Section Objectives




Class Discussion




Class Activity




Knowledge In Depth




Section Review











Gabriel Bonilla

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 survival.

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.