Judenrate


Judenrate
(sing. Judenrat)
(Jewish councils).
   Once the decision was made in 1941 to implement the Final Solution, the Germans were determined to involve the Jews in their own demise. Toward this end, the Germans established Judenrate, or Jewish Councils, in each of the ghettos in Poland. In November 1939, Hans Frank, the chief administrator of the General-Gouvernement in Poland, issued a decree that established the structure of the Judenrate. Communities of up to 10,000 Jews were to have a 12-member council, and ghettos in excess of that number had a 24-member council. The councils were to be elected by the community but subject to German approval. The reality was that the Germans appointed the membership of the Jewish Councils, and those who refused to serve were beaten or shot. The prototype for these councils was the Reichsvereingung der Juden in Deutschland, the Jewish Council in Germany, that the government established in February 1939. Members of the Judenrate were discouraged from displaying any independence but were expected to implement instructions received from the Germans.
   The responsibilities of the Jewish Councils included maintaining law and order, allocating the meager food rations, providing a postal system, selecting people for forced labor, preparing a census of the Jewish ghetto population, collecting fines, providing shelter for the ghetto inhabitants, and rounding up Jews to fill the daily quotas for deportation to the death camps. The latter responsibility entailed the use of the ghetto police, whose task was to uncover those Jews who went into hiding in order to escape deportation. The ghetto police consisted primarily of Jews or converts who found themselves consigned to the ghetto.
   In structure, the Judenrate varied from one part of German-occupied Europe to another. In the Eastern European countries, the councils operated in the local ghettos organized by the Germans. In Romania, however, the ghetto, and, therefore, the Judenrate, was national in jurisdiction, as was the case in France, the Netherlands, and Germany. In Hungary, the Jewish Council in Budapest was both national and local, and was the primary link between the Nazis and the Jews in the countryside.
   Regardless of organizational structure, the Judenrate faced enormous difficulties. The most pressing may have been the shortage of food, which invariably led to near-starvation conditions. In a number of ghettos, the Judenrate leadership sought to purchase food from the “Aryan” side or obtain food by bartering products produced in the ghetto. Despite these efforts, there was never enough food, and starvation among the ghetto population remained a chronic problem. Although food often was smuggled into the ghetto from the outside, the Jewish Council was expected to arrest those involved in the practice.
   Overcrowding and the lack of sanitary facilities, in turn, led to the spread of contagious diseases, which were endemic throughout the ghettos. The Germans welcomed the attrition rate caused by disease, although they held the Judenrate accountable for preventing its spread to the “Aryan” side. The Jewish Councils attempted to counter the spread of disease by organizing clinics and hospitals as well as providing aid for the suffering.
   The moral dimension of the Judenrate’s responsibilities was tested in 1940 when the Germans demanded that the councils select Jews for the forced labor camps in Poland and in the rest of German-occupied Europe. This required the Judenrate to draw up lists of the Jews who would be torn away from their families and homes and sent to distant locations where they would endure severe brutality and suffering. At first, the Jewish Councils hesitated when the Germans demanded Jewish workers for the labor camps, but they eventually complied with the orders, fearing that if they failed to assume this responsibility, the Germans would undertake the task and inflict even greater brutality on the ghetto population.
   The apparent “cooperation” of the Judenrate with the Germans often led to friction between the Jewish Councils and the community. As the Nazi pressure increased on the ghettos and the Jewish Councils implemented decrees from the Germans, their unpopularity grew proportionately among the Jewish population. The strain in the relationship between the Jewish leadership and the community was welcomed by the Germans. The Nazis calculated that the frustration and anger of the Jewish masses, trapped in a sea of despair, would be deflected onto the Judenrate rather than on themselves. The situation worsened when the Jewish Councils were instructed to round up Jews for deportation to the death camps. The initial batches of Jews who were gathered for deportation consisted of the sick and infirm. The Judenrate, in complying with German orders, may have felt that they were saving the majority of the Jews by weeding out the weak and the elderly. For many of the heads of the Judenrate, survival was linked with productive labor, and a great effort was made to keep the able-bodied off the lists for deportation.
   The work of the Jewish Councils was assisted by the Nazi-created ghetto police or Jewish police. Unprecedented in Jewish communal life, the Judischer Ordnungsdienst, or Jewish police, ostensibly was responsible for protecting the Jewish community, but in fact its primary duty was to enforce German decrees. Those who joined the police did so for a myriad of motives, including the desire to serve the Jewish community. Others enrolled for their own personal gain, using their position to obtain food or an exemption from being seized for forced labor, or to protect their families from deportation. Requirements for police service were minimal, and the Germans insisted only that the recruits be able-bodied and, where possible, have had military training. Although the Judenrate sought police who would serve the interests of the Jewish community, they were not always successful. Some 70 percent of the police officers in the ghettos of the General-Gouvernement played no part in Jewish life, and many of them were strangers to the ghetto population. The Germans were careful in approving candidates for police work inasmuch as they wanted only those who would blindly follow their orders. For this reason, they actively recruited apostates to Judaism as well as known anti-Semites. For example, the Warsaw ghetto police force included a large number of converts to Catholicism, who because of the German racial laws were designated as Jews.
   This reclassification to the status of a Jew made them bitter toward the Jewish population and, therefore, unsympathetic to its plight. Their bitterness translated into a zealous implementation of German directives.
   Opposition to the leadership of the Jewish Councils appeared in some countries under German occupation. Generally the Zionists or Jews in the resistance movement challenged the authority of the Jewish Councils. This was true in Brussels, Budapest, and, at the end, the Warsaw ghetto. In the main, resistance to the authority of the Judenrate was not endemic throughout the ghettos of Europe, and where it did exist, it took on different levels of intensity. In fact, in some of the smaller ghettos in Poland, the Jewish Councils cooperated with the underground. Similarly, there is a mixed record in regard to the Jewish police. In the Warsaw ghetto, the Jewish police tried to uproot the underground, but in other ghettos the police ignored the existence of Jewish resistance movements. In the Kovno ghetto, the Jewish police actively helped the underground and participated in the resistance. Thus, although there was tension between the Jewish police and the underground, the response of one to the other varied from ghetto to ghetto.

Historical dictionary of the Holocaust. . 2014.

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