Judenräte (singular Judenrat; German for "Jewish council") were administrative bodies during the Second World War that the Germans required Jews to form in the German occupied territory of Poland, and later in the occupied territories of the Soviet Union It is the overall term for the enforcement bodies established by the Nazi occupiers to manage Jewish communities in German-occupied areas, although the Nazis established the name Altestenrat, in Łódź, (see Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski) and possibly elsewhere. While the history of the term Judenrat itself is unclear, Jewish communities themselves had established councils for self-government as far back as the Medieval Era. While the Hebrew term of "Kahal" or "Kehillah" was used by the Jewish community, German authorities tended to generally use the term Judenräte. The structure and missions of the Judenräte under the Nazi regime varied widely, often depending upon whether meant for a single Ghetto, a region or a country.
National Socialist Considerations of Jewish Legal Status
In the beginning of April 1933, shortly after the National Socialist government took power, a report by a German governmental commission was presented on fighting the Jews. This report recommended the creation of a recognized Association of Jews in Germany (Verband der Juden in Deutschland), to which all Jews in Germany would be forced to associate. Then, appointed by the Reichskanzler, a German People's Ward was to assume responsibility of this group. As the leading Jewish organization, it was envisioned that this association would have a 25-member council called the Judenrat. However, the report was not officially acted upon.
The Israeli historian Dan Michman found it likely that the commission, which considered the legal status and interactions of Jews and non-Jews before their Emancipation reached back to the Medieval Era for the term Judenräte. This illuminates the apparent intent to make the Jewish Emancipation and assimilation invalid, and so return Jews to the status they held during the Medieval Era.
The first Judenräte were actually formed by Reinhard Heydrich's orders on September 21, 1939, soon after the end of the German assault on Poland. The Judenräte were to serve as a means to enforce the occupation force's anti-Jewish regulations and laws in the western and central areas of Poland, and had no authority of their own. Ideally, a local Judenrat was to include Rabbis and other influential people of their local Jewish community. Thus, enforcement of laws could be better facilitated by the German authorities by using established Jewish authority figures and personages, while undermining external influences.
Further Judenräte were established on 18 November 1939, upon the orders of Hans Frank, head of the Generalgouvernment. These councils were to have 12 members for Jewish communities of 10,000 or less, and up to 24 members for larger Jewish communities. Jewish communities were to elect their own councils, and by the end of 1939 were to have selected an executive and assistant executive as well. Results were to be presented to the German city or county controlling officer for recognition. While theoretically democratic, in reality the councils were often determined by the occupiers. While the German occupiers only minimally involved themselves in the voting, those whom the Germans first chose often refused participation to avoid becoming exploited by the occupiers. As a rule, therefore, the traditional speaker of the community was named and elected, preserving the community continuity.
Missions and Duties
The Nazis systematically sought to weaken the resistance potential and opportunities of the Jews of Eastern Europe. The early Judenräte were foremost to report numbers of their Jewish populations, clear residences and turn them over, present workers for forced labor, confiscate valuables, and collect tribute and turn these over. Failure to comply would incur the risk of collective punishments or other measures. Later tasks of the Judenräte included turning over community members for deportation.
Through these occupation measures, and the simultaneous prevention of government services, the Jewish communities suffered serious shortages. For this reason, early Judenräte attempted to establish replacement service institutions of their own. They tried to organize food distribution, aid stations, old age homes, orphanages and schools. At the same time, given their restricted circumstances and remaining options they attempted to work against the occupier's forced measures and to win time. One way was to delay transfer and implementation of orders and to try playing conflicting demands of competing German interests against each other. They presented their efforts as indispensable for the Germans in managing the Jewish community, in order to improve the resources of the Jews and to move the Germans to repeal collective punishments.
This had, however, very limited positive results. The generally difficult situations presented often led to perceived unfair actions, such as personality preferences, sycophancy, and protectionism of a few over the rest of the community. Thus, the members of the community quickly became highly critical of, or even outright opposed their Judenrat.
Judenräte were responsible for the internal administration of Ghettos, standing between the Nazi occupiers and their Jewish communities. In general, the Judenräte represented the elite from their Jewish communities. Often, a Judenrat had a group for internal security and control, a Jewish Ordnungspolizei. They also attempted to manage the government services normally found in a city such as those named above. However, the requirements of the Nazis to deliver community members to forced labor, deportation or concentration camps placed them in the position of helping the occupiers. To resist such actions or orders was to risk summary execution or inclusion in the next concentration camp shipment, with a quick replacement.
In a number of cases, such as the Minsk ghetto and the Łachwa ghetto, Judenräte cooperated with the resistance movement. Of course, such cooperation entailed grave risks. In other cases, Judenräte collaborated with the Nazis on the basis that cooperation might save the lives of the ghetto inhabitants.
- Isaiah Trunk:Judenrat.The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation, Stein & Day, 1977, ISBN 0-8128-2170-X
- V. Wahlen:Select Bibliography on Judenraete under Nazi Rule, in: Yad Vashem Studies 10/1974, s. 277-294
- Aharon Weiss:Jewish Leadership in Occupied Poland. Postures and Attitudes, in Yad Vashem Studies 12/1977, s. 335-365
- Marian Fuks: Das Problemm der Judenraete und Adam Czerniaks Anstaendigkeit. inSt. Jersch-Wenzel: Deutsche - Polen - Juden Colloquium, Berlin, 1987 ISBN 3-7678-0694-0, s. 229-239
- Dan Diner: Jenseits der Vorstellbaren- Der "Judenrat" als Situation. In: Hanno Loewy, Gerhard Schoenberner: "Unser Einziger Weg ist Arbeit." Das Ghetto in Lodz 1940-1944.. Vienna 1990, ISBN 3-85409-169-9
- Dan Diner: Gedaechtniszeiten. Ueber Juedische und Andere Geschichten. Beck 2003, ISBN 3-406-50560-0
- Doron Rabinovici: Instanzen der Ohnmacht. Wien 1938-1945. Der Weg zum Judenrat. Juedischer Verlag bei Suhrkamp, 2000, ISBN 3-633-54162-4
- Adam Czerniaków
- Ghetto uprising
- Dov Lopatyn
- Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski
- Useful Jew
- Theresienstadt concentration camp, a fortress in Bohemia where a Nazi-appointed "cultural council" organized the life of the Jewish prisoners.
- ^ Trunk, Isaiah Judenrat: the Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation, with an introduction by Jacob Robinson. New York: Macmillan, 1972.
- (German) An article in German
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