The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933-1945, Volume II: Ghettos in German-Occupied Eastern Europe


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This volume offers a comprehensive account of how the Nazis conducted the Holocaust throughout the scattered towns and villages of Poland and the Soviet Union. It covers more than 1,150 sites, including both open and closed ghettos. Regional essays outline the patterns of ghettoization in 19 German administrative regions. Each entry discusses key events in the history of the ghetto; living and working conditions; activities of the Jewish Councils; Jewish responses to persecution; demographic changes; and details of the ghetto's liquidation. Personal testimonies help convey the character of each ghetto, while source citations provide a guide to additional information. Documentation of hundreds of smaller sites—previously unknown or overlooked in the historiography of the Holocaust—make this an indispensable reference work on the destroyed Jewish communities of Eastern Europe.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780253355997
Publisher: Indiana University Press
Publication date: 05/04/2012
Pages: 2036
Sales rank: 1,049,299
Product dimensions: 9.00(w) x 11.60(h) x 3.10(d)

About the Author

Geoffrey P. Megargee and Martin Dean are applied research scholars at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

Published in association with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Read an Excerpt

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

Encyclopedia of Camps and Ghettos, 1933â"1945 Volume II

By Geoffrey P. Megargee

Indiana University Press

Copyright © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-253-35599-7




In the fall of 1939, shortly after the German defeat of Poland, Adolf Hitler ordered the annexation to the Reich of large swaths of western and northern Poland. These new territories were either added to the existing regions of Provinz Ostpreussen and Provinz Schlesien or became part of two new regions, Reichsgau Wartheland and Reichsgau Danzig-Westpreussen.

No ghettos were established within the Alt-Reich (pre-1938 German territories); ghettos were only established within the Third Reich in those eastern territories annexed from Poland (eingegliederten Ostgebieten). Of these incorporated territories, no ghettos were established in Reichgsau Danzig-Westpreussen, but a number of ghettos were established in the three regions known as Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, Reichsgau Wartheland, and Provinz Oberschlesien.

Regierungsbezirk Zichenau was composed of the area to the north of Warsaw, also known as Northern Mazovia (part of the Warsaw województwo), which was attached to Provinz Ostpreussen in late 1939. The new district was named for the city of Zichenau (Ciechanów in Polish).

To the west of Warsaw, the Germans took parts of the Polish Kujawsko-Pomorskie, Lódz, Plock, and Wielkopolskie województwa to establish a new region, known from January 1, 1940, as Reichsgau Wartheland, which also included the major city of Lódz.

To the south, Provinz Schlesien was expanded to include parts of the Kielce, Kraków, and Slaskie województwa. In 1941, Provinz Schlesien was divided in two to form Niederschlesien, its western half, and Oberschlesien, its eastern half. Ghettos were only established on the eastern fringes of Oberschlesien, usually referred to in German documentation as Ost-Oberschlesien (Eastern Upper Silesia).



Pre-1939: part of the Warsaw województwo, Poland; 1939–1945: Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, Provinz Ostpreussen, Deutsches Reich; post-1998: northern part of województwo mazowieckie, Poland

The region designated by the Germans as Regierungsbezirk Zichenau comprised the northern part of the Warsaw województwo (as of the summer of 1939) and is most commonly known as Northern Mazovia. Jews are recorded as having settled in some parts of this region by at least the thirteenth century, and several larger towns had a significant Jewish presence by the mid-sixteenth century. Other places witnessed Jewish settlement only later; in Czerwinsk nad Wisla Jews were barred until the late eighteenth century, as the Catholic Church owned the land. The Jewish population of the region increased considerably during the nineteenth century and in the early twentieth century; Jews comprised a considerable share of the urban population (between 30 and 50 percent or more) in several of Northern Mazovia's larger towns on the eve of World War II. Much of the Jewish population in the region worked as artisans or tradesmen. In the interwar period, the Jews suffered economically due to the worldwide economic slump and commercial boycotts by the Poles.

German military forces occupied the Ciechanów region of Poland in September 1939. During the first days of the war, as German bombs fell on the towns of the region, many Jews fled to Warsaw and other places, away from the advancing German front. The first days and weeks of the German occupation saw the humiliation and murder of Jews and the destruction and plunder of their property. In Nowe Miasto, the Germans killed 8 Jews on September 14 and several more on September 23. Men of the SS-Panzer Division "Kempf" shot 50 Jews in Krasnosielc, and 2 Jews were killed by the Wehrmacht in Rózan. German Security Police (Sicherheitspolizei und SD) set fire to the synagogue in Sierpc at the end of September, and the synagogue in M?awa was burned in November. Units of Einsatzgrupppe V operated in the region, but other police units, the Wehrmacht, ethnic Germans (Volksdeutsche), and some Poles also participated in anti-Jewish attacks and looting. The plunder of property and arrests of Jews in some places caused young Jews to flee to those parts of eastern Poland that were occupied by the Soviets after September 17, 1939.

From the start, it was the German intention to cleanse the region of Jews, as it would be annexed directly to the Reich. In the fall of 1939, the Germans undertook some deliberate efforts to drive Jews into the Soviet zone, but much latitude was left to specific local commanders regarding implementation. On September 28, 1939, 40 Jewish youths were arrested in Sierpc, loaded on trucks, and driven to the new German-Soviet border. Mass expulsions of Jews into the Soviet zone took place from Pu?tusk, Przasnysz, and some other towns with large Jewish populations. In Ciechanów, a Wehrmacht officer advised the Jews to leave town; he offered transport to the Soviet border, warning them that the impending civil administration would introduce further anti-Jewish laws. In M?awa, an attempt to transport all the Jews into Soviet territory was abandoned abruptly after the Jews had been assembled.

On October 26, 1939, the Germans established the Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, which was annexed to Provinz Ostpreussen in the Third Reich, ruled by Gauleiter Erich Koch. The Regierungsbezirk consisted of nine Landkreise: Mackheim, Mielau, Ostenburg, Plönnen, Praschnitz, Schröttersburg, Sichelberg, Scharfenwiese, and Zichenau. Initially, Regierungsbezirk Zichenau had around 850,000 inhabitants, of which some 80,000 were Jews, while probably a similar number might be classified as ethnic Germans. The governor (Regierungspräsident) was Hermann Bethke. In 1940, Paul Dargel succeeded him. SS-Sturmbannführer Hartmut Pulmer, who had been in charge of an Einsatzgruppe during the Polish campaign, was subsequently appointed as head of the Plock-Ciechanów Gestapo.

In October 1939, the German authorities expelled a number of Jews from the town of Ciechanów to the Lublin region. This was only one of several further expulsions and deportations carried out in the last three months of 1939. In November, for example, the Germans conducted a mass expulsion of Jews from Sierpc to Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and Warsaw. In December 1939, at least 3,000 Jews from the towns of Serock and Nasielsk were deported to Biala Podlaska, Miedzyrzec, and Luków in Distrikt Lublin. At the same time, hundreds of Jewish refugees poured into towns such as Mlawa and Plonsk from Sierpc, Rypin, Dobrzyn nad Drweca, and other places. Some Jews who had fled to Warsaw during the fighting, or even thereafter, gradually returned, as they realized conditions might be better in their own home environment. These large population movements, followed on occasion by some people returning illegally, make it very difficult to track the demographic changes in the region.

Historians have identified three main phases to the anti-Jewish policy in Regierungsbezirk Zichenau. The initial period of occupation and brutal repression lasted from September to December 1939, aiming primarily to drive out large numbers of Jews, preferably across the border into the Soviet-occupied zone. The period from January 1940 to the end of 1941 was characterized by further deportations and expulsions of Jews into the Generalgouvernement and was accompanied by the gradual concentration of remaining Jews into a limited number of ghettos. Then from the end of 1941 the application of the terror apparatus against the ghettoized Jews was intensified to suppress any possible resistance in preparation for the final liquidation of the ghettos, which was completed in the last months of 1942.

Forced labor for Jews was imposed from the first days of the occupation. In most places the Jewish Council (Judenrat) became involved in the assignment of men to forced labor to prevent Jews from simply being seized from the streets. In Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, a number of sources indicate that Jews were paid for forced labor; indeed, Emanuel Ringelblum described conditions there as somewhat better than in Warsaw on this account. He may have been impressed by the fact that some refugees in the Warsaw ghetto received food packages from relatives in Regierungsbezirk Zichenau. In Plonsk, Jewish workers received only half the minimum wage; however, the Judenrat supplemented this by taxing wealthier Jews. In some places, however, survivors indicate that working Jews remained unpaid.

A number of Jewish communities in the region received material assistance from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (AJDC) during the course of 1940. For example, the Judenrat in Drobin opened a soup kitchen with the help of AJDC funds on February 22, 1940. However, due to restrictions on the AJDC sending funds from Warsaw into the Reich, this support had dried up by the end of 1940.

The German authorities established a total of 12 ghettos in Regierungsbezirk Zichenau. The first ghettos were established in Sierpc and Maków Mazowiecki in the spring of 1940. Initially, these two were open ghettos (unfenced). In the course of 1940, additional ghettos were established in Plock, Plonsk, and Mlawa. The ghetto in Plock remained open throughout its existence, as did that in Ciechanów, established in December 1940. However, the majority of ghettos in Regierungsbezirk Zichenau were enclosed, at least for the latter part of their existence. Wooden fences surrounded the ghettos in Strzegowo, Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki, and Czerwinsk; and that in Drobin was surrounded by barbed wire. By the fall of 1941, the Maków Mazowiecki ghetto was enclosed with a wooden fence, topped with barbed wire.

In 1941, there were further waves of ghetto formation: in March 1941, ghettos were established in Drobin and Wyszogród; and in June 1941, in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki. Then in November 1941, the last three ghettos were established in Strzegowo, Nowe Miasto, and Czerwinsk. By this time the Jews from almost all the other large towns had been expelled, deported, or moved into one of the nearer ghettos. For example, those Jews still in Zakroczym were sent to the Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki ghetto, and the few remaining in Bielsk were expelled at the end of 1941; the Jews from Biezun and some of those from the liquidated ghetto in Sierpc were moved to the Strzegowo ghetto by early January 1942. The successive concentration of Jews in ghettos was accompanied, however, by further sporadic waves of deportations into the Generalgouvernement. In early December 1940, the German Police conducted a mass deportation from M?awa. They selected 3,000 Jews (more than half of the total), who were transported first on trucks to the transit camp at Dzia?dowo; and from there, they were deported into Distrikt Lublin by freight train. There they were split up among several towns, including Miedzyrzec, Lubartów, and Luków. Several hundred of these deportees later managed to return to Mlawa in 1941, where they were given falsified identification documents by the Judenrat. In response, the German Police conducted a search for Jews residing illegally in the Mlawa ghetto in the spring of 1941.

In February and March 1941, some 6,000 Jews were deported from the Plock ghetto, again via Dzialdowo, to a number of ghettos in Distrikt Radom, including Chmielnik, Stopnica, Bodzentyn, Wierzbnik, and Czestochowa. At this time 600 Jews from Drobin (mainly the sick and elderly) were also deported via Dzialdowo to the Piotrków Trybunalski ghetto and a similar number from Wyszogród to Nowa Slupia, also in Distrikt Radom. These mass deportations into the Generalgouvernement were halted in March 1941 because of German military preparations for the invasion of the Soviet Union.

On July 4, 1941, the Gestapo resettled up to 2,000 Jews from Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki to the labor and concentration camp in Pomiechówek, where some 4,000 Jews from the region were collected together, including more than 1,000 from the Plonsk ghetto. Conditions in the Pomiechówek camp were appalling; many people died there from beatings, hunger, and typhus. Sick people were shot on the spot, and those who were healthy were subsequently marched southward into the Gene ralgouvernement, when the camp was emptied of its Jewish population. There were many further losses before the remnant reached the Warsaw ghetto.

Living conditions in the ghettos of the region were generally better than in the Pomiechówek or Dzialdowo camps, but there was a gradual deterioration as the ghettos became more overcrowded. Food also became harder to obtain, as the Jews bartered away their last possessions. The rations in the Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki ghetto consisted of only 330 grams (11.6 ounces) of poor bread per day and 120 grams (4.2 ounces) of horseflesh per month, which was not always supplied. These rations were sold at fixed prices, but smuggled goods demanded much higher prices. The Judenrat in the Mlawa ghetto tried to ease conditions by organizing smuggling rings, using Jews who worked outside the ghetto to bring food back in. In 1942, however, the Germans began to crack down on smuggling, forcing black market prices even higher. Despite the threat of capital punishment, Jews from many ghettos continued to sneak out to buy food. Overcrowding was severe in most ghettos, with up to 15 people sharing a room. Several ghettos were wracked by severe outbreaks of typhus, in some places claiming hundreds of lives. Medical care was limited, and the outbreaks may have led to an intensification of the Jews' isolation from the rest of the population.

In the last months of 1941, the Germans consolidated the Jewish population of the region further, as they also began to enforce the death penalty for Jews caught outside the ghettos without permission. Assisted by massive bribes, the Jewish Council in Strzegowo managed to persuade the Germans to establish a "Jewish quarter" there, which saved the community from the inevitable stresses of transfer to the Warsaw ghetto. In November 1941, the Germans permitted the Judenrat in M?awa to expand the ghetto area a little, to absorb the arrival of about 1,000 Jews from Szrensk, Radzynów, and Zielun. At this time, the Wyszogród ghetto was liquidated, with about 1,000 Jews being sent to the ghetto in Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki and another 600 to the Czerwinsk ghetto. Approximately 1,000 Jews were moved from Ciechanów to the Nowe Miasto ghetto on December 11, 1941, although the open ghetto in Ciechanów was not liquidated until November 1942.

By mid-January 1942, it is estimated that about 40,000 Jews remained in Regierungsbezirk Zichenau, concentrated mainly in the nine remaining ghettos of Ciechanów (7,000), Czerwinsk (700), Maków Mazowiecki (5,500), Mlawa (6,000), Nowy Dwór Mazowiecki (6,000), Nowe Miasto (2,100), Plonsk (10,000), Sierpc (500), and Strzegowo (about 2,000).

Little information is available on the German administration of the ghettos, although occasional mention is made of particular Germans who were seen by the Jews as having been in charge. The ghettos were guarded internally by a Jewish police force and externally by the German Order Police (Ordnungspolizei), which in some places also contained local ethnic Germans. Isaiah Trunk has commented on the fluctuation in the leadership on several of the Jewish Councils in the region, and there were attempts to bribe German officials to ameliorate conditions, which might produce some temporary relief. Some Jewish Councils were accused of corruption and favoritism, and in one or two ghettos, the Jewish Police earned themselves a bad reputation by their brutality towards other Jews.


Excerpted from The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum by Geoffrey P. Megargee. Copyright © 2012 United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Excerpted by permission of Indiana University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents


List of maps,
Introduction by Christopher R. Browning,
Editor's Introduction,
Reader's Guide,
List of Abbreviations,
List of Contributors,
About the Editor,
Names Index,
Places Index,
Organizations and Enterprises Index,

What People are Saying About This

author of War and Genocide: A Concise History of the Holocaust - Doris L. Bergen

An outstanding work of scholarship that marks a major achievement in studies of the Shoah. Martin Dean and his expert contributors draw on archival records, survivor testimonies, and publications in countless languages to produce vivid accounts of hundreds of the Holocaust sites now known as 'ghettos.' The results both confirm and unsettle conventional wisdom. . . . The details are unforgettable: a ghetto that consisted of only two houses; an orphanage known as a 'children's cage'; Jews who went on foot from their homes to the killing center of Treblinka.

author of History on Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving - Deborah E. Lipstadt

The most efficacious way of fighting the scourge of Holocaust denial is with the facts. No argument posed by deniers can withstand the overwhelming weight of the truth. This encyclopedia will provide a host of detail about crucial aspects of the Holocaust that cannot be found elsewhere.

author of Ordinary Men: Reserve Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland - Christopher R. Browning

An indispensable source that no one individual could compile in a lifetime of research. . . . An especially useful reference work for anyone working with survivor memoirs and testimonies.

author of Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin - Timothy Snyder

This magnificent collective effort, uniting the research and expertise of leading scholars from around the world, provides a fundamental new reference for the history of the Holocaust. Anyone who wishes to understand the variety of Jewish experience in the ghettos and the scale of the destruction of a whole European world must consult this encyclopedia.

University of Michigan - Zvi Gitelman

A meticulously researched account of Nazi ghettos in Eastern Europe. The editors have mined all possible resources in many languages and presented their findings in succinct, lucid language. The production of the volume is exemplary. It will serve as the standard reference work on the subject.

From the Publisher

Choice Outstanding Academic Title, 2009
Winner, 2009 National Jewish Book Awards, Holocaust
Winner, 2010 Judaica Reference Award

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