The Jews were only permitted to take a few personal items with them to the ghetto, in the process being stripped of the homes and property that they had left behind. The ghettos were extremely crowded and often lacked basic electrical and sanitary infrastructure. The food rations were insufficient for supporting the ghettos’ inhabitants, and the Germans employed brutal measures against the smugglers, including both public and private executions. Starvation increased and worsened in the ghettos and many of the inhabitants became ill or perished.
Despite the inhumane conditions that persisted in the ghettos, communal institutions and voluntary organizations strove to imbue life with meaning and to provide for the public’s needs.
Many risked their lives for higher values, such as the education of their children, preservation of religious traditions, and the fulfillment of cultural activities. Books, intellectual pursuits, music and theater served as an escape from the harsh reality surrounding them and as a reminder of their previous lives. Artists and intellectuals, children and ordinary individuals, wrote and drew in order to document the fear and dread that descended upon Jewish society. These activities enabled many to rise above the degradation and humiliation that they suffered. Despite the murderous reality to which the Jews were exposed, many enlisted in helping the weak amongst them and founded organizations for mutual aid and welfare. Many Jews placed themselves in grave danger in order to save the lives of others, including children who risked their lives to smuggle food into the ghetto.