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Isolate and Destroy: The Jewish Question in Occupied Territory

Deportation of Jews from Leslau to Lodz, October 1939. CL:BPK
"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.

The streets of Warsaw shortly after capitulation, October 1939. CL:BPK
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

"In my courtyard there were two succot. In one of them there sat a Jew singing zemirot in a loud voice. I entered and asked him if he didn't realize where we were: how he dared sing so loudly as if nothing had happened. He just shook his head and continued with his zemirot. When he finished. he turned to me and said, 'What can they do to me? They can take mv body- -but not my soul! Over my soul they have no dominion! Their dominion is only in this world. Here they are the mighty ones. All right. But in the world to come their strength is no more." Jacob Koretz, from Sefer Ha-edut, 1950

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.

"Grandma's apartment consisted of a large room and a kitchen. It was not easy to accommodate sixteen persons in it....It was the middle of winter. there was no fuel for heating. We froze in the rooms." Sara Selwer-Urbach, Survivor

The SS and SD (Security Service) search for hidden weapons, Warsaw, September 1939. Members of the Jewish Council (Judenrat), Lublin 1939

A claimed typhus epidemic provided an excuse to isolate
the Jews of Warsaw, October 1939.
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.

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