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Rising Voices Group

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Ghetto Religion

The archivists collected testimonies, reports about daily life in the ghetto, data on forced labour, details of the Judenrat policy, drawings, rations cards, theatre posters, poems, posters announcing Jewish deportations and more.

Ghetto Religion

In a totalitarian state, where the Nazis aimed to control every aspect of everyday life, many Jews opposed Nazi rule by continuing to take part in religious activities within the camps and ghettos, despite these often being explicitly banned.

The deprivations of ghetto life and the constant fear of Nazi terror made resistance difficult and dangerous but not impossible. In addition to armed resistance, Jews engaged in various forms of unarmed defiance. These included organized attempts at escaping from the ghettos into nearby forests, non-compliance with Nazi demands on the part of certain Jewish community leaders, illegal smuggling of food into the ghettos, and spiritual resistance.

Throughout occupied Poland, hundreds of clandestine schools and classes were organized inside the ghettos. Going to and from class in various apartments and basements, students hid their books under their clothing.

Jews smuggled books and manuscripts into many ghettos for safekeeping, and opened underground libraries in numerous ghettos. These underground libraries included the secret library at Czestochowa, Poland, which served more than 1,000 readers. Activists established a 60,000-volume library in the Theresienstadt ghetto, near Prague.

Groups in many ghettos established secret archives and methodically wrote, collected, and stored reports, diaries, and documents about daily life in the ghettos. These efforts served to gather evidence on situation of Jews in occupied Europe and also sought to reaffirm a Jewish sense of community, history, and civilization in the face of both physical and spiritual annihilation.

A ghetto is an area where people from a specific ethnic background, culture, or religion live in seclusion, voluntarily or more commonly involuntarily with varying degrees of enforcement by the dominant social group. The first ghettos were established to confine Jewish populations in Europe. They were surrounded by walls, segregating and so-called "protecting them" from the rest of society. In the Nazi era these ghettos served to confine, and subsequently exterminate Jews in massive numbers.

Today the term ghetto is used to describe a blighted area of a city containing a concentrated and segregated population of a despised minority group. These concentrations of population may be planned, as through government-sponsored housing projects, or the unplanned result of self-segregation and migration. Often municipalities will build highways and set up industrial districts around the ghetto to further isolate it from the rest of the city. The continued existence of ghettos in many parts of the world is a blight upon humanity that requires resolution.

Historically, the term "ghetto" referred to restricted housing zones where Jews were required to live. The original ghetto was formed by the Jewish immigrants to Venice in the fourteenth century, who settled in the place where a former iron foundry (getto) used to be. Other suggested etymologies include Ghetonia, the Greek word for "neighborhood," borghetto, Italian for "small neighborhood," or the Hebrew word get, literally meaning a "bill of divorce."

The term "ghetto" has come to label any poverty-stricken or sociologically defined urban minority area whose population lives differently from the rest of the larger society due to the conditions that characterize ghettos. In the United States, the word "ghetto" has also come to be used as an adjective to describe a certain way of dressing, speaking, and behaving. In this sense, "Ghetto" constitutes a subculture, especially among teenagers in urban centers, associated with hip-hop music and a rebellious attitude. As it has become a slang term of art among young people, the meaning of the term morphs constantly.

The first ghettos appeared in Italy, Germany, Spain, and Portugal in the thirteenth century following the recommendation of Pope Pius V that all the bordering states should set up ghettos. By the beginning of the seventeenth century, all the main towns (with exception of Livorno and Pisa) had complied. In medieval Central Europe, ghettos existed in Paris, Frankfurt, Mainz, Prague, and even further East, in Poland and Russia. The treatment of Jews in those more easterly regions was more arbitrary and harsher, as the authorities often left the ghettos open and therefore vulnerable to attack by those, sometimes even more impoverished, who lived outside the ghettos.

The character of ghettos also varied. There were times in which a ghetto featured relative affluence (e.g. in sixteenth century Venice and in Prague in the fifteenth century). At other times, even a relatively affluent ghetto became impoverished, having lost political concessions or (as in Prague) trading privileges. Their character also depended on the circumstances in which the ghettos were established. While some ghettos (e.g. Venice) were established after negotiations between the city and the Jews, others (e.g. Frankfurt) obliged the Jews to move there by a city ordinance.

Since Jews could not acquire land outside the ghetto, the landscape was transformed into narrow streets and tall, crowded houses. Walls and gates stood around the ghetto and were closed and locked from the inside (during Easter week) and from the outside (during Christmas) to prevent anti-Semitic violence or pogroms.

Social ostracism often resulted in residents being required to obtain passes to go outside the ghetto boundaries. They were socially isolated, although not necessarily culturally and intellectually, since they had their own school system based on synagogues, and they set up their own communal authority to improve security. Thus, in some ways, the segregation sometimes benefited both sides.

Jewish ghettos were progressively abolished in the 19th century following the ideals of the French Revolution. This started in Western European countries when the establishment of tolerant governments, such as Napoleon's France and the United Kingdom, encouraged industrious Jews to immigrate. In 1870, after the Papal States were overthrown, the last ghetto in Western Europe was abolished; the walls physically torn down in 1888. In Russia, however, the Jewish Pale continued to exist until the Russian Revolution of 1917.

When Napoleonic forces occupied Rome, the Ghetto was legally abolished, in 1808, but it was reinstated as soon as the Papacy regained control. In 1848, during the brief revolution, the ghetto was abolished once more, again temporarily. The Jews had to petition annually for permission to live there, and were restricted from owning any property, even within the ghetto. They paid an annual tax for the privilege of living there and annually had to swear loyalty to the Pope by the Arch of Titus, which celebrates the Roman sack of Jerusalem.

Pope Leo XIII was less intransigent than Pius IX. The city of Rome was able to tear down the ghetto's walls in 1888 and demolish some houses before the area was reconstructed around the new synagogue.

The Nazis re-instituted Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe before and during World War II. However, the nature of these ghettos was dramatically different. Explicit anti-Semitism in Nazi ideology developed into an official state policy requiring Jews to be confined in the ghettos and later shipped to concentration camps. The same policy was instituted in all countries under the Third Reich's control, with most of the Jews confined into tightly packed areas in the cities of Eastern Europe. Some of the more notorious ghettos were in Warsaw, Lublin, Lodz, Tuliszhkow, Radom, Opole, Kielce, Bialystok, and Krakow in Poland, Riga, Vilno, Vitebsk, Pinsk, Lvov, and Smolensk in Russia, and Budapest in Hungary. All social, economic, and legal privileges ceased to exist there and were supplanted by state control.

Starting in 1939, the Nazi regime began moving Polish Jews into designated ghettos in Tuliszkow (in December, 1939), in Lodz (in April, 1940), in Warsaw (in October, 1940), and into many other ghettos throughout 1940 and 1941. The ghettos were walled off, just like in medieval times, except that any Jew found leaving was shot.

The situation in the ghettos was brutal. As the Jews were not allowed out of the ghetto, they had to rely on food supplied by the Nazis. With crowded living conditions, starvation diets, and little sanitation (in the Lodz Ghetto a full 95 percent of the apartments had no sanitation or running water), hundreds of thousands of Jews died of disease and starvation. In 1942, the Nazi government began "Operation Reinhard," which was the systematic deportation of Jews to extermination camps. During the Holocaust, the authorities deported Jews from everywhere in Europe to these ghettos, or directly to the camps. In some ghettos local resistance organizations started uprisings. However, none were successful, and the Jewish population of the ghettos was almost entirely annihilated.

The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest of the Jewish ghettos in World War II. In the three years of its existence, starvation, disease, and deportations to concentration camps dropped the population of this ghetto from an estimated 450,000 to 37,000.

The Warsaw Ghetto was opened on October 16, 1940 to receive about 380,000 people, approximately 30 percent of the population of Warsaw despite being only 2.4 percent of its area. The Nazis then built a wall, effectively closing off the Warsaw ghetto from the outside world on November 16, 1940.

The Lodz Ghetto was the second-largest ghetto (after the Warsaw Ghetto) established for Jews in Nazi-occupied Poland. Situated in the town of Lódz, with 672,000 inhabitants and originally intended as a temporary gathering point for Jews, the ghetto was transformed into a major industrial center, providing much needed supplies for Nazi Germany and especially for the German Army. It transformed the Jewish population (reduced from 233,000 to about 164,000) into a slave labor force. Over the years, Jews from Central Europe and as far away as Luxembourg were deported to the ghetto. A small Roma population was also resettled there. 041b061a72


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