A ghetto is a neighbourhood were the majority of the habitants are of the same race, religion or ethnic group. The habitants usually are of the lower income class, being forced to live in that neighborhood by the government or circumstances.
Ghettos in eastern europe
The same was the case with the jewish ghetto’s. Prior to the war cities with a large jewish community already had neighborhoods with high percentages of jewish residents. During the start of the nazi rule Jews were forbidden to move freely. Later on they were forced to move into the Jewish ghettos, called jewish quarters in the larger cities. This made ghettos very densily populated areas. for example, in the warsaw ghetto lived 400.000 people on 3.5 sqaure kilometer. This means an average density of 146.000 people per square kilometer, sharing rooms with 8 other people. In comparison, that’s a 5 times higher population density as Mumbai and 7 times higher than paris.
Living in the ghettos was extremely harsh. For example, in the warsaw ghetto the people got an adult food ration of 260 calories, compared to the 2500 calorie diet of the german population during that time. During the existence of the ghetto the death rate was about 5000 people a month.
Several types of ghettos existed. First, the open ghetto. Here the people were forced to move to a certain neighborhood, but allowed to leave them under certain restrictions. An example is the Jewish ghetto in Amsterdam. Usually these ghettos served as collection point to make the transport of the Jews to the east more easy. Since the population was allowed to move freely the condition weren’t as harsh as the closed ghettos.
The closed ghettos were neighborhood surrounded by barbed wire or walls. People were not allowed to enter or leave freely. Basically, these ghettos were comparable to the concentration camps in the west. The people were imprisoned in the ghettos and only allowed to work on Nazi approved projects. Most of these ghettos were present in the east and cleared during action Reinhard.
The third category of ghettos is the extermination ghetto. These ghettos were formed by the einsatzgruppen and only existed for a few weeks. Basically as jewish, or unwanted people, from several villages were collected into 1 village. The next days or weeks the people were brought to execution sites or transported to extermination camps.
Ghetto liquidation and uprisings
Most of the Jewish ghettos were liquidated by the Nazis. This meant either mass shooting all the inhabitants by the einsatzgruppen or transport towards a concentration or extermination camp. Most of the liquidations took place during operation Reinhard in 1942. The inhabitants of the Ghettos already heard the rumors about the mass extermination of the Jews and prepared armed resistance in the ghettos. These armed resistance groups came in action in some ghettos during the attempts of the Nazi’s to liquidate the specific ghetto. Some of the well known ghetto uprisings are those of:
- Łachwa (Lakhva) Ghetto Uprising of 3 September 1942
- Mizocz Ghetto Uprising of 14 October 1942
- Mińsk Mazowiecki Ghetto prisoner revolt of 10 January 1943
- Warsaw Ghetto Uprising 19 April – 16 May 1943, organised by the ŻOB and ŻZW
- Częstochowa Ghetto Uprising of 25–30 June 1943
- Będzin Ghetto Uprising also known as the Będzin-Sosnowiec Ghetto Uprising of 3 August 1943
- Białystok Ghetto Uprising 16-17 August 1943, organized by the Antyfaszystowska Organizacja Bojowa
Due to the inadequate supply of arms and being outnumbered the ghetto uprising did not affect the progress of the Holocaust to much. However, it is an important moral statement made by the Jewish people against the Nazi’s.
Warsaw ghetto uprising
The most well-known, largest and best documented ghetto uprisings is the one of the Warsaw ghetto in 1943. Prior to the uprising many of the inhabitants had already been transported out of the ghetto. The remaining population in the ghetto became doubtful about the promised “relocation to the east”, in which the Nazi’s promised they would be brought to labor camps with better condition than those in the ghetto. With the help of the polish resistance 2 Jewish resistance groups were able to arm themselves, namely the ZOB and ZZW. The uprising started at the 19th of April and lasting till the liquidation of the ghetto around the 16th of May 1943.
The first armed resistance against the Nazis occurred during January 1943. The Nazis tried to transport 8000 people out of the Ghetto. This aim was not reached due to the armed resistance of the Jewish resistance and the Nazis were only able to capture 5000 Jews. After this failed attempt the Nazis left the ghetto. During this period the Jewish resistance erected many makeshift bunkers and fighting positions.
On the 19th of April 1943 the Nazis entered the ghetto again in order to liquidate the Ghetto. The Nazi’s were met by fierce resistance of the Jewish resistance groups. In total 59 Nazis were killed on the first day. After this day Jurgen Stroop was appointed as SS leader in charge of liquidating the ghetto. Jurgens Stroop approach to liquidate the ghetto was by systematically burning all the housing blocks within the ghetto. During the systematic destruction of the ghetto many of the resistance leaders were killed and smoke bombs were used to force them out of their enforce positions. At the end of the uprising 13.000 Jews were killed and 50.000 Jews were captured and transported to Treblinka and Majdanek.