In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Ghettos in the Holocaust

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Collected Studies
  • Studies on Aspects of Jewish Life in the Ghettos
  • Jewish Resistance in the Ghettos
  • Websites on Ghettos

Jewish Studies Ghettos in the Holocaust
Martin Dean
  • LAST MODIFIED: 23 June 2021
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0208


The surprising aspect of Nazi ghettoization is that there was no centralized German policy and no clear agreement on what comprised a ghetto. Most decisions about ghettoization were taken at the regional or local level. The most workable definition of a ghetto is that it was a place where Jews were concentrated, consisting generally of entire family units, as opposed to forced labor camps for Jews that contained Jews selected for labor. In fact, not all ghettos were fenced, as some towns had open ghettos marked only by signs or just an occasional police patrol. Others had quite porous barbed-wire fences, whereas the larger ghettos, such as those in Łódź and Warsaw, were defined by their high walls that were very difficult to cross. A great wealth of information on ghettos can be found in the respective memorial (Yizkor) books, only a small sample of which can be mentioned here. Other key information can be found in memoirs, chronicles, and diaries. By contrast, relatively few monographs have been devoted specifically to ghettos, and even fewer to the general topic of ghettos. However, much useful information, including additional references, can be found in the more detailed encyclopedias devoted to the topic. Several regional overviews of the Holocaust also provide an excellent analysis of the role played by ghettos in the Nazi plans for the destruction of the Jews. In terms of geographical organization, three main subdivisions have been used below. The General Government and territories incorporated into the Reich form one large region that covers most of modern-day Poland as well as the western fringes of what is now Ukraine and Belarus. Here the majority of the Jews were deported by rail from ghettos to extermination centers. In Nazi-occupied territory of the Soviet Union (as of 1940, including the Baltic States), Jews were mostly marched out of the ghettos to be shot in nearby forests and ravines. Finally, the ghettos under Hungarian and Romanian administration are treated as a third regional group, as here the chronology of ghettoization and the ultimate fate of the Jews varied somewhat from the other two areas.

General Overviews

Only a few scholars have attempted to provide a general overview of the role played by ghettos within the Holocaust. Trunk 1996, a study of the Jewish Councils, remains one of the seminal works on the topic, even though its main subject was not specifically the ghettos but rather the Jewish Councils, which in most places operated within the framework of a ghetto. Corni 2003 provides another rare attempt to make detailed comparisons across ghettos in the search for patterns. Dean 2010 uses a comprehensive approach to examine chronological patterns in the establishment and liquidation of ghettos by region. Michman 2011, by contrast, looks for the ideological origins of ghettoization in the writings of Nazi policymakers and ideologues. This approach can be compared with the early understanding of ghettos to be found in Friedman 1980, which is written by both a notable historian and a Holocaust survivor.

  • Corni, Gustavo. Hitler’s Ghettos: Voices from a Beleaguered Society, 1939–1944. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.

    An effort to reconstruct the history of ghettos from the perspective of their inhabitants.

  • Dean, Martin. “Ghettos.” In The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies. Edited by Peter Hayes and John K. Roth, 340–353. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

    Brief overview of the topic for students.

  • Friedman, Philip. “The Jewish Ghettos of the Nazi Era.” In Roads to Extinction: Essays on the Holocaust. Edited by Ada J. Friedman. New York: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980.

    Philip Friedman was one of the pioneers of Holocaust studies who examined in detail the question of ghettos.

  • Michman, Dan. The Emergence of Jewish Ghettos during the Holocaust. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511779077

    An attempt to uncover the origins of the ghetto as an instrument of Nazi policy.

  • Trunk, Isaiah. Judenrat: The Jewish Councils in Eastern Europe under Nazi Occupation. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1996.

    This classic work on the Jewish Councils also discusses many key issues regarding ghettos using a wide variety of examples.

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