Where does the term ghetto come from?

A district in which Jews lived was called a ghetto. This term has existed in this meaning since ancient times. In the Middle Ages, too, the Jews lived in a certain quarter. This was often also demarcated, but Jews could leave the quarter and non-Jews could enter it. Also, not all Jews lived in the ghetto and the ghetto was also open to non-Jews.

The National Socialists locked the Jews in ghettos

During the time of National Socialism, Jews began to be locked in ghettos and the ghettos sealed off so that the Jews could no longer leave them. Between 1939 and 1944 there were almost 1,000 Jewish ghettos in Eastern Europe, half of them in Poland and the other half in the Soviet Union. The largest ghetto in Poland was in the Polish capital, Warsaw. Half a million people lived in an area of ‚Äč‚Äčaround nine square kilometers. The Warsaw Ghetto took up around 2 percent of the total city area, but 30 percent of the entire population of Warsaw lived there.

A great many people died in the ghetto

Living in the ghetto was tough. In the first year of the ghetto formation in Warsaw, 10 percent of the people died of hunger, disease and malnutrition. The National Socialists used many people to do forced labor, the work being so hard that many perished because of the work. More and more Jews had to move into the ghetto and from November 1940 the Warsaw ghetto was completely sealed off from the outside and enclosed by a high wall. Whoever wanted to go out or in had to go through a gate and was checked. The supply situation was terrible, almost no food was delivered, but nothing was allowed to be grown and the people were terribly hungry. The main diet soon consisted of potato peels and water.

In winter most of them suffered from the cold and hunger got worse. There was almost no medical care. The children and old people in particular had to die; they were often simply left lying on the street and covered with newspaper. From 1942, the Jews began to be deported from the ghettos to the extermination camps, where most of them were murdered.

On this video you can see the conditions under which the people lived in the ghetto