Case Study 3:

Nazi Ghettos and the Holocaust

Seminar Presentations:

Anika Walke: “‘There was No Work, We Worked Only for the Germans’: Ghetto Labor and Alienation in the German-Occupied Soviet territories”
Friday, January 23, 2015

Zvi Gitelman and Lenore J. Weitzman: “Jewish Resistance in Ghettos in the Former Soviet Union during the Holocaust”
Thursday, January 29, 2015

Martin Modlinger: “Theresienstadt 1941-1945: A Model Ghetto Misunderstood”
Friday, February 6, 2015

Helene J. Sinnreich: “Hunger and Its Effects on Ghetto Inmates”
Friday, February 20, 2015

Gali Tibon: "Am I My Brother's Keeper?"
Special Session - Monday, March 2, 2015
View the Abstract here

L - Entrance to the Vilna ghetto,
R - Jews being deported after the Warsaw ghetto uprising to death camps

With Hitler’s rise to power, Nazi theorists deliberately referenced and invoked colonialist projects to justify their aims for German lebensraum in the East. Their plans, based on a racial conception of world domination, aimed to wipe out certain populations (Jews and the Roma) and enslave others (the Slavs.) One of Hitler’s earliest acts was to pass the Nuremberg laws, which created racial classifications based on “blood.” The laws barred Jews from the civil service, schools, and civic life. They aimed to return Jews to their ghettoized status before emancipation in the nineteenth century.

After the German occupation of Poland in 1939, the Nazis herded the Jewish population into walled off areas or ghettos. After some debate over whether the Jewish population should be exploited as slave labor or simply allowed to die from disease and starvation, a dual approach to the ghettos emerged. Concrete administrative policy evolved once the Germans realized that the captive labor force, with its many skilled craftsmen and workers, could be put to use. These work units soon became central to a variety of smuggling and resistance efforts. The only food allowed into the ghettos amounted to approximately 185 calories per inhabitant per day. The ghettos swelled with Jews shipped from cities and rural areas throughout occupied Europe and the Soviet Union. Beginning in fall 1941, ghetto inhabitants were subjected to aktionen or mass round-ups aimed at their systematic liquidation. By 1942, many inhabitants of the ghettos had come to understand that the ghetto was actually a prelude to death. This realization posed new and terrible questions for the starving, unarmed population: how to resist without risking massive German retaliation against the children, women, and elderly members of the ghetto? Resistance movements were launched in the Vilna and Warsaw ghettos, and others. The Nazi ghettos provide the most “extreme” case: the forced segregation of a population as a prelude to mass murder. Yet they also served as part of a vast colonial project and labor system, aspects that linked them to earlier experiments in social segregation, exploitation, and control.

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