Jewish ghettos in Europe

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Jewish ghettos in Europe existed because Jews were viewed as foreigners due to their non-Christian beliefs and Middle-Eastern origins in a Renaissance Christian environment. As a result, Jews were placed under strict regulations throughout many European cities.[1] The character of ghettos varied through times. In some cases, they comprised a Jewish quarter, the area of a city traditionally inhabited by Jews. In many instances, ghettos were places of terrible poverty and during periods of population growth, ghettos had narrow streets and small, crowded houses. Residents had their own justice system. Around the ghetto stood walls that, during pogroms, were closed from inside to protect the community, but from the outside during Christmas, Pesach, and Easter Week to prevent the Jews from leaving during those times.

The distribution of the Jews in Central Europe (1881, German). Percentage of local population:  dark burgundy  18% (and higher),  red  13%,  pink  9%,  blue  4%,  light blue  3%,  brown  2%,  beige  1% (and lower)

In the 19th century, Jewish ghettos were progressively abolished, and their walls taken down. However, in the course of World War II the Third Reich created a totally new Jewish ghetto-system for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation of Jews, mostly in Eastern Europe. According to USHMM archives, "The Germans established at least 1,000 ghettos in German-occupied and annexed Poland and the Soviet Union alone."[2]

Historic Jewish ghettos in Europe by country[edit]



Czech Republic[edit]



Frankfurter Judengasse in 1868

From its creation to its dissolution at the end of the 18th century, the city councils limited expansion in the Judengasse, resulting in a steady increase in population to the point of overcrowding. The original area of about a dozen houses with around 100 inhabitants, grew to almost 200 houses and some 3,000 inhabitants. The plots, originally quite generous, were successively divided while the total size of the ghetto remained the same. This increased the number of plots but subsequently reduced the size of each plot. In the process, many houses were replaced by two or more houses which were often divided in turn. Many of the houses were designed to be narrow and long, in order to maximize the limited space – the smallest house, the Rote Hase, was only about one and a half meters wide.

The Holocaust[edit]

Nazi Germany organized ghettos in many occupied countries. The Łódź/Litzmannstadt Ghetto existed in a Polish city annexed to Germany, small ghettos were organized in Heidemühle, Koło, Będzin.


At the turn of the 18th and 19th century the Jewish community gathered in the VII. district along the road leading to the bridge, with Király Street as its center. The city had not tolerated Jewish people for a long time. II. Joseph’s regulation put an end to the prohibition in 1783. At that time there lived fourteen Jewish families in the immediate vicinity of Budapest, in the great mansion of Barons Orczy. Their numbers increased rapidly. Most of the largest Jewish community of the era moved from Óbuda, but many of them came from other areas of the Habsburg empire.

In 1944 the Pest Ghetto was built here in the neighborhood bordered by Király Street, Csányi Street, Klauzál Square, Kisdiófa Street, Dohány Street and Károly Boulevard, crowding 70.000 people together. One of the borders of the ghetto was the Row of Archways on the Wesselényi Street side. In 2002 this area was named the old Jewish neighborhood of Pest and was entered into the Budapest world heritage conservation zone. This area features most of the Jewish heritage sites of the Pest side, including the famous „Synagogue Triangle.”





An 1880 watercolor of the Roman Ghetto by Ettore Roesler Franz.

In 1555, Pope Paul IV issued papal bull Cum nimis absurdum which created the Roman Ghetto, forcing Jews of Rome to live in a part of the rione Sant'Angelo of Rome. The area of Rome chosen for the ghetto was the most undesirable quarter of the city, owing to constant flooding by the Tiber River. At the time of its founding, the four-block area was designated to contain roughly 1,000 inhabitants. However, over the years, the Jewish community grew, which caused severe overcrowding. Since the area could not expand horizontally (the ghetto was surrounded by high walls), the Jews built vertical additions to their houses, which blocked the sun from reaching the already dank and narrow streets. Life in the Roman Ghetto was one of crushing poverty, due to the severe restrictions placed upon the professions that Jews were allowed to perform.

The Roman Ghetto was the last of the original ghettos to be abolished in Western Europe; not until 1882, when the Kingdom of Italy conquered Rome from the Pope, was the Ghetto finally opened, with the walls themselves being torn down in 1888.

Due to the three hundred plus years of isolation from the rest of the city, the Jews of the Roman Ghetto developed their own dialect, known as Giudeo-romanesco, which differs from the dialect of the rest of the city in its preservation of 16th-century dialectical forms and its liberal use of romanized Hebrew words.


Although there is evidence indicating the presence of Jews in the Venetian area dating back to the first few centuries A.D., during the 15th and early 16th centuries (until 1516), no Jew was allowed to live anywhere in the city of Venice for more than 15 days per year; so most of them lived in Venice's possessions on the terrafirma. At its maximum, the population of the Ghetto reached 3,000. In exchange for their loss of freedom, the Jews were granted the right to a Jew's coat (the colour yellow was considered humiliating, as it was associated with prostitutes). The gates were locked at night, and the Jewish community was forced to pay the salaries of the patrolmen who guarded the gates and patrolled the canals that surrounded the Ghetto. The Ghetto was abolished after the fall of the Republic of Venice to Napoleon.

To place Venetian provisions requiring groups in the city to live in compulsory quarters in historical context:

  • Merchants from the Germanic lands were required to reside in a special building known as the 'Fondaco dei Tedeschi'.
  • Turkish merchants were restricted to the palazzo known as the Fondaco dei Turchi.


Under the Gonzagas Mantua was a haven of relative racial and cultural tolerance. In 1610 Jews constituted about 7.5 percent of the population of Mantua.[3] In 1630 the Mantua ghetto was sacked by imperial troops and destroyed.[4] Among the Jewish dead or missing were the composer Salamone Rossi and his sister the opera singer Madama Europa.[5]

Southern Italy and Sicily[edit]

While a not quite a ghetto, the giudecca is a medieval Jewish neighborhood. The Jews of southern Italy often lived in these neighborhoods either for safety reasons or compulsion by Christian authorities. Unlike the ghettos, the giudeccas were clean and had proper sanitation. After the expulsion of the Jews of southern Italy, these neighborhoods lost their distinctive Jewish characteristics and now only trace evidence remains of the original inhabitants.


For centuries, Poland was home to the largest and most significant Jewish community in the world. The immigration of Jews to Poland began to increase already during the crusades due to persecution of Jews in Western Europe, and thanks to a long period of Polish statutory religious tolerance and social autonomy. Jewish settlers built their own settlements. By the mid-14th century they had established thirty-five towns in Silesia alone. In large cities, entire districts were assigned to them, as in the case of Kazimierz district of Kraków earmarked in 1495 by the King Jan I Olbracht for the Jewish community.[6] The district was governed by a municipal form of Jewish self-government called kehilla, a foundation of the local qahal. In smaller Polish towns, ethnic communities were mostly integrated.[7]

The Holocaust in German-occupied Poland[edit]

Nearly complete genocidal destruction of the Polish Jewish minority took place during the German and Soviet occupation of Poland and the ensuing Holocaust. The World War II ghetto-system had been imposed by Nazi Germany roughly between October 1939 and July 1942 in order to confine Poland's Jewish population of 3.5 million for the purpose of persecution, terror, and exploitation.[8] The Warsaw Ghetto was the largest ghetto in all of Nazi occupied Europe, with over 400,000 Jews crammed into an area of 1.3 square miles (3.4 km2), or 7.2 persons per room.[9] The Łódź Ghetto (in annexed to Germany and renamed to Litzmannstadt Łódź) was the second largest, holding about 160,000 inmates.[10] Over three million Polish Jews perished in World War II, resulting in the destruction of an entire civilization.[11][12]

A more complete list of over 260 ghettos with approximate number of prisoners, date of creation and liquidation, as well as known deportation route to death camps, is available at Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Poland.

Holocaust in occupied Poland: the map

Starting in 1939, Adolf Eichmann, a German Nazi and SS-Obersturmbannführer who was head of the Final Solution program, began to systematically move Polish Jews away from their homes and into designated areas of large Polish cities. The first large ghetto at Piotrków Trybunalski was established on October 8, 1939,[13] followed by the Łódź Ghetto in April 1940, the Warsaw Ghetto in October 1940, and many other ghettos established throughout 1940 and 1941. The Ghettos were walled off, and any Jew found leaving them was shot.[14]

The situation in the ghettos was usually brutal. In Warsaw, 30% of the population were forced to live in 2.4% of the city's area. In the ghetto of Odrzywol, 700 people lived in an area previously occupied by 5 families, between 12 and 30 to each small room. The Jews were not allowed out of the ghetto, so they had to rely on replenishments supplied by the Nazis: in Warsaw this was 181 calories per Jew, compared to 669 calories per non-Jewish Pole and 2,613 calories per German. With crowded living conditions, starvation diets, and little sanitation (in the Łódź Ghetto 95% of apartments had no sanitation, piped water or sewers) hundreds of thousands of Jews died of disease and starvation.

The liquidation of WWII ghettos across Poland was closely connected with the formation of highly secretive killing centers built by various German companies including I.A. Topf and Sons of Erfurt, and C.H. Kori GmbH.[15][16][17] 254,000–300,000 Jews were deported from the Warsaw Ghetto alone to Treblinka extermination camp over the course of 52 days during Grossaktion Warsaw (1942). In some of the Ghettos the local resistance organizations started Ghetto uprisings, none were successful, and the Jewish populations of the ghettos were almost entirely killed.[18]

Jews from Eastern Poland (areas now in Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine) were killed uning guns rather than in gas chambers, see Ponary massacre, Janowska concentration camp.


The Netherlands[edit]

Jodebreestraat was a street "in the very heart of the Jewish quarter."[19] In the mid 15th century the Ashkenazi Jews began to arrive in Amsterdam in large numbers from Germany and Eastern Europe – especially Ukraine, where 100,000 Jews have been slaughtered by the Ukrainian peasants during the Khmelnytsky Uprising. By the 18th century there were 20,000 Ashkenazi Jews and 3,000 Sephardic Jews in Amsterdam. Non-Jewish people also lived in Jewish neighborhoods, for example Rembrandt van Rijn.[19]

Following the Nazi German invasion of the Netherlands, in February 1941 the Hebrew quarter was completely sealed off, and a Ghetto was established. The first group of 425 Jewish men were assembled at the Jonas Daniel Meijer Square and sent to concentration camps at Buchenwald and Mauthausen, which resulted in mass demonstrations among gentiles, organized by the Dutch Workers Party. However, the deportation of Jews to Nazi death camps continued till the end of World War II.[20] Amsterdam had 3 Jewish neighborhoods before 1940, one in the Center, one in Amsterdam East and one in Amsterdam South. The one in the Center of Amsterdam was closed off from February 12, 1941 to May 6, 1941 with barb wire, and guarded bridges that were open.


United Kingdom[edit]

Prior to the Edict of Expulsion in 1290, Old Jewry in the City of London. Although they were not really Ghettos, there were a number of areas with extremely high Jewish concentrations:

Ghettos during the Second World War and The Holocaust[edit]

Extermination ghettos established by the German Nazis in which Jews were confined, and later shipped to concentration camps

During World War II, ghettos were established by Nazi Germany to confine Jews into tightly packed areas of the cities of Eastern and Central Europe. They served as staging points to begin dividing "able workers" from those who would later be deemed unworthy of life. In many cases, the Nazi-era ghettos did not correspond to historic Jewish quarters. For example, the Kraków Ghetto was formally established in the Podgórze district, not in the Jewish district of Kazimierz. As a result, the displaced ethnic Polish families were forced to take up residences outside.[21][22][23][24]

In 1942, the Nazis began Operation Reinhard, the systematic deportation to extermination camps during the Holocaust. The authorities deported Jews from everywhere in Europe to the ghettos of the East, or directly to the extermination camps designed and operated in Poland by Nazi Germans. There were no Polish guards at any of the camps,[25] despite the sometimes used misnomer Polish death camps.[26]


  1. ^ GHETTO Kim Pearson
  2. ^ Types of Ghettos. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
  3. ^ Paul F. Grendler The University of Mantua, the Gonzaga & the Jesuits, 1584-1630 2009 "The ghetto was adjacent to the Jesuit island, the block of buildings that included the Jesuit church, residence, and school (see chapter 2 and map 3). In 1610 Jews constituted about 7.5 percent of the population of Mantua:
  4. ^ Shlomo Simonsohn History of the Jews in the Duchy of Mantua Kiryath Sepher, 1977 "The order was published in the ghetto late that night. On Tuesday, 21st of Ab (30.7.1630), a German officer robbed Monte di Pieta, with the aid of one of the clerks of the institution and a twenty-two-year-old Jew named Aaron Cohen. Massarano attempts to justify the Jew's act by saying that the others forced him to take part in the robbery. The Germans arrested the Jew and he was hanged. Prior to the departure of the Jews from Mantua, the Germans seized hostages from among the leaders of the community ... On Wednesday, the 22nd of Ab, the Jews gathered for a final prayer in the nine synagogues of the ghetto, after which they left Mantua.... ."
  5. ^ Don Harrán Salamone Rossi, Jewish musician in late Renaissance Mantua
  6. ^ "Polish Jews History", at
  7. ^ Jewish Krakow, A Visual and Virtual Tour, The Kupa Synagogue of Kazimierz district of Kraków from the Internet Archive
  8. ^ The statistical data compiled on the basis of "Glossary of 2,077 Jewish towns in Poland" by Virtual Shtetl Museum of the History of the Polish Jews  (English), as well as "Getta Żydowskie," by Gedeon,  (Polish) and "Ghetto List" by Michael Peters at  (English). Accessed June 21, 2011.
  9. ^ Warsaw Ghetto, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), Washington, D.C.
  10. ^ Ghettos, United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
  11. ^ Berenbaum, Michael. The World Must Know," United States Holocaust Museum, 2006, p. 104.
  12. ^ Poland's Holocaust by Tadeusz Piotrowski. Published by McFarland.
  13. ^ October 8: First Jewish ghetto established in Piotrkow Trybunalski, Yad Vashem The Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority
  14. ^ Holocaust Encyclopedia: Types of Ghettos. United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, Washington, D.C.
  15. ^ Dwork, Deborah and Robert Jan Van Pelt,The Construction of Crematoria at Auschwitz W.W. Norton & Co., 1996.
  16. ^ University of Minnesota, Majdanek Death Camp
  17. ^ Cecil Adams, Did Krups, Braun, and Mercedes-Benz make Nazi concentration camp ovens?
  18. ^ Robert Moses Shapiro, Holocaust Chronicles Published by KTAV Publishing Inc. 1999 ISBN 0-88125-630-7, 302 pages. Quote: ... the so-called Gross Aktion of July to September 1942... 300,000 Jews murdered by bullet of gas (page 35).
  19. ^ a b Reuben ben Gershom-Goossens D.Litt, "Dutch Tzedakah. Stories of “Righteous Ones” in the Netherlands", 1998 - 2008
  20. ^ Reuven Goossens, "Dutch Tzedakah. Stories of “Righteous Ones” in the Netherlands. Part Two: The Dockworker", 1998 - 2008
  21. ^ An article about the Kraków Ghetto in English with photos
  22. ^ About Kraków Ghetto in Polish with valuable historical photos
  23. ^ Schindler's Krakow - modern-day photographs
  24. ^ - A page on the Krakow Ghetto complete with contemporary picture gallery
  25. ^ Robert D. Cherry, Annamaria Orla-Bukowska, Rethinking Poles and Jews: Troubled Past, Brighter Future, Rowman & Littlefield 2007, ISBN 0-7425-4666-7. Accessed April 3, 2012.
  26. ^ Richard C. Lukas, Out of the Inferno: Poles Remember the Holocaust University Press of Kentucky 1989 - 201 pages. Page 13; also in Richard C. Lukas, The Forgotten Holocaust: The Poles Under German Occupation, 1939-1944, University Press of Kentucky 1986 - 300 pages.