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Large Nazi German ghettos in which Jews were confined, and later shipped to concentration camps

During World War II, ghettos were set up in Nazi-occupied Europe by Nazi Germany in order to confine and segregate Jews and sometimes Gypsies into a usually tightly packed area within a city. In documents and signage at their entrances, the Nazis most often referred to these areas as Jüdischer Wohnbezirk or Wohngebiet der Juden, both of which translate as Jewish Quarters. Such ghettos varied from open ghettos, closed or sealed areas and destruction or extermination ghettos.


Soon after the 1939 German Invasion of Poland, the Nazis began to designate areas of larger Polish cities and towns as exclusively Jewish areas and systematically moved Polish Jews from their homes into these areas. The first ghetto of World War II was established on 8 October 1939 at Piotrków Trybunalski (38 days after the invasion),[1] with the Tuliszkow ghetto being established in December 1939 – January 1940, followed by the first large ghetto at the Łódź Ghetto in April 1940, and the Warsaw Ghetto in October. Many other ghettos were established in 1940 and 1941. Many ghettos were closed or sealed, being walled off or enclosed with barbed wire. In the case of sealed ghettos, any Jew found leaving them could be shot. The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest ghetto in Nazi occupied Europe, with over 400,000 Jews crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2) located in the heart of the city.[2] The Łódź Ghetto was the second largest, holding about 160,000 people.[3] According to USHMM archives, there were at least 1,000 such ghettos in German-occupied and annexed Poland and the Soviet Union alone.

Living conditions

Ghettos across Eastern Europe varied in their size, scope and living conditions.[4] The conditions in the ghettos were brutal. In Warsaw, 30% of the city population was forced to live in 2.4% of the city's area, a density of 7.2 people per room.[2] In the ghetto of Odrzywół, 700 people lived in an area previously occupied by five families, between 12 and 30 to each small room. The Jews were not allowed out of the ghetto, so they had to rely on smuggling and the starvation rations supplied by the Nazis: in Warsaw this was 253 calories (1,060 kJ) per Jew, compared to 669 calories (2,800 kJ) per Pole and 2,613 calories (10,940 kJ) per German. With the crowded living conditions, starvation diets, and little sanitation (in the Łódź Ghetto 95% of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers) hundreds of thousands of Jews died of disease and hunger.[5]


Walling-off Świętokrzyska Street (seen from Marszałkowska Street on the "Aryan side")

There were three types of ghettos created. Open ghettos did not have walls or fences, and existed mostly in initial stages of World War II in German-occupied Poland and the occupied Soviet Union, but also in Transnistria province of Ukraine occupied and administered by Romanian authorities. There were severe restrictions on entering and leaving them.[4]

Closed or sealed ghettos were situated mostly in German-occupied Poland. They were surrounded by brick walls, fences or barbed wire stretched between posts. Jews were not allowed to live in any other areas under the threat of capital punishment. In the closed ghettos the living conditions were the worst. The quarters were extremely crowded and unsanitary. Starvation, chronic shortages of food, lack of heat in winter and inadequate municipal services led to frequent outbreaks of epidemics such as dysentery and typhus and to a high mortality rate.[6] Most Nazi ghettos were of this particular type.[4]

The destruction or extermination ghettos existed in the final stages of the Holocaust, for between two and six weeks only, in German-occupied Soviet Union especially in Lithuania and the Soviet Ukraine, as well as in Hungary. They were tightly sealed off. The Jewish population was imprisoned in them only to be deported or shot by the Germans often with the aid of their collaborationist forces.[4]

Aryan side

Those parts of the city outside the walls of the Jewish Quarter were called "Aryan". For example in Warsaw, the city was divided into Jewish, Polish and German Quarters. Those living outside the ghetto had to have identification papers proving they were not Jewish (none of their grandparents was a member of the Jewish community), such as a baptism certificate. Such documents were sometimes called "Christian or Aryan papers". Catholic clergy in Poland forged on a mass scale baptism certificates,[7][8] which were given out to Jews by the dominant Polish resistance movement AK-Home Front (Polish: Armia Krajowa).[9] Any Pole found giving any help to a Jew was subject to the death penalty.[10]


In 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard, the systematic deportation of Jews to extermination camps. Nazi authorities throughout Europe (e.g., France, Italy and many others) would deport Jews to ghettos in Eastern Europe or most often directly to extermination camps. Almost 300,000 people were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto alone to Treblinka over the course of 52 days. In some ghettos, local resistance organizations staged ghetto uprisings. None were successful, and the Jewish populations of the ghettos were almost entirely killed. On June 21, 1943, Heinrich Himmler issued an order to liquidate all ghettos and transfer remaining Jewish inhabitants to concentration camps. A few ghettos were re-designated as concentration camps and existed until 1944.

See also


  1. First Jewish ghetto established in Piotrkow Trybunalski: October 8, 1939 at the Wayback Machine (archived January 6, 2009). Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Warsaw, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  3. Ghettos, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 Types of Ghettos. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
  5. Browning, Christopher R. (2004). "The Origins of the Final Solution: The Evolution of Nazi Jewish Policy 1939-1942". Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-1327-1. .
  6. Hershel Edelheit, Abraham J. Edelheit, A world in turmoil: an integrated chronology of the Holocaust, 1991
  7. "Wartime Rescue of Jews by the Polish Catholic Clergy. The Testimony of Survivors" at the Wayback Machine (archived July 1, 2007) compiled by Mark Paul, with selected bibliography; published by the Polish Educational Foundation in North America, Toronto 2007
  8. Gunnar S. Paulsson, “The Rescue of Jews by Non-Jews in Nazi-Occupied Poland,” published in The Journal of Holocaust Education, volume 7, nos. 1 & 2 (summer/autumn 1998): pp.19–44.
  9. Tadeusz Piotrowski (2007). Poland's Holocaust: Ethnic Strife, Collaboration with Occupying Forces and Genocide in the Second Republic, 1918-1947. McFarland. ISBN 978-0-7864-2913-4. 
  10. Donald L. Niewyk, Francis R. Nicosia (2000). The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust. Columbia University Press. p. 114–. ISBN 978-0-231-11200-0. 


  • Megargee, Geoffrey P., ed (2012). Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945. in association with United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0253355997. 

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