Luigi Weber

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. 

Women learned 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. 

Through 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.

Songs were 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. 

Works Cited 

1. http://www.connection.com/~yizkor/bochnia/bochnia1.htm 

2. Schneider, Gertrude. Journey into Terror: Story of the Riga Ghetto. New York: Ark House, 1979.

3. http://www.ushmm.org/kovno/children/draw.htm 

4. http://www.ushmm.org/kovno/children/photoch.htm