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Jewish Ghettos

Jewish Ghettos

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On 21st September, 1939, Reinhard Heydrich told several Schutz Staffeinel (SS) commanders in Poland that all Jews were to be confined to special areas in cities and towns. These ghettos were to be surrounded by barbed wire, brick walls and armed guards.

The first ghetto was set up in Piotrkow on 28th October 1939. Jews living in rural areas had their property confiscated and they were rounded up and sent to ghettos in towns and cities. The two largest ghettos were established in Warsaw and Lodz.

In October 1939, the SS began to deport Jews living in Austria and Czechoslovakia to ghettos in Poland. Transported in locked passenger trains, large numbers died on the journey. Those that survived the journey were told by Adolf Eichmann, the head of the Gestapo's Department of Jewish Affairs: "There are no apartments and no houses - if you build your homes you will have a roof over your head."

In Warsaw, the capital of Poland, all 22 entrances to the ghetto were sealed. The German authorities allowed a Jewish Council (Judenrat) of 24 men to form its own police to maintain order in the ghetto. The Judenrat was also responsible for organizing the labour battalions demanded by the German authorities.

Conditions in the Warsaw Ghetto were so bad that between 1940 and 1942 an estimated 100,000 Jews died of starvation and disease in the Warsaw Ghetto.

There are no apartments and no houses - if you build your homes you will have a roof over your head. There is no water. The wells are full of epidemics. There's cholera, dysentery, typhus. If you dig for water, you'll have water.

The Nazis have occupied the town. People are crying and talking about the Nazis' hatred of Jews and Communists. And we, we are both. And on top of it all, Papa has been working very actively for the Soviets.

New decrees have been posted in the town: all the Jews - adults and children - must wear insignias, a white piece of cloth, ten square centimeters, and in the middle the yellow letter "J". Is it possible that the invaders no longer regard us as human beings and brand us just like cattle? One can not accept such meanness. But who dares oppose them?

I am writing these lines, my dear children, in the vale of tears of Vilijampole, Kovno Ghetto, where we have been for over two years. We have now heard that in a few days our fate is to be sealed. The ghetto is to be crushed and torn asunder.

Whether we are all to perish or whether a few of us are to survive, is in God's hands. We fear that only those capable of slave labor will live; the rest, probably, are sentenced to death.

We are left, a few out of many. Out of the thirty-five thousand Jews of Kovno, approximately seventeen thousand remain; out of a quarter of a million Jews in Lithuania (including the Vilna district), only twenty-five thousand live plus five thousand who, during the last two days, were deported to hard labor in Latvia, stripped of all their belongings. The rest were put to death in terrible ways by the followers of the greatest Haman of all times and of all generations. Some of those dear and close to us, too, are no longer with us. Your Aunt Hannah and Uncle Arich were killed with 1,500 souls of the ghetto on October 4,1941. Uncle Zvi, who was lying in the hospital suffering from a broken leg, was saved by a miracle. All the patients, doctors, nurses, relatives, and visitors who happened to be there were burned to death, after

soldiers had blocked all the doors and windows of the hospital and set fire to it. In the provinces, apart from Siauliai, no single Jew survives. Your Uncle Dov and his son Shmuel were taken out and killed with the rest of the Kalvaria community during the first months of the war, that is, about two years ago.

Due to outer forces and inner circumstance, only our own ghetto has managed to survive and live out its diaspora life for the past two years, in slavery, hard labor, hunger, and deprivation. (Almost all our clothing, belongings, and books were taken from us by the authorities.) The last massacre, when ten thousand victims were killed at one time, took place on

October 28, 1941. Our total community had to go through the "selection" by our rulers: life or death. I am the man who, with my own eyes, saw those about to die. I was there early on the morning of October 29, in the camp that led to the slaughter at the Ninth Fort. With my own ears I heard the awe-inspiring and terrible symphony, the weeping and screaming of ten thousand people, old and young-a scream that tore at the heart of heaven. No ear had heard such

cries through the ages and the generations. With many of our martyrs, I challenged my creator; and with them, from a heart torn in agony, I cried: "Who is like you in the universe, my Lord!" In my effort to save people here and there, I was beaten by soldiers. Wounded and bleeding, I fainted, and was carried in the arms of friends to a place outside the camp. There, a small group of about thirty or forty survived to witnesses to the fire.

11th December: 1942: Today the ghetto celebrated the circulation of the one hundred thousandth book in the ghetto library. The festival was held in the auditorium of the theatre. We came for our lessons. Various speeches were made and there was also an artistic programme. The speakers analyzed the ghetto reader. Hundreds of people read in the ghetto. The reading of books in the ghetto is the greatest pleasure for me. The book unites us with the future, the book unites us with the world.

7th February, 1943: We have good news. The people in the ghetto are celebrating. The Germans concede that Stalingrad has fallen. I walk across the street. People wink at each other with happy eyes. At last the Germans have suffered a gigantic defeat. The entire 9th German army is crushed! Over three hundred thousand Germans killed. Stalin's city is the enemy's grave.

25th March, 1943: A command was issued by the German regime about liquidating five small ghettos in the Vilna province. The Jews are being transported to the Vilna and the Kovno ghetto. Today the Jews from the neighbouring little towns have begun to arrive.

28th March, 1943: The mood of the ghetto is a very gloomy one. The crowding together in one place of so many Jews is a signal for something. Danger is hovering in the air. No! This time we shall not permit ourselves to be led like dogs to the slaughter.

6th April, 1944: We now know all the horrible details. Instead of Kovno, 5000 Jews were taken to Ponar where they were shot to death. Like wild animals before dying, the people began in mortal despair to break the railroad cars, they broke the little windows reinforced by strong wire. Hundreds were shot to death while running away. The railroad line over a great distance is covered with corpses. In the evening I went out into the street. It is 5 o'clock in the afternoon. The ghetto looks terrible: heavy leaden clouds hang and lower over the ghetto.

Life in the Ghettos

Life in the Ghettos Life in the ghettos was usually unbearable. Overcrowding was common. One apartment might have several families living in it. Plumbing broke down, and human waste was thrown in the streets along with the garbage. Contagious diseases spread rapidly in such cramped, unsanitary housing. People were always hungry. Germans deliberately tried to starve residents by allowing them to purchase only a small amount of bread, potatoes, and fat. Some residents had some money or valuables they could trade for food smuggled into the ghetto others were forced to beg or steal to survive. During the long winters, heating fuel was scarce, and many people lacked adequate clothing. People weakened by hunger and exposure to the cold became easy victims of disease tens of thousands died in the ghettos from illness, starvation, or cold. Some individuals killed themselves to escape their hopeless lives.

Every day children became orphaned, and many had to take care of even younger children. Orphans often lived on the streets, begging for bits of bread from others who had little or nothing to share. Many froze to death in the winter.

In order to survive, children had to be resourceful and make themselves useful. Small children in the Warsaw ghetto sometimes helped smuggle food to their families and friends by crawling through narrow openings in the ghetto wall. They did so at great risk, as smugglers who were caught were severely punished.

Many young people tried to continue their education by attending school classes organized by adults in many ghettos. Since such classes were usually held secretly, in defiance of the Nazis, pupils learned to hide books under their clothes when necessary, to avoid being caught.

Although suffering and death were all around them, children did not stop playing with toys. Some had beloved dolls or trucks they brought into the ghetto with them. Children also made toys, using whatever bits of cloth and wood they could find. In the Lodz ghetto, children turned the tops of empty cigarette boxes into playing cards.

Jewish Ghettos - History

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Polish Jews are forced out of hiding by the Nazis during the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Warsaw, Poland. May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Starving children huddle for warmth inside the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jewish children climb up to sneak a peek of what's happening on the other side of the ghetto wall.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1941. Wikimedia Commons

A boy holds up a sign labelling him as a Jew.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1941. Wikimedia Commons

Very young Ukrainian nationalists, in cooperation with the Nazi SS and armed with clubs, chase a Jewish woman through the streets of the Lviv ghetto, where at least 6,000 Jews were killed by militias and Nazi forces.

A dead man lies in the street, surrounded by a crowd of people, in the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940. Imagno/Getty Images

A woman dangles from a balcony of a burning building during the Warsaw ghetto uprising, desperately trying to escape with her life.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jewish Resistance fighters, trying to keep their families from being deported to the death camps, are caught by the SS. In the original caption, the SS labelled them "bandits" for trying to avoid the death camps.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A boy sits in the street in the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. February 1941. Joe J. Heydecker/Galerie Bilderwelt/Getty Images

Jews are lined up against the ghetto wall to be searched.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

An emaciated corpse, likely dead from hunger, is collected off the streets.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1941-1942. Wikimedia Commons

A Jewish man is forced out of hiding during the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A Jewish man crawls out of his hiding place in the floor.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Krakow after the deportation of the Jewish population. Their meager possessions litter the streets.

Krakow, Poland. 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A housing block burns during the suppression of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

The women and children of the Minsk Ghetto walk down the streets, the star of David marking them as Jews.

Minsk, Belarus. Circa 1941. Wikimedia Commons

Nazi soldiers stand over the dead bodies of Jewish civilians they have shot dead.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Building the wall to the Krakow ghetto.

Krakow, Poland. May 1941. Wikimedia Commons

A woman smuggles contraband milk into the ghetto and sells it to a starving child.

Krakow, Poland. May 1941. Wikimedia Commons

A dead body lies on the streets of the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1943. Wikimedia Commons

An elderly man living inside of a ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1943. Wikimedia Commons

Carts full of corpses are carried off to the cemetery.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1941-1942. Wikimedia Commons

A Jewish policeman, conscripted by the Nazis to constrict the freedoms of his own people, stands watch by a doorway.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1943. Wikimedia Commons

A cart full of clothes rolls through the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1942-1943. Wikimedia Commons

Captured Jews are marched off for deportation.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jews sit and await deportation to the death camps.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A man comes out of hiding with his hands up.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jewish rabbis are rounded up by SS officers.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

SS Officers enter Warsaw to shut down an uprising.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

The workers of a forced labor factory, where Jewish slaves were forced to make helmets for the Nazis, learn that they will not be spared.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Polish families being deported into the Warsaw Ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1940-1942. Wikimedia Commons

Nazis patrol the burning ghetto of Warsaw.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A Polish police officer checks the IDs of two Jewish men.

Krakow, Poland. Circa 1939-1945. Wikimedia Commons

Jewish laborers work inside a sweatshop.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1942-1943. Wikimedia Commons

Inside of a sweatshop in a Jewish ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1939-1945. Wikimedia Commons

A Jewish doctor replaces his sign, on orders from the Nazis, to one written in Hebrew script and displaying the Star of David.

Krakow, Poland. May 1941. Wikimedia Commons

A fish stall inside of the Warsaw ghetto, during the early days of the Holocaust.

Warsaw, Poland. May 1941. Wikimedia Commons

The Nazis crack down on smuggling to keep food from getting into the ghettos.

Krakow, Poland. May 1941. Wikimedia Commons

SS officers interrogate men inside the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A man is dragged out of hiding as the SS comes in to force the people of the Warsaw ghetto into the death camps.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jews put into forced labor work on the railway.

Minsk, Belarus. February 1942. Wikimedia Commons

The SS opens the underground bunkers where some have hidden to avoid being dragged out of the ghetto and into the death camps.

Warsaw, Poland. May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Residents of the Warsaw ghetto sit on the curb, awaiting their fate.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

An SS lieutenant interrogates a man in the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Nazi soldiers discuss how best to evacuate and deport the Jewish workers inside of a factory.

Warsaw, Poland. April 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A family surrenders to the SS.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Men carry off a cart filled with the emaciated, starved corpses of children.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1941-1942. Wikimedia Commons

A man covers his mouth with a handkerchief, struggling to breathe through the smoke.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Jews captured during the Warsaw ghetto uprising are marched to a holding area for deportation.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A mass grave outside of a ghetto, where people have been dragged out and shot.

Lenin Zhitkovich, USSR. August 1942. Wikimedia Commons

Two men are stripped naked and photographed by Nazi SS soldiers. The Nazi officer who took the photo gave it the title: "The Dregs of Society."

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Nazi officers watch as the Warsaw ghetto burns.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

The dead bodies of executed Jews lie in the ruins of the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A factory is set on fire by the SS in the Warsaw ghetto.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

A tram marked with the Star of David. The Jewish population of Warsaw were not allowed on trams without this mark.

Warsaw, Poland. Circa 1941-1942. Wikimedia Commons

The Jews of Krakow are rounded up and deported to extermination camps.

Krakow, Poland. March 1943. Wikimedia Commons

Captured Jews are lead through the burning ghetto in Warsaw. They will be sent to the death camps.

Warsaw, Poland. April or May 1943. Wikimedia Commons

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"There is no justice in the world," one young girl wrote in her diary, struggling through starvation and imprisonment under Nazi rule, "not to mention in the ghetto."

Life in the Jewish ghettos of the Holocaust was indeed torture. After their invasion of Poland in 1939, the Nazis began setting up Jewish ghettos both in that country and across Europe. Jewish civilians were branded and forcibly deported into small, cramped quarters, often segregated from the rest of the city with walls or barbed wire. There they waited, hoped, and prayed, most unaware that this was nothing more than the first step in the Nazi plot for the systematic eradication of Europe's Jewish population.

Before they could even be sent to concentration camps, however, many prisoners of the Jewish ghettos were starved out. They were given little to nothing to eat, leaving them to suffer through painful fits of hunger. Some died of starvation, and many more from the diseases that were allowed to spread wildly inside of the ghetto walls.

And there was little anyone could do to stop it. The people on the other side of the walls were strictly forbidden from smuggling food into the Jewish ghettos — on penalty of death.

Still, most ghetto dwellers just did their best to survive. They had little idea what horrors the Nazis were preparing them for, and many could only resolve themselves to struggle through the hard times and pray the Nazis would lose the war and someone would come and liberate them.

That freedom, though, came too late. By 1942, the Nazis had begun the next phase of their plan: systemically exterminating every person inside those ghetto walls. Some ghettos, especially inside captured portions of the USSR, were simply turned into "extermination ghettos," where the people would be dragged out into the woods and shot. In other ghettos, the people would be sent off to death camps like Auschwitz to be gassed and incinerated.

When the people in the Jewish ghettos began to realize that death was imminent, some started fighting back. There were uprisings in ghettos across the continent, with Jewish resistance fighters grabbing anything they could find and desperately trying to fend off the Nazis that had stolen their homes. The most famous revolt was the Warsaw ghetto uprising, where Jews and Poles worked together to try to stop the SS from dragging their families off to the death camps.

As hard as they fought, though, a few resistance fighters couldn't hold off the Nazi war machine forever. The SS simply struck back harder. Much of the Warsaw ghetto was burned to the ground, the people were dragged out of hiding, and the men and women were rounded up and sent to Treblinka, one of The Holocaust's most brutal death camps.

In time, however, liberation finally came. In late 1944 into 1945, the Allied armies marched through Europe, fighting off the Nazi forces and freeing the people who had suffered through it all. For millions, though, help came too late.

Millions of prisoners of the Jewish ghettos died at the hands of the Nazis — but the photos survive a warning, showing us what life looks like at the start of a genocide.

After this look inside the Jewish ghettos of World War II, see some of the most powerful Holocaust photos ever taken. Then, read up on the infamous Nazi experiments of Dr. Josef Mengele.

Kosher Restaurants

One of the best attractions of the quarter is its kosher restaurants.

Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia

Giggetto al Portico d’Ottavia located in the center of the Jewish Ghetto. Moreover, it is family run restaurant which exists since 1923. In the menu you will find a variety of kosher dishes, including famous carciofi alla guida and a wide selection of local wines.

  • Address: Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 21 / a
  • Working hours: Tuesday – Sunday: 12.30 pm – 3 pm, 7.30 pm – 11 pm
  • Website:www.giggetto.it


Ba’Ghetto is famous for the kosher dishes, including fried artichokes. The place offers exceptionally good service and quality of food. Moreover, the ambiance is warm and friendly.

  • Address: Via del Portico d’Ottavia, 57
  • Working hours: Monday – Thursday: 12 pm -11 pm, Friday: 12 pm – 3 pm Saturday: 6 pm-11 pm, Sunday: 11.30 am-11 pm
  • Website:www.baghetto.com

Pane Vino e San Daniele

Pane Vino e San Daniele is a mix between a wine bar and an osteria. There is a wide selection of wines and it would be a great place to stop by both for lunch or dinner. The food offered is made from fresh and high quality products.

Transport, 1974, by Roman Halter

The Lódz ghetto was established in February 1940. It was the second largest ghetto in Nazi-occupied Poland. More than 165,000 Jews were forced into an area of less than 4 sq km. Deportations from the ghettoes began in 1942. Lódz was the last ghetto to be liquidated when its surviving inhabitants were sent to Auschwitz-Birkenau in summer 1944. This painting was inspired by the artist’s own recollections of a mother cradling her daughter during the journey to Auschwitz.

Jews received little food and the ghettos were overcrowded. Diseases such as typhus and tuberculosis were rife. Conditions worsened when Jews from small towns and other countries were squeezed in. It is estimated that 500,000 Jews died in the ghettos of disease and starvation. Many also perished in nearby slave labour camps, where conditions were even worse.

The Soviet-occupied zone of Poland fell into German hands following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941. Killing squads called Einsatzgruppen rounded up and shot Jewish men, women and children, as well as communist officials and others considered racially or ideologically dangerous. Surviving Jews were forced into ghettos.

In March 1942 the Nazis began deporting ghetto inhabitants as part of Operation ‘Reinhard’, the plan to systematically murder Jews in the part of German-occupied Poland not fully incorporated into the Reich, known as the General Government. From 1942 to 1944, the ghettos were liquidated and their Jewish inhabitants either shot or transported to extermination camps.


The origins of the name ghetto (ghèto in the Venetian tongue) are disputed. The following theories have been proposed:

  • ghetto comes from "giotto" or "geto", meaning "foundry", since the first Jewish quarter was near a foundry that once made canons. [3][4]
  • ghetto formerly meant "street" (like GermanGasse, Swedishgata, and Gothicgatwo)
  • ghetto, from Italian getto, which is the act of, or the resulting object from, pouring molted metal into a mold, [5] as old state foundries existed in this city quarter [6]
  • ghetto comes from borghetto, diminutive of borgo, meaning "little town"
  • ghetto is related to the Hebrew word get, meaning a divorce document.

The Oxford University Press etymologist Anatoly Liberman suggested in 2009 that all four theories are speculative, but the first is by far the likeliest to be true. [7]

Donatella Calabi, faculty member of IUAV University Venice, Architecture, Construction and Conservation, argued in the documentary Venice and the Ghetto (2017, Klaus T. Steindl) that ghetto comes from the Italian word gettare [dʒet·ˈta:·re] which means "throw away", because the area was before then a waste dump for foundries. The first Jewish arrivals were German and they pronounced the word [ˈɡɛto] - the spelling followed ("h" after "g" changes [dʒ] to [ˈɡ]). The same opinion was published in her book Venezia e il ghetto. Cinquecento anni del "recinto deli ebrei". [8] Likewise, the author of Ghetto: The History of a Word, Daniel B. Schwartz, argues that the term ghetto did not emerge as a result of Jewish resident segregation, but rather, that the word is a relic of a history that preceded the arrival of the Jewish residents. Schwartz states that the strongest argument in support of this is how the original area to which Jews were restricted was called the Ghetto Nuovo, and not the Ghetto Vecchio. "Were it otherwise, one would expect that the first site of the Jewish enclosure would have been known as the 'Old Ghetto' and the subsequent addition as the 'New Ghetto.'" [9]

The Ghetto is an area of the Cannaregio sestiere of Venice, divided into the Ghetto Nuovo ("New Ghetto"), and the adjacent Ghetto Vecchio ("Old Ghetto"). These names of the ghetto sections are misleading, as they refer to an older and newer site at the time of their use by the foundries: in terms of Jewish residence, the Ghetto Nuovo is actually older than the Ghetto Vecchio. The ghetto was connected to the rest of the city by two bridges that were only open during the day. Gates were opened in the morning at the ringing of the marangona, the largest bell in St. Mark's Campanile, and locked in the evening. Permanent, round-the-clock surveillance of the gates occurred at the Jewish residents' expense. [10] Strict penalties were to be imposed on any Jewish resident caught outside after curfew. [10] Areas of Ghetto Nuovo that were open to the canal were to be sealed off with walls, while outward facing quays were to be bricked over in order to make it impossible for unauthorized entry or exit. [10] The area that was considered to be Ghetto Vecchio later on, was once an area where Christians lived and once the Christians relocated, the area became available for non-Venetian Jewish merchants to stay while working in the city temporarily. [11]

Though it was home to a large number of Jews, the population living in the Venetian Ghetto never assimilated to form a distinct, "Venetian Jewish" ethnicity. Four of the five synagogues were clearly divided according to ethnic identity: separate synagogues existed for the German (the Scuola Grande Tedesca), Italian (the Scuola Italiana), Spanish and Portuguese (the Scuola Spagnola), and Levantine Sephardi communities (the Scuola Levantina). The fifth, the Scuola Canton, was possibly built as a private synagogue and also served the Venetian Ashkenazi community. Today, there are also other populations of Ashkenazic Jews in Venice, mainly Lubavitchers who operate a kosher food store, a yeshiva, and a Chabad synagogue.

Languages historically spoken in the confines of the Ghetto include Venetian, Italian, Judeo-Spanish, French, and German. [ citation needed ] In addition, Hebrew was traditionally (and still is) used on signage, inscriptions, and for official purposes such as wedding contracts (as well as, of course, in religious services). Today, English is widely used in the shops and the Museum because of the large number of English-speaking tourists.

A large portion of the culture of the Venetian Ghetto was the struggle that existed for Jewish individuals to travel outside of the ghetto, especially for employment purposes. Life in the Venetian Ghetto was very restricted, movement of Jewish individuals outside of the ghetto was difficult. Inspired by lives of Jewish merchants outside of Venice, Rodriga, a prominent Jewish Spanish merchant, took on the role of advocating for Venetian Jews to have rights similar to others in different locations. Rodriga sited that Jews played a part in the Italian economy which could not be ignored. In return for the changing of Jewish restrictions, Rodriga promised that the Ventian economy and commerce would increase. [12]

Today, the Ghetto is still a center of Jewish life in the city. The Jewish community of Venice, [13] that counts about 450 people, is culturally active, although only a few members live in the Ghetto because the area has become expensive. [14] [15] [16]

Every year, there is an international conference on Hebrew Studies, with particular reference to the history and culture of the Veneto. Other conferences, exhibitions and seminars are held throughout the course of the year.

The temples not only serve as places of worship but also provide lessons on the sacred texts and the Talmud for both children and adults, along with courses in Modern Hebrew, while other social facilities include a kindergarten, an old people's home, the kosher guest house Giardino dei Melograni, the kosher restaurant Hostaria del Ghetto, and a bakery. Along with its architectural and artistic monuments, the community also boasts a Museum of Jewish Art, the Renato Maestro Library and Archive and the new Info Point inside the Midrash Leon da Modena.

In the Ghetto area there is also a yeshiva, several Judaica shops, and a Chabad synagogue run by Chabad of Venice. [17] Although only few of the roughly 500 Venetian Jews still live in the Ghetto, [18] many return there during the day for religious services in the two synagogues which are still used (the other three are only used for guided tours, offered by the Jewish Community Museum).

Chabad of Venice also runs a pastry shop and a restaurant named "Gam Gam" in the Ghetto. Sabbath meals are served at the restaurant's outdoor tables along the Cannaregio Canal with views of the Guglie Bridge near the Grand Canal. [19] [20] [21] [22] In the novel Much Ado About Jesse Kaplan the restaurant is the site of a historical mystery. [23] Every year for the festival of Sukkot a sukkah is built on a canal boat that tours the city, a large menorah tours the city on a canal boat during Hanukkah. [24]

Notable residents of the Ghetto have included Leon of Modena, whose family originated in France, as well as his disciple Sara Copia Sullam. She was an accomplished writer, debater (through letters), and even hosted her own salon. Meir Magino, the famous glassmaker also came from the ghetto.

Who controlled the ghettos?

Within the ghetto, a Jewish police force was recruited to enforce order. Here, the Jewish Ghetto Police of the Warsaw Ghetto are pictured.

Within the ghetto, a Jewish police force was recruited to enforce order. Here, the Jewish Ghetto Police of the Warsaw Ghetto are pictured.

In addition to the SS, Jewish Councils called Judenräte were set up to carry out and govern the day-to-day running of the ghetto. The Jewish Councils were controlled by the SS and had to comply and carry out its demands.

Three Jewish Ghettos That Have Made History

Recently we took a cruise from Barcelona, Spain to Venice, Italy. During this cruise we did excursions to three Jewish ghetto’s and learned many interesting facts about Jewish history and culture. For example, the Barcelona cathedral is built with stolen stones from a Jewish cemetery probably from Montjuic, “Jews mountain.”

Stones from the base of the Barcelona Cathedral stolen from a Jewish Cemetery.

This is evident by the Hebrew writing on the stone. The oldest synagogue and mikvah is actually below modern street level. A store is actually built over the ancient mikvah. Jews did not pray facing Jerusalem because the temple was built before the Diaspora. Jews were present before the Romans came to Barcelona. From the 11th to the middle of the 14th century Barcelona was home to Jewish artisans, merchants, minters, scholars, and poets who lived in the Jewish quarter near the royal palace. However Jews were not allowed to build a temple bigger than the smallest church. Anti Jewish riots in 1391 swept Spain and Barcelona. King John I condemned 26 rioters to death but Jewish life in Barcelona was at a virtual end by 1400. Many of the Jews moved to Gerona which is nearby. The modern Jewish community of Barcelona is a phenomenon of this century, but it is rooted in the expulsion of 1492. In this 21st century, many Jews are coming back to Barcelona like our tour guide, Adi Mahler, a former Israeli.

We attended Friday shabbat services at Communitat Joeva Atid de Catalunya. Their future rabbi is attending a yeshiva in England. The vast majority of the congregation were young professionals from throughout the Mediterranean and former Spanish colonies where their ancestors had fled. It is a small “store front” reformed temple that dates from 2002. The services were led by a woman cantor with a beautiful voice. It was nice to hear a Sephardic service led by an actual Sephardic person. They translated the D’Var Torah into English and Spanish. There were two policemen stationed in the street and extensive security measures were in place. We were the guests of Marty and Fran Wolfe who obtained advanced permission to attend the synagogue. We really enjoyed the service and elaborate Kiddish that followed.

Our next Jewish stop was the Roman ghetto, where we had a private tour by Romolo Zarfati, who lives there. The Jewish ghetto in Rome is very tight knit and it seemed that everyone knew our tour guide. Only 300 to 400 live there. Most of the 12,000 Roman Jews live in the suburbs. One of the interesting items that Romolo said was that the yellow star that the Nazi made Jews wear actually originated in Rome during the middle ages. The yellow in the star signified urine - “The desire to get waste out of the body” - This is how Jews were viewed for centuries. Many European Jewish ghettos were actually started on garbage dumps according to Romolo. At one of the seven ghetto gates is a plaque commemorating the 2,000 Roman Jews who perished in the Holocaust. The major feature of the Roman ghetto is the synagogue, Tempio Israelitico, completed in 1904. It is very ornate with wooden pews and locked boxes for storing tfillin, siddurim and tallit. Same debate as everywhere - “Does the owner of the box also own the seat and is it for Shabbat or just the holidays?” It still has a daily minyan and Shabbat services.

Image by Trachtenberg

What’s interesting is the ceiling. It is a square. Only churches could have round dome ceilings. This was one of the most beautiful synagogues that we have seen. The seats, the bimah, floor and ceiling were spectacular. The basement contained a chapel and also a museum. This was the site were Pope John Paul II made his historic embrace of Rome’s Chief Rabbi Elio Toaff and declared “You are our dearly beloved brothers and, in a certain way, it could be said that you are our elder brothers.” Romolo, our tour guide, interpreted this as Joseph and his brothers or Cain and Able - He doesn’t trust the Pope. He feels that the Roman ghetto does not get it’s share of city services. However, according to other sources Roman Jews are fully integrated into Roman society and government. Next to the synagogue was a yeshiva. In the back of the synagogue we saw bullet holes from the October, 1982, terrorist attack. We saw police stationed in the ghetto and full security to enter the synagogue. Diagonally across from the synagogue is a church where the Jews were subject to weekly conversion sermons during the Middle Ages and into the19th Century. The Roman ghetto is similar to the rest of Rome where there were Roman ruins built over by Renaissance ruins built over by 19th century buildings. There were Roman palaces for just one family in the ghetto that are now occupied by 20 families tenement style. The Roman statues are still present.

Image by Trachtenberg

Our last Jewish destination was Venice. The word “ghetto” comes from Venice, but it refers to the Italian word, “Geto,” which means foundry. This was the place that all 1,000 Venice Jews were ordered by Venice’s ruling body to go to in 1516. It was a swampy, malaria infested district far removed from the center of Venice. Over 1,000 were forced into this area cut off from the rest of Venice by a network of canals and enclosed by a high wall. All windows facing outward were bricked over. Venice’s Jews were forced to wear distinguishing red hats, and they were barred from every livelihood except trading, moneylending, and selling secondhand clothing. Nor could they own their own land. Paradoxically, the Venetian government that segregated the Jews also protected them from the pogroms and inquisitions of the middle ages. As a result, this ghetto community flourished as one of Europe’s great centers of Jewish culture. Jews from other parts of Italy, Germany, Constantinople, Spain, and other countries flocked to Venice. It was in Venice that the first Jewish book press was invented.

Today there are five surviving synagogues of which two are still in use. Four of the synagogues represent the nations that made up the Jewish community: the Levantine, from the Near East the Spanish, the German composed of Ashkenazim and the Italian. What’s interesting is that the synagogues are not on the first floor and they are next to each other. They are above stores, a Jewish museum, former warehouses, and tenements. They have 5 windows that look out on the square instead of the traditional 4 windows.

The synagogues were designed by the best 16th Century architects, master craftsmen, sculptors, finest silk and leading silversmiths. They were absolutely gorgeous. Opposite the Jewish Museum and synagogues is a wall with barbed wire that the Nazis used to keep the Jews in the Ghetto. It is next to the retirement home where all the inhabitants were killed in the Holocaust. There was a sub police station and extensive security in the area. There is a strong Jewish influence in other parts of Venice such as in St. Mark’s Cathedral and even in the Doge palace. Through art, the Venetians were taught the Bible.

These three areas were major centers of Jewish culture, religion and history. Today they are wonderful tourist areas with fantastic shops, Kosher restaurants, and a wonderful place to walk around. The Jewish communities are getting stronger and growing.

Three Jewish Ghettos That Have Made History

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Historic Photos of a Little-Known Outdoor Jewish Ghetto

The following is a summary of a collection of photos depicting the mass migration to an open-air ghetto outside of the small city Kutno, Poland, in 1940. The summary was written by Julia Werner, an advanced doctoral candidate in history at Humboldt University of Berlin, who discovered the photos at the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg, a small museum in the former synagogue of Rendsburg dedicated to the history of the local Jewish communities and German-Jewish history. The photos were taken by Wilhelm Hansen, a German Wehrmacht soldier who later became a member of the Nazi Party. Werner came to the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research on a fellowship in February 2016 to deepen her understanding of the ghetto by reviewing testimonies of people who were held there. Werner was the 2015/2016 Margee and Douglas Greenberg Research Fellow.

(All photos taken by Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.)

On the day of the ghettoization of the Jews in Kutno in western Poland in June 1940, Wilhelm Hansen, a German teacher and Wehrmacht soldier, took a series of 83 photos. The picture above is one of his last shots of the day.

This shot might be a good starting point - a “punctum” so to say - as the image shows the end result of the ghettoization that happened on that very same day and gives an idea of the desperate situation of the Jewish population: left on the premises of an abandoned sugar factory outside the city center with a good share of their belongings, out in the open with nowhere to live and nowhere to put their furniture in this open-air ghetto. The image challenges how we usually imagine a ghetto, as the setting is very much different from those in known ghettos such as Warsaw or Łódź/Litzmannstadt, where the ghettos were set against the backdrop of cityscapes, with narrow streets, houses, markets and crowded squares.

There has been a lot of research on ghettoization policy, mainly based on perpetrator documents: population policy and the ghettoizations are seen as a form of social engineering and a history of competing institutions, for example the question of what the dominant motives were (such as the prevalence of ideological vs. economic motives). But the actual results of the racist population policies of the Nazis, the effects on the everyday lives of people are usually not central to these debates: what leaving apartments and belongings behind meant and what it looked like – emotionally as well as practically. Also visually, these moments of transfer have not been part of the established group of the same images that are being used in publications and exhibitions over and over again. There are a few publications on the big and rather well-known ghettos in Warsaw in Łódź/Litzmannstadt that look into different aspects of the everyday lives of the inhabitants, using photographs as well as diaries and other documents, but much less so on smaller ghettos and nothing on the ghettoizations, the move itself. There are publications on life in the already established ghettos, but most of the historical research is focused on structural questions like the function of the ghettos in the context of NS-population policy. Therefore photography and the example of Hansen’s collection of images are perfectly suited to really look into this central moment in so many people’s lives, that has been overlooked so far.

On the photographer and the collection

Christmas 1939, Poland. (Hansen is the one standing to the left.) Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Wilhelm Hansen was born on January 9th 1898 in Schleswig, a small town in the north of Germany. The photo above shows Hansen and his fellow soldiers celebrating Christmas 1939 in Poland. (Hansen is the one standing to the left) Hansen lived with his mother in a villa in a small village next to Schleswig. After his mother died, he moved in with his sister. From 1936 he worked as a teacher at the Cathedral school in Schleswig he taught geography, English and French. Wilhelm Hansen was drafted to the Wehrmacht, the German army, right after Germany attacked Poland, on September 5th 1939.

Hansen applied for membership in the National Socialist German Workers Party, or Nazi Party, on July 29, 1941, about a year after he had taken the photos of the ghettoization in Kutno. He was officially accepted on October 1st, 1941.[1]

His former students and colleagues describe him as a loner and somewhat bizarre, but generally friendly. He was a passionate photographer way before his time as a German Wehrmacht soldier in Poland and his students and colleagues remember him with a camera at almost every occasion.

After WWII he discovered super-8-film cameras and started to document the local life around Schleswig, gatherings of the local rifle associations, goat breeders, etc. It is unclear and impossible to reconstruct what his motivations were. What we know for a fact is that he didn’t do much with his filmic and photographic material he archived it and kept it mostly to himself. It is only due to a fortunate coincidence that we have access to these photos today. Jan Fischer, an archeologist and collector who was dealing with Hansen’s sisters house and her belongings after her death, came across his photographic collection and identified their value. Today you can find about 800 of Hansen’s photographs from the Warthegau in the archive of the Jewish Museum in Rendsburg.

Hansen took a series of 83 photographs on the day of the ghettoization of the Jews in Kutno on June 16, 1940. He basically spent all day documenting the forced move and “accompanying” the people who had to move their belongings to an abandoned sugar factory around 3 km outside the city center, where most of the Jews in Kutno lived. Kutno had a Jewish population of 6,700 by the beginning of WWII -- about 25 percent of the overall population. The series gives us an idea of the whole process of the ghettoization. The photos also enable us to reconstruct the way to the ghetto and the stops Hansen made along the way. From these photos, we can infer that Hansen moved around freely and did not try to hide his camera.

[1] Bundesarchiv Berlin, ehemals BDC (Berlin Document Center), NSDAP Zentralkartei, Mitgliedsnummer Wilhelm Hansen: 887502.

Kutno map with Hansen's route

In the city center of Kutno in the morning

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

On the way to the abandoned sugar factory, 3 km outside the city center

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

One of the entrances to the ghetto

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

On the premesis of the abandoned sugar factory "Konstancja"

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Photographer: Wilhelm Hansen. Source: Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg in der Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinische Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf.

Hansen’s photos give us a good sense of the whole process of the forced move. And as much as his photos do help to bring out new aspects and perspectives, one of the main problems of working with photographs from the time of the German occupation of Poland (1939-1945) is that there are almost no photos that were taken by Jewish Poles or Catholic Poles, because the Nazi occupiers tried to control the means of production and therefore the access to photographic means of production was very asymmetrical: Jews were not allowed to own cameras, and the use for non-Jewish Poles was strictly limited to the private sphere. The German occupiers not only disowned photo labs owned by Poles and banned Polish professional photographers from employment, but also confiscated private cameras.

Ingo Loose, a leading researcher in the field of Holocaust studies, has argued there was a camera ban in all Polish ghettos, as very few photographs exist in which Jews had any influence over the production, motif or distribution. [1] Therefore it is important to keep in mind that the photographical sources that have come upon us today are mostly perpetrator and bystander photographs. This particular set of photos at Kutno was taken by a privileged Reichs-German who was part of the occupying force his perspective is reflective of that.

And the mere act of taking a photo itself in that situation adds yet another layer of violence to the situation. Photography, the creation of a representation of this act of violence, of this forced move, extends this act of violence and humiliation. Even though photography was not a very common practice back then as it is today (in 1939 around 10 percent of the German population owned a camera), it is safe to assume that there was an awareness and understanding of the photographic situation on both sides.

Only going beyond the pictorial frame can bring back the agency of the photographed. This is also why the interviews with survivors in the USC Shoah Foundation Visual History Archive are an enormously valuable source in addition to the photographs – they help to bring back the voices and the individuality of the Jewish men, women and children being ghettoized, in order to be able to see beyond pictorial frame. They help to broaden the perspective on the process and also put the people being ghettoized more in the focus they enable us to see more and help to make certain aspects visible, that would otherwise remain invisible.

For example, Gordon Klasky -- who was born in 1915 in Lubraniec, Poland -- spoke at length about the establishment of the ghetto in a 1995 interview conducted by USC Shoah Foundation:

“It was on a Sunday, June 16 1940. They came out and ordered. It was on a Saturday night, almost Sunday. […] The Germans gave that order to the Jewish population that everybody has to report the next day to a certain place and this was called -- it used to be a factory that made sugar -- and it was called in Polish Konstancja. And over there that Sunday we were allowed to take whatever we could, you know. […]

What were you allowed to take with?

"Furniture, whatever, you know, you couldn’t take any dogs or cats, so furniture you could take along with you, you know, and tools, most things we left. While we were taking our stuff, they used to… the mayor from the city, his name […] his name I remember exactly…he was an SA man […] he used to wear that brown uniform with an Hakenkreuz and his name was Sherman and he was walking through the Jewish homes and he used to beat us and he used to take out everything, you know. Fast, fast, you know. He used to beat us over our heads …and fast fast…you know: schnell.” [2]

The photographs do not only make the individuality of the people being photographed invisible, but also the violence of this forced move. Because of the absence of acts of violence as well as uniformed men and spectators/ bystanders, at first sight the photographs do not convey the impression of a forced move, but more of a self-organized move or process. So the photos help to bring out the importance of the moment of the ghettoization, open new perspectives, like in the case of the Kutno ghetto which shows an – from our perspective today – unusual ghetto, but at the same time, they make the force and violence that happened “invisible."

“So that Sunday they took us to that ghetto. It was a big place, you know, and I was forced, at least somehow I got into that big place, maybe a thousand people. We put the beds close to each other […] there was no place where to walk, just to lay down on the bed. […] There was a lot of people who didn’t have any place any more. I remember that day there were toilets there and they cleaned it out and they lived in that toilets. That’s the truth. And then a lot of people put up like a little house you know, like the Indians have […] like tents, but built from wood and they put blankets on top and they got in over there. It was raining and we were swimming, that’s right. Then you see, they needed barbers and I am a barber and we got together all the barbers and we put up there our mirrors on the walls […] and we used to work, you know, cut peoples’ hair when the weather was nice. When it started raining it was terrible.”[3]

Here, the connection of photographic and oral sources allows the viewer to look beyond the pictorial frame, and gives an idea of what happened outside the picture that day, as well as what happened before and after the photograph was taken. Yet another photograph taken by a German soldier after the establishment of the ghetto shows a barber stand in the Kutno ghetto, maybe even the one that Klasky mentioned.

The photographs of Wilhelm Hansen, a German Wehrmacht soldier, help to bring out aspects about the ghettoization of the Jews in Poland that have often been overlooked. They draw attention to an unusual ghettoization – or at least one very much different from the ones known from popular images of the “big” ghettos in Warsaw, Litzmannstadt and Krakow, which are published over and over again and show ghettos against the backdrop of a cityscape, with houses, crowded streets etc.

The series of 83 images by Hansen makes the ghettoization of the Jews in Kutno tellable. No other sources allow us to talk about the ghettoization in such detail: horse carts, people waiting, the large amounts of things, belongings, furniture, etc. that people were able to take to the ghetto in that particular case, the perception of the ghetto space filled with people and belongings that are – from Hansen’s perspective – almost impossible to distinguish, the desperate situation on the premises of the sugar factory at the end of the day, when around 7000 people were basically just left alone there with their belongings.

On the other hand, the photographs also reproduce the perpetrators’ perspective. The VHA interviews offer a perfect addition here. The two different sources have different qualities: Hansen’s photographs, as they are photos by a German perpetrator or at least bystander, focus on the process of ghettoization, his focus is not on the people being ghettoized, but more interested in the process on a “documentary” level. They de-humanize people – the process of ghettoization does that in the first place of course – but the photos of the ghettoization seen through the eyes of the perpetrators, who keep a distance and do not focus on the people perpetuate that. In the process of ghettoization the Jewish population was forced into being a group and the photos reinforce that: they homogenize a diverse group of people.

The interviews from the Visual History Archive, on the other, help us understand the context of the moment of ghettoization better from the perspective of the Jewish people who were forced to move that day. They help us refine the context and also give us a much better understanding of the concrete situation of the individuals being subjected to this forced move and the diversity of people and experiences. They therefore help to take a much more differentiated look at the situation of the people being ghettoized. The interviews manage to convey a much more complex perspective on the very heterogeneous group of people that the photographs tend to homogenize for the viewer. They bring out the unique and diverse voices of the survivors and help to present a more detailed and multi-perspective historical narrative.

Click here to read a scholarly summary of Werner's work by Martha Stroud, Ph.D., the research program officer at the USC Shoah Foundation Center for Advanced Genocide Research.

[1] An exception is the Getto Łódź: Loose, Ingo, Ghettoalltag, in: Hansen, Imke, Steffen, Kathrin und Joachim Tauber (Hg.), Lebenswelt Ghetto.

What Life Was Like in the World’s First Ghetto

W alking through the streets of the world&rsquos first &ldquoghetto,&rdquo one might come across a variety of sights: the impoverished Jews confined to that quarter rabbis reciting elegant speeches in the Italian vernacular crumbling buildings musicians singing Hebrew psalms.

Although Jewish life has been restricted in cities all over the world for centuries, the first so-called &ldquoghetto&rdquo was declared in Venice in 1516. By and large, its establishment was a response by the Venetian government to the increasing Jewish refugee population, which had begun to arrive following the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain. Desiring to keep its communities separate, the Venetian Republic declared that the city&rsquos Jews (who made up 1% to 2.5% of the total population) were to live on the site of a former iron foundry &ndash &ldquogeto&rdquo in the Venetian dialect. By 1642, 2,414 Jews were confined to this small section of the city.

The enclosure was walled off, and its gate was locked at sunset every night. Any Jews who returned to the ghetto after the closing of the gates needed to submit a written explanation to the government&rsquos guards. Outside the ghetto, Jews were forced to wear colored head-coverings to indicate their difference from the rest of the population.

With this distinction emphasized and recorded, the Venetian state had the power to effectively monitor and control Jewish movement, business, trade and life. For this reason, governments throughout the world would later use the term &ldquoghetto&rdquo to designate the always-too-small and always-too-decrepit areas where Jews were segregated. Infamously, the Nazis forced Jews to move into enclosed ghettos in cities all over Central and Eastern Europe, an act that preceded their systematic destruction.

And yet, devastation is not the only legacy of the Venice Ghetto. That was one of the lessons of the academic conference hosted in September by the Center for Jewish History, of which I am the president. The conference, which was co-sponsored by the Medici Archive Project (MAP) in Florence and which is accompanied by an exhibit, which will remain up through the end of the year, offered scholars and the public an opportunity to learn about the experience of living in the early modern Italian ghetto. Indeed, some scholars argued that, while the Venice ghetto obviously restricted the lives of Jews, it also gave them express legal permission to live in the city. Within this structure, the Venetian Jewish community flourished culturally, producing works of art and scholarship that were revered around the world. Indeed, non-Jewish foreigners traveling to Venice rarely left the city without visiting the ghetto.

The ghetto&rsquos Jewish preachers &ndash darshanim &ndash &ldquoreflect a cultural ambiance unique to Jews, emanating from the special characteristics of their cultural heritage and the specific circumstances of their social and political status,&rdquo noted University of Pennsylvania Professor David B. Ruderman, in his keynote address. Many of these rabbis were not only religious sages, but also scientists and philosophers.

In fact, despite their subjugated status, some Jews were permitted to attend the prestigious University of Padua, just a short walk away from the confines of the ghetto, where they studied both medicine and the humanities. As such, their writings often attempted to bridge the gap between human reason and divine omniscience. It was no coincidence that Venice became the world&rsquos center for Jewish book publishing at the time. Other figures, such as Solomone Rossi, became musicians, incorporating the polyphonic techniques of Catholic Church services into Hebrew songs and psalms.

Of course, early modern Venice is not the first association that the word &ldquoghetto&rdquo suggests today. It was not until the 1930s that scholars of demographics and sociology first used &ldquoghetto&rdquo in its newer American sense, to describe the inner-city areas where poor and disadvantaged African-Americans lived. Racist housing policies, poverty and discrimination restricted, and continue to restrict, these communities to specific areas. The use of the term was appropriate: &ldquoghetto&rdquo originally described a walled in physical space, where Jews lived restricted lives under circumstances dictated and controlled by an outside force &ndash often an official governmental body. It is no wonder, then, that sociologists discussed the experiences of African-Americans and European Jews in the same light.

Unlike the Venice Ghetto, contemporary ghettos in the United States are surrounded not by walls, but by the more amorphous and ambiguous historical legacy of inequality and racism. The ghettoes of our inner cities continue to isolate and restrict those who live in them. By giving the ghetto the scholarly consideration it merits, from 500 years ago to today, we can better understand the full impact of that isolation.

Joel J. Levy is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Jewish History

Watch the video: Everyday life in the ghettos - An overview (May 2022).