Life in the Ghetto
In 1939, Hitler was unsure of what he was going to do with the Jews; the Nazis were tossing around options and ideas with the goal of removing Jews from the population. The German invasion into Poland, allowed for the first ghetto, regarded as a provisional measure to control and segregate Jews. Ghettos were enclosed, isolated urban areas designated for Jews. Living under strict regulations, with unthinkable living conditions, and crammed into small areas, the ghettos destroyed all hope of retaliating. In this paper, I will discuss what life would be like to be a Jew inside one of the 1,000 of ghettos within Poland and the Soviet Union. I will imagine myself a member of the Jewish council, describing the conditions of ghetto life and reflect on my role and relationships inside the ghetto.
Ghettos were set up all over Poland and the Soviet Union, with some of the major ghettos including Warsaw, Lodz, Lvov, Lublin, Krakow, and Bialystok. The German authorities were supposed to oversee the daily activities of the Jews inside the ghettos. Instead, the Nazis appointed Jewish Councils or “Judenrat” in each ghetto to implement Nazi policies. The Jewish Council served at the whim of the German authorities but also tried to be the voice for the Jews. “In each ghetto the Jewish Council also distributed scarce resources, organized social life, set up charities, and tried to find ways to maintain some kind of human community” (Genocide 115). As the book explains, “They [Nazis] appointed recognized Jewish leaders-prominent people, businessmen, teachers, lawyers-to these boards and assigned them the task of carrying out German orders within the ghetto” (Genocide 115).
Living conditions inside the Ghettos were absolutely horrendous with overcrowding, starvation, disease, little running water or electricity, lack of medical aid, and hard labor. Alternative ways to feed their families by smuggling in food or sending their children out to find food became prominent as the Jews sought any means possible to keep themselves fed. “There was already famine at that time in the Ghetto, and the streets were littered with people dying of hunger” (Images 137). Very little resistance was possible in most of the ghettos, as the Nazis kept a strict eye on everything. As we saw in the movie, The Pianist, a young boy was beaten to death climbing through a small hole in the wall trying to bring food back into the ghetto (The Pianist). Jews were given small rations of food a week that could barely feed one person. Jews were made to contribute to the German war effort by working in German factories making uniforms, boots, bed linen, and underwear. The reason why working cards were so essential was because it was the only way the Jews could officially stay in the ghettos. They were given more of an opportunity to not be deported to the death camps by working. Jews who didn't have work cards frantically tried to get them. We saw that in the movie when Adrien Brody got his father a work card to save him. He believed that if he got everyone in his family a work card then they would stay together (The Pianist). The wealthy Jews were forced to live with the poor Jews but they seemed to live a better life by buying what they wanted. Only the wealthy Jews could buy on the black market. The Pianist gave us an idea about the class divisions between the wealthy and poor Jews. Adrien Brody played a pianist, and in one scene he was playing in a café where the wealthy Jews ate. While the poor Jews were on the streets dying, starving, and dirty, the wealthy Jews were smoking, drinking, laughing, and listening to good music (The Pianist).
The Jewish Council’s relationship with the Nazis was an uncommon one. To a lot of the Jewish leaders it was a burden. They were powerless to help but yet they were forced to do what the Nazis wanted. “In cases when members of the councils refused to cooperate, German officials dismissed...
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