed through Theresienstadt,
during its four-year existence; 33,000 died of hunger or disease while in the ghetto, and 90,000 were transported to Auschwitz. *

By 1943, rumors began circulating in the international community that the Nazis were exterminating Jews in gas chambers, & that the conditions of the ghettos did not permit survival.
*Nazis tried to use Theresienstadt to hide the truth of the murder of the Jews (the Nazis rebuilt parts of this ghetto to serve as a ‘showpiece’ for propaganda purposes. Flower gardens were planted in the ghetto. Shops, schools, & a cafe were built to demonstrate to audiences of Nazi propaganda films the humane conditions of a "typical" ghetto) Amidst the horror of the reality, they tolerated a semblance of a cultural life: theater, music, lectures, art.* When an investigating commission of the International Red Cross came to visit, they did not see a typical ghetto. In July 1944 the Nazis produced a documentary propaganda film about life in this ghetto, showing happy Jews in a Jewish city. After the movie was completed, most of the Jewish "actors" were shipped to their death at Auschwitz.* Terezin also functioned as a transit camp for many who were later sent to Auschwitz or other death camps.

pictures: "Work makes freedom," the cynical sign at Theresienstadt, 1943. CL:BPK
Deportation of elderly Jews from Frankfurt to Theresienstadt, Fall 1942. The placards contain their names, birthdates, addresses, and transport numbers. CL:LBI/NY

Deportation from Theresicnstadt to Auschwitz. Two faces peer out, a hand waves. Y Vashem
"The old people's transport. Ten thousand ill, crippled, dying. all of them over 65 years old....Children have to let their old parents go off and can't help them. Why do they want to send these defenseless people away? If they want to get rid of us young people, I can understand that...but how can these old people be dangerous?" Helga Weissova- Hoskova, Age 14, Theresienstadt Diary
A soccer game staged for the propaganda film, ‘The Fuehrer Gives the Jews a City, Aug ‘44*

By the end of 1940, millions of Jews were isolated in ghettos throughout Poland. By the summer of 1941, 3 million Jews would be trapped in Poland, & were forced into roughly 400 new ghettos. The last ghetto was established in 1943.
By the end of WWII, 3 million Polish Jews were murdered; the once-thriving culture they had created no longer exists. Poland is barren, nearly Judenrein (“cleansed of Jews”).


“Germany's invasion of Poland in late 1939 radicalized the Nazi regime's policy toward Jews. Hitler turned to wholesale death of the European Jewish population. He swept Jewish populations into ghettos in eastern Europe. Simultaneously, mobile squads killed millions. The next step was to send Jews to squalid concentration and death camps. Approximately six million died for one reason: they were Jewish.”8

The Butterfly, Pavel Friedman

The last, the very last,
So richly, brightly, dazzlingly yellow.
Perhaps if the sun's tears would sing against a white

Such, such a yellow
Is carried lightly 'way up high.
It went away I's sure because it wished to kiss the
world goodbye.
For seven weeks I've lived in here,
Penned up inside this ghetto
But I have found my people here.
the dandelions call to me
And the white chestnut candles in the court.
Only I never saw another butterfly.

That butterfly was the last one.
Butterflies don't live in here,
In the ghetto.

From I Never Saw Another Butterfly, McGraw-Hill, 1976

1939, Sept 1 &3, Hitler invades Poland
Sept. 3, France & Britain declared war on Germany. The 2nd WW began.
Winter of 1939-1940 - period of inactivity: ‘Phony War’
1939 Sept. after Poland’s invasion Himmler created within the SS, the Einsatzgruppen
Sept 21: Heydrich issues instructions to SS Einsatzgruppen, and directives to establish
in German-occupied Poland, for the future ‘final goal.’
Sept. 23, German Jews are forbidden to own wireless (radio) sets
Sept. 27: Warsaw surrenders to Nazis -within 3 weeks, Poland succumbed to Blitzkrieg.
Reinhard Heydrich becomes leader of new Reich Main Security Office - RSHA
Sept. 29, Nazi & Soviets divide up Poland; over 2 million Jews in Nazi controlled area,
leaving 1.3 million in the Soviet area.

Oct. 6, - proclamation by Hitler on the isolation of Jews
Oct. 12 Evacuation of Jews from Vienna; deportation of Austrian & Czech Jews to Poland
Oct 28, First Polish ghetto established in Piotrków. The 2nd in Lodz.
Oct 30, British report reveals atrocities against Jews & non-Jews at Buchenwald conc. camp
Nov. 8: Assassination attempt on Hitler fails
Nov. 23, Jews in German-occupied Poland forced to wear an arm band or yellow star
Nov. 28, Frank orders formation of Jewish councils (Judenrate)
Nov. 30: Soviets attack Finland. Dec. 14: Soviet Union expelled from the League of Nations
Dec. Eichmann takes over sect. IV of Gestapo dealing solely with Jewish affairs & evacuations

Jan. 25, 1940
Nazi choose town of Oswiecim (Auschwitz), Poland near Krakow for camp
Feb.12, Germany begins deportation of German Jews to concentration camps, Poland.
Many died in the jammed windowless cattle cars
Feb. 21 Construction begins on concentration camp at Auschwitz, Poland.
gates of Auschwitz, it says: Arbeicht Macht Frei (Work Will Set You Free) (picture)
Feb. 8 Ghetto established in Lodz

Copyright Fall 1999, November 2003, January 2004 Edith Shaked
Credit/source: Gary M. Grobman, The Holocaust - A guide for Teachers, 1990
The Holocaust & WEBliography:

Germany's invasion of Poland marked the beginning of World War II. Here a Nazi
unit is en route to Poland at the end of September, 1939. Handwritten on the side
of the train car is, "We are going to Poland to thrash the Jews."
Photo credit: Meczenstwo Walka, Zaglada Zydów Polsce 1939-1945. Poland. No. 26.

Wehrmacht (German Army) soldiers amuse themselves by harassing a Jewish man.

1 Laundau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 150-151

2 Laundau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 150-151

3 Joanna B. Michlic, Minority as an Enemy. Her research embraces the history and culture of East European Jewry, particularly Polish-Jewish relations in the modern times, the social history of Polish Jews, the Holocaust and its memory in Eastern Europe, and nationalism and ethnic minorities there.

4 Laundau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 151

5 ibid, p. 152

6 Laundau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 154

7 Landau, The Nazi Holocaust, p. 154-155