Education and Culture
As the number of transports of Jews to the ghettoes increased, the
population of children in the ghettoes increased as well. The need to
provide these children with an education became an important issue.
Schools were established in some ghettoes, however, many were eventually
shut down. Ghettoes also had their share of cultural activities. These
activities ranged from social gatherings in open lots to concerts in
specified areas within the ghetto boundaries.
In the ghetto Bochnia, the Jews attempted to do whatever they possibly
could to maintain a "normal life" within the boundaries. An
elementary school, Talmud Torah, was established for young children.
However, after August 1942, all educational activities within the ghetto
ceased and everything disappeared with the first expulsion.
The Jews living in the Riga ghetto were provided with a better educational
system then that of the ghetto Bochnia. After noticing the influx of
children to the ghetto, Commandant Krause gave permission to the Jews
to open schools. The Vienna group opened a school in one of the buildings
of No. 5 Berliner Strasse. Children ranging in ages of four to fourteen
were taught at this school everyday. The teacher in charge was "Tante
Mary" Korwill. She taught using a system in which the older children
helped the younger children. Due to the lack of school materials, much
of the learning had to be done through repetition. Since Tante Mary
was an experienced teacher, the school was successful. After her untimely
death, a young school-teacher from Czechoslovakia took over. This allowed
for the joining of two schools: the Vienna school and the Czech school.
This consolidation brought benefits to the children in theses schools,
such as the chance for Viennese children to learn Czech.
Once the children reached the age of fourteen, they were considered
grown-ups and their formal education ended. They were assigned to labor
details and joined the rest of the working men. However, for many their
education continued well beyond the age of fourteen. Private lessons
were held at night, after work, by professors. Subjects ranged from
mathematics to literature. Lessons focused on everyday needs were available
as well. Skilled workers often taught younger workers their skills.
This would lead to trainees learning the skills necessary to become
plumbers, painters, electricians, roofers, auto-mechanics, and welders.
These occupations were later to save many of their lives.
certain trades, too. However, their training was not as specialized
as that given to the men. Many factories discriminated on the basis
of sex, which made it difficult for women to find work. There were only
a few amount of firms and factories that did not discriminate. One such
factory, the Riga Gummifabrik, actually preferred young women. It had
an excellent training program in which they were taught how to produce
galoshes and boots for soldiers. The older women often improved their
sewing skills and became seamstresses. They passed on their skills to
the younger women and taught them how to use sewing machines.
the use of schools and these training methods, the amount of skilled
workers in the ghettoes increased dramatically. The Jews managed to
keep on learning, either through academic studies or vocational studies.
Their education was what mattered because it ultimately increased their
chances of survival.
Cultural activities within the ghettoes were few
in number. In the majority of the ghettoes, cultural activities were
banned along with all other aspects of normal Jewish life. The few ghettoes
that did allow cultural activities usually held dances and concerts.
The Riga ghetto was one of the ghettoes that permitted the Jews to hold
cultural events. The school house was often used on Saturday and Sunday
nights for social gatherings of teenagers. Dances were held there every
week and the music was provided by some of the young men that had managed
to keep their musical instruments. In May, people gathered on some of
the vacant lots behind their houses and enjoyed the concerts that had
spontaneously begun one day and continued since then. Every Sunday afternoon
the people would come to sing, tell jokes, and just watch the newly
sprouted grass. On many occasions, German officials would come to watch
the concerts with the Jewish people. Dramatic performances took place
in the ghettoes as well. They were held in large "auditoriums" which
were actually the same factories the Jews of the ghetto worked in during
the day. The plays presented were usually the old classics.
composed in the ghetto pertaining to the romances between Jewish boys
and Jewish girls. Other songs dealing with ghetto life were also composed.
These songs often became popular throughout the ghetto. These cultural
activities were used as methods to escape from their miserable, hopeless
existence in the ghettoes. Others viewed these cultural activities as
ways to raise themselves from their level of mere existence. Either
way, it demonstrated a need for finer things in life that not even the
ghetto boundaries could hold back.
2. Schneider, Gertrude. Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga
Ghetto. New York: Ark House, 1979.