The Jewish ghetto Police

Polen, Ghetto Warschau, Ghettopolizei

Officially called the Jewish Organization for the Maintenance of Public Order (Ger., Jüdischer Ordungsdienst; Pol., Żydowska Służba Porządkowa), Jewish police units were established under Nazi occupation in most East European ghettos. The establishment of a police force usually was connected with the creation of the ghettos, which excluded the Jewish population from general police jurisdiction and thus created a need for an alternative system of ensuring that the Jewish population complied with German occupiers’ orders. The absence of a general German order regarding the establishment of the Jewish police indicates that in all probability, it was the various local occupying forces—and not the Central Reich Government—that took the initiative to set up this force. Indeed, the composition of the Jewish police in different ghettos, their jurisdictional powers, and their status within the Jewish community varied from ghetto to ghetto, according to local conditions. A small ghetto could muster only a handful of individuals to join its police force, whereas the Warsaw ghetto

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Ghetto police forces were officially branches of Judenräte (sg., Judenrat) but were also commanded directly by local non-Jewish police authorities and the SS. Therefore, police units in some ghettos became independent of the Judenräte. However, in other places the Judenrat and the ghetto police were indistinguishable. Initially, the primary task of the Jewish police was to maintain public order and to enforce German orders transmitted by the Judenräte to the Jewish population. Municipal authorities retained jurisdiction over criminal matters and disputes between Jews and non-Jews. At this phase, there were Jews who viewed the establishment of the Jewish police positively; some intellectual circles even openly supported it. Jews joined it for social motives and out of a desire to help maintain order in the ghettos and assist Jewish autonomy.

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German authorities insisted that Jewish police officers be young, fit, and army-trained, with at least a high school diploma—but those principles were not always followed. Many police were refugees from other Jewish communities and few had been involved in organized Jewish affairs before the war.

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Gradually the Germans expanded the workload of the Jewish police, calling upon them to fight epidemics, quell demonstrations, and fight fires. Other times the police were charged with overseeing distribution of foodstuffs and controlling prices as well as collecting taxes. They were part of the battle against those who disobeyed German orders, although the scope of their jurisdiction varied from place to place. Prisons were erected in the larger ghettos and detention rooms in the smaller ones; rarely were inmates transferred to the Germans. In most cases, ghetto police themselves carried out the punishment that ghetto courts imposed on the accused. Sometimes they even assisted in executing German-ordered death sentences.

Josef Szerynski, Chief of the Jewish ghetto police, overseeing the actions of police in the Warsaw ghetto.

 

Police were supposed to be paid by the Judenräte, but often their salary was insufficient and irregular. Thus they were open to bribes, a situation that adversely affected moral standards. Understanding that the Jewish police served to enforce German policy, many left it; their places were taken mainly by people with no obligation to the Jewish population and by other doubtful elements. As standards declined, so did the relationship between the police and the Jewish public, especially after Jewish police began taking part in sending Jews to

e829f9950f46de05ffdd220dfdd39fc5. Ghetto police personnel were generally exempt from labor service and were even empowered to release others from their labor obligations (in exchange for bribes). Guarding the ghetto walls also corrupted the police and placed them in confrontations with the public. Often Jewish policemen worked with local police and even with German soldiers to control smuggling. Their close ties with the German and local authorities and the opportunity for kickbacks led many Jewish communities to identify them with the occupying forces. Over time, corruption became part of the Jewish police identity, and many of them lived lives of luxury amid the remainder of the poor Jewish population. Thus, the original esteem in which the Jewish police were held was replaced with hatred and contempt.

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Nonetheless, some police officers tried to improve the lot of the Jewish community, despite harsh German supervision. Several tried to fight corruption and were active in bolstering public supervision over the police force. Other officers intervened with German authorities on behalf of Jews, at times paying with their lives.

The onset of deportations to killing centers in 1942 led to a new phase in the history of the Jewish police. The Germans generally ordered ghetto police forces to assist in deporting Jews and sometimes even on selection. In return, the Nazis assured them that they and their families would not be deported. Police officers who refused to obey the orders joined the deportees or were killed on the spot. In most instances, the police complied with German demands.

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During this period, the status of the ghetto police hit an all-time low in Jewish eyes. Even then, however, there were instances when police gave advance warning of expulsions and cautioned Jews to hide. In some ghettos, police actively opposed deportation orders and even made up the core of the armed resistance movement. Most of these ghettos were in the Soviet Union or in the eastern part of Poland occupied by the Soviets from 1939 to 1941. In the Generalgouvernement, by contrast, relations between Jewish police and underground organizations were more often hostile. In both regions, however, there was considerable variation.

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The number of police units was greatly reduced in the wake of deportations, and families of former police officers, who until then had been safeguarded, were usually murdered. At the same time, some Jewish underground organizations tried to take revenge on the Jewish police.

At the end of the war, the role of Jewish police and their actions became a highly controversial issue among Holocaust survivors. Dozens of police officers were tried in Jewish honor courts for improper conduct. Some were expelled from the Jewish community while others were merely barred from holding public office. The names of other former officers were cleared. It took years for the courts to decide not to put Jewish police on formal trial.

Some researchers have claimed that in small communities, relations between the Jewish police and the Jewish public were better than those in larger ones. Others have argued that corruption was more widespread in the General government ghettos, whereas police in areas under Soviet control until 1941 generally played a more positive role in ghetto life. The latest studies have shown conclusively, however, that there is no consistent correlation between either the size of the Jewish community or the location of the ghetto and police behavior. A proper evaluation of the Jewish police must be based on the study of each individual ghetto.

Members of the Jewish ghetto police force in the Lodz ghetto

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Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski-Lodz Ghetto

ZIH A-163 Lejzerowicz

ZIH A-163 Lejzerowicz

Chaim Rumkowski led the Lodz Ghetto as head of the ghetto’s Jewish Council. Rumkowski remains a controversial figure in the history of the Holocaust. His detractors say that he used his position to advance his own power at the expense of others and that he betrayed his fellow Jews. The supporters of Rumkowski argue that he had no choice other than to work with the Nazis who controlled Lodz as they decided what went into the ghetto in terms of food and others supplies. I am staying on the fence on this one, simply because I don’t know what I would have done if I had been placed in his position.

Chaim Mordechai Rumkowski (February 27, 1877 – August 28, 1944) was a Polish Jew and wartime businessman appointed by Nazi Germany as the head of the Council of Elders in the Łódź Ghetto during the occupation of Poland in World War II.

He accrued exponentially more power by transforming the Ghetto into an industrial base manufacturing war supplies for the Wehrmacht army in the mistaken belief that productivity was the key to Jewish survival beyond the Holocaust. The Germans liquidated the ghetto in 1944. All remaining prisoners were sent to death camps in the wake of military defeats on the Eastern Front.

Rumkowski is remembered for his speech Give Me Your Children, delivered at a time when the Germans demanded his compliance with the deportation of 20,000 children to Chełmno extermination camp. In August 1944, Rumkowski and his family joined the last transport to Auschwitz,and was murdered there on August 28, 1944 by the Jewish Sonderkommando inmates who beat him to death as revenge for his role in the Holocaust. This account of his final moments is confirmed by witness testimonies of the Frankfurt Auschwitz trials.

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Before the Nazi  invasion of Poland, Mordechaj (in Polish) Rumkowski was an insurance agent in Łódź; member of Qahal, and in 1925–1939 head of a Jewish orphanage at Krajowa 15 Street.

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It has been said that his work at the orphanage was self-serving rather than charitable; according to Dr. Edward Reicher, a Holocaust survivor from Łódź, he had an unhealthy interest in children. Łódź was annexed by the invading Germans into the Reich. It became part of the territory of new Reichsgaue separate from the Generalgouvernement in the rest of occupied Poland. Smaller Jewish communities were dissolved and forcibly relocated to metropolitan ghettos. The occupation authority ordered the creation of the new Jewish Councils known as the Judenräte which acted as bridges between the Nazis and the prisoner population of the ghettos. In addition to managing basic services such as communal kitchens, infirmaries, post offices and vocational schools, common tasks of the Judenräte included providing the Nazi regime with slave labor, and rounding up quotas of Jews for “resettlement in the East,” a euphemism for deportations to extermination camps in the deadliest phase of the Holocaust.

On October 13, 1939, the Nazi Amtsleiter in Łódź appointed Rumkowski the Judenälteste(“Chief Elder of the Jews”), head of the Ältestenrat (“Council of Elders”). In this position, Rumkowski reported directly to the Nazi ghetto administration, headed by Hans Biebow.When the rabbinate was dissolved, Rumkowski performed weddings. The ghetto’s money or scrip, the so-called Rumki (sometimes Chaimki), was derived from his name, as it had been his idea.His face was put on the ghetto postage stamps.

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As the Judenrat leader, Rumkowski was swayed by the slogan “Arbeit macht frei – Work sets you free” that appeared on the gates of several concentration camps. By industrializing the Łódź ghetto, he hoped to make the community indispensable to the Germans and save the people of Łódź. On April 5, 1940, Rumkowski petitioned the Germans for materials for the Jews to manufacture in exchange for desperately needed food and money. By the end of the month, the Germans had acquiesced in part, agreeing to provide food, but not money.Although Rumkowski and other “Jewish elders” of the Nazi era came to be regarded as collaborators and traitors, historians have reassessed this judgement since the late 20th century in light of the terrible conditions of the time. A survivor of the Łódź ghetto, Arnold Mostowicz, noted in his memoir that Rumkowski gave a percentage of his people a chance to survive two years longer than the Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto, destroyed in the Uprising.However, as noted by Lucjan Dobroszycki, the ultimate decision on the future was not his to make.

Probably the most controversial issue surrounding Rumkowski was not so much his belief that the Jews should work (under duress) for the Nazis for their own survival but the power he acquired within Lodz Ghetto. To some he was ‘King Chaim’ who established a power base in the ghetto that was too great for one individual. The internal stamps used in the Lodz ghetto carried an image of Rumkowski and his friends and supporters in the ghetto always seemed to live better lives than his detractors – or so it seemed to them. Rumkowski also carried out marriage ceremonies when rabbis were forbidden to work. He also referred to Lodz by its new German name – Litzmannstadt as opposed to Lodz.

The ghettoization of Łódź was decided on September 8, 1939, by an order of SS-Oberführer Friedrich Uebelhoer.

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His top secret document stated that the ghetto was only a temporary solution to “the Jewish question” in the city of Łódź. Uebelhoer never implied the long-term survival.The ghetto was sealed on April 30, 1940, with 164,000 people inside.On October 16, 1939, Rumkowski selected 31 public figures to form the Council. However, less than three weeks later, on November 11, twenty of them were executed and the rest disappeared, because he denounced them to the German authorities “for refusing to rubber-stamp his policies.” Although a new Judenrat was officially appointed a few weeks later, the men were not as distinguished, and remained far less effective than its original leaders. This change conceded more power to Rumkowski, and left no one to contest or restrain his decisions. Rumkowski had the Jewish Ghetto Police under his control also.

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The Germans authorized Rumkowski as the “sole figure authority in managing and organizing internal life in the ghetto”.Rumkowski gained power because of his domineering personality in as much as his words and actions.Biebow, at first, gave Rumkowski full power in organizing the ghetto, as long as it did not interfere with his main objectives: absolute order, confiscation of Jewish property and assets, coerced labor, and Biebow’s own personal gain.Their relationship seemed to work effectively. Rumkowski had leeway to organize the ghetto according to his wishes, while Biebow sat back and reaped the rewards. In trying to keep Biebow happy, Rumkowski obeyed every order with little inquiry, and provided him with gifts and personal favors. Of his willingness to cooperate with the German authorities, Rumkowski is said to have boasted in a speech, “My motto is always to be at least ten minutes ahead of every German demand.”He believed that by staying ahead of German thinking, he could keep them satisfied and preserve the Jews. Łódź was the last ghetto in Eastern Europe to be liquidated. However, only 877 inhabitants survived in the city until liberation by hiding with the Polish rescuers, and Rumkowski had nothing to do with it.

Because of the confiscation of cash and other belongings, Rumkowski proposed a currency to be used specifically in the ghetto – the ersatz.

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This new currency would be used as money, and by this alone, a person could buy food rations and other necessities. This proposal was considered arrogant and illustrated Rumkowski’s lust for power. The currency was, therefore, nicknamed by ghetto inhabitants as the “Rumkin”.It dissuaded smugglers from endangering their lives to get in and out of the ghetto with goods, as people could not pay for them with regular currency. Rumkowski believed that smuggling of food would “destabilize the ghetto with regard to the prices of basic commodities” and prevented it from taking place.

Rumkowski did not allow public protests expressing dissent. With the help of the Jewish police, he violently broke up demonstrations. On occasion, he would request the Nazis to come and break up the commotion, which usually resulted in protesters being killed. The leaders of these groups were punished by not being allowed to earn a living, which in effect meant that they and their families were doomed to starvation. Sometimes the strikers and demonstrators were arrested, imprisoned, or shipped off to labor camps.By the spring of 1941, almost all opposition to Rumkowski had dissipated. In the beginning, the Germans were unclear of their own plans for the ghetto, as arrangements for the “Final Solution” were still being developed. They realized that the original plan of liquidating the ghetto by October 1940 could not take place, so they began to take Rumkowski’s labor agenda seriously. Forced labor became a staple of ghetto life, with Rumkowski running the effort. “In another three years – he said – the ghetto will be working like a clock.”This sort of “optimism” however, was met with a damning assessment by Max Horn from Ostindustrie, who said that the ghetto was badly managed, not profitable, and had the wrong products.

By the end of January 1942 some 10,000 Jews were sent aboard Holocaust trains to Chełmno based on selections made by the Judenrat.Additional 34,000 victims were sent there by 2 April, with 11,000 more by 15 May 1942, and over 15,000 more by mid September, for the total of an estimated 55,000 people. The children and the elderly as well as anyone deemed “unfit for work” in the eyes of the Judenrat would follow them.

 

Rumkowski actively cooperated with the German demands hoping to save the majority of the ghetto inmates. Such behaviour set him at odds with the Orthodox observant Jews, because there could be no justification for delivering anyone to certain death. Following the creation of the extermination camp at Chełmno in 1941, the Nazis forced Rumkowski to organize several waves of deportations. Rumkowski claimed that he tried to convince the Nazis to reduce the number of Jews required for deportation and failed.

Give Me Your Children

On German orders Rumkowski delivered a speech on September 4, 1942 pleading with the Jews in the ghetto to give up children 10 years of age and younger, as well as the elderly over 65, so that others might survive. “Horrible, terrifying wailing among the assembled crowd” could be heard, reads the transcriber’s note to his parlance often referred to as: “Give Me Your Children”. Some commentators see this speech as exemplifying aspects of the Holocaust.

A grievous blow has struck the ghetto. They [the Germans] are asking us to give up the best we possess – the children and the elderly. I was unworthy of having a child of my own, so I gave the best years of my life to children. I’ve lived and breathed with children, I never imagined I would be forced to deliver this sacrifice to the altar with my own hands. In my old age, I must stretch out my hands and beg: Brothers and sisters! Hand them over to me! Fathers and mothers: Give me your children!

— Chaim Rumkowski, September 4, 1942 

Rumkowski was adamant about his position as head of the Judenrat, confiscating property and businesses that were still being run by their rightful Jewish owners in the ghetto.

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He established numerous departments and institutions that dealt with all of the ghetto’s internal affairs, from housing tens of thousands of people, to distributing food rations. Welfare and health systems were also set up. For a time, his administration maintained seven hospitals, seven pharmacies, and five clinics employing hundreds of doctors and nurses. Despite their effort, many people could not be helped due to the shortage of medical supplies allowed in by the Germans.

Rumkowski helped maintain school facilities. Forty-seven schools remained in operation schooling 63% of school-age children. There was no education in any other ghetto as advanced as in Łódź. He helped set up a “Culture House” where cultural gatherings including plays, orchestra and other performances could take place. He was very involved in the particulars of these events, including hiring and firing performers and editing the content of the shows. He became integrated in religious life. This integration deeply bothered the religious public. For example, since the Germans disbanded the rabbinate in September 1942, Rumkowski began conducting wedding ceremonies, and altering the marriage contract  “He treated the ghetto Jews like personal belongings. He spoke to them arrogantly and rudely and sometime beat them”

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Due to Rumkowski’s harsh treatment, and stern, arrogant personality, the Jews began to blame him for their predicament, and unleashed their frustration on him instead of the Germans, who were beyond their scope of blame.The most significant display of this frustration and resistance was a series of strikes and demonstrations between August 1940 and spring of 1941. Led by activists and leftist parties against Rumkowski, the workers abandoned their stations and went to the streets handing out fliers:

There are conflicting accounts regarding Rumkowski’s final moments. According to one contemporary source he was murdered upon his arrival at Auschwitz by the Jews of Łódź who preceded him there.This version of events however has been challenged by historians. Another report, submitted by the Sonderkommando member from Hungary, Dov Paisikovic  informs that the Jews of Łódź approached the Sonderkommando Jews in secrecy, and asked them to kill Rumkowski for the crimes he himself committed in the Łódź Ghetto; so they beat him to death at the gate of the Crematorium No. 2 and disposed of his corpse.