The Ghetto- Story & Dillemas - הגטו- סיפורים ודילמות

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Resource Type: Peula in: English
Age: 15-20
Group Size: 10-30
Estimated Time: 45 minutes

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Resource Goal

1. You will be able to explain the role played by the ghetto in the scheme of Hitler's Final Solution.

2. You will be able to describe life and death in the ghetto.

Resource Contents

The Ghetto

The Warsaw Ghetto! Mila 18! Korczak! Anielewicz!

You have heard about these places and people. What do you really know about them? On the March of the Living you will walk through the streets of "New Warsaw." Under the ground on which you walk is the Warsaw Ghetto, razed to the ground by the Nazis. You will stand on top of the bunker from which the battle plans for the revolt were formulated. What was life like in that bunker during that incredible month?

You will walk through the old Cracow Ghetto. Here you will see six synagogues still standing. Here you will see an actual part of the ghetto wall. On many of the buildings you will see the place where mezzuzot once adorned the doorway. Here you will almost feel what life may have been like then.

The dehumanization process that took place in the ghettos is difficult for us to understand . It was all part of the Second War against the Jews - the psychological war.

When the Nazis entered a region the first goal was to "relocate" Jews from the countryside to the larger cities. The Jews were to be placed in large cities and settlements at points located along railroad lines, "so as to facilitate subsequent measures" (Heydrich).

While this "interim stage of the ghettoization" was instituted our people sought to form a Jewish life and viable community, and did not give in to the Nazi campaign of destruction despite severe living conditions in the ghetto.

In this chapter you will come face to face with life in the ghetto. Read with your mind open. Try to project yourself into the readings. When you walk the streets of Warsaw and Cracow, you will only hear the normal noise of a city. But fifty years ago the sounds and sites were radically different. Each building has a thousand stories. Each square shouts out in Yiddish about the life that was obliterated. Each street whispers to us of the hundreds of thousands of Jewish souls that walked there before you. Each step you take will lead you to a better understanding of life in the ghetto.


1. You will be able to explain the role played by the ghetto in the scheme of Hitler's Final Solution.

2. You will be able to describe life and death in the ghetto.


"We are returning to the Middle Ages."

Emanuel Ringelbaum diary, November 8, 1940, Warsaw, Poland


"In contrast to the ghettos of the Middle Ages, the ghettos during the Nazi period were not intended as a permanent framework, but simply as a stage in preparation for a future general solution to the Jewish problem..lead to the breakdown of their physical, mental, and social structure, destroying the resistance..."


The Ghettos by Yisrail Gutman


If there is no bread, there is no Torah

Source: Hitler's War Against the Jews


One of the earliest prayers still in use today is the Birkat Hamazon, the blessing said after eating. The Jews have long recognized that food is basic to life and even in times of plenty they have not taken sustenance for granted. The Bible commands that one bless God after partaking of a meal, for it is through God's infinite goodness that creation sustains us (Deuteronomy 9:10). The ancient rabbis pointed out that where poverty and famine exist, there is no time for people to study -- all their time is taken up in finding enough to eat. "If there is no flour, there is no Torah" (Avot 3:21) became a basic Jewish dictum. It was one of the great miracles of the Holocaust that Jews deprived of sustenance were able to find strength in one another.


Reading #1 


The March can take you to Poland, to Warsaw and Cracow and Lublin. But it cannot take you into a ghetto. For that you must use your imagination again. Elie Wiesel helps you to understand with this insightful excerpt from his book.


Night (Excerpts from) - Elie Wiesel

Two ghettos were set up in Sighet. A large one, in the center of the town, occupied four streets, and another smaller one extended over several small side streets in the outlying district. The street where we lived,

Serpent Street
, was inside the first ghetto. We still lived, therefore, in our own house. But as it was at the corner, the windows facing the outside street had to be blocked up. We gave up some of our rooms to relatives who had been driven out of their flats.

Little by little life returned to normal. The barbed wire which fenced us in did not cause us any real fear. We even thought ourselves rather well off; we were entirely self-contained. A little Jewish republic...We appointed a Jewish Council, a Jewish police, an office for social assistance, a labor committee, a hygiene department-a whole government machinery.

Everyone marveled at it. We should no longer have before our eyes those hostile faces, those hate-laden stares. Our fear and anguish were at an end. We were living among Jews, among brothers...

Of course, there were still some unpleasant moments. Every day the Germans came to fetch men to stoke coal on the military trains. There were not many volunteers for work of this kind. But apart from that the atmosphere was peaceful and reassuring.

The general opinion was that we were going to remain in the ghetto until the end of the war, until the arrival of the Red Army. Then everything would be as before. It was neither German nor Jew who ruled the ghetto - it was illusion.

On the Saturday before Pentecost (Shavuot), in the spring sunshine, people strolled, carefree and unheeding, through the swarming streets. They chatted happily. The children played games on the pavements. With some of my schoolmates, I sat in the Ezra Malik gardens, studying a treatise on the Talmud.

Night fell. There were twenty people gathered in our back yard. My father was telling them anecdotes and expounding his own views of the situation. He was a good story teller.

Suddenly, the gate opened and Stern - a former tradesman who had become a policeman--came in and took my father aside. Despite the gathering dusk, I saw my father turn pale.

"What's the matter?" we all asked him.

"I don't know. I've been summoned to an extraordinary meeting of the council. Something must have happened."

The good story he had been in the middle of telling us was to remain unfinished.

"I'm going there," he went on. "I shall be back as soon as I can. I'll tell you all about it. Wait for me."

We were prepared to wait for some hours. The back yard became like the hall outside an operating room. We were only waiting for the door to open - to see the opening of the firmament itself. Other neighbors, having heard rumors, had come to join us. People looked at their watches. The time passed very slowly. What could such a meeting mean?

"I've got a premonition of evil," said my mother. "This afternoon I noticed some new faces in the ghetto-two German officers, from the Gestapo, I believe. Since we've been here, not a single officer has ever shown himself..."

It was nearly midnight. No one had wanted to go to bed. A few people had paid a flying visit to their homes to see that everything was all right. Others had returned home, but they left instructions that they were to be told as soon as my father came back.

At last the door opened and he appeared. He was pale. At once he was surrounded.

"What happened? Tell us what happened! Say something!"

How avid we were at that moment for one word of confidence, one sentence to say that there were no grounds for fear, that the meeting could not have been more commonplace, more routine, that it had only been a question of social welfare, of sanitary arrangements! But one glance at my father's haggard face was enough.

"I have terrible news," he said at last. "Deportation."

The ghetto was to be completely wiped out. We were to leave street by street, starting the following day.

We wanted to know everything, all the details. The news had stunned everyone, yet we wanted to drain the bitter draft to the dregs.

"Where are we being taken?"

This was a secret. A secret from all except one; the President of the Jewish Council. But he would not say; he could not say. The Gestapo had threatened to shoot him if he talked.

"There are rumors going around," said my father in a broken voice, "that we're going somewhere in Hungary, to work in the brick factories. Apparently, the reason is that the front is too close here..."

And, after a moment's silence, he added:

"Each person will be allowed to take only his own personal belongings. A bag on our backs, some food, a few clothes. Nothing else."

Again a heavy silence.

"Go and wake the neighbors up," said my father. "So that they can get ready."

The shadows beside me awoke as from a long sleep. They fled silently, in all directions.


Activity #1

1. If you had to move into the ghetto and could only bring what you could carry in your hands, WHAT WOULD YOU BRING? Please list.


This question may be more personal if you lived in South Florida and had to evacuate your home because of a hurricane, or if you lived in the Midwest and had to rush out of your home because of a flood.

Reading #2 

You may have heard about the food on the March? No comment. In this article you will read about food in the Ghetto. Care for a comment then?

As the Nazis moved into each city - from : "The Holocaust, Can It Happen To Me?..."

Orders to move into the ghettos were given by large signs which were posted throughout the town and through loud speakers blaring announcements that the death penalty would be dealt to anyone who disobeyed. Movement into the ghettos was also facilitated by the victims' belief that this was the final measure of persecution against them and that the war would soon end. Unaware of the Nazis' plans to completely destroy them, they resigned themselves to the move. Furthermore, many of the Jews hoped that living together in mutual cooperation and self-rule would make it a little easier to withstand the Nazi brutality they had so often been exposed to as individuals. The assumption was (and the Nazis encouraged this belief) that if they carried out the Nazis' orders and were beneficial to the Nazis by being productive, they would be left alone. However, it was not long before it was discovered that these were false hopes.


Ghetto Features and Conditions 

In most cases, ghettos were established in the poorest sections of the cities in Poland. Before the war, these areas had frequently been crowded Jewish neighborhoods. When the ghetto was established, the non-Jews had to leave (although many went to better apartments vacated by Jews who had been forced to abandon them) and Jews from other neighborhoods were ordered to move there. In order to concentrate Jews scattered throughout the countryside, those who lived in the rural areas were brought to the cities and also moved into the ghettos.

Conditions in almost all of the ghettos in Poland were inhuman. There was rationing of food to starvation levels. For example, in Warsaw, the largest of the ghettos in Poland, food allocation amounted to 183 calories per day; the Poles received 934, foreigners 1,790 and the Germans 2,310. The average ration per person each month was four pounds of bread. The bread dough was mixed with sand, sawdust and chestnuts. Periodically jam, made from beets and saccharine, was distributed. The Germans also were quite willing to bring in potatoes and "brukiew" (a large squash) -- provided it had frozen and turned rotten. Hunger was never ending. One survivor who was 13 years old when she was in the Warsaw Ghetto, related her memory of the evening her mother put before her a sort of brown meat which looked like liver. Half-starved she could not believe her good fortune. The liver was exceptional, without any veins or coarseness. The young girl asked, "How were you so lucky to get the meat?" Her mother confessed that the "liver" was actually blood that had been taken from a dead horse and boiled until it had jelled. The young girl was nauseous but held herself back from vomiting.



1. Would you have eaten the "liver"?