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The Ghettos

LAURENCE REES: How should we understand the ghettos in the context of the whole broad expulsion plan that you’re talking about?

CHRISTOPHER BROWNING: The ghettos are there as the warehouses to collect the people you’re going to expel. Jews are spread all over Poland, and many of them live in small villages. The initial order from Heydrich is very clear, bring the Jews to cities at railheads, and concentrate them there. What he exempts from that concentration order was the area of Lublin, because that’s where they’re going to be sent to. So that was the initial impetus for ghettoisation, which authorises and allows local authorities to ghettoise, the ghetto effectively being, in a sense, an urban internment camp where the Jews will be stored until they can be shipped. No one realized when they initially started that they were going to get stuck and so when, for instance, they ghettoise the Jews of Lodz, and the order went out in January of 1940 and the ghetto was actually closed in May of ’40, the timetable was they were going to be expelled in August. This was a very short term notion. So come August and there is no place to expel them because England has not been defeated and the war is still going on.

So ghettoisation is something that Heydrich authorises as a preliminary to expulsion, local officials throughout Poland now can do this and they do it at different stages in different ways, different timetable, but, it ends up and is justified as a temporary action. When temporary becomes longer than short term temporary, and becomes a matter of years rather than weeks and months, they then face the question of how to sustain the ghettos at no cost to the Third Reich. Because you’ve severed all the economic ties of these people, they have no way of making a living, and that’s when you then get people arguing for creating ghetto economies; to harness Jews in the ghettos to work in industries supporting the German war effort. But that’s a second stage. The initial impetus for forming ghettos was simply to gather people, concentrate them as a preliminary for expulsion.