The Warsaw Judenrät
The Warsaw Judenrat was established before the Warsaw Ghetto on
October 4, 1939. The Judenrat replaced the Kehilla as the local government.
The Kehilla was a religious and social institution of the type that
existed in every Jewish community (Roland 16). However, the Judenrat
was a political and economic administration that was meant to continue
the activities of the Kehilla. The Judenrat was a new type of Community
Council, which was racial organization instead of religious like the
Kehilla. All Jews including converted Jews were susceptible to the Judenrat's
authority. It was responsible for a many duties within a community such
as establishing a Jewish police (Ordnungstein), a health department,
registration of Jews, employment, postal services, and distribution
of supplies. Despite all these important duties, none of them were as
important as following the Nazis' commands. The Nazis used the Judenrat
as a puppet government at the local level. They appointed the twenty-four
members of the Judenrat whether the members were interested or not.
Some of the members saw the position as a privilege while others viewed
it as a curse, but they were all aware of the consequences if they defied
the Nazis. The Nazis killed some of the members. Adam Czerniakow was
named head of the Judenrat.
The Judenrat was an essential and initial step in building
the Warsaw Ghetto. Having conquered Poland, it had become evident that
on November 4, 1939 the Nazis decided to establish a Jewish ghetto.
There was anti-Semitic propaganda flowing throughout Poland, and the
propaganda spoke of the Jews as being disease-carrying vermin. The Judenrat
was then ordered to place epidemic warning signs around what would become
the Warsaw Ghetto boundaries. The Judenrat also contributed to the establishing
of the Warsaw Ghetto by providing a census of the Jews. This was the
Judenrat's first task. The Nazis' justification for this order was the
belief that Jews were very susceptible to typhus (this was not true),
and that their confinement was to discourage an epidemic. Therefore,
Jews began to build ditches for a wall that was to isolate them. The
wall's construction was to be paid by the Jews via the Judenrat, and
the final costs were quite large.
The Judenrat suffered consistent economic problems due
to the deficit caused by more expenses than income. In 1940, the Judenrat's
budget was deteriorating rapidly. Its expenses covered forced labor,
hospitals, welfare, and vocational courses. Its income was derived from
burials, fees exempting forced labor, and other fees for various communal
services. The expenses were nearly double the income.
The Judenrat spent a large amount of revenue on forced
labor in order to attempt to alleviate the ghetto's citizens. Whenever
the Nazis needed laborers, they would seek them in the ghetto. The Nazis
would randomly apprehend whomever they saw in the streets until they
met their quota and forced them to work. This method was not a pleasant
thought in the minds of Jews, and the Judenrat decided to provide Jews
in a systematic manner. This probably was a better system, though inevitably
it led to other kinds of abuse (Roland 35). The Nazis needed many laborers
daily, and the conditions for the type of labor were awful. Therefore,
Jewish men within a specific age limit may have been required to work
for a certain number of days per month. However, the Judenrat's system
was corrupt, because the rich could have paid fees to avoid forced labor.
The poor were then required to substitute.
Taxes became a popular solution for the Judenrat's financial
problems, and this was obviously an unpopular method. The Judenrat created
specific taxes for specific purposes. There was for example a tax on
bread rations. Collecting these taxes was arduous, but the departments
hit upon the device of threatening the reluctant with being forced to
take in refugees, a fate much dreaded because of the shortage of space
and the fear of importing lice and diseases (Roland 136). Essentially,
the Jews were forced to house a dirty person who increased the chances
of typhus and decreased space and food supply. This was an effective
and harsh tax collecting method, because it endangered the Jewish family's
One of the Judenrat's greatest responsibility and fiscal
burden was the Czyste Hospital. Hospital employees made up a major sector
of the Judenrat budget; in February 1940, out of 773 on the Judenrat
payroll, 496 worked at Czyste and 32 in quarantine hospitals (68 percent)
(Roland 88). For many of the hospital employees, their salaries were
just enough to cover their food and clothing expenses. Hospital employees
often threatened to strike due to the low salaries, and the Judenrat
taxed in order to collect more revenue. However, there was not enough
money collected, because there was also the issue of medical supplies.
Eventually, the Judenrat formed a committee that especially dealt with
Czyste. It was essential that the Judenrat avoided hospital strikes,
because of epidemics such as typhus and typhus fever. Since the Jews
were kept under poor sanitary and diets, they were quite susceptible
to diseases. The conditions under which the Jews lived made them susceptible
to the diseases. It was not, because they were simply Jews. Therefore,
hospitals were essential institutions in preventing and curing the various
epidemics in the Warsaw Ghetto, and this is why the Judenrat never allowed
the hospital employees to strike.
Deportation of the Jews was probably the most difficult
and cruel action that the Warsaw Judenrat had to commit. On July 22,
1942, the Judenrat was ordered to post a deportation order. The Judenrat
was able to attract deportation volunteers by offering food rations,
and this method attracted quite a number of volunteers showed up to
the Umschlagpatz, the point of departure for the death trains. The deportees
were transported in freight cars to Treblinka, a Polish death camp.
Again, the Judenrat showed corruption by receiving large sums from individual
Jews in exchange for being included in the exclusion categories.