Podzamcze and Majdan Tatarski ghettos
Two ghettos existed in Lublin under the German occupation. The first one, created in 1941, was situated in Podzamcze, the site of the historic Jewish quarter. It operated for one year and was the first ghetto liquidated within the Action Reinhardt, "the Final Solution of the Jewish Question" in the General Government. The liquidation of the ghetto begun at night of 16th /17th March 1942. On the 15th of April 1942, the area was already empty. The Jews present at that time in the ghetto were transported to the Bełżec extermination camp. Those who managed to obtain the relevant documents were transferred to a new ghetto, established in the district of Majdan Tatarski. It functioned until the end of the Action Reinhardt, the 3rd of November 1943 (Action Erntefest ), when the remaining Jews were taken to the concentration camp at Majdanek and shot there.
Creation and development of the ghettos until 1939
Ghetto It. ghetto - smelter; Hebr. ge(j)to - get = divorce, separation; Yid. geto.
It is a closed quarter, where a national or racial minority lives isolated from the rest of society. In popular understanding ghetto means a quarter inhabited by Jewish community.
First Jewish town was established in Venice in 1516, on an island where a smelter was situated, and that is where the name il geto comes from. Population of the island was about 5000 people. Resulting from the agreements of Lateran Council and pope Paul IV orders in 1556 the first ghetto of Rome was built in Trastevere, on papal lands. With time Jewish quarters multiplied.
Not every Jewish group had a negative opinion on creation of the ghettos. Many Jews associated a closed area with a sense of security – its inhabitants weren’t exposed to Christian attacks so often. Apart from that Jews could freely practice their religion, build synagogues, mikvaot, yeshivas, cheders, and what is most important – keep purity rules in their behaviour, social customs, and be faithful to religious laws.
Ghetto created on so-called “Jewish street” was a closed area, but didn’t limit one’s choices. Many of its inhabitants had contacts with Christians, and doctors, merchants and economic advisers, stayed by royal courts as well as magnates’ and nobles’ mansions.
In 19th century the word ghetto, especially in Polish sociopolitical journalism of Positivism era, became a synonym of narrow-minded point of view, ignorance, dirt, poverty and confinement out of modern world of hi tech and cultural development. Particularly in Orzeszkowa’s works, such as: O Żydach i kwestii żydowskiej (“About Jews and the Jewish Issue”; 1882) and four articles published together under the title O nacjonalizmie żydowskim (“About Jewish nationalism”; 1913) we can find an exhortation to brothers Israelites, to leave the world of ghetto and go towards clear, wonderful streets of positivist idea.
The biggest ghetto before 1939 existed in Warsaw, it was called Northern District and it was inhabited by 300 000 of Jews.
Ghettos during the Extermination
A direct impulse for creation of the ghettos in Polish lands was a telephonogram by Reinhard Heydrich, the chief of Reich Main Security Office, from September, 21st 1939, It is necessary to create centers of concentration, as few as possible, to facilitate next steps. It’s also important to try to choose for concentration centers only those cities, which are railway junctions, or at least are situated by the railway lines1. Concentration of Jews was an introduction to the final solution of Jewish question.
German authorities called ghettos in an evasive manner Jewish residential districts (Germ. Jüdischer Wohnbezirk). Ghettos were usually created on a small surface, and in the poorest part of the city or town, and because of that, its inhabitants very often didn’t have electric energy, running water or heating. One room was inhabited by several or even over a dozen of people. People lived basically everywhere, in attics, cellars, outhouses and basements. Because food rations were limited to a minimum, ghettos very quickly became places of death for thousands of people. Unimaginable starvation, lack of basic sanitary conditions, clothes, medicines, and epidemics (like spotted typhus) that spread very quickly, were very often causing deaths.
Ghettos turned out to be an indirect way of extermination and became a prelude for gas chambers. During the period of 1939 – 1942 approximately 400 ghettos were created within the territory of Poland. Starting from 1942 all centers of Jewish presence were systematically liquidated. Transports of people were directed mainly to extermination camps in Chełmno on the Ner (river), Auschwitz -Birkenau and camps that formed a structure of the Operation Reinhard such as Bełżec, Sobibór, Treblinka.
The biggest ghetto in occupied Poland was the Warsaw ghetto. According to official estimated statistics from 1941 there was 445 000 of people there, according to unofficial statistics it could reach even 500 000 Jews. The ghetto in Łódź was liquidated as the last one in September 1944. In two ghettos (Warsaw and Białystok) uprisings broke out, in others – single military actions used to happen.
The Podzamcze Ghetto in Lublin
Lublin, March 20th, 1941. An order of the Governor of Lublin District, Ernst Emil Zörner, on the creation of a closed Jewish quarter in Lublin:
Regarding the common good, a closed Jewish residential district (ghetto) is created in Lublin with immediate effect; in order to realize it, I decree that:
- The boundaries of the ghetto in Lublin are limited by the following streets: from the corner of Kowalska Street, through Kowalska Street, Krawiecka Street along the block of houses marked on the map, across the field on Sienna Street until Kalinowszczyzna, and then until the corner of Franciszkańska Street, through Franciszkańska Street, Unicka Street until the corner of Lubartowska Street, Lubartowska Street until the corner of Kowalska Street. Houses of public utility and other houses occupied by offices and churches are not covered by this decree2.
- All the Jews settled in Lublin should live within this Jewish residential district. Permanent residence outside the ghetto is forbidden for Jews.
For those, who lived outside of the ghetto territory the deadline to move in was set on April 5th. A part of Kalinowszczyzna was considered to be a so-called “free ghetto”, where Jews could live for another 6 weeks. Also tenant houses on the odd numbers side of Grodzka were in the ghetto, because that is where Judenrat and orphanage were located. In exceptional cases so-called “useful Jews”, which means doctors, specialists who work for the invaders and Judenrat members, could live outside the ghetto. In the Old City there were Polish houses. Until April 10th German authorities ordered Poles to move in to the Jewish apartments spread across whole Lublin. If they didn’t want to do it willingly, they were forced, and in that case they were supposed to take with them only 25 kg of stuff per person. In addition Germans evicted Poles from the city center to use their apartments for their own institutions. Displacing movement in Lublin strongly increased.
Referring to that period, Tadeusz Radzik stated, Lublin ghetto at that time wasn’t closed. It was actually – in German nomenclature – Jewish residential district, not fenced, with quite big possibility to circulate freely in the city (excluding some streets). On that stage it was mainly about concentration of Jewish population in one part of the city. In the end of 1940 and the beginning of 1941 Jewish community had approximately 43195 people and was still increasing3.
In June, 1941 Ernst Emil Zörner issued a decree about building a wall, at least 3 m high, that would border the ghetto. The wall was meant to be built by Jews, and to have 4 gates, that would be closed for the night time and watched by the Jewish Order Service. Only specialists working for Germans and holding special permits would be able to leave the ghetto during night time. The wall, however, was never built.
The territory of the ghetto was too small to become a home for everyone, so almost 9 000 people were told to leave Lublin. When most of them returned, lack of space was less and less supportable. The situation in the ghetto became dramatic. Overpopulation, starvation and bad living conditions caused high mortality. Steady increasing number of displaced people deteriorated the situation.
Division of the ghetto - A and B zones
When the beginning of the "Operation Reinhard" was approaching, the ghetto authorities decided to divide the Lublin ghetto in two separate parts:
On February 22nd 1942 a decision was made to divide the ghetto into A part and B part. It was supposed to separate those Jews, who worked in German enterprises and institutions, and in the Jewish Council and its departments (ghetto „B") from the rest of Jewish people (ghetto „A"). Ghetto „B" covered the residential area limited by following streets: Rybna, Kowalska until the corner of Rybna, then until Krawiecka, Krawiecka until the corner of Podwale, then through Podwale along the fence until Grodzka and through Grodzka to Rybna Street. This area was fenced round from the ghetto „A" by barbed wire. Entry and exit from the ghetto „B" was possible only through indicated gates, in specific time. Passing from the ghetto A to ghetto B, and vice versa, wasn’t possible without a special permit4.
Browbeaten inhabitants wanted by all means to get to the ghetto B, but that part was already closed. Holders of permits were very carefully controlled while coming and going. The gate in Kowalska Street was guarded by Germans and Jewish Order Service. Almost every day several people died trying to avoid control. In the ghetto A every day there were new selections.
Liquidation of the Podzamcze Ghetto
Operation of liquidation of the ghetto lasted for approximately one month from March 17th until April 15th 1942. In the middle of the night of March 16th/17th German and Hiwis troops marching through Unicka Street, Lubartowska, Czwartek and Ruska Street expelled people from their houses, basements and recesses. Those who were sick, disabled, handicapped were killed on the spot or in the market square in Targowa Street, after a prior selection. Everyone could take a baggage of 15 kg weight. German authorities explained that everyone has to march for over 3 km to the railway station. People selected for transport were kept in the Maharshal Synagogue. After that they went to the ramp behind the city slaughterhouse, which became the Umschlagplatz of Lublin Jews, where they were put into wagons and transported to the Bełżec extermination camp.
Displacement was directed by SS-Obersturmführer Worthoff, SS-Untersturmführer Walter, SS- Untersturmführer Sturm and SS-Untersturmführer Knitzky. 108 children from the orphanage, residents of nursing home in Jateczna Street and sick people from hospitals and the infirmary in Cyrulicza Street were murdered. After this operation in the ghetto remained over a dozen thousands of people5.
In the beginning of April German authorities introduced so-called J-Ausweis, which formally excused from being deported. At first they were meant to be issued for a group of approximately 2 500 people. In reality there were issued for over 4 000 Jews. At the same time Jews received food ration coupons. J-Ausweises were only for Jews who were recognized by German authorities as “indispensable”. It used to happen that from entire family only one person received this document. In reality to the deportation batches were qualified also those who owned J-Ausweises6.
Until the middle of April, 1942 at least 26 000 Jews from Lublin were transported to the Bełżec extermination camp.
The Majdan Tatarski Ghetto
On April 16th German commanded those Jews who were still alive, to move to Majdan Tatarski, deserted settlement of small houses. It was inhabited previously by rather poor Polish people.
The occupation authorities estimated that it would be over 4 000 people, but it turned out to be over 7 000. Germans promised that the new ghetto would become “exemplary”, and “ideal” for all hard-working Jews. Propaganda was so strong that also those, who were hidden in Polish houses, believed and started to migrate to the ghetto. Frightened and determined, they believed German deception. Meanwhile, occupation authorities permitted to create volunteer fire brigade, build new barracks for inhabitants, pharmacy, stores and epidemiological hospital. A small flower garden was supposed to be in front of every house. It all created a delusive atmosphere of security that was interrupted unexpectedly by new selections. Germans decided that number of ghetto inhabitants has to be smaller.
First selection took place on April 20th, and was a total surprise for ghetto’s inhabitants. As a result, 3 000 people were sent to the Majdanek concentration camp. There the SS-men held another selection, and chose a small group of men capable to work hard, others were divided into groups and transported in stages to be executed 7 in the Krępiecki Forest, until the final liquidation of the Majdan Tatarski ghetto. Bigger operations against the inhabitants of the ghetto were held two more times, on September 2nd and October 24th. In consequence Jews were sent to the transit ghetto in Piaski or the Majdanek camp.
Liquidation of the ghetto took place in November 9th -11th1942. A part of inhabitants was shot on the spot, and approximately 3 000 people were dashed to Majdanek. Among those, who were killed were dr Marek Alten, president of Judenrat, commander of Jewish Service Order – Moniek Goldfarb and a German confident Szama Grajer. Also Hiwis were present when the ghetto was liquidated. After the operation a special troop of Jewish inmates was brought to the ghetto in order to look for hiding Jews, and to plunder Jewish properties. Ghetto was set on fire, so that not even a trace of it remained.
The last survivors were inmates working in labour camps in Lipowa Street, Flugplatz, and those imprisoned in Majdanek and Gestapo prison in the Castle (Zamek).
Zagłada lubelskiego miasta żydowskiego
According to the Third Reich ideology there shouldn’t be a single mark left after Jewish community. In consequence German authorities ordered to demolish more than 200 houses, that were inter-generational legacy of Lublin. The space that remembered even medieval history of Lublin completely vanished. On November 3rd 1943 SS and police troops completed the last big execution of over 18 000 Jews. It was called Aktion Ernetfest (Operation Harvest Festival).
Compiled by Monika Szabłowska-Zaremba
Translated by Magdalena Dziaczkowska
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3 Radzik T., Lubelska dzielnica zamknięta, Lublin 1999.
4 Radzik T., Lubelska dzielnica zamknięta, Lublin 1999, s. 40–41.
5 Radzik T., Lubelska dzielnica zamknięta, Lublin 1999, s. 43.
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