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The Economic Situation of the Jews in the Ghetto

In order to have an accurate idea about the economic situation of the Jews in the ghetto, it would be necessary to orient oneself in the economic structure of the Jewish population in Czenstochow at that time. Alas, this could not be exactly established because a considerable movement of the population to the ghetto took place that led to the specific situation of the Jews under the German occupation. Yet, we will try to describe the economic life according to what each of us saw and could observe.

The economic situation for the Jews in Czenstochow was very difficult during the first weeks after the outbreak of the war. Hundreds of families were hungry and waited for some kind of miracle. Little by little they began to adjust to the newly created conditions and began to look for income, not waiting for donated help. The Polish population was permitted to enter the Jewish area. This gave many Jews the opportunity to carry out business, artisans to do certain work and to sell their articles and so on. The same thing took place later in the large ghetto. As was said, the Polish population was permitted to go through the ghetto. This enabled the Jews to carry on an illegal barter trade with the Polish population in the ghetto, too. They sold jewelry, household goods, clothing, linens, furniture and even bedding and lived off this. Secret small house factories arose that made soap, candles, shoe polish, washing soda and so on. There also were those who constructed zharnes (hand mills to grind kernels). The explanation for this is that it was easier for the peasants to smuggle kernels into the ghetto than flour.

[Page 40]

Jews bought the kernels, ground them in the small hand mills, gave it to the bakers to bake and received a kilo of bread for a kilo of flour. The baker received the surplus that remained after baking. The main sellers of the finished goods were children. The Judenrat declared that only 1,194 out of 3,800 boys of school age registered under the notice about the registration of children of school age (based on the decree of the 31st of August 1940 about the school system of the General Government). This was only 31.41%. Of 3,776 girls of school age only 1,249 registered, which consisted of 33.1%. The greatest number of registered children missing were those who were born in the years 1931-1933, and this consisted of 60.1% of the number of boys of this age and 59.2% of the number of girls.[70]  That the percent of those registered was smaller among the older school ages was because the far greater majority of them were the breadwinners for their families.

Several former manufacturers carried on business again through the German-nominated commissar for their former factories (Jewish factories and larger enterprises were, on the basis of a decree from Ridiger, confiscated in the second half of September 1939).[71]  There were commissars who could not cope without the previous owners and the manufacturers made use of this to draw a livelihood from the [factories] and, simultaneously to maintain watch over their possessions. Shops and merchants had their little bit of merchandise “stolen” from their confiscated businesses with copied keys, or under the pretext “airing” the goods from the sealed businesses, they extracted some of the goods in partnership with the German guards. This all was sold or traded with the peasants for food and, meanwhile, they lived. There also were Jews who carried on trade and industrial undertakings legally on a small scale and drew a livelihood from it. A number of Jews who had to live from their work were employed in various “temporary workplaces” and were paid up to four gildn by the Judenrat for a day's work.[56]*

*[Translator's note: “56” is the footnote number that appears here. The preceding number was “71” and the next number is “72.”]

The fact that a certain number of Jews found a way to obtain a livelihood made it possible to help refugees, the sick, the old, orphans and in general, the poor. However, this situation also provided to the Judenrat and all of its divisions the opportunity to seize direct and indirect taxes. The indirect taxes were designated for the hospital, old age and orphans house.

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The Judenrat declared with an unfair perspective that all Jews must carry identical burdens. Therefore, this tax was even extracted from the poorest, who were forced to pay taxes equal to that of the richest. Buying a food card, taking allocations of coal or soap, everyone had to buy a stamp for two zlotes on which was printed: “Utilitati et Soluti [Utility and Health].”[72]. (Lawyer Shimon Pohorille, the organization chief of the Judenrat, had great love of making use of Latin expressions.) In comparison with the General Government area, the economic situation, in general, was bearable here. This gave rise to Czenstochower Jews trying to bring their relatives from other cities and mainly from the Łödź ghetto from which there was terrifying information. Such permission had to be obtained from the city chief who provided each request with an answer, written on the other side of the request to the Judenrat that the request of “Old Testament Believer” so-and-so is refused. No one received permission to enter. However, the news about the Czenstochower “heaven” spread, tore through the ghetto fences and the Jewish population, against the will of the Judenrat and, chiefly, against the will of the city chief, kept growing in the number of illegal and half-legal refugees from cities and shtetlekh.

A very small number of refugees did not need material help. The much larger majority had to ask for such help. However, the activity of the aid institutions in Czenstochow [in this situation] was to alleviate the need in a minimal way in comparison to the need. But this situation did not last long and the possibility of aid decreased. The administrative division at the city chief's office that was led by Volksdeutsch Zawada and by S.A.-man [member of the Sturmabteilung – Storm Detachment, a paramilitary group] Schleecht found their servants in the city itself and acting with them as partners, they “took care” that the confiscated Jewish businesses would be more quickly liquidated. The large Polish commercial firms Trawinski, Majewski and Miszkewicz first made wide use of the “good heartedness' of the German administrative division. Laski, a former auxiliary to Wendler, received the right to clear out all of the Jewish shoe shops, as well the leather and leather haberdashery businesses. Wendler's lover, Mrs. Maszewicz, received the broadest right to empty all of the Jewish businesses that pleased her and even the artisans' workshops.

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She opened a store with the stolen goods, a private “merchandise” house, for which the Jewish artisans had to provide everything that she demanded. Wendler allocated to her the entire building of the former Jewish Merchants and Manufacturers Bank at the Second Alija number 2 for the organization of a “department store.”

One can get an idea about the need that reigned in the ghetto from what the statistical official at the Judenrat stated in the Statistical Yearbook (Rocznik Statystynczny, volume 3, published in 1941) about the number of Jews who turned to the social aid [office] at the Judenrat for help. According to the number given there, the figures in the file are for 14,960 people who turned to it for support. These were 4,058 families, of whom, 651 families originated in Czenstochow and numbered 2,169 souls. Because the ghetto consisted of only a few streets, there was no sewer system; because of the crowding in the residences and because of hunger, infectious diseases began to spread in the ghetto at a rapid rate. Spotted typhus, stomach typhus and dysentery had their fat harvest, mainly among the mass of refugees. The epidemic of spotted typhus first broke in the “asylum” for refugees from Łödź that was located in the artisans' school at Garncarska Street no. 6. The need led to the increase in the plague of robberies of linen and food. Informers also played a significant part in the fact that the Jews were impoverished. Among the informers who carried the information of what someone owned and with what he was occupied was Eliash Szeftel who received a concession to run a tavern that was visited by Germans and particularly German functionaries from the administrative office, who he provided with information about Jewish possessions, Yehuda Meir Beser from Zawiercie and Yakov Rozenberg from Łödź, who also took part in similar denunciations as Szeftel and, therefore, had special certificates from the security police to move freely outside the ghetto without the Star of David armbands.[73] These informers made a fortune both from the portion that they received from the Germans of what was taken from the Jews at their instructions and from what they received from Jews, whom they had earlier handed over to the Germans, to be saved from German hands.

The need kept deepening from day to day, the density kept spreading. This strongly affected the general situation in the ghetto and particularly the natural increase in the population.

  1. Statistical Book of Judenrat [Jewish council] Volume II page 178. return
  2. [Jewish council] Volume II page 178. return
  3. Statistical Book of Judenrat [Jewish council] Volume II page 225. return

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