The authorities in charge of Lodz sought to completely separate the Jewish population from the non-Jewish population. Business were marked with the nationality and ethnic identity of the proprietors, which made it easier for Germans to target Jewish-owned stores and Jews were required to wear arm bands and forbidden to leave their houses between 5:00pm and 8:00am. In fact, Lodz was the first area to institute the armbands that would distinguish Jews from non-Jews. Jews could not use public transportation, public parks, or work at non-Jewish businesses. Furthermore, Jewish property was pillaged and taken, with official sanction. If the Jews abandoned any real property, that property went into receivership. Jews were prohibited from withdrawing substantial sums of money from their bank accounts or from keeping substantial sums of money in their homes. The government confiscated raw materials from Jewish workshops and prohibited them from engaging in certain trades. People began to target educated Jews, often by boycotting them, forcing Jews who lived elsewhere to move into the Jewish district. This combination of economic measures prevented Jews from being able to support themselves and from being able to fund a resistance. (See generally Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007).
While violence against the Jews had begun with the occupation, it escalated after the Jews had been deprived of their economic power base. Jews in the streets could fear being caught and assaulted. Fear of these assaults led Jews to cooperate with the Germans in providing slave labor for the Nazis, in exchange for freedom from assaults. However, Jewish leadership was targeted, with these leaders rounded up, tortured, and either killed or shipped to concentration camps. (See generally Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007).
Eventually, the Germans created a ghetto to be sealed off from the rest of Lodz. This was considered the first stage of the final solution, because it separated Jews from the rest of the society. The ghetto was located in the worst part of town, and on April 30, 1940 the ghetto became totally isolated from the rest of the city. There were strict rules in the ghetto. For example, telephones in the ghetto could only be used by administrative officer, and mail exchange was limited. Moreover, the Nazis transported Jews from elsewhere to Lodz, so that approximately 200,000 Jews went through the ghetto. The overcrowding led to horrible sanitation conditions, the Jews there could not get enough food, and anyone over the age of 8 was forced into labor; these conditions led to deaths. (See generally Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007).
The ghetto was plagued by the Gestapo, the police in charge of supervising the ghetto's inhabitants. The Gestapo officials prevented smuggling into and out of the ghetto. The Gestapo tortured inhabitants. Ghetto inhabitants were subject to routine search and seizures and frequent assaults. Gradually, the ghetto was transformed into a labor camp. The inhabitants were also watched by the Jewish police, who took the same actions as the Gestapo to strip their fellow Jews of their rights and property. (See generally Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007).
Finally, the ghetto became a place of uncontrolled violence. After the ghetto was sealed off, any Jew trying to leave the ghetto area was subject to deadly violence, without warning. That violence spread to Jews who approached the ghetto fence. Eventually German officers engaged in the random killing of citizens with absolutely no provocation. The Nazis also engaged in public executions. The final part of the violence was when the Nazis began exporting people to death camps, first targeting children and the elderly. (See generally Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team, 2007).
What all of the above events demonstrate is that ghettoization was an intentional step to weaken the Jewish population. Whether this step was taken with the goal of exterminating the Jews or simply to demoralize Jews and make them vulnerable to financial exploitation is a question that historians debate. However, it is clear that, without ghettoization the Holocaust would not have occurred. Yes, the Nazis would still have targeted Jews, but they would not have been able to kill them in anywhere near the numbers of the Holocaust. Initially, Jews may have chosen not to flee Nazi-occupied areas because they did not want to leave their homes and risk losing all of their possessions. By the time that conditions under the Nazis became untenable, Jews were unable to access the funds to leave. When conditions became horrible enough to risk leaving without funds, Jews were subject to being killed for trying to escape. By that time, the population was sick and weak, and unable to put up mass physical resistance to the Nazis, making the Holocaust and all of its attendant horrors a possibility.
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