What was the role of the SS within the ghettos?

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The Jewish Order Police kept order within the ghetto. This photograph shows a member of the Jewish Order Police checking the documents of a Jewish inhabitant of the ghetto.


  • The role of the SS.
  • The different roles and responsibilities of the Judenrat.


Why would the Nazis have insisted that the Jews themselves administered all aspects of life in the ghetto?

What difficult choices would the Judenrat have had to make?

The SS were responsible for the establishment and effective administration of each ghetto. But in a refinement of cruelty they made the Jews themselves carry out the day-to-day running of the ghetto.

The Nazis ordered that Jewish councils (Judenrat) should govern Jewish communities in Nazi-occupied Europe. The councils were made up of influential people and rabbis from the Jewish communities and were usually elected by the local population.

The council was responsible for implementing the Nazis policies regarding the Jews. These tasks included transferring Jews from their homes to ghettos, maintaining order within the ghetto and issuing food rations.

Sometimes the councils tried to reduce the effect of the Nazis’ measures by obtaining and distributing illegal supplies of food. To alleviate suffering within the ghetto they often established charitable organisations such as orphanages, hospitals, surgeries and mutual aid societies.

The councils were responsible for providing workers for forced labour. Some Judenrat leaders sought to demonstrate to the Nazis that the ghetto inhabitants were essential to the Nazis and that they should be kept alive. They did this by setting up workshops producing goods that were needed for the German war effort. This policy was named ‘rescue by labour’.


When the Nazis began to murder Jews during the 'Final Solution', the councils had to supply the names of those to be deported. If they refused to cooperate the SS would enter the ghetto and indiscriminately take a greater number. All the inmates of the ghetto were in a hell not of their making. Decisions taken at this time were often very difficult ones. Some Jewish council heads committed suicide rather than send people to their deaths.