One of the favorite forms of “amusement" for Nazi soldiers was to go up to the old Jewish men and cut off their sidelocks. A witness now living in Jerusalem recalled, "They cut his sidelocks and they stuck him on the ground and rode him like a donkey. Afterwards, they put a bullet in his head."
In other areas that the Nazis conquered, the Jews could leave, or the Germans threw them out of the country – as Adolf Eichmann did with Jews out of Austria.
Yet the sheer quantity of Polish Jews – over 3 million – presented a logistical problem for the Nazis. Deportation was no longer practical.
Thus the Germans began a series of cruel and sadistic measures. Rather than letting the Jews go, the Nazis adopted an oppressive 4-point plan:
- marking the Jews with yellow badges
- forcing them into slave labor
- looting their property
- sealing them into ghettos
Jews from wide areas were rounded up and forced to live in unbearable, cramped ghetto conditions.
The most famous was the Warsaw Ghetto. Thus was the fate of 335,000 Jews in Warsaw – representing one-third of the city’s total population.
Additional Jews were herded into Warsaw, so the Jewish population rose to about 450,000. They were all thrown into a slum that comprised 2.3% of the city area, and walled off.
Life in the ghetto was intolerable. There was no sanitation. Disease swept through.
If a person was not fit for work, he did not receive food tickets. That meant death by starvation. Over 75,000 people in the ghetto died of disease and starvation.
The ghettos were run by Jewish councils (Judenrat) who were responsible for carrying out Nazi orders. When it was time for a transport to Treblinka, Auschwitz and other concentration camps, the Nazis would ask for 1,000 Jews. The Councils cooperated, rationalizing that "if we don’t hand over 1,000, they will ask for 2,000."
In the end, eventually everyone in the ghettos was swept away, along with the council members and their entire families.
In spite of the unbearable ghetto conditions, Jewish life – to the extent that it could – continued on. Torah study, circumcision, Shabbat and holiday observance all went on, despite of the fact that getting caught was likely a death sentence.
Witness to Nazi "Special Treatment"
In "To Vanquish the Dragon," Holocaust survivor Pearl Benisch recalls:
On my way home one afternoon, I found a large group of young men lined up against a wall, their hands raised.
What is it? I wondered, running over to see. A robbery? What did the boys do? Why did the Germans line them up in this way?
There stood a young SS officer with shining black boots, clutching a whip. He reminded me of a dog trainer glaring down at his charges, expecting them to jump on command and satisfy his lust for pain. Another SS man wielded a pair of scissors, jeering as he ripped beards off the agonized, bleeding faces.
"Hands up," the dog trainer shouted, "and pray to G-d. Let Him help you."
Silently the Jews stood there, hands elevated. The dog trainer raised his whip and struck their faces, left, right, and left again, leaving bloody welts on their cheeks. But their lips were sealed.
"Wo ist euer Gott? Warum hilft Her euch nicht?" the Nazi asked with a mocking smile. "Where is your G-d? Why doesn't He help you? Pray again!" he screamed.
I ran over to him, determined to stop his whip. With a scornful laugh he pointed at the bleeding, half-shorn boys.
"Fraulein," he addressed me with a nonchalant smile, "Haben sie schon so was gesehen in Zwansigsten Jahrhunderd? So was in Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderd," he repeated. "Did you ever see anything like that in the 20th century?" He meant the beards.
No, it wasn't a 20th-century scene, and I had never seen its like: "Nein, ich habe niemahls so was gesehen in Zwanzigsten Jahrhunderd," I answered with disgust, stressing "so was" to refer to his ugly deed.
His smile faded as he realized the meaning of my words. He glared at me, fingering his whip. I expected it to come down across my face. Instead, he spun on his heels. "Come on, Fritz," he said to his companion. "Let's find other ones and have some more fun." He saluted me lightly as he stalked off. How cultured these Germans were. How gentlemanly.
It was the first time my blue eyes had saved me; the brute had mistaken me for a Polish girl. It was also the first time I had witnessed German bestiality.