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The Jewish Ghetto
Ożarów, Poland


The Ghetto
by Hillel Adler

Hillel Adler


From the moment the Germans arrived, Ożarów was officially declared a "ghetto zone". And just as soon, anti-Semitic graffiti spread like a fungus over the walls of the village. This propaganda was of course addressed to the Polish population who really needed no conversion, for anti-Semitism had been enrooted in their hearts and minds from their tenderest years. All Jews had to wear an armband on their right arm which consigned them to shame and to forced labour if they were between the ages of 16 and 60.

The Germans decided to set up a Judenrat, or Jewish administrative council, in their eyes the only representative institution. From then on, it was only with them that they would. deal, and upon them whom they would rely to keep the Jewish population underfoot. The wise old men with long beards who for decades had made up the community council were thrown out, and in their place the Judenrat was installed, becoming the main institution to take in hand all the problems which could arise in the ghetto. Its members lost no time in bringing on their relatives and friends, and it was in this troubled breeding ground that the Judenrat recruited a Jewish police force.



Ożarów Yavne girls wearing armbands.
Left photo, from left, standing: Ethel Hitelmachers, Dyna Rochwerg andSarah Gutman; seated: Menia Shafir & Leah Apelbaum. Right photo, from left: Brandil Rosenbaum & Feiga Melman.

At this time, the beginning of 1940, the Ożarów ghetto comprised nearly 5,000 people. This was a ghetto that was not encircled by barbed wire, so that dealings with the local Poles remained possible. But it was still necessary to have objects of value or cash in order to get by. As the situation deteriorated, many Jews poured into Ożarów. Jews from neighbouring towns and villages had to abandon all of their possessions in order simply to move into the ghetto. Likewise, many Jews who had been born in Ożarów returned thinking that there they would be able to find refuge with their families. After the Germans annexed the region of Wloclawek to the Reich, more than 600 Jews, men, women and children, were expelled and poured into Ożarów. The village also received a transport of 100 families who had come from Austria. In very little time, the population of Ożarów had doubled and was living in precarious conditions.

In December 1939 two bales of clothing had arrived from America. It was the Joint Distribution Committee which had succeeded in sending aid to the refugees and to the poor people of the ghetto, but it was not the poor people of the village on whose backs the clothing ended up.

A soup kitchen was set up on the premises of the Jewish primary school, and the prayer house was converted into a dormitory for the refugees, while the synagogue became a hospital.

One of the members of the Judenrat council took up residence in the apartments of Fishel and Yankel Mandel in the building that belonged to them, while the council itself decided to establish its quarters in the neighbouring house of Itche Warshawski. A passageway was constructed between the offices of the Judenrat and the Mandel apartments.

All those who could afford it paid a weekly tax to the Judenrat in order to avoid certain work details. But if in the meantime, the Germans assigned them to some other task, too bad for them. The money they had given was thrown out. Only those close to the Judenrat and the Jewish police seemed to be able to escape these tribulations.


You can read more from Hillel Adler's book by visiting the Museum's World Jewish Community exhibition for Ożarów, Poland. Click here.
Photo and written excerpts from "Memories of Ożarów: A Little Jewish Town That Was" by Hillel Adler. Translated by William Fraiberg.


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