The outbreak of World War II and the
German occupation of extensive territories that were home to millions of Jews
had a direct impact on the fate of European Jewry. In September 1939 the
Germans invaded Poland, thus subjecting around two million Polish Jews, to
violence, humiliation, dispossession, and arbitrary kidnappings for forced
labor. Thousands of Jews were murdered in the first months of the occupation.
Immediately after invading Poland, the Germans began setting up Judenrat
(Jewish councils) as instruments for implementing Nazi policy regarding the
Jews. The Judenrat were responsible for complying with German demands and
attending to internal Jewish affairs. Shortly after the occupation, the Germans
began to confine the Jews to specific residential neighborhoods in the cities,
which became known as ghettos. In addition to cutting the Jews off almost
totally from their surroundings, confinement to the ghetto meant impossible
living conditions such as overcrowding, forced labor and in many cases
starvation. These conditions were deliberate acts causing the death of hundreds
of thousands of Jews in ghettos. This was the start of the annihilation of
The German invasion of the USSR and areas of Eastern Poland, in the summer of
1941, saw a wave of mass murders of Jews in these areas. The remaining Jews
there were forced into ghettos, similar to Jews in Western Poland.
In the ghettos the Jews lived day by day under the shadow of
the systematic mass murders and deportations to the death camps. Circumstances
differed from one place to another, but in all of occupied Europe the Jews
suffered from a policy of discrimination, humiliation and isolation. For
example, all over Europe the Jews were forced to wear a distinguishing mark,
usually a yellow badge in the shape of the Star of David.
This topic includes sources, which
deal with the Jews' lives under Nazi occupation in various European countries
from the outbreak of the war until their deportations to extermination camps.
The typical standard of life for Eastern European Jewry during this period was
the ghetto, the model for which was established in Poland.
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