Kontakt / contact      Hauptseite / page
              principale / pagina principal / home     zurück / retour / indietro / astrás / back

Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ghetto

Development of ghettos in the Muslim empire - Ghettos against the Jews in Second World War
from: Ghetto; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 7

presented by Michael Palomino (2007)



[Ghetto specifications]
<GHETTO, urban section serving as compulsory residential quarter for Jews. Generally surrounded by a wall shutting it off from the rest of the city, except for one or more gates. The ghetto remained bolted at night.

[Jewish ghetto in the Roman Empire in Alexandria]

<The Greeks of Alexandria seized their opportunity with the rise of the pro-Hellenic emperor, Caius *Caligula in 37 C.E. The following year they stormed the synagogues, polluted them, and set up statues of the emperor within. The prefect, Valerius *Flaccus, was embarrassed and dared not remove the images of Caesar. The Jews were shut up in a ghetto and their houses plundered. Philo, who wrote In Flaccum and De Legatione on the affair, headed a Jewish delegation to Caligula to complain, but was dismissed with derision [[mockery]]. On the assassination of Caligula in 41 C.E. the Jews of Alexandria took vengeance by instigating a massacre of the Greeks.>
(Encyclopaedia Judaica: Egypt, Vol.6, col. 489)

[Ghettos in Italy - different thesis of origin about the name "ghetto" - ghettos for different groups]

The origin of this term has been the subject of much speculation. It was probably first used to describe a quarter of Venice situated near a foundry (getto, or ghetto) and which in 1516 was enclosed by walls and gates and declared to be the only part of the city to be open to Jewish settlement. Subsequently the term was extended to all Jewish quarters of the same type.

Other theories are that the word derives from the Hebrew get indicating divorce or separation; from the Greek yéltwv (neighbor); from the German geheckter [Ort], or fenced place; or from the Italian borghetto (a small section of the town).

All can be excluded, except for get which was sometimes used in Rome to mean a separate section of the city. In any case the institution antedates the word, which is (col. 542)

commonly used in several ways. It has come to indicate not only the legally established, coercive ghetto, but also the voluntary gathering of Jews in a secluded quarter, a process known in the Diaspora time before compulsion was exercised. By analogy the word is currently used to describe similar homogeneous quarters of non-Jewish groups, such as immigrant quarters, Negro quarters in American cities, native quarters in South African cities, etc.

For historical survey see *Jewish Quarter.

[Since 700 a.c. approx.: Ghettos in Muslim Countries]

In Muslim countries the Jewish quarter in its beginnings never had the character of a ghetto. It was always built on a voluntary basis, and it remained so in later times in the vast Ottoman Empire. Istanbul (Constantinople) was the classic example of a capital in which the Jewish quarters were scattered all over the city. In Shi'ite countries (Persia, Yemen) and in orthodox North Africa (Malikite rite) all non-Muslims were forced to live in separate quarters - for religious reasons (ritual uncleanness).

Embassies from Christian countries had to look for their (even temporary) dwellings among the Jews.

Christian Travelers and pilgrims to the Holy Land always remark that in case there was no Christian hospice in a town, they had to look for hospitality among the Jews. After the regulations compelling the Jews to dwell in separate quarters had been repealed (in the 19th and 20th centuries), and they could freely move out, the majority voluntarily remained in their old quarters. Only after the establishment of the new independent states in North Africa did most of the Jews abandon their old dwellings.

See *Jewish Quarter, in Muslim Countries.


[[There are missing the ghettos in Italy and the abolition of the ghettos after Napoleon and the emancipation in the 19th century in the article]].

[Ghettos since 1939 during] Holocaust Period


During the Holocaust period, the ghetto was substantially different from its character during the Middle Ages. In 1939 Hitler expressed the idea of concentrating the Jews in ghettos:

"Out with them from all the professions and into the ghetto with them; fence them in somewhere where they can perish as they deserve..."

[[This was the racial policy to create "higher human beings" by eliminating all "lower human beings" so they had no children any more and would die out]].

He did not, however, give orders to realize this idea, probably because allocating the Jews a defined status by placing them in ghettos was not in accordance with plans for their physical extermination [[mostly in the Red Army and in the NS tunnel systems]]. The suggestion to establish ghettos was raised from time to time (for example, by Goering in 1938), but it was not accepted. In his letter of Sept. 21, 1939, to the commanders of the Einsatzgruppen, Heydrich ordered the dissolution (Aufloesung) of communities that numbered less than 500 persons and the concentration of the Jew sin the large cities, where they would be restricted to specified neighborhoods.

By that time, however, it is almost certain that the Nazi leaders did not intend to turn the ghettos into permanent living quarters, and there is no doubt that with the acceptance of the decision on the "*Final Solution" (March 1941) [[to kill all East European Jews first and to bring all West European Jews to Eastern Europe and to let them die out there]], the fate of the various ghettos was sealed, even though a few continued to exist for some time. The ghetto, therefore, was conceived as a way station to the labor and extermination camps, and its purpose was to aid in the control and supervision of Jews by concentrating them in specific areas. It may be assumed that the Germans also hoped that as a result of hard labor, malnutrition, overcrowding, and substandard sanitary conditions, a large number of Jews would perish.

[1941-1943: Destruction of East European ghettos]

Likewise, the life-span of some ghettos was extended because they provided a large reservoir of cheap labor; but even this consideration did not prevent the extermination process. Thus the commander of Galicia, for example, sent out an order in the fall of 1942 to decrease the number of ghettos from 1,000 to 55, and in July 1943 Himmler decided to transfer the surviving inhabitants of ghettos throughout Ostland to concentration (col. 543)

camps. The last ghetto on Polish soil (*Lodz), which had been in existence since April 1940, was liquidated in August 1944 [[because all left Jews were brought to the tunnel systems to work and die]].

Special ghettos were established for Jews deported from Rumania [[Romania]] to Transnistria and resettled in cities or towns and in neighborhoods or on streets that had been occupied by Jews who had been exterminated shortly before by the German army. One exception was the ghetto at *Theresienstadt, which was established at the end of 1941 to house Jews from Bohemia and Moravia and later Jews from Germany and other Western countries were deported there as well. The Germans intended Theresienstadt to be a showcase to the world of their mass treatment of the Jews and thus mask the crime of the "Final Solution".

[[There were ghettos in every east European main town: First the East European Jews were shoot and then the West European Jews were brought there to die out: in the Baltic states, in White Russia and so on. Then the Jews were brought back into the tunnel systems and many died there]].


The Jews, who were unaware of the Nazis' intentions, resigned themselves to the establishment of ghettos and hoped that living together in mutual cooperation under self-rule would make it easier for them to overcome the period of repression until their country would be liberated from the Nazi yoke. It seemed to them that by imprisoning Jews in ghettos, the Nazis had arrived at the final manifestation of their anti-Jewish policy. If the Jews would carry out their orders and prove that they were beneficial to the Nazis by their work, they would be allowed to organize their community life as they wished.

However, the cruel treatment by the Nazi authorities and especially the Aktionen, in which large portions of the Jewish communities were arrested and transported to places from which no one returned, quickly destroyed this illusion. In addition, the Jews had practically no opportunity to express armed opposition that would prevent the Germans from carrying out their plans. The constant changes in the composition of the population (effected by transfers and roundups) and in living quarters made it more difficult to realize the expressions of opposition; the hermetic imprisonment from the outside world prevented the acquisition of arms; and conditions in the ghetto (malnutrition, concern for one's family, etc.) weakened the power of the opposition. On the other hand, the Germans had the manpower and technical equipment to repress any uprising with ease, and the non-Jewish population collaborated with them, or at best remained apathetic. Any uprising in the ghettos was thus predistined to failure.


[1939-1944: Overcrowded ghettos in Poland]

In most cases, the ghetto was located in one of the poor neighborhoods of a city that had previously housed a crowded Jewish population. Jews were transferred from the other neighborhoods in the city, and in many cases from nearby villages, to housing there, while the non-Jewish inhabitants of the neighborhood were forced to move to another area. These transfers caused (col. 544)

great overcrowding from the outset. In Lodz, for example, the average was six people to a room; in Vilna there were even eight to a room during one period.

[[These circumstances were also common in the racist "USA" for the immigrants 1914-1923]].

Whenever the overcrowding lessened because of the deporting of Jews to extermination camps [[mass death by shooting, the "useful" Jews like craftsmen stayed in the camps]], the area of the ghetto was decreased drastically.

At first there were two types of ghettos: open ones, which were marked only by signs as areas of Jewish habitation; and closed ones, which were surrounded by fences, or in some cases even by walls (as in *Warsaw). This difference, however, lost all significance during the period of deportations for before an open ghetto was liquidated, all access roads were blocked by the German police [[and their racist collaborating forces of East European police]], whereas in closed ghettos shifts of German police or their aides constantly guarded the fences and walls [[also Jewish ghetto police was formed]].

A more significant distinction was the fact that the Germans regarded the closed ghettos as large concentration camps, and therefore most of them were liquidated later than the open ghettos.

In contrast to these ghettos, which were all in Polish and Russian territory, the ghettos in Transnistria were not predestined for liquidation. Neither was the ghetto in Theresienstadt. Transnistria even succeeded in maintaining contact with the outside world and received assistance from committees in Rumania [[Romania]].

Theresienstadt was, in fact, cut off from the world (except for the transports that came in and went out), but the standard of living was higher there than in Eastern European ghettos.


For every ghetto, the German authorities appointed a *Judenrat [[Jewish council]], which was usually composed of Jewish leaders acceptable to the community. The Judenrat was not a democratic body, and its power was centered in one person, not always the chairman, who was responsible for its cooperation in matters relating to the ghetto. The leader of the Judenrat was subordinate to the German authorities, who delegated to him much authority with regard to the Jews but treated him disrespectfully and often cruelly. Many Jews appointed to the Judenrat believed that they were placed in their position in order to serve the Jewish people in its time of great need.

From the beginning, the Jewish leadership was faced with the impossible task of organizing ghetto life under emergency conditions and under the ceaseless pressure of threats of cruel punishment. Jewish institutions, to the extent that they existed, continued to function, either openly, such as the institutions that fulfilled religious needs, or in secret, such as the various parties. The major function of the leadership, however, was the provision of sustenance and health and welfare services (including hospitals), and this had to be accomplished without adequate means.

Despite supreme effort, in the course of time these institutions collapsed in most ghettos. It was even more difficult to establish those services which had not existed within the Jewish community before the Holocaust, such as police, prisons, and courts. The authority vested in these institutions was broad within the narrow autonomous framework that existed in the ghettos, and in many instances they were, of course, not properly utilized under conditions of the life-and-death struggle imposed on the inhabitants of the ghetto.

[[The Jewish organizations helped the Jews in the ghettos as much as they could. The Jews did not die as fast as the Nazis wanted]].


[[The liquidation came because of the mass shootings deportations into the camps]].


The liquidation of the ghettos was conducted as part of the policy of the "Final Solution", for which purpose the Germans prepared special extermination camps [[tunnel systems]]. When it was decided to liquidate a ghetto, they would call on the Jews to present themselves voluntarily to be transferred to labor camps (sometimes with false promises of improved living condition), but when this method proved unsuccessful, they would round up the residents and bring them by force to areas of concentration, from where they would be transported usually by train, to their destination.

The great majority of (col. 545)

the ghetto inhabitants were killed immediately upon their arrival in the camps [[resp. they died in the tunnel systems and at the end of the war because of epidemics]]; a minority were employed in forced labor and were killed after a short time by one of the regular means of extermination. Only a very small number remained alive, sometimes after having been shunted from camp to camp.

[[or the survived took another name, another religion etc. to protect oneself of further persecution e.g. by Stalins "Soviet Union" after 1945]].

See also *Holocaust, and for more information on specific ghettos see *Kovno, Lodz, *Lublin, *Theresienstadt, and *Warsaw.



-- G. Reitlinger: Final Solution (1968), index
-- R. Hilberg: Destruction of the European Jews (1961), index
-- P. Friedman, in: JSOS, 16 (1954), 61-88 (incl. bibl.) (col. 546)>

More example of ghettos:

Herzl Israel: Ghetto Fighters' House

in Lohamei, named after Katzenelson

<Beit Lohamei ha-Getta'ot, a ghetto uprising and Holocaust remembrance authority, established in kibbutz *Lohamei ha-Getta'ot, on April 19, 1950, by a group of former ghetto fighters and partisans. The house serves a a memorial and research and documentation center on the Holocaust period, and on Jewish resistance under Nazi rule in Europe. It contains an important historical archives on the Holocaust, and particularly on organized resistance; papers left by the poet Itzhak *Katzenelson, after whom it is named; documents from the *He-Halutz archives in the Warsaw and Bialystok ghettos; a collection of the publications of the Jewish underground in occupied Poland; on the Jewish underground in Holland and France; a register of names of Jewish partisans who fought in Italy and Yugoslavia; and photographs, films, and pictures.

The museum maintains a permanent display as well as special exhibits dealing with different aspects of the Holocaust and Jewish resistance; models of the Warsaw Ghetto and the *Treblinka death camp are on show. On the national Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel (27th of Nisan), a mass memorial assembly is held at the amphitheater outside the museum. The Ghetto Fighters' House has published a series of books and periodicals, Dappim le-Heker ha-Sho'ah ve-ha-Mered (1951-52, 1969); and Yedi'ot Beit Lohamei ha-Getta'ot al shem Yizhak Katzenelson (1951-60).> (col. 546)

Chinese ghetto in colonial Manila

In Manila the Chinese are ordered into their own district - Parian. Up to 15,000 Chinese traders are living in Parian. For reducing the Chinese immigration the Chinese have to pay high special taxes:
-- 64 reales for a permission of stay
-- 5 reales tax
-- 12 reales for the right purchasing properties.
(Internet: M.Payer: Chronik zur Geschichte der Philippinen).

In 1590 bishop Domingo de Salazar is writing to the king about the Chinese ghetto district of Parian:

<The Parian has adorned the city so that I do not hesitate to affirm your Majesty that no other known city in España or in these regions possesses anything so well worth seeing as this: for in it can be found the whole trade of China [...] workmen of all trades and handicrafts [...] doctors and apothecaries [...] There were also many eating houses where the Sangleys [= Chinesen] and the natives take their meals; and I have been told that these are frequented even by the Spaniards.>

Übersetzung: <Die Parianer haben die Stadt verschönert, so dass ich nicht zögere, Ihrer Majestät zu bestätigen, dass keine andere in Spanien bekannte Stadt oder Region einen solchen Wohlstand kennt, wie ich ihn dort gesehen habe: Denn man kann dort den ganzen chinesischen Handel finden [...] Angestellte aller Handelsrichtungen und des Handwerks [...] Ärzte und Apotheker [...] Sie haben auch viele Esshäuser eingerichtet, wo die Chinesen und die Eingeborenen ihre Mahlzeiten einnehmen, und mir wurde erzählt, dass diese sogar von Spaniern besucht werden.>
Zaide, Sonia M.: The Philippines: A unique nation. - Cubano: All-Nations Publishing, 1994. - ISBN 971-642-005-6. - S.164

Manila Chinese ghetto: Chinese rebellion against the Spaniards - massacre against Chinese
A maneuver trying an overthrow in Manila by the Chinese is defeated. About 23,000 Chinese are killed.
(Internet: M.Payer: Chronik zur Geschichte der Philippinen)

Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7,
                          col. 542
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7, col. 542
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7,
                          col. 543-544
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7, col. 543-544
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7,
                          col. 545-546
Encyclopaedia Judaica: Ghetto, vol.7, col. 545-546