What were ghettos and why were they established by the Nazi’s

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Last updated: November 12, 2019

While writing this essay I will address the question of what Jewish ghettos were and why the Nazi’s established them. In the course of this essay I will use particular reference to, and examine, the sources A, B, and C and will use them in association with my answer. During the period of 1939 to 1945 the Nazi’s established over 350 ghettos through out Poland, the Soviet Union, the Baltic States, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Hungary. As part of their ‘dream’ to eliminate all of the European Jews, the Nazis adopted a policy which was known as ‘Judenfrei’.

Whilst the Nazis conquered Eastern European towns, cities, and even whole countries, the Special Action Groups, under the control of the Nazi SS leaders Himmler and Heydrich, gathered up all the Jews in the whole of Europe, and banished them to cordoned-off areas. From these the Jews had no escape. In such big cities as Warsaw, these ghettos were closed in and walled off so that what was about to become could not be seen from outside its walls.

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Judenfrei’, after the Wannsee conference of 1942, was greatly accelerated since it was agreed that a ‘final solution’ of the Jewish population, smartly nicknamed the Jewish question or problem, was to become operational. Ghettos were now to be seen as the first stages of the strategy towards the complete elimination of Jews throughout Europe. These were also cunning used for slave labour camps, where the Nazis could go pick out the healthy Jewish men and women make them work to the edge of death for no money what-so-ever.These camps were also mainly used for holding camps before the deportation of the Jews to Auschwitz, the German death camp. Nearly all of the Jews who were sent to the death camps were never to be seen again. Inside these camps, the level of good living was atrocious. People were ridding with disease.

The conditions were altogether unbearable. With overcrowding as a main problem. These conditions did not even worry the Nazis. In fact it sped up the death of Jews inside these camps.

With nearly 13 people cramped into one room! The standard of living could not even be thought about. Before the ‘Final Solution’ came into play, there were 40,000 Jewish poles in Warsaw, after this was working the number of Jews living in Warsaw shot up to a huge number of 500,000. With no heating, no cleaning, no sanitation and no hot water the Jews were left to rot within the ghetto. Starvation killed most as food was hard to find.

With the limited calorie intake of 184 calories people found it hard to keep their weight.Death from starvation from hunger became a daily occurrence. From 22nd of February 1941, “any Pole selling food to a Jew outside the Warsaw ghetto was automatically sentenced to three months of hard labour and then the Ghetto ration was reduced to three ounces of bread a day”, (Martin Gilbert: The Dent Atlas of the Holocaust, 1982). Disease was very much rampant, poor standards of living and cramped conditions meant it was easy for diseases to spread. It also became a daily occurrence if somebody died of disease.

The running of the ghetto was imposed by the Nazi’s onto a Jewish council. This council had its own appointed police force and ran the day-to-day operations that were occurring inside the ghetto. It also provided healthy and fit Jews, which were over 16 years of age, for forced labour. Their work shift consisted of 12 gruelling hours of hard manual labour. This included factory work, building roads, digging tunnels and loading and unloading vehicles. In their weak state they could not handle the severity of such work, thus it killed them.

In some cases, when the Jewish workers became exhausted or weak, the Nazi guards casually shot them through the head. The ghettos had a very high number of facilities which were in place to make their regime run easier. One Nazi Colonel Zeitung reported on 5th April 1941 that whilst these ‘holding posts’ were, “a mere prelude to the solution of the Jewish question, it has turned out to be the best and most perfect temporary solution of the Jewish question. ” (Martin Gilbert: The Dent Atlas of the holocaust 1982).Source A is an excellent visual piece of evidence, which offers great first hand footage of what life was like inside the ghetto. It is an extract from the Discovery Channel’s ‘Hitler the criminal’; it gives us footage of the living conditions inside the Warsaw ghetto, with extreme cases of malnutrition and starvation being highlighted. The aspect of overcrowding was also very well shown in the video. A survivor from these hard times gives us a brief interview of what it was like living in the ghetto,” we were caught in a trap.

There was no escape. We were helpless. The hunger was terrible. It takes a long time for somebody to die of starvation”. This source also gives a very good primary source as it quotes Hitler’s intentions towards Jews, and it links his secondary account to that of the video footage. The narrator links the video footage of life within the ghetto to the overall plan, highlighting how these ghettos served as mere ‘ holding posts’ that waited for the Auschwitz train to arrive. Source B is an altogether different piece of evidence.It is taken from Martin Gilbert’s Holocaust: the Jewish Tragedy 1986.

Gilberts point of view comes is an intellectual authority on the whole event of the holocaust. And it is his publications what gives us the excellent insight to the experience of the Jews within the ghettos. The policy of the ultimate aim, or ‘Final Solution’, is one what was planned at the highest level of concentration, with Heydrich, one of the most top SS leaders, being quoted in regards to the Nazi policy of establishing ghettos.Gilbert demonstrated that the ‘Final Solution’ had to be given a complete distinction from the rest of the stages that had been in commission before it. He done this by saying that Heydrich “insisted that a distinction must be made between what he called the ultimate aim, which requires a prolonged period of time, and the stages leading to the fulfilment of this ultimate aim”. Source B also gives reference to the fact that these ghetto were to be cordoned-off areas for it attributes Heydrich as nothing that, ” to facilitate this concentration.

….. rders would probably have been given forbidding Jews to enter certain districts of that city altogether.

” Now we know that Heydrich played an instrumental part in the planning of the ‘Final Solution’, and clearly links these stages to the establishment of the ghettos as a prelude to the ultimate aim of complete extermination of all Jews in Europe. Lastly, source B shows us that the cordoning-off, or in Warsaw’s case, the building of walls around the ghetto (which the Jews were forced to build), was a well planned strategy.Source C also contains an extract from a Martin Gilbert publication, Final Journey: The Fate of the Jews in Nazi Europe. This source is also an ideal secondary source, in which, the evidence concentrates on the creation of ghettos, and the deadline for the Poles to move out of the designated area and the deadline for the Jewish population of Europe to move inside of this area.The source also focuses of the sealing-off of the ghetto, but also refers closely to the walls that enclosed the Jews within the ghetto area of Warsaw. Interestingly, in source A when Janina David refers to her feelings of being trapped, and when the narrator talks of the “greatest trap in human history”, correlations can be made with the references in source B and C in regards to the sealed-off nature of the walled-in Warsaw ghetto.

Overall, the evidence provided by sources A, B and C, help us in our understanding of the ghetto and why it was created by the Nazi’s. These sources also provide significant and relevant primary and secondary evidence that help give us an insight to the German plan of the establishment of ghettos, and of the living experience of the Jews who suffered a terrible fate. A fate that was to prove not an end in itself, but as a prelude towards the fulfilment of the ‘Final Solution’.

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