"By reason of their birth and race. all Jews are part of an international conspiracy against National Socialist Germany....The treatment we give them does them no wrong. They have more than deserved it."
Josef Goebbels, November 16, 1941
With the outbreak of war on September 1, 1939, any constraint Hitler or the Nazis felt toward the treatment of the Jewish people was removed. The Nazis' murderous intent was revealed immediately. The period of 1939-41 was one of planning and experimentation in preparation for the "Final Solution." By June 1940, the Nazis occupied Holland, Belgium, and France. By midsummer of 1941, Germany controlled most of Europe and millions of Jews came under Nazi oppression. On July 31, 1941, Goering ordered Reinhard Heydrich to make "all necessary preparations with regard to organizational, substantive and financial viewpoints for a total solution of the Jewish question in German-occupied Europe."
Segregated for annihilation by the Nazis, Jews were forced to wear distinctive yellow badges, such as the Yellow Star.
"They broke out crying wailed, screamed. Some tried to escape on the way there but they were shot dead....The condemned were stripped of their clothes. and in groups of three hundred they were forced into the ditches. First they threw in the children. The women were shot at the edge of the ditch, after that it was the turn of the men. Many were covered while they were still alive."
Dr. Helen Kutorgene, Survivor, Kovno, Lithuania, October 28, 1941
The women of one Jewish family (Grandmother, mother, children) photographed by an execution squad prior to their murder. Liepaja, Latvia. Dec. 15, 1941. CL:Zentrale Stelle. Ludwiqsburq
On September 27, 1939, the Polish capital of Warsaw fell and the conquest of Poland was completed within four weeks. Almost two million Polish Jews were now under Nazi rule. Even before the invasion of Poland, the Nazis had chosen Eastern Europe (Poland, the Baltic States, and the Soviet Union) as the ideal arena for the mass murder of Europe's Jews. They reasoned that: the largest numbers of Jews lived in these areas; they were removed from neutral observers; the local populations were traditionally hostile to the Jews; and the killing could be camouflaged as part of the war effort and the struggle against Bolshevism.
Terror was the basis of Nazi policy in occupied Poland. At first the Nazis focused on eliminating the Polish intellectual elite. Over 10,000 Polish priests, teachers, and political leaders were murdered in the first months of occupation. Over 120,000 Jews died during the same period as victims of the concentrated aerial bombardment of known Jewish sections of Warsaw; or as victims of execution squads; or as soldiers in the Polish army. By the summer of 1941, 3 million Jews would be trapped in Poland.
Group of Polish partisans being led to Beuthen in October 1939. CL:BPK
"In our scroll of agony. not one small detail can be omitted. Even though we are now underqoinq terrible tribulations and the sun has grown dark for us at noon, we have not lost our hope that the era of light will surely come. Our existence as a people will not be destroyed. Individuals will be destroyed. but the Jewish community will live on. Therefore. every entry is more precious than gold. so long as it is written down as it happens. without exaggerations and distortions."
Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary, October 26, 1939
"For the time being the first prerequisite for the final aim is the concentration of the Jews from the countryside into the larger cities."
Reinhard Heydrich, September 21, 1939.
On September 21, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich, Chief of the German Security Police, issued a decree outlining the policy for treatment of the Jews in German-occupied territory. The identification, isolation, and containment of the Eastern European Jews in ghettos was a well-planned prelude to the ultimate extermination of millions.
Stated simply, Heydrich ordered the Jews to be identified, their property confiscated, and that rural Jews be forced into ghettos in the large cities. There they would wait: overcrowded, vulnerable to starvation and epidemics, and available for slave labor.
The SS and SD (Security Service) search for hidden weapons, Warsaw, September 1939. Members of the Jewish Council (Judenrat), Lublin 1939
THE NEW GHETTOS: DESIGNED FOR DEATH
Dating from medieval times, the European Jewish ghetto was a traditional solution for isolating Jews and separating them from Christians. While usually in the worst sections of cities, these traditional ghettos did provide some marginal degree of protection and support for their occupants. The Nazi ghettos are linked to this tradition, but they had a deadly intent: to confine the occupants for the sole purpose of their eventual elimination.
Jewish ghettos were usually cut off from their surrounding cities by walls or barbed-wire. Overcrowded, lacking fuel, food, water and proper sanitation, the ghettos had a high mortality rate.
A claimed typhus epidemic provided an excuse to isolate
the Jews of Warsaw, October 1939. CL:BPK
THE JEWISH COUNCILS (JUDENRAETE)
Heydrich's orders mandated the creation of Jewish councils to administer the ghettos and to execute Nazi orders. Composed of elders and other influential personalities, these councils were responsible for registering all Jews; providing an accurate survey of all Jewish property; managing housing, health, police, and sanitation in the ghetto; and for providing slave labor.
"This morning the ghetto received a horrifying shock. Children to the age of ten are to be torn away from their parents. brothers and sisters. and deported. Old people over 65 are being robbed of their last life-saving plank. They are being sent away like useless ballast." Josef Zelkowicz, Chronicler, Lodz Ghetto, September 4, 1942
Children at hard labor. CL:Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.
The deportation of Jews from Lodz, March 1940. CL:Bundesarchiv.
In Lodz, Poland, the first major ghetto was created by the Nazis. Sealed with a barbed wire wall in April 1940, it held 165,000 Jewish residents. Forced resettlement from surrounding Polish towns swelled the ghetto population to over 200,000 by the end of 1941, including 5,000 Gypsies.
As in every ghetto, overcrowding, disease, lack of food, fuel and sanitation were the norm. More than 50,000 Jews died from malnutrition and disease in the Lodz ghetto.
After the decision to murder all the Jews of Europe was made in 1941, the Nazis began deporting the ghetto's old, young and weak to killing centers. By the end of 1942, over 80,000 had been deported from the Lodz ghetto to Chelmno (Kulmhof). Those Jews remaining were used for slave labor.
The Lodz ghetto was the last Polish ghetto to be liquidated, providing a source of forced labor until August 1944. At that time, the remaining Jews were deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau for extermination.
Family bids farewell upon separation and deportation. CL:Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.
Bridge connects two parts of the ghetto separated by the street below, 1941. CL:Bundesarchiv.
"Whoever will endure, whoever will survive the diseases that range in the qhetto because of the dreadful congestion, the filth and uncleanness, because of having to sell your last shirt for half a loaf of bread. whoever will be that hero. will tell the terrible story of a generation and an age when human life was reduced to the subsistence of abandoned dogs in a desolate city."
Peretz Opoczynski, Warsaw, 1941
Death in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1940. CL:Bundesarchi
The Warsaw Ghetto was officially established on October 2, 1940. Surrounded by a 10 foot high wall topped with broken glass and barbed wire, the ghetto population contained nearly 500,000 people. Overcrowding, malnutrition, and disease caused daily fatalities in the ghetto. In 1941 alone, nearly 40,000 died of disease and starvation. Death by "natural means" was deliberate policy for the ghettos.
During the Operation Reinhard liquidation, from July through September 1942, nearly 300,000 Jews were deported from Warsaw to the killing center at Treblinka. Only 50,000 "work" Jews remained in the ghetto, when further attempts to deport Jews met with resistance. This in turn led to the revolt of April- May 1943 and the eventual destruction and leveling of the ghetto.
"The Jewish quarter extends over about 1.016 acres. ...Occupancy therefore works out at 15.1 persons per apartment and six to seven persons per room." Waldemar Schoen, German Official in Warsaw, January 1941.
"Even though large tracts of Europe and many old and famous states have fallen or may fall into the grip of the Gestapo and all of the odious apparatus of Nazi rule we shall not flag or fail. We shall go on to the end."
Winston Churchill, House of Commons, June 4, 1940
Le Vernet, an internment and transit camp in southern France.CL:Joint Distribution Committee. New York
On May 10, 1940, German forces swept westward. By May 15, Holland surrendered, twelve days later, Belgium, and by June, France had collapsed. More than half a million additional Jews were thus swiftly trapped in the Nazi orbit.
Unlike Eastern Europe, the Nazis did not see Western Europe as a viable area for the mass- murder of Jews. The different character of the West European Jewish communities and the different attitude of local populations required new patterns of persecution from those utilized in Poland.
Western Europe was not in the arena for mass murder; it was a staging area for deportations to the East via Drancy (France), Malines (Belgium), and Westerbork (the Netherlands). In September 1940, the French conducted a census of Jews in the occupied North and in October registered all Jewish property and assets. The first roundups of foreign Jews occurred in May 1941. In the French unoccupied zone, the fascist Vichy government created the Commissariat for Jewish Affairs under the notorious antisemite Xavier Vallat. In France, Belgium and the Netherlands, the registration, segregation, and isolation of foreign and native Jews was complete by early 1942; these steps were the precursors to later deportation and murder.
The Nazi policy in Western Europe also called for the forced deportation of Jews to Eastern European killing centers. More than 400,000 Western European Jews were loaded into trains and shipped east to Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Maidanek, Sobibor or Treblinka, where they were murdered.
A Jewish family being deported from Amsterdam was allowed to take only what they could carry. CL:Yad Vashem
The dive bombing Stuka terrorized civilian populations during the German's blitzkrieg. CL: Imperial War Museum, London
"They started with one huge husky peasant who began singing an old historical heroic song of the Serbs. They put his head on the table and as he continued to sing they slit his throat and then the next squad moved in to smash his skull. 'This is what you are all getting' an USTASA (Croatian Nazi) screamed. USTASE surrounded us. ...Then the slaughter began...Within a matter of minutes we stood in a lake of blood."Ljubo Jadnak, Survivor, Yugoslavia
Ustashi search and plunder property of newly arrived prisoners
at Jasenovac concentration camp. CL:Hrvatski Slikopisni Tiednik. No. 5047
By April 1941, Germany conquered Greece and Yugoslavia. In less than two years, the Nazis had overrun most of Europe including France, Holland, Belgium, Denmark, Norway, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, and Greece. Furthermore, the southeastern countries of Hungary, Bulgaria, and Rumania were controlled as Axis satellites. This rapid military success convinced the Nazis that the time was at hand to impose their "new order."
Women and children in a Jewish quarter of Salonika. CL:YIVO
"We are left naked. but as long as this secret power is still within us we do not give up hope. And the strength of this power lies in the indigenous nature of Polish Jewry, which is rooted in our eternal tradition that commands us to live."Chaim A. Kaplan, The Warsaw Diary. March 10, 1940.
While death took its daily toll through starvation and disease, the Nazis' goal in the ghettos was to brutalize and break the spirit of the inhabitants. To combat this, underground social, religious, educational, and political organizations were created. Newspapers were published, classes held, religious services conducted, despite the threat of death for such activities.
Burial in Warsaw, 1941. CL:Bundesarchiv.
Selling old books at the ghetto's lending library. Winter 1941. CL:Joe Heydecker, Vienna and Sao Paulo. Brazil.
Theatrical performance in the Warsaw Ghetto, 1941. CL:Bundesarchi
Secret ghetto archives were established to preserve the history of life in the ghettos and document Nazi inhumanity. The best known, the Oneq Shabbat of Warsaw, was founded by Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum, who convinced poets, artists, physicians, journalists, social scientists, and rabbis to contribute. Diaries, commissioned reports, and documents were preserved and buried in three milk cans in non-Jewish sections of Warsaw. Two cans were recovered after the war and one is still to be found.
Chaim Rumkowski, German appointed "Elder of the Jews," officiates at a wedding. CL:Kibbutz Lohamei Hagetaot.
|Janusz Korczak (1879-1942), son of a wealthy Warsaw family, was a physician who was especially concerned with social issues and authored books on the plight of homeless orphans (Children of the Street). In 1911, he became head of a Jewish orphanage in Warsaw. He lectured at the Free Polish University, did radio broadcasts on topics relating to children, and wrote children's books. As a Polish representative in the Jewish Agency, he visited Kibbutzim in Israel. After the Nazi invasion, his main interest was saving the orphanage in Warsaw. Despite temporary exemption from deportation to Treblinka, Korczak voluntarily went to his death with the children when they were deported.||
Dr. Janusz Korczak with children from his orphanage, 1940. CL:BPK.
An orphanage in the Warsaw Ghetto. CL:SWC.