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First Polish Ghetto Established in Piotrkow, 1939

On This Day in Jewish History: October 8, 1939

The first ghetto in Poland was established in Piotrkow. The Germans took control of the city on September 5 and only a month later announced an order that all Jews must move into the ghetto. By January 1940 all of the Jews in Piotrkow and the surrounding towns had moved into the ghetto area. Beginning with the occupation and becoming more widespread once the ghetto was established was violence against the Jews. They were attacked and beaten on the streets and the Nazis, randomly and often, rounded up Jews to be sent to forced labor camps.

The ghetto remained open until April 1942. During that time the ghetto had no fence and was not guarded and Jews could come and go as they please during certain hours of the day although they were not allowed in all parts of town. The food supply was controlled going into the ghetto and Jews were not allowed to purchase food outside of the ghetto. This led to there not being enough food in the ghetto and many Jews smuggling food inside. If caught, they were sent to a labor camp and usually never heard from again.

The Judenrat, led by Zalman Tenenbaum, tried to help those in need by setting out soup kitchens and giving out charity. There was also an orphanage and a children’s club. Orphans were even adopted by other Jews even though they struggled to take care of their own family.

Once the ghetto was closed in the spring of 1942 conditions worsened. The Jews of the ghetto continued to try to help each other and celebrate the holidays as a community. By the end of 1942, all but 2,000 of the Jews in the ghetto had been deported and in July 1943 the last remaining Jews were either deported or shot. The Nazis then hung a sign at the Piotrkow train station that read “Piotrków Trybunalski is Judenrein” which means "free of Jews."

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