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The Judenräte's role in the holocaust

Hausarbeit 2004 7 Seiten

Geschichte Europa - Deutschland - Nationalsozialismus, II. Weltkrieg


The Judenräte's role in the holocaust

Historically the question of the Judenräte's role in the holocaust has long been debated. One of the views taken is that, "the Judenräte were forced to become an instrument of the anti-Jewish policies of the authorities. The blows of the Nazis were struck at the Jews through the Judenräte, which acted as an involuntary agent of the occupation in the Jewish community." Yet at the same time others are inclined to view the Judenräte more favourably as an organization that made every effort to save as many people as possible. It is also important to remember that Judenräte operated differently within individual ghettos. While some Judenräte chairmen have been remembered in a positive light others have been largely vilified.

When the Judenräte were first established, their members were unaware of the Nazis ultimate plans and concerned themselves primarily with the day to day operations of life within the ghetto. Food distribution, work permits, housing needs, generation of finances, these were all major concerns within the ghetto walls. As the horrific nature of Nazi plans became clear many Judenräte focused on saving as many people as possible. Of the labour forces created by the Judenräte Hilberg states: "The factories bought time for tens of thousands, but the Jews were playing a determined game in which the outcome was always under German control."[1] However, in order to save lives, Judenräte were often put in the impossible position of creating a list of those who would be deported to their death. Some Judenräte refused to sacrifice any Jewish lives. Sadly, in the end the decision was taken out of their hands by the Nazis who did not require the Judenrat's approval in order to go about their grisly work.

Many have argued that regardless of the perceived individual level of collaboration within the varying Judenräte, their very existence was the ultimate form of collaboration. They were entrusted with maintaining order within the ghettos, they created schools, set up newspapers, maintained cultural traditions, at the very moment as the Nazis were formulating plans for their mass murder. As Jewish councils attempted to reconstruct to some degree the trappings of normal life, the Nazis were drawing up the blue prints for the concentration camps.

Some argue that the very existence of the Judenräte served to perpetrate the myth that the ghettos were the last step in Nazi atrocities against the Jews instead of the jumping off point from which much greater atrocities would spring, and that the maintaining of order made it much easier for the Nazis to deport Jews to the extermination camps. Yet, as Hilberg writes: "Most of the other Jewish leaders, acted on the premise that there was a future."[2]

Within two different Judenräte, which shall be analysed in the following part of this paper, two very different responses to Nazi occupation can be found. In the Lodz Ghetto, the Judenrat and its chairman Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski are viewed in a very negative light, and are seen to have collaborated to a large degree with the Nazis [3], while the Baranovichi Judenrat and its members are remembered as being holy just. Within these two examples it is possible to see the full spectrum of Judenräte relations with Nazis and ideas about how life should be conducted within the walls of the ghetto.

Mordechai Chaim Rumkowski was handpicked by the Germans to stand as chairman of the Lodz Judenräte. He has been viewed controversially as both a hero and a murderer. According to Bauer, "Rumkowski has been generally described as something of a Jewish war criminal, who decided to play God and knowingly delivered Jewish children to be murdered by the Nazis."[4] However Bauer goes on to say that, "there is a higher percentage of survivors from the Lodz ghetto than from most other places because, thanks in part to Rumkowski's draconian policies, the Lodz ghetto was the last one in Eastern Europe to be liquidated."[5] In many ways, Rumkowski ran the ghetto in a dictatorial fashion, going as far as having his own face put on the ghetto currency.[6] However, some have taken a more favourable view of him as a man who was ultimately responsible for saving many of the Lodz Jews' lives despite, or perhaps because of what have come to be seen as his brutal methods.


[1] Hilberg, 'The Ghetto as a Form of Government', p. 159

[2] Hilberg, 'The Ghetto as a Form of Government', p. 162

[3] Yad Vashem, 'Rumkowski, Mordechai Chaim', p. 1

[4] Bauer, 'Rethinking the Holocaust', p. 82

[5] Bauer, 'Rethinking the Holocaust', p. 82

[6] Yad Vashem, 'Rumkowski, Mordechai Chaim', p. 1


ISBN (eBook)
466 KB
Institution / Hochschule
University of Cape Town – Department of History / Jewish Studies Centre
Judenräte Holocaust



Titel: The Judenräte's role in the holocaust