VHM Artifact Highlight: Ghetto Stories

June 20th, 2017–

The main function of ghettoization -- physically segregating Jewish citizens from the rest of society -- eventually served as a key step in the deportation of Jews to killing fields and extermination camps during the Final Solution. Prior to the spring of 1942, relatively few Jews were imprisoned in concentration camps when compared to the numbers being collected into ghettos. By March 1941, the Warsaw ghetto held over 400,000 prisoners in a 1.3 square mile area. In an oral history conducted with the VHM, Hank Brodt discusses the creation of a ghetto in Boryslaw, Poland:

Ghettos often contained Jews from the local area but some held those from other countries or regions as well. The Nazis forced local Jewish councils to act as administrators of larger ghettos in order to implement Reich policy.

Unlike concentration camps, however, ghettos were not part of a larger administrative system, and followed no true master plan. The Germans’ created ghettos for different reasons based on location and time; thus, some existed for years while others were only in use for a few weeks. For instance, after Kristallnacht, the authorities in Haltern am See rounded-up the small number of Jewish families and placed them in a JudenHaus. Alex Lebenstein, talks about the experience during his oral history:

There were similarities between ghettos even though size and location varied greatly. The key conditions -- overcrowding, forced labor, and food shortages – were common regardless of location, which led to starvation, disease, and death throughout the period. In his oral history, Mark Strauss discusses the conditions his family endured in the Lvov ghetto:

The concentration of Jews during this phase of the Holocaust further aided the Nazis in implementing the Final Solution. By the beginning of 1942, as the Germans shifted from open air killing to industrialized gassing operations, the ghettos served as mass deportation centers for Jews who were already confined.