Sarah Zuckerman

The Ghettos

The ghettos in Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe were established at the beginning of World War II, after the conquest of Poland in 1939, and the occupation of Soviet-annexed territories in June 1941. The first ghetto in occupied Poland, was set up in the autumn of 1939. The Lodz ghetto, which at the time of its isolation from the outside world had 165,000 inhabitants, was formed in the spring of 1940. The Warsaw ghetto, the largest, which at its peak period contained 450,000 Jews, was sealed in October 1940.
The ghettos during the Nazi period were not intended as a permanent framework, but simply as a stage in preparation for a future general solution to the "Jewish Problem." The Nazis gave several pretexts for the establishment of ghettos. For example, they wished to prevent the dissemination of diseases supposedly prevalent among Jews, or to suppress alleged black-market activities by Jews. While the Nazi authorities definitely aimed at establishing an impenetrable barrier between Jews and non-Jews, their main objectives were the creation of extremely harsh living conditions, isolation from the outside world, and the internment of Jews in vast prisons under conditions of total helplessness. These goals would in turn lead to the breakdown of their physical, mental, and social structure, destroying their resistance as a community.

Ghetto administration or Jewish Council (Judenrat) was set up in accordance with a general decree by the Nazis, who did not conceal their intentions. They wanted a Jewish representation that would carry out German orders and commands to the letter and would be responsible to the Nazi authorities for the implementation of those orders.
Most ghettos were closed off from the outside world by barbed wire or wooden fences. The Warsaw ghetto was isolated by a wall 9.8 feet high, covered with fragments of glass and barbed wire. The Lodz ghetto was guarded by German sentries, and the gates of the Warsaw ghetto were patrolled by groups of German, Polish, and Jewish policemen. 

The primary and most disturbing problem however, that faced the Jews in the ghetto was food and provisions. Almost all sources of Jewish income had been seized or prohibited. Moreover, the Germans had separated the Jews from the general economy, and forbade them to engage in most professions. Jewish property was confiscated, and Jewish-owned shops and factories expropriated. Jews were forbidden to hold private stocks of merchandise or cash, and periodically the Nazis raided Jewish homes and stole whatever they wanted. The Germans instituted forced labor for the Jews, but the Jews received either no payment at all or a sum that did not even suffice to buy a oaf of bread. 

However, the Jews did not succumb without resisting. The Nazis demanded that Jews hand over their money and movable possessions, but the Jews did not comply. The Nazis forbade the Jews to engage in trade or work as artisans, but the Jews labored in secret and manufactured goods clandestinely. The Nazis prohibited communal prayer, but the Jews gathered despite the prohibition and held services on weekdays and festivals. The Nazis forbade the Jews to open schools, but the Jews organized clandestine kindergartens and schools for all age groups. Despite the miserable conditions, many Jews forced themselves to go on and offered hope to many.