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Life in the Ghettos – Course Syllabus

“At the Edge of the Abyss: The Holocaust of European Jewry”

This online course expands participants’ knowledge of ghettos during the Holocaust, and explores the genesis of the ghettos, their function, and their place in the development of the “Final Solution”, among other things. Primary and secondary sources will be examined, and the historical content of the course will be explored through testimonies, diaries, artwork, literature and photographs.

As with all our online courses, assignments may be submitted at your own pace. Once you are approved onto the course system, participation will remain open for a period of 6 months, after which your course access will expire. We recommend reading the material and submitting the assignments at a rate of one lesson or more every two weeks.

The course instructor is Ms. Sheryl Ochayon.
For inquiries, click here.

This online course is one of 5 courses comprising “At the Edge of the Abyss – The Holocaust of European Jewry".

Lesson one:
Ghettos – Introductory Lesson
Lesson 1 is an introduction to the ghettos established by the Nazi regime, in which we will examine the single, vague order which resulted in the creation of an extensive network of ghettos in occupied Poland and eastern Europe in which Jews were isolated and made to suffer. The lesson discusses the purposes the Nazis sought to achieve by establishing ghettos, and studies three ghettos in some depth - the Warsaw, Lodz and Vilna ghettos.
Christopher R. Browning, “Nazi Population and Jewish Policy, Nazi Ghettoization Policy in Poland: 1939-41”, Central European History, XIX (1986), pp. 343-386.
Further reading:
Gennady Barkun, The Minsk Ghetto, 1941-1944, in: Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, Vol. 1, Palgrave, New York, 2001, pp. 155-162.
Gutman Israel, “Emmanuel Ringleblum’s Last Request, March 1st 1944” in Yad Vashem Studies. Vol 31 [2003]. Keter Publishing, Jerusalem, pp. 7-9.

Lesson two:
Daily Life in the Ghetto
In this lesson, we will discuss the hunger, overcrowding, disease and isolation that were integral aspects of life in ghettos. We will also discuss the effect of daily life in the ghetto on the family unit, and we will touch on the deportations that spelled the end of the ghettos.
Christopher R. Browning, “Nazi Population and Jewish Policy, Nazi Ghettoization Policy in Poland: 1939-41”, Central European History, XIX (1986), pp. 343-386.
Further reading:
Barbara Engelking, “Daily Life in the Ghetto”, Holocaust and Memory, Leicester University Press, London and New York, 2001, pp. 81-215.

Lesson three:
Cultural Life in the Ghettos
Lesson three explores the ways and means of survival and the preservation of human dignity in the ghettos. The issue of cultural life in the ghettos is examined through the use of testimonies and research. If we see the continuation of cultural life in the ghetto as a means of spiritual survival and a way to maintain human dignity, then we can relate to cultural life in the ghetto as a form of resistance. Historians often use the term “resistance” in the context of the Holocaust in a broad manner, extending the meaning beyond armed uprising.
The Lodz Ghetto Chronicles: The Order Police Revue, Wednesday, June 9, 1943.
Further Reading:
Elena Makarova and Sergei Makarov, “University over an Abyss: The Story Behind the Theresienstadt Lectures” in: Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide”, Vol. 1, (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 258-278. Or:
Dalia Ofer, “The Education of Jewish Children in Warsaw During Nazi Occupation” in: Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, Vol. 1, (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 289-301.

Lesson four:
The Ghetto and the Outside World
Lesson 4 describes the limited contacts between the ghettos and the outside world. We will discuss the relative isolation of different ghettos and the way such isolation impacted life inside these ghettos, and we will meet a number of personalities, including Frumka Plotnicka and Emanuel Ringelblum, who labored to combat this isolation.
extracts from: Yisrael Bialostocki, “The Conditions in the Lodz Ghetto and its Liquidation”, Yalkut Moreshet (Heb.), 26, November 1978, 99-113.
Christopher R. Browning, “Nazi Population and Jewish Policy, Nazi Ghettoization Policy in Poland: 1939-41” in Central European History, XIX (1986), 343-386.
Further Reading:
Extracts from Lucjan Dobro1szycki, The Chronicle of the Lodz Ghetto, (eds.) 1941-1944, (New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 1984), 91-92.
“The Education of Jewish Children in Warsaw During Nazi Occupation” in: “The Jewish Population Facing the News of the Extermination, by Yitzhak Zuckerman”, Yitzhak Arad, Yisrael Gutman, Abraham Margaliot (eds.), Documents on the Holocaust, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem: 1981) 277-278.

Lesson five:
The Isolation of Jews in Western Europe
Lesson 5 addresses the isolation and deportation of Jews in Western Europe, which proceeded differently for ideological reasons than that of Jews in Eastern Europe. The lesson examines in depth the situation of the Jewish populations of France, the Netherlands and Belgium, which exemplify the fate of Jews in Western Europe.
David Bankier, Israel Gutman (eds.), Nazi Europe and the Final Solution, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2003.
Young Moshe’s Diary, (Jerusalem: Yad Vashem, 1971), Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1971, 19-20.

Lesson six:
A Case Study of the Stanislawow Ghetto
Lesson 6 is a case study of the Stanislawow ghetto and the murder of its Jews. The Stanislawow ghetto was located not in the Generalgouvernement, but in the area of Poland that came under Soviet rule in 1939; as a result, like the other ghettos in this area, it was established only after the initial wave of mass murder that occurred with the German invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941.
Dieter Pohl, “Hans Krueger and the Murder of the Jews in the Stanislawow Region”, (Yad Vashem Studies, Vol. 26, 1998), 239- 265.
Additional Reading:
Avraham Liebesman, “The Smuggling of Food”, With the Jews of Stanislawow in the Holocaust (Heb.), (Ghetto Fighter’s House and Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 1980), 48-50.
Aharon Weiss, “The Relationship between the Judenrat and the Jewish Police Force in Occupied Poland,” Patterns of Jewish Leadership in Nazi Europe 1933-1945, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 1979, pp. 201-218.
Aharon Weiss on the Relations Between the Judenrat and the Jewish Police.

Lesson seven:
Theresienstadt: The "Model Ghetto-Camp" in Czechoslovakia
The Theresienstadt ghetto was unique for a number of reasons, including its cynical use by the Germans for propaganda purposes, and the fact that it had many of the attributes of a ghetto in addition to having attributes of a labor camp. Lesson 7 explores this ghetto in depth.
Gutman, Yisrael, Saf, Avital (Eds.), The Nazi Concentration Camps, (Jerusali: Yad Vashi, 1984), 303-314.
Bondy, Ruth, The Theresienstadt Ghetto: Its Characteristics and Perspective, in Gutman, I. & Saf A. (eds.), The Nazi Concentration Camps, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 1984, pp. 303-314.
Further Reading:
Ruth Bondy, “Humor as a Weapon”, Uprooted, (Heb.), (Yad Vashem and Beit Terezín, 2002), 61-79.
Dr. Jan Marrel, “How They Suffered and Died”, Terezin, Council of Jewish Communities in the Czech Lands, (Prague, 1965), 269-271.

Lesson eight:
Dilemmas in the ghettos
The untenable circumstances of daily life in the ghetto created many moral dilemmas and life-or-death decisions. In Lesson 8 we will examine some of the most acute dilemmas – those faced by rabbis, doctors and members of the Judenraete in the ghettos.
Trunk, Isaiah, "The Typology of the Judenraete in Eastern Europe", in Gutman, Israel & Haft, Cynthia J. [Eds.], Patterns of Jewish Leadership in Nazi Europe 1933-1945, Yad Vashi, Jerusalem 1979, pp. 17-30.
Further Reading:
Ephraim Oshry, Responsa from the Holocaust, Judaica Press, New York, 1983.

Lesson nine:
Diaries Written in the Ghettos
The diaries kept by inhabitants of ghettos reveal the extent to which life in the ghetto was a juxtaposition of the normal with the abnormal. Lesson 9 will examine diary entries by three different people in three different ghettos in order to get a sense for the way the normal and the abnormal coexisted during the Holocaust.
Nati Cohen, “Diaries from Lithuania – Daily Life and the Jewish Fate", On the Path of Remembrance (Heb.) 13, April 1966,Yad Vashem, Jerusalem, 24-26.
Excerpts from the diary of Elisheva Binder of Stanislawow and The Terezin Diary of Gonda Redlich, (Kentucky: The University Press of Kentucky, 1992), 34-35. From the Multimedia CD ‘Eclipse Of Humanity’, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2000.

Lesson Ten:
Poetry in the Ghettos
As with the lesson on diaries, this lesson complements the historical facts presented in previous lessons in this course by giving us a glimpse into the internal world, and perhaps even the soul, of people who were imprisoned inside the ghettos. This enables us to come a little closer to experiencing what their emotional reality was.
Poems: Rifke Galin, One Pair of Shoes; Ber Horvitz, “Broit" (Bread) [extracts]; Hershele Danielovitch, My Wife and Children Are Starving; Henryka Lazowert , The Little Smuggler; Abramek Koplowicz , Dream.

Lesson eleven:
Spiritual Resistance
This focuses on analyzing spiritual resistance - the various subtle but intentional ways Jews in the ghetto incorporated to preserve their own humanity. This is often an overlooked issue (in light of the more visible instances of armed resistance) but is in fact of paramount importance to understanding the human element in Holocaust education.

Lesson twelve:
Armed Resistance in the Ghettos
This lesson examines the examples of Jewish armed resistance in the ghettos, exploring the myriad difficulties for the ghetto residents to mount any resistance at all in light of the hardships and the difficult conditions of everyday life, and the huge risks including collective punishment.

Lesson thirteen:
Armed Resistance Outside the Ghettos
This lesson continues from where the previous lesson left off. For some, unable to carry out resistance from within the ghettos, the question had become: ghetto or forest? This lesson follows this process - the emotional anguish in leaving loved ones and familiar surroundings for uncertainty, and Jewish partisans in Europe - with a particular focus on the United Partisan Organization and on the Bieleski family camp.

Reading for lessons 11-13:
"Patterns of Jewish Response and Resistance: An Interview with Professor Yehuda Bauer", taken from The Multimedia CD ‘Eclipse Of Humanity’, Yad Vashem, Jerusalem 2000.
Additional Reading:
Nechama Tec, “Reflections on Resistance and Gender”, Remembering for the Future: The Holocaust in an Age of Genocide, Vol 1, (New York: Palgrave, 2001), 552-569.

With the generous support of:
Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany
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