HOUSING IN THE
GHETTOS OF THE HOLOCAUST
Ghetto housing created by the Germans for the forced
gathering of the Jewish population, was probably one of their greatest
weapons in the destruction of the Jews. This is partly do to the
fact of poor construction, overcrowding [Insert Moving in.gif],
abuse, and inhuman living conditions (due to the absence of sufficient
utilities), which will all be discussed in detail through specific
ghettos in the following paragraphs. Still, besides these facts
the German authorities maintained and justified the introduction
of Ghettos on various grounds: "they were to prevent the spread
of contagious diseases by the Jews, to combat Jewish profiteering
and political rumormongering, and the like" (Gutman 581).
There was no single ghetto but many of them spread about Europe
usually into designated streets forming enclosed living quarters
only for the Jewish people. Each ghetto however, had its own distinct
form of building and enclosing, even though a wall was usually used.
The Lodz ghetto, officially called the Litzmannstadt by the Germans,
was enclosed by a barbed wire [Insert Lvov ghetto fenced in.gif]
and wooden fence and in some places, a brick wall, with guards posted
on both the inside and the outside of the dividing line that separated
them from the rest of the world. An 11-mile (18-km) wall surrounded
the Warsaw ghetto, with guards posted at the gates and patrolling
the length of the wall [Insert Warsaw ghetto boundary wall.gif];
the Krakow ghetto was also behind a wall. The Lodz ghetto trapped
all Jewish within. It was hermetically closed, non-Jews being able
to enter only by special permission and Jews unable to leave at
all. Contrary to this strict enclosing, in medium-sized cities and
towns, there were ghettos that permitted Jews to leave at certain
hours of the day only, to make food purchases, while in other ghettos
the freedom of entering and leaving was not even questioned. One
such ghetto was Piotrkow Trybunalski. It did not have a fence and
was not under guard, and hundreds of Poles were able to go back
and forth, while the Jews had no difficulty in leaving. But this
little bit of freedom was soon cut off at the end of 1941, and by
the spring of 1942 the ghetto was locked in and when the deportations
and the "Final Solution" were launched, most of the ghettos were
directed under lock and key.
Forced to live in a defined perimeter, the Jews also found themselves
forced to run the provision of services and institutions, of which
they had no prior knowledge. However, before the ghettos the Jews
had already established the Judenrate. Without any affiliation to
it, as issued by the Germans, "the ghetto framework forced them
to organize a police force and postal services, to distribute food
rations, and to provide work, housing, and health facilities-the
kind of municipal and other services that had not previously been
within the range of functions carried out by the Jewish community
organizations" (Gutman 581).
THE LODZ GHETTO
It was February 3, 1940 when all the Jews of Lodz were ordered by
the police to vacate their homes within five days, and to occupy
houses in specific streets in the suburb of Balut (Baluty in Polish).
This was already a slum neighborhood with about 250,000 mostly very
poor Jews and when the ghetto was set up it included 160,000 people.
Already with these circumstances, the future for housing and accommodations
in such a cramped space did not look bright at all. "The ghetto
was fenced off by barbed wire and a guard of the German Schutz-Polizei
was stationed outside the ghetto about every 150 meters" (Marrus
340). By May the ghetto was considered "sealed": all non-Jews, except
special police units, were prohibited from entering. Within Jews
were not permitted outdoors between 7:00 P.M. and 7:00 A.M.
There were two streets that cut through the ghetto. They were Aleksandrowska
and Zgierska and were of general importance to the city because
they were part of the road which led to Warsaw and Poznan (Posen).
The Germans were so serious about containing the Jews that they
even went to great lengths and through great obstacles to keep them
from these two main streets. They did this by including the sidewalks
of the two streets within the ghetto but by barring the Jews from
the roadways. But to maintain free movement, three overpasses and
three gates were constructed. The over-passes were made of wood
and served as cross-overs from one sidewalk to the other; they were
about one story high. The German schutz-Polizei guarded the gates.
At Lodz a housing office was set up. Initially it began to function
before the ghetto had been closed off. Once it was decided where
the Jews were to live the migration began. "This required regulation
because of the limited allotment of only 3.75 square meters of space
per person. The first location of the housing office was in the
city (outside the ghetto) and later it was transferred inside the
ghetto" (Marrus 342).
The housing department was kept busy constantly since the plan of
the ghetto kept changing. From time to time certain streets would
be removed from ghetto limits. Houses had to be vacated to make
room for workshops. To make matters worse space became scarcer when
in September 1941 a large section of the ghetto was sliced off in
order to set up a concentration camp for Gypsies. This created for
the housing office the problem of crowding more people together
within a limited area. All that lived in these quarters had to pay
rent according to pre-war rental fees, however this did not pose
a problem since money had hardly any value later on and, compared
with the general high cost of living, the pre-war rental did not
amount to very much" (Marrus 342).
The conditions at Lodz were unbearable. Most of the buildings were
old, run-down, and poorly heated throughout the cold Polish winter.
Indoor bathrooms or running water soon became luxuries since only
a few had them. "There were about 32,000 apartments inside the ghetto,
most of them were usually made up of one room. On average, four
people lived in every room. Over 160,000 people were jammed into
an area of 1.5 square miles-about 30 city blocks" (Feldman 132).
The Germans controlled and supplied an insufficient amount of food
to the Jews. Besides that, many of the people were so poor they
could not even buy what the Germans allowed. Death for many of the
Jews came about due to intense cold, poor sanitation, overcrowding,
and inadequate diet.
There was a market place however situated in the center of the ghetto.
But it was not there for the benefit of the Jews being housed, instead
it served for production of goods for the outside world made by
the imprisoned Jews. A number of barracks were built there to house
the bureaus and stores. The Balut market place later proved to be
too small for incoming and outgoing merchandise and in 1941 a railroad
station was built in Marysin and a trolley line extended to it through
Marysinska Street [Insert Market in Lodz ghetto.gif]. One store
located here was that which constructed Emergency Houses. "After
the heavy bombardment in Germany new enterprises were created for
the construction of small portable houses built of wood or cement"
(Marrus 374). In order to continue the existence of the ghetto,
the ghetto administration decided in 1944 to set up production of
these houses inside the ghetto. Then an engineer from Prague, Dr.
Reich, began to test the production of house frames made of
a mixture of cement, scraps of brick, sand and burned coal. This
turned out to be successful and production was started. "Due to
the liquidation of the ghetto, however, not even one set was completed.
The 500 workers of this shop lived under very difficult conditions"
THE BOCHNIA GHETTO
The Bochnia ghetto was formed between March to April 1941 (date
is not precise). It was located near in the downtown area, near
the railway station. Most of the buildings in this ghetto were one-floor
houses. It only consisted of a few two or even three floor buildings.
The local Judenrat was placed in charge of deciding who would reside
in which location and with whom. Single apartments were assigned
to a few families, typically one family per room. Those houses with
two bedrooms and a kitchen accommodated at least three or more families.
More and more Jews began to arrive and overcrowding became a problem
as people took into their houses relatives and friends and began
to utilize basements for living in. It was considered normal to
find more than one family per room. The sanitary conditions were
dreadful and unhealthy, in fact there were no toilets in the apartments
and people had to use outside facilities. Those who lived in
the ghetto used public bathhouses for bathing. For more information
on living conditions in the ghettos please see: A wooden fence enclosed
the ghetto and Polish police guarded the gates. This fence that
surrounded them was 7 feet high made out of wooden boards. Each
board was mounted on the fence at about three-quarters of an inch
apart, so the people of the ghetto were able to see through the
openings. To make matters worse after the Jews moved into the ghetto
the Germans disconnected their electrical power.
THE WARSAW GHETTO
When the Jews moved into the ghetto they brought their belongings
on handcarts or on their backs. Eleven miles of eight-foot-high
brick walls were built around the ghetto, and by 1940 450,000 Jews
lived inside the ghetto walls. This is calculated to be approximately
200,000 people for every square mile, almost triple the number for
the rest of Warsaw, which was a crowded city. In this ghetto, an
average of nine people lived in every room.
The following information is derived from a lecture by Waldemar
Schoen, Head of the Department of Resettlement in the Warsaw District,
January 20, 1941. The Jewish quarter of Warsaw is said to extend
over about 1,016 acres, according to the figures supplied by the
Judenrat. About 410,000 Jews lived in this area according to Schoen's
observations and various estimates. But this number drastically
increased when carried out by other bodies; they number nearly 470,000
and 590,000. Space was extremely limited.
Based on the statistics supplied by the Judenrat, and subtracting
empty spaces and cemeteries, there are [in the Jewish quarter] 1,108
persons living on a built-up area of one hectare (2.5 acres), i.e.,
110,800 persons per sq. km. [approx. 277,000 per sq. mile]. The
population density of the city of Warsaw is 14,400 persons per sq.
km. of the total area and 38,000 per sq. km. of built-up and inhabited
Schoen stated that, "In the Jewish area of residence there are about
27,000 apartments with an average number of 21/2 rooms. Occupancy
therefore works out at 15.1 persons per apartment and 6 to 7 persons
per room. The Jewish area of residence is separated from the rest
of the city by the use of partition walls and fireproof walls and
by walls sealing off streets, windows, entrances and spaces between
houses. The walls are three meters high and are raised another meter
by means of a barbed-wire extension" [Insert Warsaw ghetto wall.gif].
Besides these fortifications additional control was assured by motorized
and mounted police patrols.
Housing rules and conditions were very severe and strict. At first
22 gates in the surrounding wall were retained for the maintenance
of necessary traffic, but later on they became reduced to 15. These
gates were at all times Reinforced German police guards or Polish
police. Permits to pass these gates were issued essentially for
passenger traffic: the permit cards were yellow for German citizens,
ethnic Germans and Poles; for Jews there were yellow cards with
an oblique blue bar. The permits were valid only together with an
identity card with a photograph.
Feldman, George. Understanding the Holocaust Volume 2. United
Gutman, Israel. Encyclopedia of the Holocaust Volume 2.
New York: Macmillan Publishing
Marrus, Michael R. The Victims of the Holocaust Volume 7.