A Judenrat[a] (German: [ˈjuːdn̩ˌʁaːt], "Jewish council") was a World War II Jewish-German-collaborative administrative agency imposed by Germany, principally within the ghettos of occupied Europe, including those of German-occupied Poland. The German administration required Jews to form a Judenrat in every community across the occupied territories.
The Judenrat constituted a form of self-enforcing intermediary that served the German administration for controlling larger Jewish communities in occupied areas. In some ghettos, as in the Łódź Ghetto, and in the Theresienstadt and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, the Germans applied to such councils the name "Jewish Council of Elders" (Jüdischen Ältestenrat or Ältestenrat der Juden).
While the origin of the term Judenrat is unclear, Jewish communities themselves had established self-government councils as early as the Middle Ages. The Jewish community used the Hebrew term Kahal (קהל) or Kehillah (קהילה), whereas the German authorities generally used the term Judenräte.
The structure and missions of the Judenräte under the Nazi regime varied widely, often depending upon whether meant for a single ghetto, a city or a whole region. Jurisdiction over a whole country, as in Nazi Germany, was maintained by Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland (Reich's Association of the Jews in Germany) established on 4 July 1939.
In the beginning of April 1933, shortly after the National Socialist government took power, a report by a German governmental commission was presented on fighting the Jews. This report recommended the creation of a recognized 'Association of Jews in Germany' (Verband der Juden in Deutschland), to which all Jews in Germany would be forced to associate. Appointed by the Reichskanzler, a German People's Ward was then to assume responsibility of this group. As the leading Jewish organization, it was envisioned that this association would have a 25-member council called the Judenrat. However, the report was not officially acted upon.
The Israeli historian Dan Michman found it likely that the commission, which considered the legal status and interactions of Jews and non-Jews before their emancipation, reached back to the Medieval Era for the term Judenräte. This illuminates the apparent intent to make the Jewish emancipation and assimilation invalid, and so return Jews to the status they held during the Medieval Era.
The first actual Judenräte were established in occupied Poland by Reinhard Heydrich's orders on 21 September 1939, soon after the end of the German assault on Poland and later the occupied territories of the Soviet Union.
The Judenräte were to serve as a means to enforce the occupation force's anti-Jewish regulations and laws in the western and central areas of Poland, and had no authority of their own. Ideally, a local Judenrat was to include rabbis and other influential people of their local Jewish community. Thus, enforcement of laws could be better facilitated by the German authorities by using established Jewish authority figures and personages, while undermining external influences.
Further Judenräte were established on 18 November 1939, upon the orders of Hans Frank, head of the Generalgouvernment. These councils were to have 12 members for Jewish communities of 10,000 or fewer, and up to 24 members for larger Jewish communities. Jewish communities were to elect their own councils, and by the end of 1939 were to have selected an executive and assistant executive as well. Results were to be presented to the German city or county controlling officer for recognition. While theoretically democratic, in reality the councils were often determined by the occupiers. While the German occupiers only minimally involved themselves in the voting, those whom the Germans first chose often refused participation to avoid becoming exploited by the occupiers. As a rule, therefore, the traditional speaker of the community was named and elected, preserving the community continuity.
The Nazis systematically sought to weaken the resistance potential and opportunities of the Jews of Central and Eastern Europe. The early Judenräte were foremost to report numbers of their Jewish populations, clear residences and turn them over, present workers for forced labour, confiscate valuables, and collect tribute and turn these over. Failure to comply would incur the risk of collective punishments or other measures. Later tasks of the Judenräte included turning over community members for deportation. Ultimately, these policies and the cooperation of Jewish authorities led to massive Jewish deaths with few German casualties because of the minimal resistance. Once under Nazi control and checked for weapons, large numbers of Jews could ultimately be easily murdered or enslaved. The sadness of the catastrophically large number of deaths because of this lack of resistance led to the saying "never again". Tadeusz Piotrowski cites Jewish survivor Baruch Milch stating "Judenrat became an instrument in the hand of the Gestapo for extermination of the Jews... I do not know of a single instance when the Judenrat would help some Jew in a disinterested manner." through Piotrowski cautions that "Milch's is a particular account of a particular place and time... the behavior of Junderat members was not uniform." 
Through these occupation measures, and the simultaneous prevention of government services, the Jewish communities suffered serious shortages. For this reason, early Judenräte attempted to establish replacement service institutions of their own. They tried to organize food distribution, aid stations, old age homes, orphanages and schools. At the same time, given their restricted circumstances and remaining options, they attempted to work against the occupier's forced measures and to win time. One way was to delay transfer and implementation of orders and to try playing conflicting demands of competing German interests against each other. They presented their efforts as indispensable for the Germans in managing the Jewish community, in order to improve the resources of the Jews and to move the Germans to repeal collective punishments.
This had, however, very limited positive results. The generally difficult situations presented often led to perceived unfair actions, such as personality preferences, sycophancy, and protectionism of a few over the rest of the community. Thus, the members of the community quickly became highly critical of, or even outright opposed their Judenrat.
Judenräte were responsible for the internal administration of ghettos, standing between the Nazi occupiers and their Jewish communities. In general, the Judenräte represented the elite from their Jewish communities. Often, a Judenrat had a group for internal security and control, a Jewish Ghetto Police (German: Jüdische Ghetto-Polizei or Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst). They also attempted to manage the government services normally found in a city, such as those named above. However, the Germans requiring them to deliver community members for forced labor or deportation to concentration camps, placed them in the position of cooperating with the German occupiers. To resist such orders was to risk summary execution, or quick replacement and inclusion in the next concentration-camp shipment.
Hannah Arendt wrote in her 1963 book, Eichmann in Jerusalem, that without the assistance of the Judenräte, the registration of the Jews, their concentration in ghettos and, later, their active assistance in the Jews' deportation to extermination camps, fewer Jews would have perished because the Germans would have encountered considerable difficulties in drawing up lists of Jews. In occupied Europe, the Nazis entrusted Jewish officials with the task of making such lists of Jews along with information about the property they owned. The Judenräte also directed the Jewish Ghetto Police to assist the Germans in seizing Jews and loading them onto transport trains leaving for concentration camps.
In her book, Arendt wrote:
To a Jew, this role of the Jewish leaders in the destruction of their own people is undoubtedly the darkest chapter of the whole dark story. [...] In the matter of cooperation, there was no distinction between the highly assimilated Jewish communities of Central and Western Europe and the Yiddish-speaking masses of the East. In Amsterdam as in Warsaw, in Berlin as in Budapest, Jewish officials could be trusted to compile the lists of persons and of their property, to secure money from the deportees to defray the expenses of their deportation and extermination, to keep track of vacated apartments, to supply police forces to help seize Jews and get them on trains, until, as a last gesture, they handed over the assets of the Jewish community in good order for final confiscation...
Arendt's view has been challenged by other Holocaust historians, including Isaiah Trunk in his 1972 book, Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation. Summarizing Trunk's research, Holocaust scholar Michael Berenbaum writes: "In the final analysis, the Judenräte had no influence on the frightful outcome of the Holocaust; the Nazi extermination machine was alone responsible for the tragedy, and the Jews in the occupied territories, most especially Poland, were far too powerless to prevent it."
Adam Czerniaków (30 November 1880 – 23 July 1942) was a Polish engineer and senator who was head of the Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Council (Judenrat) during World War II. He committed suicide on 23 July 1942 by swallowing a cyanide pill, a day after the commencement of mass extermination of Jews known as the Grossaktion Warsaw.Chaim Rumkowski
Chaim Mordechaj Rumkowski (February 27, 1877 – August 28, 1944) was the head of the Jewish Council of Elders in the Łódź Ghetto appointed by Nazi Germany during the German occupation of Poland.
Rumkowski accrued much power by transforming the ghetto into an industrial base manufacturing war supplies for the Wehrmacht 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.
As the head of the Judenrat, 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 he was murdered there on August 28, 1944 by 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.Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye
The Fareynikte Partizaner Organizatsye (Yiddish: פֿאַראײניקטע פּאַרטיזאַנער אָרגאַניזאַציע; "United Partisan Organization"; referred to as FPO by its Yiddish initials) was a Jewish resistance organization based in the Vilna Ghetto that organized armed resistance against the Nazis during World War II. The clandestine organisation was established by Communist and Zionist partisans. Their leaders were writer Abba Kovner and Yitzhak Wittenberg.Group 13
The Group Thirteen network (Polish: Trzynastka, Yiddish: דאָס דרײַצענטל) was a Jewish collaborationist organisation in the Warsaw Ghetto during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. The Thirteen took its informal name from the address of its main office at 13 Leszno Street in Warsaw. The group was founded in December 1940 and led by Abraham Gancwajch, the former head of Hashomer Hatzair in Łódź. Sanctioned by Sicherheitsdienst (SD), and also known as the Jewish Gestapo, the unit reported directly to the German Gestapo office.The group vied for control of the ghetto with the Judenrat, and infiltrated the Jewish opposition within the ghetto. The group's most important branch was the Office to Combat Usury and Profiteering in the Jewish Quarter of Warsaw. Supposed to fight the black market, it actually collected large sums via racketeering, blackmail and extortions. The group also ran its own prison. In total, the group numbered between three and four hundred uniformed Jewish officers, distinguished by caps with green bands. The admittance payment to become a member of the "13" was several thousand zlotys issued by the German-controlled Bank.In July 1941 the Group 13 lost to the Judenrat in the political arena and the Office was incorporated into the Jupo police force.After the Office was closed, the active members of the Group 13 centered on Gancwajch, and concentrated their efforts on setting up their own infirmary and ambulance service (the so-called Emergency Service, or the First Aid Station, which was created in May 1941). However, the company's resources soon became used predominantly for smuggling and contraband. They also ran other operations, for example a brothel at the Britannica hotel. They had near total control over the horse-drawn carriages and all transportation within the ghetto.Isaiah Trunk
Isaiah Trunk (Polish: Izajasz Trunk; 1905–1981) was a chief archivist of the Yiddish Scientific Institute YIVO in New York from Warsaw, and the leading historian on the Holocaust. Trunk was an expert on Jewish history during the Nazi occupation of Poland. A scholar and author originally from Poland, he was the winner of a National Book Award in history for his monograph titled Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe Under Nazi Occupation published in New York by Macmillan in 1972.Jacob Gens
Jacob Gens (1 April 1903 – 14 September 1943) was the head of the Vilnius Ghetto government. Originally from a merchant family, he joined the Lithuanian Army shortly after the independence of Lithuania, rising to the rank of captain while also securing a college degree in law and economics. He married a non-Jew and worked at several jobs, including as a teacher, accountant, and an administrator.
When Germany invaded Lithuania, Gens headed the Jewish hospital in Vilnius before the formation of the ghetto in September 1941. He was appointed chief of the ghetto police force and in July 1942 the Germans appointed him head of the ghetto Jewish government. He attempted to secure better conditions in the ghetto and believed that it was possible to save some Jews by working for the Germans. Gens and his policemen helped Germans in rounding up the Jews for deportation and execution in Ponary in October–December 1941 and in liquidating several smaller ghettos from late 1942 to early 1943. His policies, including the attempt to save some Jews by surrendering others for deportation or execution, continue to be a subject of debate and controversy.
Gens was shot by the Gestapo on 14 September 1943, shortly before the ghetto was liquidated and most of the residents sent either to labor camps or to execution at an extermination camp. His Lithuanian wife and daughter escaped the Gestapo and survived the war.Jewish Ghetto Police
The Jewish Ghetto Police or Jewish Police Service (German: Jüdische Ghetto-Polizei or Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst), also called the Jewish Police by Jews, were auxiliary police units organized within the Nazi ghettos by local Judenrat (Jewish councils).Kielce cemetery massacre
The Kielce cemetery massacre refers to the shooting action by the Nazi German police that took place on May 23, 1943 in occupied Poland during World War II, in which 45 Jewish children who had survived the Kielce Ghetto liquidation, and remained with their working parents at the Kielce forced-labour camps, were rounded up and brought to the Pakosz cemetery in Kielce, Poland, where they were murdered by the German paramilitary police. The children ranged in age from 15 months to 15 years old.During the ghetto liquidation action which began on 20 August 1942 approximately 20,000-21,000 Jews were led to awaiting Holocaust trains and sent to Treblinka extermination camp. By the end of 24 August 1942, there were only 2,000 skilled workers left alive in the labour camp at Stolarska-and-Jasna Streets (pl) within the small ghetto, including members of the Judenrat and the Jewish policemen. In May 1943, most Jewish prisoners from Kielce were transported to forced-labour camps in Starachowice, Skarżysko-Kamienna, Pionki, and Bliżyn. The 45 Jewish children murdered at the cemetery were the ones who stayed behind at the liquidated camp.Kraków Ghetto
The Kraków Ghetto was one of five major, metropolitan Jewish Ghettos created by Nazi Germany in the new General Government territory during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. It was established for the purpose of exploitation, terror, and persecution of local Polish Jews, as well as the staging area for separating the "able workers" from those who would later be deemed unworthy of life. The Ghetto was liquidated between June 1942 and March 1943, with most of its inhabitants sent to their deaths at Bełżec extermination camp as well as Płaszów slave-labor camp, and Auschwitz concentration camp, 60 kilometres (37 mi) rail distance.Kraków Ghetto Jewish Council
The Kraków Jewish Council (In German: Judenrat) was a 24-person Jewish managerial board formally established in the city of Kraków, Poland by German authorities in December 1939, and later in the Kraków Ghetto when the ghetto was officially formed on March 3, 1941. The Kraków Jewish Council formation was mandated by Nazi administration officials, who demanded that these councils be formed as supervisors of the inmates of their respective ghettos in the General Government, and in other occupied areas. The Jewish Council in Kraków was in direct contact and controlled by Nazi officials on most matters, but had some limited degree of autonomy. The Krakow Jewish council had 19 separate departments that oversaw labor, welfare, health and finance, among other items.Along with other Jewish Councils in the General Government, the Kraków Jewish Council was established by a general decree from Hans Frank, the Governor-general of the General Government, on November 28, 1939, following a statement by Reinhard Heydrich on September 21, 1939 with similar aims . However, the Kraków Ghetto was not formally established in the Podgórze area of the Kraków district until March 3, 1941. Prior to March 3, the offices of the Jewish Council were located at 41 Kraków Street and, after the ghetto was established, the offices were located in the ghetto at the corner of Limanowski and Rynek Podgorski streets.Kraków Ghetto Jewish Police
The Kraków Ghetto Jewish Police were a law enforcement service in the Kraków Ghetto. The Kraków Ghetto Jewish Police were a local force of the Jüdischer Ordnungsdienst, often abbreviated as OD. The OD were overseen by the Judenrat of each ghetto. The Kraków OD, unlike many other Jewish Police forces, served as willing enforcers of Nazi policies and the Gestapo. Among other duties, they oversaw the liquidation of the Kraków Ghetto and helped transport Jews to Bełżec extermination camp.Leon Feldhendler
Leon Feldhendler (Lejb Feldhendler) (1910 – 6 April 1945) was a Polish resistance fighter known for his role in organizing the 1943 prisoner uprising at the Sobibor extermination camp together with Alexander Pechersky. Prior to his deportation to Sobibor, Feldhendler had been head of the Judenrat ("Jewish Council") in his village of Żółkiewka, Lublin Voivodeship, in German-occupied Poland.Moshe Merin
Moshe (Mosheh) Merin (also Moniek Merin and Moszek or Mojżesz Israel Merin in Polish; 1905 – June 1943) was the head of the Jewish Community Council, or Judenrat, in the Sosnowiec Ghetto during the Nazi German occupation of Poland in World War II. It is believed that he perished in the Auschwitz concentration camp. As with most Jewish Council leadership of the time, his actions or lack thereof during the Holocaust in occupied Poland are highly controversial.Sosnowiec Ghetto
The Sosnowiec Ghetto (German: Ghetto von Sosnowitz) was a World War II ghetto set up by Nazi German authorities for Polish Jews in the Środula district of Sosnowiec in the Province of Upper Silesia. During the Holocaust in occupied Poland, most inmates, estimated at over 35,000 Jewish men, women and children were deported to Auschwitz death camp aboard Holocaust trains following roundups lasting from June until August 1943. The Ghetto was liquidated during an uprising, a final act of defiance of its Underground Jewish Combat Organization (ŻOB) made up of youth. Most of the Jewish fighters perished.
The Sosnowiec Ghetto formed a single administrative unit with the Będzin Ghetto, because both cities are a part of the same metropolitan area in the Dąbrowa Basin. Prior to deportations, the Jews from the two ghettos shared the "Farma" vegetable garden allocated to Zionist youth by the Judenrat.Symche Trachter
Symche Trachter, full name Szymon Symche Binem Trachter (b. 1890 or 1894; d. 1942 at Treblinka extermination camp) was a Polish painter of Jewish descent.
In his youth he was a pupil of Jacek Malczewski in Cracow, one of the most famous painters of Polish Symbolism. Subsequently he pursued his studies in Vienna in 1918, and in Paris in 1927. He exhibited in Paris in 1930. Symche Trachter was active at Cracow, and also participated in exhibitions organized by the Jewish Society for the Propagation of the Fine Arts.
During the Second World War he was interned in the Warsaw Ghetto, but continued his artistic activities even in detention, decorating with frescoes — together with another painter and fellow detainee, Feliks Frydman — the walls of the main reception hall within the seat of the Ghetto's Judenrat. In 1942 he was deported by the Nazis from the Warsaw Ghetto on one of the first transports to the Treblinka extermination camp, where he was murdered in the Holocaust.Szmul Zygielbojm
Szmul Zygielbojm (Polish: [ˈʂmul zɨˈɡʲɛlbɔjm]; Yiddish: שמואל זיגלבוים; (1895-02-21)21 February 1895, Poland – (1943-05-11)11 May 1943, London) was a Polish Jewish socialist politician, Bundist trade union activist, and a member of the National Council of the Polish government-in-exile.
Zygielbojm was born in 1895 to a working-class family and had to leave school at the age of ten. In his early twenties, he became involved in Bundist trade union activism. In 1924, he was elected to Bundist Central Committee. He edited a Bundist newspaper and was elected to Łódź city council in 1938. Upon the invasion of Poland he fled to Warsaw and was briefly a member of the Judenrat.
He fled to the Netherlands and then England, where he was appointed to the National Committee of the Polish government-in-exile. He interviewed Jan Karski and tried to publicize the news of the mass murder of Jews in Poland. After the Warsaw Ghetto uprising was brutally crushed and Warsaw's remaining Jews murdered, he committed suicide to protest the indifference and inaction of the Allies.Warsaw Ghetto
The Warsaw Ghetto (German: Warschauer Ghetto, officially Jüdischer Wohnbezirk in Warschau, "Jewish Residential District in Warsaw"; Polish: getto warszawskie) was the largest of all the Jewish ghettos in German-occupied Europe during World War II. It was established by the German authorities in November 1940; within the new General Government territory of German-occupied Poland. There were over 400,000 Jews imprisoned there, at an area of 3.4 km2 (1.3 sq mi), with an average of 9.2 persons per room, barely subsisting on meager food rations. From the Warsaw Ghetto, Jews were deported to Nazi concentration camps and mass-killing centers. In the summer of 1942 at least 254,000 Ghetto residents were sent to the Treblinka extermination camp during Großaktion Warschau under the guise of "resettlement in the East" over the course of the summer. The ghetto was demolished by the Germans in May 1943 after the Warsaw Ghetto Uprisings which had temporarily halted the deportations. The total death toll among the Jewish inhabitants of the Ghetto is estimated to be at least 300,000 killed by bullet or gas, combined with 92,000 victims of rampant hunger and hunger-related diseases, the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, and the casualties of the final destruction of the Ghetto.Ústredňa Židov
The Ústredňa Židov (ÚŽ; English: Jewish Center) was the Judenrat in Bratislava that was imposed on the Jewish community of the Axis-aligned state of Slovakia to implement Nazi orders during the Holocaust. It was formed on the advice of SS official Dieter Wisliceny; the first leader, Heinrich Schwartz, was removed after refusing to cooperate with Nazi demands. Despite the collaborationist Department of Special Affairs run by Karol Hochberg, most of the ÚŽ members focused on improving the social welfare of Jews remaining in Slovakia. In addition, the ÚŽ attempted to resist deportation by retraining Jews who had been expelled from their previous profession and improving labor camps for Jews in Slovakia. The underground resistance organization that ran under its auspices, the Working Group, took over the ÚŽ leadership in December 1943. After the German invasion of Slovakia in August 1944, the ÚŽ was disbanded and many of its members were arrested and deported to concentration camps.Łachwa Ghetto
Łachwa (or Lakhva) Ghetto was a Nazi ghetto in Western Belarus during World War II. Located in Lakhva, Belarus), the ghetto was created with the aim of persecution and exploitation of the local Jews. The ghetto existed until September 1942. It was the location of one of the first Jewish ghetto uprising.