Ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe

Large Nazi German Ghettos in which Jews were confined, and later shipped to concentration camps

During World War II, ghettos in Nazi-occupied Europe were set up by the Third Reich in order to confine Jews and sometimes Gypsies into tightly packed areas of the cities. In total, according to USHMM archives, "The Germans established at least 1,000 ghettos in German-occupied and annexed Poland and the Soviet Union alone." Therefore, the examples are intended only to illustrate their scope and living conditions across Eastern Europe.[1] Although the common usage in Holocaust literature is 'ghetto', the Nazis most often referred to these detention facilities in documents and signage as 'Jüdischer Wohnbezirk' or 'Wohngebiet der Juden' (German); both translate as Jewish Quarter.

Soon after the 1939 Invasion of Poland, the German Nazis began to systematically move Polish Jews away from their homes and into designated areas of larger Polish cities and towns. The first ghetto at Piotrków Trybunalski was established in October 1939, the one in Tuliszkow was established in December–January 1939–1940, followed by the first large scale ghetto, the Łódź Ghetto in April 1940, and the Warsaw Ghetto in October, with many other ghettos established throughout 1940 and 1941. Many Ghettos were walled off or enclosed with barbed wire. In the case of sealed ghettos, any Jew found leaving them was shot. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest ghetto in Nazi occupied Europe, with over 400,000 Jews crammed into an area 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2) large located in the heart of the city.[2] The Łódź Ghetto was the second largest, holding about 160,000.[3]


Types of ghettos and the living conditions

The situation in the ghettos was brutal. In Warsaw, 30 percent of the population was forced to live in 2.4 percent of the city's area, a density of 7.2 people per room.[2] In the ghetto of Odrzywół, 700 people lived in an area previously occupied by five families, between 12 and 30 to each small room. The Jews were not allowed out of the ghetto, so they had to rely on smuggling and the starvation rations supplied by the Nazis: in Warsaw this was 253 calories (1,060 kJ) per Jew, compared to 669 calories (2,800 kJ) per Pole and 2,613 calories (10,940 kJ) per German. With crowded living conditions, starvation diets, and little sanitation (in the Łódź Ghetto 95 percent of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers) hundreds of thousands of Jews died of disease and hunger.[4]

There were three types of ghettos in existence. Closed or sealed ghettos were situated mostly in German-occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet Union. They were surrounded with brick walls, fences or barbed wire stretched between posts. Jews were not allowed to live in any other areas under the threat of capital punishment, as announced by the German authorities. In the closed ghettos the living conditions were the worst. The quarters were extremely crowded and unsanitary. Starvation, chronic shortages of food, lack of heat in winter and inadequate municipal services led to frequent outbreaks of epidemics such as dysentery and typhus and to a high mortality rate.[5] Most Nazi ghettos were of this particular type.[1]

Open ghettos, which did not have walls or fences, existed mostly in initial stages of World War II in German-occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, but also in Transnistria province of Ukraine occupied and administrated by Romanian authorities. There were severe restrictions on entering and leaving them.[1]

The destruction or extermination ghettos existed in the final stages of the Holocaust, for between two and six weeks only, in German-occupied Soviet Union especially in Lithuania and the Soviet Ukraine, as well as in Hungary. They were tightly sealed off. The Jewish population was imprisoned in them only to be deported or shot by the Germans often with the aid of their collaborationist forces.[1]

Aryan side

In opposition to a Jewish Quarter, the parts of the city outside the walls were called "Aryan". For example in Warsaw, the city was divided into Jewish, Polish and German Quarters. The individuals living there had to have identification papers proving they were not Jewish (none of their grandfathers was a member of the Jewish community), i.e., baptist testimony. The baptist testimony certificates were forged on a mass scale by Catholic clergy in Poland.[6][7]


In 1942, the Germans began their murderous Operation Reinhard, the systematic deportation of local people to extermination camps. The Nazi authorities deported Jews to the ghettos of the East from everywhere in Europe during the Holocaust, or most often directly to the extermination camps. Almost 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto alone to Treblinka over the course of 52 days. In some of the Ghettos the local resistance organizations started Ghetto uprisings. None were successful, and the Jewish populations of the ghettos were almost entirely killed.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Types of Ghettos. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
  2. ^ a b Warsaw, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  3. ^ Ghettos, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  4. ^ Browning, Christopher R. (2004), The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy 1939-1942, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, ISBN 0803213271 .
  5. ^ Hershel Edelheit, Abraham J. Edelheit, A world in turmoil: an integrated chronology of the Holocaust, 1991
  6. ^ "Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy. The Testimony of Survivors" compiled by Mark Paul, with selected bibliography; published by the Polish Educational Foundation in North America, Toronto 2007
  7. ^ Gunnar S. Paulsson, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” published in The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp.19–44.

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